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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Academics & Research

UH cannabis expert weighs in on policy, legalization


Medical marijuana needs to be expanded in Texas

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

As part of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, Jokūbas Žiburkus teaches both undergraduate and graduate students, focusing on neuroscience. Žiburkus integrates cannabis science into his teaching, informing students on the research behind cannabinoids.

Along with teaching, Žiburkus also pursues outside research and has numerous peer-reviewed publications. Much of his research focuses on the endocannabinoid system and the potential medical benefits of cannabis products.

“This negative connotation that we have about cannabis was created by media and the government, it was never created by researchers and medical doctors who are real experts at this,” Žiburkus said. “And so there’s a huge stigma associated with it.”

In March 2022, Žiburkus spoke at the Texas Cannabis Policy Conference at  Texas A&M University, presenting information on the Compassionate Use Program. With nearly 20,000 participants, the program aims to prescribe low-THC cannabis products to those who qualify. According to Žiburkus, the program is expected to have almost 1 million patients within the next five years.

“My message to the UH medical school and business school is: let’s do a medical and business conference so that we can inform the students, graduate students, inform the faculty,” Žiburkus said. “Open up the possibilities for M.D.’s graduating from the University of Houston medical school, and follow examples of other universities like Texas A&M.”

With high expertise on cannabis science and teaching materials approved by the American Medical Association, Žiburkus also presented a TEDx Talk in 2015, focusing on epilepsy and cannabis and has garnered nearly 150,000 views on YouTube. 

Žiburkus was the first professor in Texas to teach endocannabinoid systems to graduate students and has also integrated some of the curriculum into his neuroscience classes with undergraduate students.

“What I’ve noticed already since I started talking about endocannabinoid systems, since I started incorporating it more into my lecture material over the last seven years,” Žiburkus said.” I’m already getting emails from my undergraduate and graduate students that have entered cannabis industry, that have entered cannabis clinical research trials around the country”.

Žiburkus states how caffeine is more addictive and there are less risks as opposed to the legalization of adult-use marijuana. He believes that while Texas is currently behind in the cannabis industry, Texas has the tools to become the most significant cannabis market in the country.

“Let’s create programs that will benefit the students, the faculty, the patients here, that will put us at the forefront of the industry and the business that will be worth billions of dollars,” Ziburkus said.

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