Conducting Research at the Forefront of Science: Cannabis Use in the U.S.

Course Description

This course provides you with exposure to cutting-edge biological and psychological research methods via a strategic focus on a contentious and understudied substance whose use dates back thousands of years: cannabis (i.e., marijuana). While cannabis is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances, scientists are only now beginning to scratch the surface in our understanding of how cannabis use impacts human health and behavior. In fact, despite often being considered a “safe” alternative, many research studies are just starting to scientifically evaluate therapeutic uses of cannabis, while others are discovering detrimental effects cannabis can have on the developing brain. This lack of scientific evidence marks a significant gap in knowledge of the link between cannabis with physical and mental health. Yet as state and national policies begin to change, the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use highlights the need for a better scientific understanding of how cannabis use can impact human health.

In this course, you will learn how to understand and critically evaluate research findings in an emerging and controversial scientific field. Through the lens of understanding research studies on the cutting edge of science, we will address longstanding controversial questions at the heart of the historical, social, and political decisions made about cannabis use, including: Is it a gateway drug? Does it provide an economic boost to communities? Should it be legalized for recreational use, and if so, what should the legal age be? Is cannabis an effective treatment for medical conditions?

Classes will consist of a combination of lecture, class discussion, group activities, brief quizzes, and a final project, all focusing on critical thinking on important topics, including:
• Scientific methods and evaluating research;
• Historical, legal, and sociopolitical aspects of cannabis in the U.S.;
• The brain: neuroscience, development, and biology; and
• Implications for psychology and mental health.

Cannabis is a highly relevant topic at the forefront of scientific discovery, representing an opportunity to understand the scientific process used to investigate its impact on health, society, law, and policy (and vice versa). This compelling course will expose you to novel research while providing a foundation in critical thinking and the scientific method.

Through successful completion of this course, you will:
• Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate research design, interpretation, and limitations.
• Understand how scientists study cannabis through an introduction to biology and neuroscience.
• Understand the historical, sociopolitical, and legal context through which cannabis research occurs.
• Develop knowledge of short- and long-term effects of cannabis and how research methods answer these questions.
• Demonstrate understanding of, sensitivity to, and respect for diversity issues, especially surrounding substance use and mental/physical health.

These skills will prepare students for advanced study in psychology, neuroscience, and related sciences, building a foundation of critical thinking in scientific research.


No specific prerequisites will be required for this course, though completion of courses in psychology and/or biology may provide a good foundation for concepts discussed in this course.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Leslie Brick
Sarah Thomas
Course Number: 10178