Pharmacists are playing catch up as legalization changes sweep across North America.
A recent nationwide survey published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association (2019) suggests that when it comes to cannabis, your pharmacist might be clueless. He or she may have no skills to counsel patients on medical consumption
Six hundred and twenty nine pharmacy students, from varying geographical locations and universities, took the survey. Most of the students — a whopping ninety one percent — held the belief that medical cannabis should be fully legal in the United States. However, many of them did not possess the knowledge and preparation necessary in order to adequately advise patients on treatment.
Another aim of the study was seeing if the group of pharmacy students had differences in knowledge and perception. To achieve this, the researchers looked at a specific comparison between those who went to school in states where medical cannabis is legal, versus states where it is not. Surprisingly, students in legalized states actually fared slightly worse in their responses on a pharmacy-cannabis quiz.
The researchers came to the conclusion that with the growing number of states now legalizing medical cannabis consumption, there is more need for pharmacy schools to address this gap in education.
Why Isn’t Cannabis Part of the Pharmacist Curriculum?
Peer-reviewed research on the effects of cannabis is hard to come by. Sadly, prohibition still slows the process and cannabis remains federally under Schedule I classification, along with heroin. Pharmacists are unable to obtain a license from the DEA to legally dispense medical cannabis. Due to this conflict of legality among states, and the persistent lack of research on the effects of cannabis, accredited universities are reluctant to offer courses. This results in confusion among pharmacists.
A study, published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (2018), also discovered a gap in knowledge among pharmacy students about medical cannabis. According to researchers, “there is little coverage of medical cannabis within typical doctor of pharmacy curricula.” They found that many schools did offer education on cannabis-based FDA-approved products. This is, however, a limited point of view for education. Many a patients purchase whole plant flower.
In the Journal of Contemporary Pharmacy Practice, a 2017 study presented a questionnaire to a selection of practicing pharmacists. The questions collected information about past experiences and types of education. The quiz also gauged comfort level when advising on issues related to cannabis consumption. The researchers found that, “many responding pharmacists deemed the lack of education as one of the biggest roadblocks that prevent them from confidently counseling on this stigmatized substance rather than other legal or social factors.”
A study in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (2015) also revealed similar conclusions. After surveying pharmacy students at the University of Kansas the results spoke for themselves. Ninety percent of students wanted pharmacy school curricula to include more education about medical cannabis.
Where Can A Pharmacist Learn About Cannabis?
The good news is, the tide may now be turning, as more states move toward medical cannabis legalization. The University of Maryland is launching a two-year master’s program on cannabis. At the direction of Leah Sera, an assistant professor at UMD’s Department of Pharmacy Practice.
“Students who complete our program will have a competitive advantage when it comes to pursuing or advancing a career in the medical cannabis industry,” says Sera.
The University of Maryland’s graduate program is the first in the country to focus on medical cannabis. “There is truly no other educational program that offers the in-depth instruction on the science, policy, and therapeutics of medical cannabis that students who are accepted into our program will receive,” she says.
And in Canada, Ontario is sending pharmacists back to school to update their knowledge. Last March, the Ontario College of Pharmacists announced that all licensed pharmacists in the province must earn a new certification. This qualification will bring them up to speed on cannabis medicine. Without this certification, Ontario pharmacists cannot practice within the province.
A New Tool for the Pharmacist Interested in Cannabis
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) is launching a new resource for pharmacists looking to understand, and purchase, reliable cannabidiol (CBD) products. The organization calls the online resource “the NCPA CBD Source.”
It features CBD products that an independent, third-party, source tests and verifies. Of the resource, the CEO of the NCPA says “Many pharmacies are deciding to sell CBD products because of the patient demand and because, as the medication expert, they can serve as the source of truth.” Hopefully this product will allow more truth in the complicated world of CBD sales.
Pharmacists Teaching Themselves About Cannabis
Ontario is still the only Canadian province to require an update in certification. However, according to CBC some pharmacists are now taking it upon themselves to get the education they need. As more and more patients start asking their pharmacists about cannabis, the need for better education is becoming undeniable.
Until more universities adopt cannabis-related curriculum in their programs, private courses will rise. And these may continue be the best avenue for pharmacists who want to update their knowledge. However, as current market trends are showing, the need for professionals with accredited certifications will continue to grow.