The broad legalization of medical cannabis in the United States has caught the medical community by surprise.  Patients are going into marijuana dispensaries across the country, getting their cannabis from a budtender, and using (or misusing) the product.  Meanwhile, their healthcare team is not prepared or armed with the information to properly incorporate cannabis into the patient’s treatment regimen.


Where Do Patients Go for Information?

The average medical cannabis patient is complex and on many medications. These patients visit their traditional local pharmacies 10 times more than most.  But, did you know that medical cannabis patients don’t go to a pharmacy to get their cannabis?

That’s right, patients are required to visit a marijuana dispensary to purchase medical cannabis, which is like a liquor store…but for marijuana. There’s usually no clinical oversight in the dispensary.  However, healthcare professionals continue to get asked about medical cannabis.

Lana is a pharmacist that works at Kroger in Illinois, a state that legalized medical cannabis a few years ago. Her pharmacy is right across the street from a dispensary, so naturally, patients frequently walk across the street with questions for the pharmacist, their most accessible healthcare professional.  They have more questions about how their traditionally prescribed medications interact with the medical cannabis that they’re taking to treat Parkinson’s or cancer or other debilitating condition.

Pharmacists have serious knowledge gaps when it comes to medical cannabis. These gaps create liability, reduce patient satisfaction...and more Click To Tweet

Since Lana along with the 308,000 pharmacists in the United States, did not learn about cannabis’ efficacy, dosing, and side effects in pharmacy school, she has serious knowledge gaps. These knowledge gaps create liability and reduce patient satisfaction. To further complicate this problem, education on cannabis is fragmented and often cites untrustworthy sources. This leaves pharmacists forced to do the unthinkable: send patients away to get medical advice from internet chat boards or risk giving counseling that could result in malpractice liability.


History of Cannabis

Cannabis has been used to treat ailments for thousands of years, dating as far back to Chinese emperors in 2000s BC.  Cannabis (hemp) was one of the first crops brought over by the Jamestown settlers.  It was available in pharmacies until its removal from the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1942.

The perception of marijuana started to change with the production of the Reefer Madness film in 1936 that showed marijuana associated with promiscuous and negative behaviors such as crime and mental illness.  In 1937, prescribing marijuana fell out of fashion when the Marijuana Tax Act was enacted that required doctors to pay an annual fee to prescribe.


Lack of Credible Information

As a schedule I drug, cannabis is very difficult to properly research.  Researchers must obtain permission from the DEA and submit an Investigational New Drug application. The cannabis used for their study must come through the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) who contracts with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies.  Additionally, there is variability in the plant’s psychoactive properties which makes it increasingly difficult to study.  With these barriers to properly study, the medical community is hesitant to welcome and approve cannabis as a trusted therapy.

The reclassification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug has made it taboo as part of curriculums for healthcare professionals.  Most information currently available is on the internet from disparate sources.  The lack of scientific evidence is a major barrier for healthcare professionals to fully adopt cannabis as a legitimate treatment.


Confusing Legal Landscape

Cannabis is still considered an illegal substance, or Schedule I drug, by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) which makes it still very difficult to obtain, even when state laws have authorized use for specific indications.  In fact, patients in Illinois have to get fingerprinted to obtain their medical cannabis card – that’s not even required for opioid prescriptions!  Because the laws vary from state to state, there is still a lot of confusion in the medical community about what is acceptable or not.


Removing the Surprise and Uncertainty with Facts

Shouldn’t patients have access to trained healthcare professionals if they are taking cannabis for a medical purpose? Click To Tweet

Many factors exist, as described above, to create knowledge gaps.  At the Natural Products Resource Center, we have partnered with a leading research institute to curate credible information on cannabis. Our online community creates a place for professionals to share knowledge which will help this niche develop a standard of care.  We hope that patients needing medical cannabis will soon have access to trained and confident healthcare professionals.  

Shouldn’t patients have access to trained healthcare professionals if they are taking cannabis for a medical purpose?

 

Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

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