Medical cannabis has gained a lot of ground in recent years, creating a noticeable need for cannabis education for healthcare professionals.
Backed by strong evidence, cannabis is increasingly being seen by medical professionals and the public as a safe, effective and potentially very important form of therapy. Within Canada’s regulatory landscape, cannabis’ medicinal utility is recognized by Health Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA).
Even high-profile neurosurgeon and medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was once a vocal critic of medical cannabis, has since become a passionate advocate.
Still, apprehensions remain from many of the health professionals who act as gatekeepers between the patient and medical cannabis. Increasingly, these apprehensions come not from a wholesale rejection of cannabis as a medicine, but from a very understandable desire to better understand the intricacies of the drug before putting their signature to a prescription.
Prohibition kept cannabis out of the hands of researchers for decades, and, while a remarkable amount of progress has been made in recent years, cannabis is still far behind other pharmaceutical drugs in terms of readily available information, even for medical professionals. Other pharmacological products come in standardized dose formats, making prescription relatively simple. Cannabis therapy, on the other hand, involves a host of variables and can require more time and effort from the healthcare practitioner to determine how to provide optimal relief.
Simply put, cannabis is not a “one size fits all” solution. There are a range of medical cannabis products available with varying cannabinoid profiles, with most currently focused on THC and CBD. This is a fact that might not be well understood, even among some healthcare professionals if they are not well experienced with medical cannabis.
The overall scientific understanding of medical cannabis has improved dramatically in recent years, but that knowledge hasn’t necessarily made its way down to the on-the-ground healthcare workers who have the most direct interaction with patients. A recent entry in the medical journal Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety acknowledges that one of the root causes for health professionals’ apprehension about prescribing medical cannabis is a lack of available comprehensive educational resources.
“Many physicians feel that a robust understanding of cannabis would increase their comfort with (medical cannabis). The basis of this knowledge is particularly relevant for a large demographic of the population presenting with chronic conditions that have reported to be self-medicating with marijuana where conventional therapies have failed in improving the overall quality of life,” the journal reads.
Despite the apprehensions that remain, medical cannabis has certainly caught on in Canada, and the market is growing too fast to be ignored. In 2017, The Canadian medical cannabis market brought in C$600 million. By 2022, the market is projected to hit C$2.38 billion.
Shedding light: Cannabis education for healthcare professionals
Clearly, there’s currently an unmet need for comprehensive education for assessment, dosing and monitoring to ensure that medical cannabis therapy is carried out safely and effectively. Fortunately, the solution is now coming from multiple sources. Both industry and trade groups have recognized the value of this type of education and have put together their own comprehensive programs.
Canadian licensed cannabis producer Wayland Group (CSE:WAYL,FWB:75M,OTCQB:MRRCF) launched its own medical cannabis education program for pharmacists and clinicians in August 2018. Developed with consultation from recognized medical cannabis experts and accredited by the Canadian Council on Continuing Education in Pharmacy, Wayland’s Canada-wide program seeks to equip pharmacists and other practitioners to guide and support medical cannabis patients. It includes an online learning program, speaker programs, webinars, educational resources as well as tools for pharmacists, physicians and patients distributed through pharmacies and clinicians.
“We believe this to be the most comprehensive and practical program of its kind in this space. Most of the materials are in final stages of development and should be available in the same August time frame,” Wayland CEO Ben Ward told INN.
Wayland has also developed a cannabis delivery technology, VESIsorb, that reduces the binding of cannabinoids so as to help increase absorption rates. This type of technology helps medical practitioners better abide by accurate dosing practices when prescribing cannabis.
Stakeholder organizations outside of the cannabis industry are recognizing the need for education as well. The CPhA announced in late 2017 that it would be launching its own continuing education program to help prepare pharmacists to serve the needs of medical cannabis patients. The organization said that the program would be based “on the best available evidence and experts in the field.” In the organization’s press release, CPhA Director of Practice Development and Knowledge Translation Shelita Dattani acknowledged that pharmacists currently receive little training or education on medical cannabis and that this program would aim to ensure that professionals are ready for the fast-approaching day when medical cannabis patients will be able to pick up their medicine from their local Pharmasave.
The CPhA program will address how cannabis can work with and supplement other, more traditional medical therapies. The program’s first course provides professionals with knowledge of the therapeutic effects of cannabis on the human body, as well as information on the role pharmacists will take as medical cannabis advisors and data on Canada’s laws and regulations regarding this type of medicine.
While medical cannabis has been legal in Canada for over a decade, it’s becoming clear now that the medical profession is taking this therapy seriously. As such, the professionals who provide patients with this medicine need to be every bit as knowledgeable and experienced with cannabis therapeutics as they are with other pain medication, insulin, asthma medications or any other vital medication for which patients seek their expertise and guidance.
The medical cannabis industry understands that it’s in its best interests as well that patients have access to a wealth of fact-based, non-biased and complete information, which is why investments in education are an important element in the long-term growth and success of the industry.
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