The Heated Debate: Pharmacists Dispensing Medical Marijuana

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With the Canadian legalization of marijuana underway, the controversial debate continues around how and where patients will obtain their cannabis prescriptions.

As a pharmacist, the idea of having easily accessible marijuana is like a catch 22. It worries me because of the potential for abuse and increased chance of drug diversion, but by the same token it comforts me to know that it could serve as a life-altering therapeutic for many patients in need.

One trivial, but crucial question remains unanswered: will buying medical marijuana be as easy as going into the convenience store for cigarettes or a liquor store for alcohol? Or will it be more structured like coming to the pharmacy with a prescription for hydromorphone?

In my view, medical marijuana is no different than any mood or mind altering controlled substance.

Take Adderall XR for example, at regular doses it can be taken, even by children, to control symptoms of ADHD and markedly improve a patient’s quality of life. Put that same Adderall XR in the wrong hands or in case where it is not indicated for use, and it can cause the feeling of euphoria and have a high potential for abuse.

Marijuana is much the same in that it can have analgesic, anti-seizure and other therapeutic effects or it can be abused and have a risk of doing harm.

I am an advocate for cannabis to be carried, monitored and dispensed only by licenced pharmacies. In fact, up until the 1920s, marijuana products were carried in pharmacies after which they became placed on a list of controlled substances and removed from dispensaries.

Standardization of the quality of marijuana is a crucial factor when it comes to the therapeutics of marijuana. Pharmacies have the regulation and standards in place that have been proven to house such sensitive products.

Naturally, a pharmacy would be fitting for medical marijuana since marijuana is in essence a drug and can have many repercussions associated with its misuse, including drug interactions and adverse events.

I am of the position that medical marijuana requires delicate care from a knowledgeable healthcare professional and pharmacists are in the best position to be able to advocate and manage drug therapy problems to ensure the safe and effective use of this drug.

I would of course strongly urge pharmacists to get educated and trained in the realm of medicinal marijuana since this is a relatively new phenomenon and extra attention is needed to ensure we are confident enough to deliver these services effectively to our patients.

I do think that being a pharmacist, and a trusted healthcare professional, that I can contribute to the patient experience and offer help and counsel regarding drug management.

Many patients using medicinal marijuana have comorbid conditions and are on several other medications. Wouldn’t pharmacists be in the utmost vital position to ensure there are no drug therapy problems and that it is being used appropriately?

We pharmacists wanted an expanded scope of practice, so let’s take initiative and become confident, competent leaders as this practice of medicinal marijuana gains momentum and becomes more popular. Our patient’s rely on us for our knowledge and advice.

I invite other pharmacists and pharmacy professionals to share their views on this. Please comment below sharing your concerns on potential barriers that may occur if pharmacies choose to dispense medical marijuana.