Phar­ma­cists and pot? Ab­so­lutely!

24 Hours Toronto - - NEWS - JEN BAKER

New data com­mis­sioned by the On­tario Phar­ma­cists As­so­ci­a­tion shows On­tar­i­ans over­whelm­ingly sup­port phar­ma­cists dis­pens­ing medic­i­nal cannabis.

Over seven-in-10 On­tario adults agree that pa­tients should be able to ob­tain medic­i­nal cannabis from phar­ma­cists. What’s more, a clear ma­jor­ity of On­tario adults — 56% — pre­fer hav­ing medic­i­nal cannabis dis­pensed at phar­ma­cies, rather than pro­vid­ing for other ac­cess points.

How­ever, what On­tar­i­ans want is a far cry from what our cur­rent sys­tem of­fers.

Un­like pre­scrip­tions for other med­i­ca­tions, pa­tients can­not ac­cess medic­i­nal cannabis prod­ucts at their lo­cal phar­macy. For On­tario’s pa­tients and the broader health­care sys­tem, omit­ting phar­ma­cists is a missed op­por­tu­nity and a po­ten­tial safety risk. Phar­ma­cies are se­cure health cen­tres that can mon­i­tor us­age in real-time; they can store and han­dle sen­si­tive prod­ucts and con­trolled sub­stances, such as medic­i­nal cannabis.

Most im­por­tantly, how­ever, as the med­i­ca­tion ex­pert on a pa­tient’s health­care team, phar­ma­cists un­der­stand the im­pact of in­tro­duc­ing medic­i­nal cannabis onto the pa­tient’s ex­ist­ing med­i­ca­tion pro­file.

On­tar­i­ans agree. When asked, three-quar­ters of On­tario adults say pa­tients should be able to ob­tain medic­i­nal cannabis from a phar­ma­cist — like they do with all pre­scrip­tion prod­ucts— so that they have in­creased ac­cess to the ad­vice, guid­ance and in­for­ma­tion they want and need.

On­tario’s pa­tients rely on their phar­ma­cists to ed­u­cate them on how med­i­ca­tions can po­ten­tially in­ter­act with each other. Phar­ma­cists have ac­cess to a pa­tient’s full med­i­ca­tion his­tory, know their al­ler­gies and serve as a pa­tient’s last line of de­fence against harm­ful drug-to-drug in­ter­ac­tions.

On this front, ed­u­cat­ing pa­tients about po­ten­tial in­ter­ac­tions be­tween medic­i­nal cannabis and other med­i­ca­tions should be a lead­ing pub­lic pol­icy ob­jec­tive.

In the face of in­creas­ing ac­cess to recre­ational cannabis, some may be left won­der­ing about steps needed to move to­ward safer, more pa­tient-fo­cused reg­u­la­tions for dis­pens­ing medic­i­nal cannabis. To an­swer, there are im­por­tant dif­fer­ences be­tween recre­ational cannabis and prod­ucts used for medic­i­nal pur­poses.

Ex­ist­ing recre­ational prod­ucts do not nec­es­sar­ily en­com­pass all medic­i­nal cannabis prod­ucts, and the se­lec­tion of the right medic­i­nal prod­uct is highly in­di­vid­u­al­ized. Choos­ing the right medic­i­nal prod­uct and dose is im­por­tant in or­der to treat a pa­tient’s con­di­tion.

For ex­am­ple, oils high in the non-psy­choac­tive CBD com­pound can help con­trol seizures in chil­dren with epilepsy and are used orally, while THC com­bined with CBD can be very use­ful for treat­ing chronic pain and spas­tic­ity in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and can be in­gested or in­haled. These dif­fer­ences are im­por­tant to en­sure ef­fec­tive treat­ment.

Omit­ting phar­ma­cists from the care of pa­tients with com­plex con­di­tions who are us­ing medic­i­nal cannabis de­nies them the ex­per­tise and knowl­edge of a med­i­ca­tion ex­pert.

The On­tario and fed­eral gov­ern­ments need to work to­gether to amend ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions so that phar­ma­cists and phar­ma­cies can dis­pense medic­i­nal cannabis. Not only is do­ing so in the best in­ter­ests of On­tar­i­ans’ con­tin­ued health and safety, it’s also what they want.

— Jen Baker is an On­tario phar­ma­cist and mem­ber of the On­tario Phar­ma­cists As­so­ci­a­tion board of di­rec­tors.

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