Ontario pharmacists have until March 2020 to complete cannabis education if they want to practice in the province. The Ontario College of Pharmacists has made cannabis education mandatory in the wake of legalization and in anticipation of legal edibles set to arrive this fall.
The first of such courses began last month, covering a pharmacist’s ethical, legal and professional responsibilities when it comes to cannabis. The course also details the benefits and risks of cannabis, dosage forms and common side effects.
Although pharmacists do not dispense cannabis, they are sometimes asked for health advice by patients, along with information of how it may interact with other medications.
“As medication experts who are often the most accessible health-care provider for patients, pharmacy professionals play an important role in educating their patients if equipped with the necessary knowledge,” the college said.
“As the availability of recreational cannabis expands, pharmacists will have to consider that any patient may need to be informed on the interaction of cannabis with other medications, much like they do for alcohol use.”
New Brunswick’s college registrar Sam Lanctin says it expects its pharmacists “have a basic understanding of cannabis use, similar to what is expected for alcohol or tobacco use.”
A spokeswoman for Quebec’s regulatory body notes that many of its pharmacists voluntarily take private courses to learn about the emerging field.
“Before recreational cannabis was legal, people were shy to say, ‘I use that kind of drug,’ because it was not legal,” says Julie Villeneuve. “But since it is, people ask more questions, so pharmacists …they want to give good advice.”
University of Waterloo pharmacy associate professor Michael Beazely, who helped put together Ontario’s course, said many pharmacists are frustrated that concrete data is hard to come by.
“The clarity of how (cannabis) should be used is less black-and-white than many prescription drugs. Just because it’s an interest of mine I’ve been increasing our content quite a lot,” says Beazely. “And now that the Ontario College of Pharmacists has mandated required cannabis training we’re actually going to embed that into our curriculum so that our grads will graduate with that box checked.”