Ontario pharmacists now required to complete course in cannabis education

TORONTO — Ontario pharmacists have a little less than a year to get up to speed on weed 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 regulatory body has told its members they have until March 27, 2020 to complete an accredited course that could help them address what has been a hazy landscape when it comes to patient information.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association launched the first of such courses last month, covering a pharmacist’s ethical, legal and professional responsibilities when it comes to pot. 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 who are becoming more open about using weed.

A statement from the college acknowledges that many patients want reliable information on how cannabis interacts with their medications. But while much is known about health effects of alcohol use, for instance, information about recreational pot is far less understood and available, notes the college.

The move makes Ontario the only province to require pharmacists to complete a cannabis course.

“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 says in a backgrounder emailed to The Canadian Press.

“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.”

Regulatory bodies in other provinces have taken a more hands-off approach.

Still, 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.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia says its pharmacists are bound by a code of ethics “to practice only within the scope of their education, training and competence.”

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,” notes Beazely, whose course also breaks down the differences and similarities between recreational and medical cannabis products.

Ideally, pharmacists should know about all of a patient’s drug use — whether it be over-the-counter, natural health products, vitamin supplements, prescription drugs or recreational drugs, legal and illegal, says Beazely.

Cannabis education varies at the university level but does seem to be gradually working its way into the classroom, he adds.

“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.”

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