Pharmacists failing to help on cannabis

marijuana bud

The Pharmacy Connect education program will include an overview of medicinal cannabis, including the current market in Australia

Conference Convenor Kos Sclavos said it is critically important that pharmacists are up-to-speed with the latest clinical research and legislative processes for medicinal cannabis.

“An ever increasing number of Australians accept the role of medicinal cannabis as a therapy option and its benefits in a number of therapeutic areas,” he said.

“As a member of the Epilepsy Queensland board, where the role of medicinal cannabis in specific epilepsy conditions is well documented, I am alarmed and somewhat embarrassed when patients report to me that some pharmacists could not assist them at all, on how to access product and clinical information about medicinal cannabis.

“Even if pharmacists are not willing to go through the arduous Special Access Scheme (SAS) through the TGA, they need to be informed about the products so they can assist both their patients and where relevant, their carer,” Mr Sclavos said.

As a clinical process, when medicinal cannabis is added to therapy, all other medicines will continue to be taken.

“If community pharmacies and pharmacists do not remain informed about medicinal cannabis therapies, there is a significant risk that they will see their patient’s medications dispensed elsewhere.

“Furthermore, if the community pharmacy sector does not embrace this therapeutic category, pharmacy faces the risk of dispensing occurring at specialised dispensaries—which in my opinion is against the public interest,” Mr Sclavos said.

This education session will be presented by Associate Professor Nick Lintzeris (MBBS, PhD, FAChAM), an addiction medicine specialist and collaborator at the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics—an Australian first in the field of medicinal cannabinoid research.

“Professor Lintzeris is at the cutting edge of medicinal cannabis research and, most importantly, understands the role that pharmacy should and will be playing in the future.

“The Guild will be taking a leadership position on medicinal cannabis, in terms of ensuring the Australian public is armed with factual information. This key session at Pharmacy Connect should be attended by all delegates and shared with staff to ensure that community pharmacy plays an active role as this new market emerges,” Mr Sclavos said.

‘Medicinal Cannabis—an overview for pharmacists’ will be held on Sunday September 3. Full conference program is available now at:

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  1. Ronky

    I am alarmed and somewhat embarrassed that a leader of the pharmacy owners’ association thinks that it’s part of a pharmacist’s role to “assist” patients “on how to access product and clinical information about medicinal cannabis”.

    Would you assist a customer on how to access morphine and clinical information about it, before he’s even been prescribed it? Of course not (I hope). The same applies to “medicinal” cannabis, only even more so since it is not only an S8 drug, it’s an unregistered medicine (so by definition there is no “clinical information” as such, just anecdotes).

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      I’m alarmed that pharmacists pre-prepare for their role in dispensing and counselling patients on the correct use of medications by undertaking a pharmacy degree.

      Would you prepare for an eventuality that is likely to occur in the near future with a high level of media and public interest? Would you stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing is going to change, right up until the day this medication is legal and readily prescribable?

      It seems to me that pharmacists are absolutely going to field questions on this topic, and know howing to answer when the questions flow in is not only sensible, it would be irresponsible not to learn in the area.

      • Ronky

        You seem a little confused Jarrod, it’s already legal and readily prescribable, and I certainly endorse pharmacists learning about it.

    • Andrew

      As the nominal drug experts it’s probably our job more than anyone’s to be across this topic and advise and inform a curious public. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of up to date information available to local pharmacists (the field is moving very quickly) and the information that does get disseminated is often wrong (“cannabis is a gateway drug” – PGA representative), out of date (“cannabis causes psychosis” – AMA President), or just plain wrong (“there’s no evidence for efficacy or safety in any indication” – AMA). The public would love to learn more about medicinal cannabis (support is >70%) but there’s a paucity of good information and effective communicators.

      I reckon Australian pharmacy has missed the boat on this one anyway – we’re yet to have a cogent plan for how supply will fit in to the the practice of pharmacy. A P2P internet/courier supply chain will come to predominate – most capital cities have a form of this already with parallel services for recreational and medicinal (often the same thing, BTW). This will be a lost $2B/year (at least!) in revenue along with the lost opportunity for monitoring by HCPs and the associated D&A support.

      As an aside, here’s one of the Principles from the Medical Cannabis Unit of the Israeli Ministry of Health; perhaps we could take some guidance from the experts?

      “The Ministry of Health wishes to remove obstacles to the supply of this drug to patients who could benefit from it medically and who wish to purchase it at their own expense.”

      • Ronky

        Yes certainly it’s our job to advise and inform patients about all drugs, and we certainly shouldn’t place obstacles to the supply of drugs to people who could medically benefit from it. I don’t know why you think you needed to remind us of that.

        My only objection is to the astonishingly ignorant assertion that it’s a pharmacist’s role to assist patients on how to access product and clinical information about unregistered S8 drugs.

        It’s pretty simple really.

        Customer “How do I access [any S8 or S4] drug?”
        Pharmacist: “ask your doctor if it would be suitable for you and if he thinks it is he will write you a prescription for it which I will happily dispense for you.”
        Customer: “What if the drug is an unregistered medicine?”
        Pharmacist: “Then the doctor will have to get permission to import it from the Government. Either way, it’s nothing for you to worry about, it’s between the doctor and the government.”

        As health professionals it’s out job to give FACTUAL information. i.e. basically to tell customers enquiring about cannabis that at least 99% of the outlandish therapeutic claims for it by populist politicians and those hoping to make big bucks out of it, are just that, empty claims with no evidence. If its promoters really thought that it had significant therapeutic value they would do what anyone else does and get the data proving it and submit it for registration as a medicine.

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