Pharmacists in some Canadian grocery stores will be able to guide customers through the decision to use medical cannabis and the process of getting prescriptions for pot.
On Thursday, Pathway Health, Corp. (TSXV : PHC) and Sobeys Capital Incorporated, a subsidy of Empire Company Limited (TSX: EMP.A), announced an agreement to offer cannabis training for pharmacists and implement a system so they can help customers obtain medical cannabis and track prescribed products.
“Not only do the pharmacists need to be able to talk intelligently about [cannabis products], but they have to be able to help their patients, their customers follow up on that,” says Pathway president Wayne Cockburn.
“It is a legal drug and they should at least be current on it.”
While Sobeys pharmacists can’t prescribe cannabis or provide it through a pharmacy, they can facilitate the process as part of Pathway’s system.
For instance, a customer could consult with a pharmacist wondering if cannabis could alleviate their chronic pain.
If a pharmacist determines it’s the right choice, patients are then connected either to their primary physician, a Pathway physician or a nurse practitioner for further evaluation, in person or via telemedicine.
A licensed producer then handles the purchase and sends cannabis to the customer by mail.
The pharmacy would be informed of which product the customer is using and keep that on record.
Pharmacists should understand cannabis like any other medicine, Pathway says
Pathway’s online training program educates pharmacists on cannabis and its effects like any other prescribed medicine so patients are properly informed.
“That’s the idea,” Cockburn tells Mugglehead.
“That’s what pharmacists are recognizing now that they really need to know what their patients are taking, whether it’s [recreational] cannabis or medical cannabis because of the potential contraindications.”
According to 2020 Statistics Canada data, 27 per cent of people indicated they had consumed pot in one way or another in the past 12 months. But at the same time, studies have found a gap in cannabis education in the medical field.
“We believe it is essential for Canadians to have access to support from experienced health-care professionals to help them navigate medical cannabis safely and effectively,” said Marie-Claude Vezina, VP and GM for Sobeys national pharmacy, in a statement.
Pathway’s education program, Cannabis and Patient Care for Pharmacists, is certified in Ontario, which is the only province so far to mandate pharmacists have cannabis training.
The company’s pharmacy process, Medical Cannabis Management System (MCMS), is up and running in Nova Scotia before rolling out in the rest of Atlantic Canada. Sobeys remaining 425 pharmacies in Canada will follow.
At the end of June, Pathway said it partnered with PharmaChoice to implement MCMS in more than 250 pharmacies in Ontario.
Looking forward, Cockburn acknowledges it’s difficult to know what regulatory changes could come from the federal government, but it seems pharmacists are keeping shelves clear to possibly carry CBD products.
“Pharmacists are basically preparing for the advent of cannabis products to be made available through the pharmacies,” he says adding, the focus is on CBD products at the moment and not THC. “This is something that the government has been looking at.”
Since there isn’t a psychotropic effect from CBD products, he argues “there’s no need to have such high restrictions on it.”
For medical cannabis to be dispensed and sold in pharmacies would require support from provinces and territories as well as pharmacists and their regulatory authorities, according to an email from Health Canada.
“Health Canada has previously indicated that it is open to discussing other models of distributing cannabis for medical purposes, including pharmacy distribution, if support exists.”
Update (2021-7-9, 12:50 p.m.): This article has been updated to include comment from Health Canada.