Medical marijuana and pharmacists: A prescription for confusion?

What should pharmacists do about medical marijuana? Because it's a criminalized substance under federal law, pharmacists, like other health-care workers, aren't supposed to have anything to do with it. On the other hand, pharmacists want to meet the needs of their patients, many of whom have medical marijuana IDs. The schizophrenic relationship between pharmacists and pot is illustrated by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)'s new MMJ policy, which opposes marijuana legislation efforts, yet advocates for more pot research and suggests the DEA consider removing the drug from its Schedule I narcotics list.

Still, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions for pharmacists who are used to dealing with cut-and-dry drug doses and medically vetted lists of adverse reactions -- and not one-ounce baggies of AK-47. "In some ways, this is an instance where the legality has gotten ahead of how we know how to use it," said Cynthia Reilly, RPh, ASHP's director of the Practice Development Division in a recent Pharmacy Practice News article. "There are so many unknowns, but clinicians are being faced with patients who are using it."

Among those unknowns: Who should a pharmacist refer their patients to if they show up with a doctor's prescription for MMJ? What should hospital pharmacists do if a patient brings their own MMJ into the facility? And how can pharmacists ensure there aren't adverse reactions between medical marijuana and other pharmaceuticals they need to prescribe their patients?

Then again, some of these questions may be premature, since most medical marijuana patients don't try to score their meds through Walgreens. Most hospitals haven't run into problems, either. According to Pharmacy Practice News, Cindy O'Bryant, PharmD, BCOP, the oncology pharmacy specialist at Aurora's University of Colorado Cancer Center, can't remember any patients wanting to medicate with marijuana at the facility.

Even if they did, she added, the hospital's no-exceptions non-smoking policy would put a damper on it.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Local Products of Colorado sweeps last Caregivers' Cup (PHOTOS)"

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