Two months after announcing a groundbreaking cannabis education curriculum, the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy now says it is backtracking on the plans.
According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, the bold initiative was nixed after university officials met with the Maryland attorney general’s office. “If there’s any question of the law, they are often consulted,” Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore, told the Sun. “Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law.”
The program’s cancellation is a setback for cannabis education. “Medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation,” said Dr. Laura Jean Bierut, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Physicians in training need to know the benefits and drawbacks associated with medical marijuana so they know when or if, and to whom, to prescribe the drug,” she said.
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Although medical marijuana is legal in more than half the states in the nation, more than 67 percent of medical school deans say graduates are not prepared to prescribe medical marijuana, according to a recent report. About 25 percent of graduates are unable to answer basic questions about medical marijuana.
The research also indicates that 90 percent of medical school graduates are unprepared to recommend medical marijuana and 85 percent say they did not receive any marijuana education.
“As a future physician, it worries me,” said study author Anastasia Evanoff. “We need to know how to answer questions about medical marijuana’s risks and benefits, but there is a fundamental mismatch between state laws involving marijuana and the education physicians-in-training receive at medical schools throughout the country,” Evanoff added.
When the University of Maryland announced its cannabis curriculum in July, educators insisted that the program was not a tacit endorsement of medical marijuana, but they wanted to properly educate students. According to the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education:
Pharmacy students have a knowledge gap about medical uses and adverse effects of medical marijuana, which may reflect a lack of formal education in their pharmacy curriculum. If the use of marijuana shifts from an illegal substance to a prescribed medicinal agent, pharmacy students and other health care professionals will need education and training to competently address its safe and effective use. … Pharmacy schools need to evaluate the adequacy of medical marijuana education in their courses and consider revising curriculum accordingly.
This disparity is what fueled the University of Maryland to add cannabis classes to its curriculum. “We wanted to be there as a resource,” Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner, a pharmacy professor and executive director of the school’s Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, said. “If you’re going to be dispensing, let’s make sure your staff is trained in best practices to do it safely and effectively.”
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Maryland doctors are not required to have any kind of training or certification to recommend medical marijuana. But the state requires workers employed by growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to have specific training.
Until the federal government acts on marijuana law reform, education on the issue will be sparse. As Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group NORML, told the Sun:
“It is likely that medical schools will continue to shy away from cannabis education until the federal scheduling of cannabis is amended and/or the plant’s therapeutic utility is formally recognized by the FDA.”