Cannabis for Credits

July 12, 2017

Clinical rotation gives students unique view of medical cannabis industry.

Pharmacy students are getting a new kind of education in Illinois.

Students now have the opportunity to learn about the medical cannabis industry through a new clinical rotation at PDI Medical, a medical cannabis dispensary in Buffalo Grove, IL.

Joseph Friedman, RPh, Chief Operating Officer at PDI Medical, said he believes the six-week clinical rotation is the first of its kind in the United States.

The goal of the rotation, he said, is for fourth-year pharmacy students to gain experience and expand their knowledge of the types of medical cannabis while also getting first-hand experience counseling and treating patients who benefit from taking medical cannabis in its various forms. 

“I think the best way, and this is what the whole idea is behind this clinical rotation, is to sit in and understand cannabis-based therapy over the course of several consultations with patients,” Friedman said.

Related article: A Solution to the Opioid Crisis?

The program, which started in the fall of 2016, is a partnership between the dispensary and Roosevelt University College of Pharmacy in Shaumburg, IL.

PDI Medical also secured an agreement with the University of the Incarnate Word, Feik School of Pharmacy (UIW FSOP) San Antonio, TX after student Michael Contreras learned about the opportunity and wanted the chance to participate as well.

Contreras, who is just finishing up his rotation at the dispensary, said he reached out to Friedman to set up the partnership between PDI Medical and UIW FSOP because as a student he wanted to stay current with the profession of pharmacy and gain experience that could be beneficial for him in the years ahead.

“It’s part of the evolution of pharmacy and it’s the future, and to me, that’s what was exciting,” he said.

As he’s nearing the end of his rotation, Contreras said he’d describe the experience as amazing and highlighted the opportunity he’s had to see how medical cannabis can benefit patients and improve their quality of life.

“To sit down and listen to them and to have that time to talk to them and listen to what they have to say and what their goals are, to me it’s amazing,” he said.

Up next: Beyond cannabis

 

Brett Dunham, PharmD, EMT-B, was the first student to complete the clinical rotation at PDI Medical. Dunham had long been interested in the field of medical cannabis and was eager to have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience at a dispensary being run by a pharmacist.

“I think what Joe has done and what PDI has done and what pharmacist involvement has done for medical cannabis has propelled it forward so quickly and lent such credibility and worked to really tear down a lot of the taboo associated with it and a lot of the stigma that’s associated with it,” he said.

Related article: The Health Economics of Medical Pot and the Pharmacist’s Role

He said his experience allowed him to hone his clinical counseling skills.

“One of the most important clinical skills that you can have and you can use in this situation is really having an excellent patient rapport and good counseling and developing those counseling skills,” he said.

Many of the patients who come to the dispensary have exhausted many other treatment options before they arrive and have an extensive history and medication list. Dunham, who is now a PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in Washington, DC, said pharmacists can play a valuable role assisting these complex patients by conducting medication reconciliation.

“You can’t just know cannabis, you have to know everything [about the drugs] that these patients are coming in on. I found several discrepancies that patients would describe as side effects that were absolutely linked to classic interactions between medications that they were getting from three or four doctors,” Dunham said.

Dunham added that there’s also quite a bit of trial and error when working with patients to determine the best administration routes for cannabis.

“Having that intimate knowledge of not only the cannabis industry but of also the pharmaceutical aspect of patient care, something as simple as ‘are you comfortable using this,’ allows for a great deal of interaction and a great deal of creativity on our part,” he said.

Friedman plans to continue to reach out to other pharmacy schools as well in hopes of attracting more partners who will allow this clinical rotation for students.

Related article: Medical marijuana: A new business model for pharmacists

He believes giving pharmacy students this education during pharmacy school not only advances patient treatment with medical cannabis but also helps students better prepare for the evolving world of pharmacy.

“What this whole model offers up is the opportunity for pharmacists to really practice the profession of pharmacy,” Friedman said.