Ahead of Pa. medical marijuana rollout, crash course on new therapy set for health workers

     In this photo, different strains of marijuana are displayed at Breakwater Treatment and Wellness in Cranbury, N.J.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    In this photo, different strains of marijuana are displayed at Breakwater Treatment and Wellness in Cranbury, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    Some patients in Pennsylvania could be able to get prescriptions for medical marijuana early next year. In the meantime, many doctors, pharmacists and other health care providers have questions.

    Later this month, Thomas Jefferson University and the Philadelphia-based startup Greenhouse Ventures will begin a series of classes for health professionals across the state.

    The therapy has been rarely taught in medical schools and, unlike other medications, it is not being promoted by one entity, said Sara Jane Ward, an associate professor at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Ward researches cannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis, and is one of the course instructors.

    “There is not a pharmaceutical company to send a representative out and [say], ‘This is our new pill for chronic pain and these are the benefits,'” Ward said. “They would normally be getting that education as new drugs are rolling out onto the market, so this is really being provided in the place of that.”

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    Ward plans to start with the basics of how cannabis affects the body and how it may help — or hurt — some patients. She acknowledges the science in this area is light, but researchers are conducting larger clinical trials as more and more states adopt laws allowing some forms of cannabis to treat certain conditions. So far, cannabis has been shown to be an effective treatment for chronic pain, Ward said.

    “Especially, when we have almost 30 states with medical marijuana policies on the books, we need to make sure that the doctors and the pharmacists that are going to be recommending and dispensing these products are as knowledgeable as they can be about the possible therapeutic, as well as possible adverse, effects of what they’re handing out,” Ward said.

    In Pennsylvania, prescription cannabinoid pills, oils, creams and vaporizers have been approved for 17 conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and sickle cell anemia.

    The first course will be held in Philadelphia on July 25 before moving on to Allentown, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg and State College.

    While the classes will last only 1.5 hours, according to Greenhouse Ventures’ website, Pennsylvania law also requires medical professionals to undergo four hours of training on the latest scientific research and best practices before becoming certified to prescribe medical marijuana or work at a dispensary. 

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