Shoppers advising doctors about medicinal cannabis use

Shoppers Drug Mart has begun a series of events which are being marketed to doctors as educational events which will give them the ability to “capably and confidently authorize medical cannabis for your patients”. So said the notice which was sent out to doctors across the country to try and get them to sign up for one of the events planned in Canada.

These events are very similar to those which have been run by the big pharmaceutical companies, and which have come under fire from the medical community in the past. These events are always officially stated to be a source of education for physicians regarding new medications, but unofficially, and concerningly, with the goal of convincing doctors to prescribe more of their medications.

Shopper’s events are touting “internationally renowned” speakers within the academic and health-care field but leaving out the fact that all seem to be intimately tied to cannabis producing companies, or private cannabis clinics. The speakers have such affiliations as being a director of a private cannabis clinic, being on the advisory board for two cannabis corporations, heading their own cannabis consulting company, and being on the board of cannabis producers; with most of these speakers’ affiliations not being mentioned in the events’ info.

“I think this is a serious problem, there is definitely a need for doctors to learn how to appropriately prescribe medical marijuana. But that should not be paid for by the people who stand to profit from increased sales.”~ Dr. Joel Lexchin, a health-policy expert and emergency doctor in Toronto.

The pharmacy giant gained Health Canada’s approval to be a licensed medical cannabis producer in September of 2018. At the moment the only way to legally sell the medicinal product is via mail order from licensed producers, directly to the patients. Shoppers indicated from the beginning of requesting the license that they had no interest in becoming a producer, just in dispensing the medical cannabis to patients. They are currently lobbying the federal government to allow pharmacists to dispense medical cannabis from within their stores, but until that is allowed they will only be able to sell online and via phone orders, once they have received their sales permit.

“Recreational cannabis is now more accessible and available than medical cannabis, increasing the risk that patients can and will self-medicate,” said Catherine Thomas, a spokeswoman for Shopper’s. “Ultimately, we believe the best way to support patients looking to use this therapy is through education for health care practitioners.”

Although there may be a lack of information with regard to this matter many within the healthcare industry question the appropriateness of the company giving “educational” talks when they have a vested interest in the sale of the product.

Sharon Cirone, a Toronto family doctor, has voiced her concern over a company with business investment in the product giving medical education, saying “It’s not appropriate and it’s not necessary”, adding that there are other resources available to physicians which are being developed by associations which do not have a vested financial interest in the sale, such as the College of Family Physicians of Canada, as well as other medical associations.

The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Associations is hesitant, however, for pharmacists to be dispensing medicinal cannabis. This reluctance is echoed by the Canadian Medical Association regarding physicians increasing cannabis use in their practices.

“The CMA remains concerned about the lack of clinical research, guidance and regulatory oversight for cannabis as a potential medical intervention,” the CMA states on its website.

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