In the classroom: Pharmacy students debate dispensing medical marijuana

February 28, 2019

By Jan Jarvis

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First-year pharmacy students recently got a glimpse of how tough their careers might be one day when they debated their role in dispensing medical marijuana.

It is better to have a pharmacist who is educated in drug interactions, adverse effects and safe effective dosing rather someone at a dispensary who may not be familiar with these issues, argued those on a team that included Juan Cid, Chad Gibby, Steven Nguyen, Hung Tran and Dorian Maloy.

But it’s not necessary for pharmacists to be involved in dispensing medical marijuana because their expected salaries would drive up costs, making medical marijuana unaffordable to those who need it, theorized the opposing team, made up of Chase Darden, Leonardo Garcia, Ian Harris and Thara Vadakedom.

The ethical debate was in theory only, given that medical marijuana is legal to only those that qualify for use of a low-dose tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), high cannabidiol cannabis under Senate Bill 339 – Texas Compassionate Use. But the exercise offered students the chance to explore a hot topic that they could find themselves facing when they start their careers in pharmacy.

It also served as a developmental tool for clinical knowledge, critical thinking and communication skills, said Megan Wesling, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacotherapy.

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“Active learning through debate builds the students’ foundational knowledge on the current rules and regulations of medical marijuana,” she said. “In addition, this debate format fosters development of teamwork among the student groups, enhances communication skills and applies critical thinking to the subject matter.”

The students also debated the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana in Texas. Proponents argued that medical marijuana might play an important role in relieving chronic pain without the risks, such as overdoses, that are associated with opioids.

Studies have explored the efficacy of medical marijuana in managing epilepsy, glaucoma, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, improving sleep quality and reducing neuropathic pain and/or spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

However, opponents argued that the lack of research on long-term use puts patients at an unknown risk. They also pointed to concerns that medical marijuana could serve as a gateway drug for other harmful substances.

One point both sides agreed on was the need for more research on the benefits and drawbacks of medical marijuana.

Watching the first-year pharmacy students research and debate a controversial topic was fun, impressive and enlightening – even for the professors that put the debate together, said Jessica Gardea, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacotherapy.

“Ultimately, it was an educational activity that engaged the first-year pharmacy class in a creative way while inspiring thoughtful conversation on a topic that will impact their practice as pharmacists in the future,” Dr. Wesling said.

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