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NZ: Call for pharmacists to get ahead of medicinal cannabis surge

New Zealand’s over 3,500 practising pharmacists need to urgently familiarise themselves with medicinal cannabis. Patient enquiries and demand are set to surge when Kiwi-made products come onto the market later this year, says one pharmacist who should know.

Charge pharmacist and co-owner at Ngā Hua Pharmacy in Hamilton, James Yu, has arguably processed more medicinal cannabis prescriptions than anyone in the country. He’s dispensed it to more than 600 patients in the past three years and counting.

“I’ve seen medicinal cannabis very successfully prescribed for the likes of pain, seizure control, anxiety, insomnia, and for rarer conditions. Most know about CBD and THC, but cannabis has dozens more compounds which could be harnessed to treat many different conditions. Science is starting to unleash its vast therapeutic potential,” he says.

Mr Yu’s now calling on his colleagues to prepare and upskill themselves for significant patient questions with local product availability the catalyst. Doctors will also be quizzing pharmacists.

“Often, the first point of call for enquiries about medicinal cannabis are pharmacists. That includes from doctors who field questions from their patients and then often ask their community pharmacist. Therefore, it’s critical that pharmacists understand medicinal cannabis, so they can give the appropriate advice. A lack of knowledge, otherwise, will only add a barrier to patients wanting to access medicinal cannabis,” he says.

The medicinal cannabis postgraduate is strongly encouraging pharmacists to take up two specific opportunities to learn more – both sponsored by Helius Therapeutics, the first medicinal cannabis business to gain a GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines from the Ministry of Health. 

Dubbed New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis information service, DATAPHARM’s newly launched is now online. Registration is free for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. The education initiative also sees highly trained representatives on the road to better inform healthcare professionals about medicinal cannabis

Pharmacist James Yu

Then, on 12 and 13 October, Medcan 2021 Summit takes place in Auckland. It will include a one-day Healthcare Professional Forum where experts will present on the endocannabinoid system, clinical data, the applications and prescribing of medicinal cannabis in medical practice.

“MedCan 2021 will contain the most up-to-date information for us as pharmacists. It is a fantastic way to network and meet other health professionals interested in all things medicinal cannabis. At the same time, MCinfo is a great online platform to learn more about key aspects such as our endocannabinoid system and the different indications, dosages, and contraindications of medicinal cannabis,” says Mr Yu.

Past surveys of Kiwi healthcare professionals have confirmed medicinal cannabis knowledge gaps, yet those at the coalface report growing enquiries and demand. Mr Yu says patients are about to get even more interested.

“Having dispensed to over 600 patients, almost all of them at some point ask about a product’s country of origin. Given they’ve all been imported from overseas so far, many patients have made it clear they would prefer to buy and support local. Without doubt then, once we have Kiwi products, we can expect a whole new rush of interest,” he says.

Mr Yu says patients will ask in-depth questions about locally produced medicinal cannabis products. He says these could include the strength of the product, cannabinoid profile, terpene profile, and carrier oils.

“In the last three years I’ve been active in this field, I’ve seen a huge change in the views of many patients and doctors. Furthermore, the continued interest in the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis will only grow. It’s important that we stay up to date with the latest knowledge and evidence surrounding medicinal cannabis.

“What’s more, interest and use will only continue to grow. With increasing awareness, research and time, I truly believe medicinal cannabis will change the paradigm of health and longevity,” he says.

As well as dispensing medicinal cannabis from his Hamilton pharmacy, James Yu is a member of Helius Therapeutics’ Expert Advisory Board – a role he values.

“Helius’ vision and ethos are in line with mine. Not only do they want to tap into the endless therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabinoids, but they’re determined to improve patients’ accessibility. Importantly, they’ve secured both a GMP licence and the most innovative people in their respective fields,” he says.

Chief Executive at Helius Therapeutics, Carmen Doran, says the 100% New Zealand-owned medicinal cannabis company is delighted to have James Yu on its expert advisory board given both his extensive clinical knowledge and patient experience.

“Helius now has a GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines and the best people to get the job done. Helius is also steadfastly committed to education and so we’re thrilled to be backing initiatives to better support the country’s pharmacists,” says Ms Doran.

DATAPHARM Director, Don Budge, says Mr Yu’s encouragement of pharmacists to upskill themselves on medicinal cannabis is appreciated given local products are imminent and pharmacists are an important and trusted touchpoint for patients.

“At the recent Independent Pharmacy Conference in Taupo, we were really buoyed by pharmacists’ genuine interest in learning more about medicinal cannabis. There are many now registered at MCinfo. They’re keen for a single trusted source of information with real-time access to medicinal cannabis’ ongoing global developments,” says Mr Budge.

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