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Cannabis Makes a Comeback

By Steve Neumann

Published on February 5, 2021

Cannabis Makes a ComebackIn 1907, the grandson of the founder of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company completed his doctoral thesis on cannabis at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy—today known as University of the Sciences. The thesis, titled “The Comparative Physiological Effects of Several Varieties of Cannabis Sativa,” tested five different strains of American cannabis against the more potent Cannabis indica.

Over a century later, USciences is picking up where Eli Lilly’s grandson left off, conducting research and education to support healthcare practitioners through the university’s Substance Use Disorders Institute (SUDI).

But the route from Lilly’s thesis at the beginning of the 20th century to SUDI’s work today has been one long, strange trip.

Though today American society thinks of cannabis as an illegal drug, in 1850 the nation’s official drug-reference manual, the United States Pharmacopeia, listed cannabis as a legitimate treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.

But in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively banned the possession of pot by requiring users to obtain a tax stamp, which they couldn’t buy without providing details about the amount and location of their marijuana, thereby incriminating themselves in the process. 

While that law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act simultaneously—thus ensuring that marijuana remained illegal. However,  a growing number of states have chosen  to legalize marijuana for both medical  and recreational uses.

That’s where SUDI comes in. Originally created in 2017 to provide educational programming, policy outreach, and research about the national opioid epidemic, the Institute assembled an impressive group of researchers from across the university’s departments of pharmacy practice, physician assistant studies, humanities, behavioral and social sciences, biological sciences, kinesiology, and pharmacology and toxicology.

But at the same time that SUDI was beginning to work on opioids, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania started its medical marijuana program, and one of its requirements was that physicians and pharmacists interested in providing access to medical cannabis needed to complete a four-hour Department of Health-approved educational program.

Andrew Peterson“So we decided that that would be right within our wheelhouse,” says Andrew Peterson, Executive Director of SUDI, “and we had some alums and others who were experts within the area and who were interested and willing to engage.”

One of the alumni Peterson brought in was Dr. Christine Roussel PharmD, BCOP, who is the Senior Executive Director of Pharmacy, Laboratory and Medical Research at Doylestown Hospital, and co-founder of the International Society of Cannabis Pharmacists.

“When a patient shows up to my emergency room and they want to take their cannabis in the hospital, we have to know what’s really in that bottle before we can let them continue it,” said Roussel, who brings in pharmacists with different specializations to teach the course.

Attendees gain a broad perspective about what’s going on in the field and how they deal with everything from financial management to patient care.

USciences alum Maria Foy, PharmD,  BCPS, CPE who is a clinical pharmacy specialist in palliative care at Abington Hospital Jefferson Health, was one of  those pharmacists.

"[Cannabis] is now another option for us to help..."

-- Maria Foy, PharmD, BCPS, CPE

“[Cannabis] is now another option for us to help with symptom management for patients who have an end-stage disease,” Foy says.

SUDI has also identified significant cannabis policy-related questions—one being that the labeling of medical cannabis products in the Commonwealth was inconsistent, which could potentially lead to medication errors by end-users.

“We actually took our recommendations to the state of Pennsylvania this past summer,” says Peterson. In November SUDI presented the recommendations to the medical marijuana advisory board and they were receptive to a lot of the changes.

SUDI continues to work to impact laws, study cannabis use among Hispanic teenagers, and collect data from patients about their use. USciences also offers courses related to medical cannabis, including a specialization in the MBA program specific to the industry as well as USciences Online certificate and degree programs.

Since its inception, SUDI has educated over a thousand pharmacists, physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners throughout Pennsylvania. And with every graduating pharmacist getting the four-hour Department of Health education program so they have the ability to practice in a dispensary when they graduate, USciences places itself at the forefront of the effort to support this promising, once-vilified medical treatment.

Categories: News, Substance Use Disorders Institute, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy,