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Connecticut pharmacists, docs gather to learn about medical marijuana

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. — As Connecticut’s new medical marijuana program moves closer to becoming fully operational, pharmacists and physicians were briefed Wednesday on the particulars of the drug.

About 175 medical professionals were on hand for the state’s first Medical Cannabis Symposium, a day-long event held at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. Medical marijuana advocates said they hoped the symposium would help to educate clinicians about cannabis, which is still considered an illegal substance on the federal level.

“I want doctors to feel more comfortable with this medicine as a potential option for their patients,” said Ethan Ruby, founder and CEO of Theraplant LLC in Watertown. It’s one of four companies that have received state licenses to grow the plants. Ruby, who is also president of the growers’ association, said some doctors are reticent to prescribe the drug because of the federal law and because the American Medical Association opposes marijuana legalization.

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Wednesday’s program was sponsored by the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, in conjunction with the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids. It included presentations on the medicinal properties of the marijuana plant and its typical acute effects, as well as potential impairment risks from marijuana usage and populations with the highest risks for abuse. There was also discussion of clinical trials that have been conducted on the chemical compounds found in marijuana and how those compounds were used for pain management.

Connecticut’s medical marijuana program is the first in the country that’s based on a pharmaceutical/medical model, which requires a physician to certify that a patient is eligible for the drug, the production facilities to operate as pharmaceutical manufacturers and the drug to be dispensed by licensed pharmacists, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

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Margherita R. Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, said even though pharmacists and physicians may have received some formal training about marijuana, the idea of using it medicinally is relatively new.

“It’s pretty much like any new drug. They’re learning about how it acts in the body, how it might interact with other medications,” she said.

Under Connecticut’s new law, in-state patients who are at least 18 years old and suffer from 11 debilitating illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease and cancer, can use the drug, as long as their physician officially certifies they need the drug for palliative purposes. While patients can already register with the state to use medical marijuana, the product won’t become legally available until late this summer or in the fall.

The Department of Consumer Protection has already granted licenses to four producers and six dispensaries. Representatives from all 10 organizations were on hand at Wednesday’s symposium to meet with the physicians and pharmacists.

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“We want to kind of dispel any concerns that people might have as to who the individuals are,” said Giuliano, adding how the production facilities and dispensaries are operated by professionals who are abiding by state laws which treat medical marijuana as a schedule II drug, such as OxyContin. “So, we just want them to know each other and have a comfort level so that they know that if they want to pick up the phone and speak to somebody, they can.”

Under Connecticut’s program, only the pharmacists associated with the dispensaries will be distributing medical marijuana. But Giuliano said it’s important for all pharmacists to know more about medical marijuana and its effects, especially if they have patients who are using medical marijuana and use other medications.