Majority of Pharmacy Students Want Medical Marijuana Legalized

About 6 in 10 pharmacy students think that medical marijuana should be legalized in all 50 states, and 90% believe that there should be more education about it in pharmacy school curricula.

About 6 in 10 pharmacy students think that medical marijuana should be legalized in all 50 states, and 90% believe that there should be more education about it in pharmacy school curricula.

The results of a new study involving 311 University of Kansas pharmacy students—58% of whom want medical marijuana to be legalized—stand in stark contrast to a previous study of medical students’ attitudes toward psychoactive drugs.

A 1971 study found that 70% of pharmacy students supported the prohibition of marijuana. Meanwhile, only 29% of medical and law students said the same.

“Changes in state legalization, cultural acceptance, personal use, news and social media coverage, and decreased perception of risk have undoubtedly combined to shift opinions over the past 4 decades,” the current researchers stated.

Their new survey reveals how attitudes have changed since then, but it also shows a lack of confidence in knowledge regarding efficacy, safety, and drug interactions of medical marijuana.

Students in their first, second, and third year of pharmacy school completed the anonymous survey in the spring semester of 2011. They were asked about their knowledge of medical marijuana, including its medical uses and adverse effects, as well as their attitudes toward medical marijuana.

Kansas, the state where the students were taking the survey, does not allow for the use of medical marijuana.

The study revealed a lack of awareness regarding the diseases and conditions that medical marijuana is permitted to treat in some states. There were 14 conditions or diseases that had approved medical uses in various states, and 5 that were not approved for use in any state.

Cancer and glaucoma were the only 2 conditions identified by more than half of the students. Nausea or vomiting was the third most commonly recognized condition, identified by 46% of students. Hepatitis C (5%) and Alzheimer’s disease (10%) were the least commonly recognized.

The study authors found that more third-year pharmacy students knew about the use of marijuana to treat cancer and nausea than first-year students. However, the opposite was true for muscle spasms.

The majority of the students did not feel confident in their abilities to answer questions about the efficacy, safety, and least of all drug interactions related to medical marijuana use.

Students who had used marijuana did show slightly more confidence in answering patients’ questions regarding the substance.

The researchers argued that pharmacy schools—especially those located in states that have adopted medical marijuana use—should consider incorporating medical marijuana education into their curricula.

Washington, DC, and 23 states allow for the use of medical marijuana, and around 11 other states have proposed legislation to legalize it. Some states have also considered having licensed pharmacists dispense the substance.

“With the growing trend in state legalization and increased patient use of medical marijuana, pharmacy students and pharmacists are likely to be consulted by patients and other health care professions on the safety, efficacy, and drug-drug or drug-disease interactions of medical marijuana,” the researchers stated.

They noted that the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) opposes the use of medical marijuana but has called for more research and advocated for continuing education for pharmacists on the use and safety of the substance.

Other findings from the study included:

· 37% of the pharmacy students had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.

· 35% thought marijuana should be legalized for recreational use.

· Students who had used marijuana were more likely to be in favor of medical (78%) or recreational (54%) use compared with students who had not used marijuana.

· Students who had used marijuana were more knowledgeable about its 8 approved indications: glaucoma, nausea, HIV, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, and hepatitis.

· Students who had used marijuana were also more likely to report more unapproved indications than their peers who had not used the substance before.

· The majority of students knew that marijuana could lead to impaired memory, hallucinations, and paranoia.

· 13% of students had received some instruction on medical marijuana in their curricula.

In addition to more education on medical marijuana, it would be beneficial for pharmacy students to learn more about potency and the various ways to consume marijuana, the researchers stated.

Students will also need to learn state laws about recommendations for the use of medical marijuana, the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education study suggested.