Pharmacist Calls for Medical Marijuana to Meet Same Standards as Other Drugs

Concerns raised from combining medical marijuana dispensaries with recreational dispensaries.

Concerns raised from combining medical marijuana dispensaries with recreational dispensaries.

With the looming possibility of medical marijuana entering the specialty pharmacy marketplace, the drug should be held to the same scrutiny as other pharmaceuticals, according to Edward Bednarczyk, PharmD, pharmacy practice chair in the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In a press release, Dr. Bednarczyk said medical marijuana has the potential to blur the line between medicine and recreational drug, as dispensaries in Oregon that previously distributed the drug for strictly medicinal purposes are now accessible to any adult age 21 or over.

“That is the heart of the problem. If we want to seriously explore the medical side of marijuana, not much good can come from combining medical dispensaries with recreational ones,” Bednarczyk said. “This, unfortunately, is the direction things are going in. Removing the veneer idea of there being a distinction between medicine and recreation has the potential of slowing down meaningful research on cannabis.”

Bednarczyk said that further research is needed to determine the optimal dose, the best possible combination of components from cannabis, and which patient populations would be best served by the use of medical marijuana.

“This is a call for science. I think just like any other drug product, we shouldn’t rush things to market until the expected, standard for safety has been met,” he noted. “No one is opposed to the active ingredients in marijuana. It just needs to be studied like any other drug. People are advocating for it for less than pure reasons. How about some data? That is what we would expect from any other drug.”

Bednarczyk added that the FDA currently classifies medical marijuana in the same category as LSD, heroin and other drugs that carry significant health risks. In order for medical marijuana to help patients, it must be reclassified by the FDA to allow for it to be better evaluated, he said.

“With that classification, the ability to possess it, much less do research on it, is nearly impossible,” Bednarczyk explained. “We need more data, more research that says, ‘This is good, this is OK,’ and to do that a reclassification would be a reasonable first step.”

With the great medical potential offered by medical marijuana, intensive research is still needed on the active ingredients of the drug.

“Plants have historically been a rich source of human medications, but nowhere else have we settled for using crude plant products instead of the active ingredients,” Bednarczyk said. “We have also used modern techniques to develop drugs that are better suited for human use than the forms found in nature.”

Despite this potential, there are still some risks involved in medical marijuana, specifically in conditions such as schizophrenia in which the risk of psychosis from use of the drug exists, Bednarczyk noted.

“That is the biggest thing people are missing about this,” he concluded. “With marijuana I see people lobbying for it to be legalized, and not for careful research to be done so we can find therapeutic agents. It’s all about the prospects of being a multi-billion dollar a year industry that will rival tobacco, not about the patients.”