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Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in Canada.
But the education around cannabis has not caught up to the industry's momentum, leaving healthcare professionals to learn about cannabis on the fly as they try to provide safe and effective patient care.
Sabrina Ramkellawan is trying to change that.
Vice President of Clinical Affairs at TerrAscend, a licensed cannabis producer, and President of the Clinical Research Association of Canada, Sabrina approached The Michener Institute of Education at UHN in 2018 about launching a course on cannabis education for healthcare workers.
"This is the first course that I'm aware of that focuses on the medical side of cannabis," says Sabrina. "There's a need to have a standardized, non-biased way of educating patients about cannabis that's not about pushing a product."
In her first job in the cannabis sector, Sabrina worked at a medical cannabis clinic designing a research framework to track patients' pain scores and their progress. It was during her time at the clinic that she saw how physicians and nurses had no education about cannabis and how awkward it was for doctors to prescribe it.
"You can imagine teaching an 85-year-old how to vape," Sabrina recalls.
As the recreational cannabis industry started to evolve, she noticed that healthcare workers were still in the dark about how to educate patients properly.
Designed for anyone working in patient education
"We were seeing patients asking other patients about cannabis on Facebook groups," she says. "That's not medical education."
The first step was to design a program in a neutral academic setting open to anyone working in patient education. Sabrina saw Michener as an obvious choice because of its focus on healthcare, partnership with UHN and curriculum design expertise.
With an advisory committee of pharmacists, physicians, lawyers and patient representatives, Sabrina and Michener's Continuing Education team were able to plan a course curriculum that includes the history and science of cannabis, drug interactions, dosing, case studies and a panel discussion with medical experts.
The Introduction to Cannabis course launched as a five-week webinar last week, and a 12-week certificate course will be available in the fall.
For Sabrina, the course is a necessity.
"The cannabis industry is growing so fast," she says. "Now there's a legitimate course about cannabis from the medical perspective."