Nicki Murff

    This week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made headlines when it approved its first pharmaceutical drug derived from the marijuana plant. Epidiolex®, from GW Pharmaceuticals, is an oral medication made of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabis compound, CBD is not psychoactive and consuming it does not result in the “high” typically associated with marijuana use. Epidiolex® was developed to treat two rare and serious forms of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, and GW Pharmaceuticals has stated that it can also be used to treat Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and Infantile Spasms.

    At this time, CBD, along with all other components of the cannabis plant, is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That classification is expected to change in the near future as a result of the FDA approval. Meanwhile, in states where medical marijuana is legal, independent distributers have been selling CBD oil without approval from the FDA. The historical decision by the FDA has spurred questions concerning what this means for doctors and other members of the healthcare community, CBD oil distributers, and patients that have already been using CBD.

    Here’s what to expect going forward:

    • FDA approval will mean a stringent regulation of the drug; where previously dosages were not monitored by the FDA, patients can now be assured of quality and consistency in every dose.
    • This decision may impact the approval of future pharmaceutical drugs derived from marijuana, as research of these types of drugs has been greatly restricted in the past.
    • CBD oil is already being widely used to treat various ailments, and the approval of Epidiolex® has brought even more attention to the chemical compound. Patients will likely begin asking their doctors and pharmacists about it more regularly.

    A recent LinkedIn survey found that early-career doctors who practice in states that have legalized medical marijuana feel less comfortable talking to patients about it than their more experienced colleagues. Here are some things educators can do in the classroom to help prepare students for these conversations:

    • Familiarize your students with key definitions and distinctions surrounding medical marijuana, such as the origins of different monikers, legal history, and differences between the different chemical compounds.
    • Include up-to-date clinical data in your lesson plans to make sure students are familiar with the most recent findings, and are therefore prepared to talk to patients about them.
    • Build a culture of resilience and open-mindedness that is grounded in data. No matter what, the best nurses, doctors, and pharmacists are those who participate in lifelong learning and familiarize themselves with new and established research alike.

    To familiarize your students with epilepsy, consider using our “Understanding Epilepsy” chart. And to teach students about the intoxication that the cannabis chemical compound THC causes, see our Impairment Goggles here.