Pharmacy U

Blockchain and pharmacies: How technology can make selling medical cannabis safer

medical cannabis
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By Robert Galarza

Many patients swear by medical cannabis as an effective treatment for a wide swathe of ailments and symptoms, including chronic pain, opioid dependency, nausea, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.

As a result of the regulatory changes that occurred when cannabis was federally legalized in October 2018, patients can now purchase their cannabis online from one of their most trusted sources: the pharmacy, rendering the therapeutic drug more accessible than ever before. Ordering medical cannabis from a familiar source may be less intimidating — and more convenient — to some patients than a visit to their local recreational weed dispensary, and purchasing medication online from a reputable pharmacy can help reinforce patients’ peace of mind (and provide more treatment options) in a way that ordering directly from a single licensed producer simply can’t match.

However, a common issue that often arises with medical cannabis is that pharmacists responsible for prescribing medicine for patients are accustomed to dispensing medications with a standardized level of active ingredients, and thus are reluctant to contend with the variability that can occur when dispensing plant-based treatments such as the cannabis flower.

The potential for inconsistency, paired with the lack of a comprehensive, central source of information that details the particular qualities of a specific product or cultivar, can make dispensing cannabis a daunting task. In light of medical cannabis dispensation by pharmacies being in its nascent stages, pharmacists, patients, and caregivers alike may not feel fully confident in selecting from the plethora of cannabis products available to them — never mind the correct dose, frequency, and ideal method of consumption.

Enter blockchain.

Whether dried flower, extracts, topicals, or edibles, blockchain tech allows patients and healthcare professionals to access vital information about cannabis products such as the level of major cannabinoids such as THC (aka tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicating compound in the cannabis plant) and CBD (aka cannabidiol, a psychoactive, but non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis), as well as minor cannabinoids and terpenes (organic aromatic compounds secreted in the plant’s glands, which are speculated to affect the properties of cannabis due to the entourage effect).

Managing critical quality data on cannabis products, such as detailed analytical test details, as well as genetics, metabolomics, and other critical manufacturing information documents, is essential to standardizing quality. Furthermore, by collecting and storing this information on a blockchain database, it can create the foundation for a more accurate, scientifically-backed method of tracking cannabis-based treatments that more closely resembles one expected of any other pharmaceuticals.

But the benefits of blockchain tech aren’t limited to measuring and tracking levels of THC and CBD.

Blockchain can also help advisors and healthcare professionals assess consistency from batch to batch and inform patients of any potential variations in their meds, which is crucial information when determining the correct dose and product in a sea of cultivars and consumption options.

Blockchain can also help pharmacists who are unfamiliar with cannabis guide patients towards the cultivars (known colloquially as “strains”) that are most suited for the patient’s specific needs, including both the specific interactions of the drug and the drug’s contraindications (the impact on the patient’s other medications).

Pharmacies are uniquely positioned in that they can dispense cannabis to patients via online channels while simultaneously being acquainted with their medical histories and any other medications they may be prescribed or purchasing over-the-counter. Armed with that patient familiarity and a tried-and-tested source of information, sourcing medical cannabis from pharmacies can help ensure a safe experience with limited side effects and without contraindications — while maximizing the efficacy of the treatment.

The immutability and rapid access to data provided by blockchain can be an indispensable tool. Blockchain helps patients successfully treat their symptoms with the added peace of mind that comes with obtaining their medication, be it pill or plant, under the banner of a trusted pharmacy. Implementing this technology in a pharmacy setting can empower patients to be confident about the safety, consistency, and reliability of the medical cannabis product, and it can enable pharmacies to remain on the cutting edge of patient care while dispensing safe and effective treatment options tailored to each individual.

Robert Galarza is Chief Executive Officer of TruTrace Technologies, developer of the first integrated blockchain platform that registers and tracks intellectual property from Genome to Sale for the cannabis industry.