By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
In the 34 states, not including Tennessee, that have legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes, where do those using it turn for advice on potential adverse interactions with prescription drugs they are taking?
Chad Blackburn, Co-Founder of the Natural Products Resource Center (NPRC), says the most likely answer is the local pharmacist. Unfortunately, due to cannabis’ Schedule I status, pharmacists and the rest of the medical community do not have the resources or training to provide evidence-based advice. This creates a significant liability for them and, more important, potential health risks for the cannabis users.
“It’s somewhat like the Wild West,” Blackburn says of the current marketplace that is rapidly evolving. Doctors recommend cannabis for their patients who then go to a dispensary that he says is somewhat like a liquor store. The clerks, called budtenders, have no medical training, yet they are selecting and selling the cannabis products for patients.
As the most accessible healthcare professional, “the retail pharmacists have become the de facto experts even though they have not received the training they need,” Blackburn explains.
For the Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur and his wife, Hillary, it is a need that they are focused on serving. She is a pharmacist by training, and the couple is developing an online training program that is based on decades of data that has been collected at the University of Mississippi. Ironically, Ole Miss, as everyone calls the institution, is their alma mater.
The University’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences was established in 1964 and has grown to house four units including the National Center for Natural Products Research that has worked closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2001. The Center’s work has produced significant data sets that the Blackburns will be accessing through a licensing agreement.
Having the data that will be the basis for the training program is just one part of the equation, Blackburn said. The other part is an established and proven educational technology company that can synthesize the data and host the online curriculum.
“We found that partner in Peer-Tree Learning in Brentwood,” Blackburn said. “They know how to create learning out of data plus they have the right platform for continuous learning rather than a ‘one and done’ solution.”
As NPRC develops its curriculum, the start-up has secured a beta partner in the University of Oregon. That initial rollout will most likely be a four-hour course, but it will provide important feedback for a larger rollout to other states.
Blackburn says that the go-to-market plan involves partnerships with state pharmaceutical associations, large retail pharmacies, and insurance underwriters. He visualizes the initiative could eventually result in a certification program mandated by the federal government or states.
For now, NPRC is a self-funded activity although Blackburn says external funding will be sought when the start-up ramps-up an aggressive digital marketing campaign.