LATAM cannabis education: the lay of the land


Ten countries in Latin America currently have some kind of regulated cannabis program; however, education of physicians and the general public is still in the early stages. iCAN will be hosting its cannabis innovation summit – CannaTech – in Panama in February, with the intention of disseminating evidence-based information and sparking further development throughout the region.

Despite the growing body of scientific evidence attesting to the wide variety of indications for which cannabis can be beneficial, decades of stigma are still attached to the plant. So how do we alleviate negative associations and stigma surrounding cannabis medicines? Education, and often re-education.

The prohibition era so deeply ingrained negative opinions on the use of cannabis that disrupting long-held conservative beliefs, that cannabis is a dangerous substance or “gateway drug,” is a slow-moving process. It takes time to untangle negative thought patterns and drug laws, even once they have proven to be ineffective. As the cannabis industry grows ever more medicalized, continued education for practitioners and the public is necessary to debunk long-held “reefer madness” perceptions and usher in a new era of evidence-based cannabis medicine and innovation.

International online cannabis education programs have begun to target LATAM audiences in recent years. Convenient online courses offer individuals a crash course in basic cannabinoid medicines, the endocannabinoid system, as well as cultivation and regulations. These courses provide a glimpse into the cannabis ecosystem. However, many fail to impart the depth of information necessary for physicians to be well informed. Additionally, online modules with relevant and detailed information are often only in English, limiting accessibility for physicians lacking strong English language skills.

Since Uruguay’s legalization of cannabis in 2013, the country has been playing catch-up, trying to educate physicians on the medicinal value and inform law enforcement as to how to manage the new landscape. While the green rush has been met with waves of support and informative material in many Western countries, professional development and training have been slow to progress in Uruguay. In response, local medical professionals have taken it upon themselves to create educational courses for doctors.

Two pioneers in the Uruguayan cannabis industry, Dr. Julia Glazerano and Dr. Raquel Peyraube, began the first course in 2016. The program, created for doctors, nurses, and medical students, is supported by reputable medical schools and associations and offers information on the pharmacological actions, dosing, and interactions of cannabis.

Such training programs are a great start in regions where doctors are lacking clinically relevant information and public opinion is still encased in stigma. Additionally, they provide a framework necessary to create post-graduate training and integrate medical cannabis education into the curriculum of medical schools.

Colombia’s capacity to upskill medical professionals with cannabis education has begun to expand in recent times. 2018 saw exponential growth in cannabis events and expos throughout the country. With researchers, practitioners, and medical professionals hungry for more information, there has been an increase in purely medical focused events such as ExpoMedeWeed and practitioner-only symposiums. International and local experts, including Israel’s own Michael Dor, Senior Medical Advisor to the Israeli Medical Cannabis unit, have introduced Colombians to novel ways to apply medical cannabis in their practice and legislature.

Earlier this year, Colombian company Colcannon (a subsidiary of Aphria) announced an agreement to develop medical cannabis curriculums with the Federación Médica Colombiana (FMC), a local medical guild. The FMC operates an educational platform offering certified courses to their 70,000 members across the country. By educating doctors and medical students on conditions and cannabis treatment options, the public will see improvements in accessibility and affordability of quality controlled products. In turn, this diverts the population from the black market, further destigmatizing cannabis medicines.

Chile has a potential medical cannabis market of 1.8 million patients. Despite the country boasting the highest rate of clinical studies per resident in South America, physician education programs are few and far between. As yet, few to no tertiary institutions have introduced medical cannabis modules into their syllabus. Be that as it may, the Daya Foundation, a local not-for-profit focused on alternative healthcare, have hosted a science-focused medical cannabis symposiums for the last four years and intend to launch a medicinal cannabis diploma program this year.

Regional entities such as Daya, that provide information in the local language from evidenced-based sources, are sorely needed throughout LATAM. English-speaking Western thought leaders have a plethora of knowledge to offer, but local experts have the opportunity to present information with specific relevance to the region and have equal value to their international counterparts.

Brazil also experienced a flood of cannabis-related education and industry events recently. While large-scale events foster curiosity and a deeper understanding for practitioners, grassroots education programs are likely to bring about the most tangible change.

In January 2018, the Center for Cannabinoid Excellence (Centro de Excelência Canabinóide) was established in Brazil. They offer certified courses through their online education platform and have partners in the USA who run educational programs in Washington and Alaska. Such programs are a fantastic first step for medical professionals looking into cannabis medicine for the first time. However, there is a more pressing need for in-depth, evidenced-based, and geographically relevant training programs that accelerate physician knowledge, improve accessibility and reduce the stigma surrounding cannabis.

However, there are still, a dearth of clinical education pathways. As more countries come onboard with medical cannabis in LATAM, local governments should take an active interest in providing and subsidizing programs, that ensure patients can receive medicine and guidance from informed professionals.

Educational seminars and conferences are being held more frequently in LATAM, including iCAN’s flagship innovation summit, CannaTech – to be held in Panama 12-13th February. Such events offer incredible opportunities for dissemination of knowledge and networking, to the benefit of local and global industry.

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