Dr. Jahan Marcu: Science-Based Cannabis Education Is Essential

By Jesse Carpender for Cashinbis

Commercialization of cannabis has increased the need for quality control and science-based education within the industry. The Patient Focused Certification Program, a project of Americans for Safe Access, aims to address both of these needs.

Jahan Marcu, Ph.D., has helped set worldwide standards for the cannabis industry as director for the Patient Focused Certification Program. Dr. Marcu is also Chief Scientific Officer for Americans for Safe Access. He serves on the board of directors of the International Association for Cannabinoids as Medicine (IACM). He received his Ph.D. for significant contributions to the study of the structure and function of the CB1 receptor, and the role of the endocannabinoid system in bone.

For Marcu, science-based education is essential to cannabis businesses.

“Consistency and quality of information is a liability for operations if staff are providing information to patients that is not based in scientific literature,” he said.

Only 20 percent of dispensary employees surveyed reported receiving medical/scientific training on cannabis, according to a 2016 survey. Almost 90 percent of physicians-in-training said they do not feel prepared to prescribe medical marijuana in a 2017 survey.

The Patient Focused Certification Program offers third-party certification and support services to companies cultivating, manufacturing, analyzing or distributing medical cannabis products and is the nation’s only certification program based upon American Herbal Products Association and American Herbal Pharmacopoeia standards. PFC business certification and professional training is available in all medical cannabis states including the District of Columbia.

Marcu talked about the cannabis industry’s need for education and quality standards with Cashinbis.

How did you first get involved with the Patient Focused Certification program?

I had already been volunteering over 10 years, and we had worked with them using standards that had been adopted in over 20 states. We developed the first training standards, so that medical professionals and people working in dispensaries have proper training and can be a reliable source of information for patients.

Health professionals can get CME [Continuing Medical Education] credits through us, whether they work in pharmaceutical, dispensaries – we have the accreditation you need for cannabis. One of the greatest barriers is health care professionals having access to cannabis education. We need to shout to the world that education is available.

What is it like to set global standards for the cannabis industry?

"Sometimes I feel like the world’s luckiest paleontologist – I get to walk with the dinosaurs."

I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and we have companies that can meet pharmaceutical and botanical quality. It’s fulfilling to get to ensure that there’s safe and legal access to medical cannabis.

What’s new with PFC?

Patient focused certification is Penn. State Nurses Association accredited. We have live trainings in Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as online training available. The newest classes are for an extraction and safety workshop: the pros and cons, safety risks and how to minimize them, and personal safety equipment.

How many companies are accredited?

Globally we’ve had over 100 applications in 12 months. Some are huge farms or multi-state companies. We have contracts with over 70 percent of cultivators in Maryland, and our program is mandated in Guam and Delaware.

Are there any upcoming plans to partner with universities?

Everyone wants to offer this education because it’s a public health need. We have university partners around the world and will continue to partner with institutions. A lot of institutions are embracing this, but some have more flexibility than others.

How have business developments in the cannabis industry impacted the scientific community?

Not very many companies have supported cannabis research. Research is largely supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

What are the risks of the commercialization of cannabis?

As with any product that becomes commercialized, the chance for error increases with production. On the triangle of best practices, science and technology are on opposite sides and quality control is on the bottom. Technology moves faster than science, so quality control balances out the discrepancy between how fast technology and science move. For example with cell phones – we don’t know how long term cell phone use affects us, and technology moves faster than science can research it, but quality control can help prevent any side effects.

What’s the current focus for cannabis research?

Terpenes, the compounds that give cannabis its aroma, are already an area of interest. We have the technology now to study metabolites. I think we’ll go from a very narrow view of potency toward studying metabolomics to move toward a very personalized medicine. Knowing what’s in the plant material is important. Focusing on cannabinoids is great, but I think it’s the entourage effect of looking at the whole plant.

How does the American scientific community stack up compared to the rest of the world when it comes to cannabis research?

 People forget the first cannabinoid was isolated in the U.S. CB1 receptors were discovered in the U.S. as well.

"The U.S. is one of the leaders in cannabis research – we have of the oldest standardized strains of cannabis at the farm at the University of Mississippi."

The researchers [in the US] have a challenge because there’s a limited number of people who can engage in research for cannabis. But over 40 years, there’s been an incredible effort to generate a lot of data on it.