New Survey Finds Dispensary Workers Want to Educate Customers, But Owners Prioritize Sales
Medical marijuana patients are caught in the middle.
A new study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers indicates that despite a commitment by dispensary workers to educate users about medical cannabis, dispensaries often prioritize sales over education and the level of on-the-job training at dispensaries is notably uneven.
"If the results are confirmed by a larger, quantitative study, they obligate the medical community to ensure patients have reliable sources of guidance about medical cannabis," said the study authors. "Patients with cancer are using cannabis for medical purposes – and oncology teams tend to offer little guidance about its use – patients are often turning for advice from staff at cannabis dispensaries."
About the study
The study was published online by the journal JCO Oncology Practice and is based on accurate interviews with 26 workers at cannabis dispensaries in 13 states. Researchers conducted phone interviews with employees on positions as managers, and consumer experience.
"Our study opens the door to discussing that we as clinicians may not be able to completely defer responsibility for advising patients to the dispensaries," said Ilana Braun, MD, the study's first author and a physician at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "We need to figure out ways to address this issue."
The results revealed a hearty dedication to their field. However, inconsistent level of cannabis therapeutics training among dispensary staff was notorious.
"The dispensary personnel we interviewed are really passionate about what they're doing and are trying really hard to give good advice. They're working hard in their off hours, paying for their own coursework, and doing whatever they can to learn," Dr. Braun added.
According to the researchers, dispensaries often make hiring decisions based more on sales skills than expertise in cannabis therapeutics. Many dispensary workers said that workplace training in cannabis therapeutics was unstandardized and weak.
"We're hearing from patients that they want this information from their oncology team," study co-author Manan Nayak, Ph.D., of Dana-Farber said.
"Right now, the system is set up so that everyone—oncologists and dispensary personnel—is working in silos. It falls to the patient to find out where to go, get information from dispensary personnel, try different products, and maybe report back to their oncologist. The onus is often on the patient to communicate with the dispensary. There needs to be a way to close the loop between the dispensary and the clinical team," Nayak added.
The key: Cannabis education
A previous study by Braun and her colleagues noted that "although 80% of the oncologists we surveyed discussed medical marijuana with patients and nearly half recommended the use of the agent clinically, less than 30% of the total sample actually consider themselves knowledgeable enough to make such recommendations."
In the absence of clinical guidance, dispensary personnel often become the default source of information on medical cannabis, the research suggested.
In a 2020 article based on interviews with cancer patients, Braun's team found that almost all respondents received the majority of their medical cannabis advice from non-medical sources, primarily dispensary staff, on topics ranging from the doses to the properties of the different strains.
"If patients are being deferred to the dispensaries, we wanted to know who works there, how they're trained, and what they tell patients with cancer," Braun concluded.