Skip to main content

OT and Pharmacy Students Join Forces to Tackle the Administration of Cannabis Oil

Saint Joseph’s occupational therapy and pharmacy students teamed up to analyze the accuracy and usability of a new cannabis oil dispenser, potentially helping millions of patients suffering from illnesses avoid overdose.

RSO dispenser Control Ltd.’s new adapter (pictured above) attaches directly to the syringes used in dispensing Rick Simpson Oil (RSO).

Written by: Emmalee Eckstein

Published: March 11, 2024

Total reading time: 5 minutes

Interprofessional education plays an integral role in Saint Joseph’s School of Health Professions (SHP). Students and faculty from across departments find ways to tag team projects collaboratively so the work being done has a holistic impact on the healthcare industry and students’ training.

So, when Andrew M. Peterson, PharmD, PhD, professor of pharmacy practice and John Wyeth Dean emeritus of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (PCP), came across an opportunity to test the efficacy of a new device designed for medication administration, he knew there would be ample opportunity to look at the research from more than just a pharmacy angle.

Soph Horn, vice president of research and development at Control Ltd. and father of Sabhorak Horn, PharmD ‘25, approached Peterson at a PCP awards ceremony in 2023 with a new invention that would help control a patient’s administration of Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), a highly concentrated variety of cannabis extract used to treat individuals with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other disorders.

RSO, while incredibly effective, comes in 1.0 mL oral syringes, with doses being prescribed as little as 0.025 mL. This makes the medication highly prone to overdose, as it is difficult to squeeze out such a tiny amount from what is already an incredibly small container. To mitigate this issue, Control Ltd. created a device to adapt the syringe with a stopper that will better control the dispensing of RSO.

The device theoretically solved a lot of issues with RSO administration, but Horn asked Peterson to prove it. Although Peterson was confident in his pharmacy students’ ability to test the accuracy of the device’s measurements of the RSO, he knew testing its usability was outside of the scope of his profession.

“There are certain things we just don’t do in pharmacy that are necessary to test a new device out as thoroughly as possible,” says Peterson. “I can tell you about doses and measurements, but I can’t technically tell you how easy it is to use.”

In order to effectively meet this research challenge, he would need another team looking at the device’s real-world application. With this in mind, he reached out to his colleagues in the occupational therapy (OT) department – Lynda S. Lemisch, OTD, OTR/L, CLCP, CAPS, Gerri Healy Marini, OTD, MS, OT/L, Sheetal Parikh, BS ’99, MOT ’01, OTD, OTR/L, CAS and Judith A. Parker Kent, OTD, EdS, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA.

The OTs were eager to get involved and got straight to work connecting their students with Peterson’s pharmacy students.

“Working across disciplines will set the stage for students to work more collaboratively as healthcare professionals in the future,” says Lemisch. “That’s what their patients are going to need – a well-rounded care team.”

As the students came together on the research, they were exposed to new avenues of healthcare practice that they’d never had to consider before, which is all part of SHP’s interprofessional education curriculum.

“I had never encountered an OT before,” recalls Kreena Patel, PharmD ’25, who worked on this project under Peterson. “I was really able to learn a lot watching them work, and now I know more about their roles and responsibilities in healthcare. Being involved in this research with them has really set an ideal precedent for my future career in pharmacy.”

To begin, the pharmacy students used molasses to test the dosing device since its consistency is similar to RSO. As they did, the OT students observed and gauged the pharmacy students’ confidence in dispensing the molasses.

“They found that the pharmacy students working without the dosing device were generally pretty scared to dispense a dose,” notes Parker-Kent. “They were much more confident with the adaptive device, of course, and once we review the data, I’m sure we’ll see their accuracy was much better.”

But that wasn’t all the OTs were called on to do. They quickly discovered that the largest area of improvement for Control Ltd.’s new device was in the instruction manual.

“We did a task analysis,” explains Parikh. “We not only observed how the pharmacy students were approaching use of the device, we also completely audited the instructions that Control Ltd. supplied and went through them step-by-step to better understand what worked, what didn’t make practical sense for a patient, et cetera.”

The task analysis was completed in partnership with Control Ltd. and one of the major flaws the students found in the instruction manual was its excessive number of steps, which made the device harder for the pharmacy students to use during observation. Working together, pharmacy and OT students were able to bring the number of steps down from nine to five.

“What was so inspiring about this work was how the pharmacy and OT students began to see each other in a different light – they didn’t feel like they were working in separate disciplines on this project,” says Parker-Kent. “In the future, that’ll make them more comfortable approaching each other with patient issues and relying on each other to holistically solve healthcare problems.”

Going forward, Control Ltd.’s RSO dispenser will likely go through another iteration of development based on the data gathered during this project. Once that happens, the OTs and pharmacy students will continue testing the new version of the dispenser with molasses, but this time, they’ll aim to mimic patients who may have vision or dexterity issues.

“We did this with able-bodied individuals, now it’s time to see how simple the dispenser is for those who maybe aren’t so able-bodied,” explains Peterson. “Fortunately, we have some tools and resources we can use that will assist our students in mimicking these kinds of disabilities. We’ll see how they do.”

Learn more about Saint Joseph’s pharmacy and occupational therapy programs.