Why We Need Educated Budtenders and How COAs Can Help

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“When a European, like myself, comes to a Walmart in the U.S. filled with so much stuff, it can give them anxiety. Unfortunately, that’s what’s happened to the cannabis industry,” says Dr. Andrea Holmes, Ph.D., co-founder of Precision Plant Molecules and co-owner of A&A Apothecary. “When you walk into a dispensary, you’re overwhelmed with the product offerings. You have topicals, creams, sublingual drops, pet products, smokable flower, vape pens, bongs, edibles, beverages, inhalers, and more. As a result, the general public is understandably confused about what to buy.”

The budtender knowledge gap

Usually, when a customer has a question in a store, they ask the sales associate for help. So, with medical cannabis now legal in 37 states, budtenders play a critical role in people’s lives. But, unfortunately, while most states require a high-school diploma, a background check, and a certificate for the job, they don’t require verified education in medical marijuana to do this critical job.

How to improve budtender education

That’s why Andrea and her partner, Dr. Amanda McKinney, MD, co-owner of A&A Apothecary, launched their “Ask the Doctors” series, a partnership with CBD Remedies, a Nebraska-based CBD company. Andrea believes it’s crucial to educate cannabis budtenders and customers alike on the science behind the endocannabinoid system, different product types, and how cannabinoids interact.

“We have Wellness Wednesday with a private consultation room for clients,” Andrea says. “People come in and ask questions about the different type of products, what is in them, how should they be taken, and how they work and why? We answer questions about cannabinoids and the other phytocompounds like minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and how to take the perfect blends based on the individual person and their need for help. It’s a free service. People show up with no appointment needed. Sometimes we talk to them for 30 minutes, and often they come back and follow up in a couple of weeks. They are all different — female, male, old, young, pain, anxiety, sleep issues, obesity. We talk it through, and we recommend products. For example, if someone comes in and asks about asthma, we may recommend CBD with a menthol inhaler.”

Andrea and Amanda are educated professionals with access to ample clinical and scientific research; however, doctors and scientists aren’t the norm at CBD stores and dispensaries. That’s why budtenders have a considerable burden to bear daily when customers seek their advice. Without the proper training, budtenders must often play “doctor” by offering guidance relating to dosage and strains.

Overcoming the statistics

A survey of dispensary staff published in 2016 revealed that only 55% of respondents received any formal training for their role. In addition, less than half received any medical-related training — yet 94% had recommended marijuana strains for medical purposes.

“I think budtenders, even though they’re amazing and self-trained, simply don’t have the necessary knowledge to provide this type of advice,” Andrea says. “So we wanted to up the ante, bring a higher level of professionalism and scientific knowledge, and introduce a brand-new concept of making CBD stores a medical- and science-based space for people who need that knowledge.”

Even the most enthusiastic marijuana users don’t always have all the information they need. For example, when researchers surveyed nearly 500 Hash Bash attendees, the majority of respondents greatly overestimated how much THC and CBD were in various strains, and they didn’t know the effective dosages.

 

Dosage confusion

Another area of confusion involves dosage requirements. Since the FDA does not regulate cannabis or CBD content, there are no standardized dosage recommendations for budtenders’ reference. And that’s a problem because a recent CBD review concluded that different people respond to different potencies, which can range from 20 to 1,500 milligrams of CBD per day.

“Often what happens is budtenders use their own experiences and anecdotes from friends and family,” Andrea says. “I don’t want to dismiss that, but people want to be confident in their health and wellness regimen. They need to be able to say, ‘I’m confident that I have something that can help me with my ailment, and I got this information from highly credentialed professionals.’ They also need help with dosing and frequency.”

How COAs can support budtender education

Andrea found that the essential training tool for educating budtenders and customers on fine-tuning dosage amounts and recommending strains is the COA or Certificate of Analysis. A COA is a verified document that provides details about the product, from its testing laboratory to potency. These include flavonoids, cannabinoids, and terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic oils that contribute to the product’s scent, flavor, and wellness benefits.

“When people ask for a COA, they want proof that the product has the ingredients that will help them. But most people don’t know how to read a COA,” Andrea says. “For instance, a COA might list the terpene profile with a highly elevated level of Nerolidol, but most people don’t know that Nerolidol helps with sleep and sedation based on research. So, educated budtenders can use the information from COA to tell customers how these products work.”

The implications for patients and consumers

Educating dispensary staff and customers on reading COAs and the science behind CBD and cannabis is good business. On the other hand, if people don’t have the proper guidance, it can discourage them from pursuing a treatment plan. So, while a master’s degree in budtending might still be a way’s off, Andrea aims to create a formal training program.

The path forward to close the gap

“Amanda and I have developed a certification program for budtenders and other cannabis professionals so they will be certified in the industry as a whole,” Andrea says. “They will learn about seeds, a good crop vs. a bad crop, how extraction works, how to read a COA, medical cannabis science and research, and more. They’ll also learn about the different terpenes and cannabinoids and how they work in the body.”

It’s time for the science of cannabis to go mainstream, and advocates like Dr. Andrea Holmes and Dr. Amanda McKinney and their “Ask the Doctors” consultations are spreading the message that education is king. Your local budtender might not be an official medical professional. But, with the proper education, they can be your best advocates for optimal health.

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