Alan Ao, PharmD
Registered Pharmacist, Cannabis Advocate
With 20 years of retail experience, Dr. Ao’s professional career has been spent specializing in niche areas of medicine while practicing in community settings. His calling is to go beyond simply providing exceptional healthcare, but to develop meaningful bonds with his patients and their communities.
Since 2018, Dr. Ao has worked in the cannabis industry translating his pharmacy operation and clinical expertise with the newly emerging and rapidly developing cannabis industry. He is an advocate for higher education, responsible adult consumption, and professional accountability within the industry.
As President of Plants and Prescriptions, he aims to develop a novel industry where cannabis and modern-day healthcare collide. He serves as an active board member of the International Society of Cannabis Pharmacists and is involved in several cannabis education programs. At home, he is a proud husband, father of two amazing children, and one fur baby.
My professional career started like many other pharmacists right out of college. I worked for one of the largest “big box” retail pharmacies in the nation and ended up dreading getting out of bed every morning going to work. The constant focus on meeting metrics and key performance indicators left a gaping hole in my desire to make an impact in my patient’s health and lives.
I spent the better half of the next decade working as an independent pharmacist in a handful of community pharmacies. I was exposed to several niche areas of medicine such as prescription drug compounding and natural alternative remedies. I got to know my patients on a first-name basis, servicing the medical needs of their entire family, learning their dog’s name, when the grandkids were coming to visit, and their favorite candle scents. I understood that healthcare and building meaningful relationships extended beyond the pharmacy walls and medications that are dispensed within it.
Over the years, I witnessed countless lives revolving around a perpetual cycle of prescription medications. It didn’t make sense to me in certain situations that when medications didn’t work as intended, the first solution was to simply increase the dosage or add on supplemental medication. This practice was especially apparent in my chronic pain patients and continues to be a key issue in the ongoing opioid crisis that overshadows the nation. Understanding the basis of alternative medicine and taking a holistic approach to treating patients, I knew there had to be another truth out there.
In 2018, the growing bodies of literature surrounding medical cannabis became difficult to ignore. I was amazed and excited about the implications that cannabinoid-based medicine could have on the traditional healthcare paradigm, but also angered learning about its history. Discovering why research and access have been unnecessarily stifled by outdated bureaucracy rooted in racism and social injustices put me on a mission. I was afforded an opportunity to serve as Vice President and Clinical Pharmacist in one of New Jersey’s premier Alternative Treatment Centers accounting for only 1 of 2 registered pharmacists practicing in this role within the entire state. Using my past experience as a community pharmacist, my skills translated into fostering a medical cannabis dispensary centered on patient care and education.
My continued aspiration is to bring cannabis and cannabinoid-based medicine into the global spotlight as an empowering tool to strengthen health care for society. As the industry matures, my approach will be to study developing cannabis literature and pair it with the best practices of a traditional retail pharmacy. I aim to always continue the conversation and setting the tone of what a community and patient-focused cannabis industry should look like.