For almost a quarter of a century, America has been officially honoring the caring men and women who look after us long before — and after — the doctor ever does. Starting on May 6 of every year, we celebrate National Nurses Week to recognize the compassionate caregivers in our schools, hospitals, and anywhere else they focus their tremendous efforts.
Nurses play an incredibly important role in the world of cannabis, as they’ve proven to be some of the best advocates of the plant’s vast array of applications.
To celebrate National Nurses Week, we’re highlighting a group of nurses that have been indispensable in the field of medical marijuana and the legalization movement as a whole. Tell us about an amazing cannabis-focused nurse you’ve encountered in the comment section below and your story may be featured on social media during National Nurses Week.
How did you initially become passionate about cannabis?
Eloise Theisen, MSN, RN, AGPCNP-BC: I saw the benefits that patients were experiencing with cannabis in comparison to pharmaceuticals. Cannabis was improving their quality of life with minimal side effects. I saw more progression than regression. While working as a nurse practitioner in a local oncology clinic, I saw how lost and overwhelmed patients were about cannabis. They would ask me daily if I thought cannabis would be good to incorporate into their treatment plan. They were reading about it on the internet but didn’t know where to begin. I quickly realized that patients were using cannabis and it was in my best interest to learn about it and help them navigate through the process.
Mary Lynne Mathre, RN, MSN, CARN: From 1984-1985 I completed my masters thesis at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on “Disclosure of Marijuana to Health Care Professionals” which was a survey sent out to the membership of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in one of their monthly newsletters. The last question in my survey had to do with their health concerns related to the use of marijuana and they were given a list to choose from and a space for them to list “other” concerns. About 20 respondents stated that they used it for medical reasons such as for migraine headaches, glaucoma, spasticity from a spinal cord injury or from multiple sclerosis. This was new to me, so when I looked into the history of marijuana, I realized that cannabis was an ancient botanical medicine and that it was popular in the U.S. until the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. I’ve been actively learning and working on this issue since 1985 — it is such a simple truth — cannabis is a remarkably safe and effective healing plant and the real crime is the government’s prohibition of this plant.
Janna Champagne, RN, BSN: As a holistic nurse focused on natural alternatives to pharma, also residing in a cannabis-legal state, learning about medical cannabis was a logical decision for me. Cannabis quickly transformed into a major life passion, as this amazing plant spared my teen daughter from out-of-home placement from safety concerns during her Autism puberty crisis. This puberty crisis situation is exceedingly common, affecting an estimated 50% of children with Autism (ASD), when parents are suddenly confronted with intense behaviors which may include self-injury, aggressive rages, and property destruction. Cannabis is effective for calming ASD behaviors, and our suffering and transcendence provided a new life purpose: to teach others about the healing potential of cannabis. My current work is very rewarding, as I educate and support many clients through successfully adopting a medical cannabis regimen, which in most cases improves their situation and avoids potentially heart-breaking scenarios.
How has the medical marijuana landscaped changed, for better or worse, since you became involved?
Eloise Theisen: I think it is an evolving field that requires us to be open minded and fearless. When I started working with patients five years ago there was a lot of fear. Fear of telling their doctors, family members; they were concerned that they would no longer be treated or people would think they were drug addicts. Today, patients are leading the change. The benefits are undeniable and the patients have had to educate their health care practitioners. Also, I’ve seen a lot of progress in regards to testing, labeling, dosing and education. When I first started, patients would bring me products that would simply say “Cannabis tincture.” It was unclear as to what was in it. There is more transparency today and we still have room to grow.
Mary Lynne Mathre: Much better today. Back in the 1980s, most health care professionals were afraid to mention marijuana in public and most never heard of cannabis. Now we have 29 states with medical cannabis laws and over a dozen more with laws allowing the medical use of CBD. By the mid 1990s, scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and we now know how and why cannabis is such a safe and versatile medicine and there is evidence to show that many health problems are simply the result of a cannabinoid deficiency.
Janna Champagne: Being in the state of Oregon, and having recreational laws in place, we are pretty spoiled in our ability to access good quality cannabis. Anyone over 21 can grow 4 plants of their own, or access cannabis without any paperwork required. Medical cannabis laws are well-established here, and every cannabis product in an Oregon dispensary has been lab tested for optimal product safety and individual medical application. We are one of the more progressive states in that regard, and now that I’m working with clients in other states and internationally, I realize how much progress is still needed in regards to quality cannabis accessibility. Despite the progress in my local area, from a worldview cannabis patient’s rights are still in their infancy stage. As a cannabis nurse, I’m dedicated to advocating for medical cannabis progress, and through education and sharing reputable medical cannabis research, we continue to exemplify to the world that access to cannabis should be reinstated as a basic human right.
What needs to happen to keep medical marijuana moving in the right direction, from a patient’s perspective?
Eloise Theisen: Education — both for patients and their healthcare practitioners. There are no established standards/scope of practice. The ACNA is working on it. In the meantime, patients get caught in the middle. I would like to see standardized education for dispensary staff. Many of the dispensary workers are put in difficult situations that are beyond their knowledge base. As more and more patients come to cannabis, the demand for knowledge and understanding of the human body and medications increases. I’d like to see more nurses working/collaborating with dispensaries to help staff give the best care and information to patients. We have a real opportunity to bring all of our skills sets together for the betterment of patients. Nurses are trained to assess, diagnose, plan, implement and evaluate patients. This model is greatly needed right now for medicinal cannabis.
Additionally, I would like to see testing that goes beyond potency. Terpenes play a valuable role in cannabis medicine. It is difficult to find dispensaries that have tested for terpenes. Patients don’t know why terpenes are important yet so the demand for that information is lacking. As a practitioner, terpenes can help me match the right strain to the patient’s condition quicker. It eliminates a lot of the self experimentation that takes place.
Mary Lynne Mathre: Patients need to demand that their health care provider learns about the ECS. Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacology need to include this new science in their curricula. The federal prohibition needs to end — cannabis should be de-scheduled (it is a highly beneficial plant and anyone should be allowed to grow it) and cannabis products that are for sale need to be regulated for quality control. The various state laws include many unnecessary barriers for patients to access cannabis. Patients need to understand the full value of cannabis in maintaining and regaining health — we need to educate everyone and help them UNLEARN the Reefer Madness lies and myths that they were taught.
Janna Champagne: Ongoing legislative change is needed to improve medical cannabis access and affordability, with special focus on preserving medical cannabis patient autonomy — the right to choose their preferred medicine. Federal deregulation of cannabis would facilitate a broad reaching legislative paradigm shift, alleviating the need to pursue state by state changes to ensure medical cannabis access. Despite more than half of the states in our union having adopted medical cannabis laws, many patients are still required to either relocate or face potential legal ramifications in order to use their optimal formulation of cannabis as medicine. Our federal government’s current stance is not sustainable, and their double standard of holding the patent for cannabis as medicine (#6630507) while concurrently designating that cannabis has no medicinal value — criteria for current Schedule I placement — is doomed to fail under increasing popular demand. Every American successfully educated by a knowledgeable nurse about the medical safety and efficacy of medical cannabis is another vote for federal deregulation, and another nudge toward this inevitable outcome that will benefit many cannabis patients in the future.
You’ve taught many doctors about the benefits of medical marijuana. What is their typical level of knowledge about the plant when they come to you?
Eloise Theisen: Very little, if any. Sometimes, the knowledge they have is inaccurate or based on old information. There are many misconceptions out there. I hear over and over again that CBD is the medicinal part of the plant because it has no THC in it and that THC is the part that gets you high. Our society is very uncomfortable with euphoria. There are numerous medications that are psychoactive and many people use alcohol for its euphoric benefits, so when I hear those statements, I assume that they know very little about cannabis as a medicine. I find that when I introduce them to the Endocannabinoid System, it opens their eyes. It’s hard to deny science, although some will still try! It’s interesting times. Patients generally know more about cannabis than their doctors.
Was your experience in the Navy much different, Nurse Mary Lynne?
Mary Lynne Mathre: I was in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps from 1973-1979. We only knew it as marijuana and it was not allowed. They started drug testing the military about the time I got out. There was no mention of the medical use of marijuana at that time and no one had heard of cannabis. Marijuana was thought of as a “drop out” drug, used by “hippies” and was the gateway to harder drugs.
How do you think cannabis can best help us end the opioid epidemic we face?
Eloise Theisen: I help a lot of people who have become dependent on opiates. In my experience, cannabis can be extremely effective for pain. Not only have I seen patients reduce or eliminate their opiate use, I’ve also seen a decrease in their alcohol intake. Success is dependent upon the support patients receive. Patients need to have support and guidance while coming to cannabis for opiate reduction. It’s never a one size fits all. Everyone responds differently. Some need high CBD, others need high THC, and some will respond to the acid cannabinoids. And their needs can change throughout the course of the cannabis therapy. Patients will thrive with a proper understanding of cannabis. I’ve seen cannabis give patients control again over their health.
Janna Champagne: As cannabis progresses toward government deregulation, and more domestic research is allowed and supported, we can better understand the potential of cannabis to replace pharmaceuticals in a manner that is condition-specific. Many patients rely on anecdotal testimonies or case studies when seeking support and knowledge about using cannabis effectively. Cannabis nurses are on the forefront of learning optimal formulations, and appropriate clinical application of cannabis’ numerous components, as we guide individual clients through the process of discovering their optimal medical cannabis regimen. Once cannabis research is openly allowed in our country, the patient outcomes we witness first-hand will be objectively supported, representing a positive stride toward mainstream acceptance of cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceuticals.
For people who are unaware, how does marijuana help patients suffering from Depression or Bipolar disorder?
Janna Champagne: The role of the Endocannabinoid System in our body, which is activated by cannabis intake, is to maintain balance within the systems of our body. Depression and bipolar disorders signify that underlying imbalances exist, specifically in neurotransmitters (i.e. dopamine and serotonin), and this imbalance is what causes debilitating mental health symptoms. Upon appropriate intake of medical cannabis, the body is activated to intelligently balance what is askew. Of course, it’s always best to work with a medical professional experienced in mental health disorders to individualize cannabis recommendations, since some formulations may actually exacerbate mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, some clients seek my services after failing to find relief using generalized cannabis supplier protocols, or after blindly following the recommendations of a dispensary employee lacking both a medical understanding of individual disease mechanisms and the potential for cannabis-medication interactions. I urge anyone who is seriously considering medical cannabis therapy to pursue expert medical oversight, for which cannabis nurse consultants represent a viable option for obtaining optimal client outcomes.
How have the medical marijuana programs in your respective states improved since you began your work in the industry? What can they learn from more established programs like California and Colorado?
Eloise Theisen: California does a lot of things well. Patients can get access to high quality medicine without having to jump through a lot of hoops. I think we can all learn from each other. I’ve learned that other states have such tight regulations that many patients do not qualify, and when they do, it may not be the right type of cannabis or it’s too expensive.
Mary Lynne Mathre: Virginia is not a model state for medical cannabis. Implementation of the CBD bill is due to begin this summer, allowing for use of cannabis for those with intractable seizures. Virginia has a long way to go. The people of Virginia do not have the option of creating a voter initiative; so it is up to the legislators to get a good medical cannabis bill and we aren’t holding our breath.