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  • Writer's pictureDebbie McCulloch Hopkins

How I Became a Cannabis Nurse

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

My story on becoming a cannabis nurse educator

The Short Story....

I never saw myself being a cannabis advocate, let alone a Cannabis Nurse, until my husband's cancer diagnosis.

When my husband John and I we were told there was no conventional treatment in allopathic medicine that would help him, I began my research into medical marijuana. Since that time, we have learned so much. Because of what we now know, John is living life well and thriving. You can too.

Let's talk about how to get you safely started on the right strain or product for your diagnosis, symptoms and comfort.

The Long Story....

It was New Years Day 2016. My partner and I celebrated with a lovely walk in the woods. Hours later we both came down with terrible colds that lead to bronchitis. Four weeks later I finally stopped coughing. John on the other hand did not. Two weeks after that I began mentioning to him that he should call his doctor and ask for a chest x-ray. But why would he listen to me the nurse he had been living with for ten years? Several more weeks passed before he mentioned how his ribs hurt with coughing. Sounding like a broken record I once more strongly urged him to get chest films. I was briefly pleasantly relieved when he called me at work the next day to tell me that he had gone to the clinic. Relief quickly turned to fear when he told me his nurse practitioner asked him to come back to see her at the end of clinic hours and if possible to please bring me.

We all know these kinds of phone calls are never good news. Sure enough, on his chest film was a large shadow at the apex of his left kidney pressing up into the diaphragm which was pushing upward into the base of his left lung with a large pleural effusion to boot. A CT-scan the following day confirmed a 10 cm mass on that kidney. Within the week we got hitched, he had a surgical laparoscopic assisted left radical nephrectomy and we had a diagnosis. The disheartening pathology report classified the tumor as Renal Cell Carcinoma. It was stage 4.

We got married because in Massachusetts, and at my hospital I would not get approval to miss work under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to be with John during the surgery and help him in his post operative care. We also decided we liked each other well enough even after a decade together, so why the heck not? Did you know that expediting a marriage license requires going in front of a judge to be granted permission? The judge took a look at two of us in all our mature glory and couldn’t resist asking why the rush? I think we were the most entertaining case he had seen in some time.

John was initially mentally prepared to “Do whatever it takes” to treat his cancer, the standard tradition chemo…. radiation regimens. Things became more bleak however when his surgeon explained that RCC doesn’t respond to those traditional modalities. He did attempt to instill some hope by telling us about new clinical trials. The are a new slew of these targeted immunotherapy drugs that are showing promising results. We did carefully look into participating in a trial, but the side effects from the unknown protocol he would or would not receive were not resonating with John. There had to be other treatments out in this world. I had heard or read about the potential benefits of medical marijuana for cancer patients and went into full nurse researcher mode.

This included Speaking to a few trustworthy locals who had more knowledge on the subject than I on how to obtain the still illegal (at the time in Massachusetts) substance as well as what to do with it once we got it. We put out an inquiry and the very next day a pound of pot arrived at the price of $3800.00, all illicit. We didn’t know anything about its origins, if it was organic, what strain it was… All unknowns.

What we did have an was an acquaintance who had lung cancer and was making his own Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and his tumors were shrinking. He invited us over to his home to demonstrate how he made it. A few days later my man was using that first batch rectally. He chose this route of administration because he didn’t want to get too high. In fact choosing medicinal marijuana at all was extremely difficult decision for him having a coveted 23 years of sobriety. Decades of drinking and drugging was his way to deal with his feelings and emotions as a result of his deployment to Vietnam and the moral injury he experienced. His cancer progression slowed, but there was no shrinking of metastasis in the lungs, and so he decided to switch to oral ingestion of the RSO.

Six months later and the day before Thanksgiving 2016 he admitted he had been having horrible headaches for some time. As a nurse ‘Oh fuck’ was my first thought. I drove him to the ER where his doctor who looked exactly like Ben Stiller ordered a CT-scan of the brain. It was kind of surreal to have Ben Stiller tell us John had a large brain tumor and needed to be admitted immediately. John and I took about 10 seconds to say, “Nope! It’s the day before Thanksgiving!” We went road tripping to Maine to see the glamdkids instead, promising we would come back following the weekend. By looking at the size of that tumor on the scan it had already been there a very long time.

Since then

he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke likely from another brain tumor that temporarily left him with left sided paralysis. Strangely enough I had read some research on the neuroprotective and neuro-regenerative qualities of cannabis as medicine. As soon as the paramedics brought John to the hospital, I filled a handful of empty gel capsules with his RSO and once I met him in the ER I assessed his ability to speak and swallow. Once I knew these motor functions were intact I popped a pill in his mouth. A day later he had another craniotomy to evacuate the hematoma.

We were told to expect a long recovery with at least ten days in rehab. Three days later they called to tell me he was ready to come home. We made the necessary safety changes to our home to accommodate his left sided weakness. And two days later our daughter Jess and the glamkids brought Glampa John to the bay, suited him up in his wetsuit, walked him into the ocean and assisted him in wading with his boogie board in chest high waters. One month later he gave me a new oil painting of sunflowers. Four months later he went surfing in Costa Rica!

Fast forward to Christmas 2018. We are making CBD body butters, balms, soaps and are now working on a toothpaste. We are working with an amazing group of farmers in our town where we have formed High-Dune Craft Cooperative and we are close to signing a Host Community Agreement in our Town of Truro to obtain our license grow in our legal state of Massachusetts. For us, cannabis has been a blessing. It’s God’s or the Divine’s or whatever you call Spirits’ gift to all of us on this planet. We are so thankful for this powerful medicinal plant and it is our mission to share the knowledge we have gained with as many people as possible.


Aug 24, 2019

Thank you for sharing this story. I was fortunate enough to hear you on Pandora's show this week, and my interest is very piqued! I'm a hospice nurse of many years, been a manager for some time, but needed to head out to the field this week and see patients. Four patients in transition towards end of this life and receiving the usual meds with fair effect. I believe we could do better and would like to explore what Cannabis can do to enhance the dying experience. Thank you, Laurie


Dec 19, 2018

So we’ll written. I love the graphics, especially the photo of you. I wish you and John all the best! Keep researching and spreading the love ❤️


Dec 19, 2018

This is awesome!!! Thank you Debbie for all of the work, research, inspiration, and LOVE that you've put into guiding my dad back to health. It is truly truly truly amazing!!! And!! - thank you for the work and love you are putting into helping others!! This is such important work and you are an angel!

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