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  • Writer's pictureDebbie McCulloch Hopkins

Nursing Takes the Lead in Cannabis as Medicine

Dec. 2018

Since becoming legal in my state many doctors I work with have mentioned to me that more and more of their patients are asking them about using cannabis for their pain and other diagnosis. They admit that they don’t have much knowledge they can share on the subject and don’t even know who to refer their patients to for safe and accurate information and education. That’s because there are only a handful of medical schools who put this in their curriculum. Hopefully this is changing, but in the meantime nursing has picked up this ball and is running with it. Cannabis nursing is legit folks!

Twenty years ago the American Nurses Association (ANA) came forward to support providing safe access to therapeutic marijuana for therapeutic use. In 2016 they presented their position paper supporting a reclassification of cannabis’ status from a federal Schedule 1 controlled substance in hopes this would facilitate the much needed clinical research needed to determine the efficacy of cannabis and perhaps substantiate the thousands of anecdotal healing claims that have been shared by individuals worldwide who use the plant specifically as medicine.

This led to the formation of the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) about five years ago. The ACNA developed their own Scope and Standards of Practice for Cannabis Nurses and brought forth their own set of professional competencies for nurses working with cannabis patients including core values that focus on patient-centered care using evidence-based practice and interdisciplinary team work, patient education and advocacy. In 2017 The ACNA presented a resolution calling on all pre- and post-licensure academic nursing programs to provide evidence-based cannabis education regarding the endocannabinoid system and therapeutic cannabis management to all future and current nurses.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) were listening. This Summer the NCSBN introduced their National Nursing Guidelines for Medical Marijuana It is a thorough document that covers current legislation, scientific literature review and nursing implication that delves into our thirteenth system, the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and the physiologic effects of cannabis on our patients, adjunct use with other prescribed medications, adverse affects (there aren’t many), methods of administration, dosing considerations, and other important recommendations. Because cannabis is widely used by many patients throughout the country the NCSBN strongly suggests that these are incorporated in all accredited nursing programs nationwide. They also firmly recommend that nurses, and physicians for that matter, who may use medicinal or recreational cannabis should not be subject to dismissal by treating this substance exactly like alcohol where any impairment on the job is not tolerated, but that in jurisdictions where it is legal, a nurse or other health care practitioner who may partake on their own time should not be under threat of job termination.

Great information for both professional and layperson

Indeed cannabis nursing is becoming a well respected specialty of nursing. With the federal government likely legalizing and or downgrading the Schedule 1 controlled substance status much sooner than later, hundreds of new research opportunities will open for both nurses and doctors. It is vital they fully understand the science collected to date and this can only occur once the study of cannabis as medicine is integrated into our colleges and university medical programs. Meanwhile, a nice primer on the subject can be read in Cannabis Revealed by Dr. Bonni Goldstein, M.D., a pediatric ER physician who first handedly witnessed dramatic reduced seizure activity in children who’s parents sought out this natural plant medicine for relief from the unbearable seizures that did not respond to traditional pharmaceuticals.


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