Awareness—and acceptance—of cannabis for a long and growing list of medical purposes is higher than ever. But many doctors remain reluctant to support patients who consume cannabis or are considering it. Now, though, nurses and nurse practitioners are stepping in to bridge that gap between hopeful patients and skeptical doctors.
Many nurses’ associations are active in cannabis education and advocacy, and are committed to holistic patient care. It’s easy to find plenty of suggestions for how to talk to your doctor about cannabis—but talking to your nurse might be more helpful.
A recent survey of practicing physicians found that 76% of the doctors surveyed said they favored the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, even though they weren’t really sure how to make it work. Many worried that it was too difficult to establish standardized marijuana dosing. They also felt that it would be inappropriate to advocate smoking as a way to take medicine. Still others were concerned about harmful effects and the potential for addiction.
Some doctors, too, simply say that they don’t know enough about cannabis. Medical school students aren’t typically exposed to new research on the wide-ranging endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the many effects marijuana has on the ECS’s receptors. And a large number of doctors still take the government’s hardline position that cannabis is a dangerous drug with no medical benefits at all.
For all of these reasons, it often falls to the patient to educate the doctor about the therapeutic applications of cannabis and open a discussion about how to consume it for a particular health issue. Still, doctors aren’t always willing to entertain the notion of marijuana as medicine. Many patients who want to add marijuana into their health plans end up switching to another doctor who supports medicinal cannabis.
But doctors aren’t the only members of the health-care team. In a typical office appointment, patients often spend more time with a nurse or nurse practitioner than with their doctor. That opens up more opportunities to talk about cannabis with your nurse in a less intimidating environment.
And now, a growing number of nurses and professional nursing organizations are actively committing to the cannabis cause. So, if your doctor isn’t receptive to talking about marijuana, your nurse might become the advocate and resource you’ve been looking for.
In 2017, the American Nurses Association (ANA) released a position paper that affirmed the organization’s support for medical marijuana. The paper reiterates the ANA’s support for removing cannabis from the highly restrictive Schedule 1 class of very dangerous and addictive drugs. It advocates for providing safe access to medical-grade cannabis for all patients.
In line with this stance, many nurses and nurse practitioners are working in their individual states to provide information about cannabis to officials and to potential patients—all in an effort to help people consume cannabis safely.
Many nurses are also taking their support for cannabis into a whole new career field: cannabis nursing. This new nursing profession is dedicated to helping people consume medical cannabis safely and effectively for a variety of often complex health issues. This includes providing education on how medical marijuana works in the body and helping patients get access to safe, high-quality cannabis in whatever form they want.
To help nurses navigate the complex world of medical cannabis and the shifting landscape of legalization, the American Cannabis Nurses Association offers education, certification and support for nurses interested in cannabis nursing. This emerging new career option for nurses focuses on providing care that combines standard nursing practices with knowledge about:
The growth of cannabis nursing is beginning to shift the issue of medical cannabis away from doctors and into the hands of nursing professionals of all kinds. In some states, nurse practitioners can now prescribe cannabis. And as more and more states move to legalize medical marijuana in some form, nurses are now able to expertly discuss cannabis with patients and refer them to resources such as a reputable dispensary.
For many people, talking to a nurse about cannabis is less intimidating than bringing it up with their doctor. This can make it possible to be more open and direct about your interest in consuming cannabis. Nurses are a key part of your health-care team and can advocate for your decision to use cannabis. Here are our suggestions about starting the medical marijuana talk with your nurse:
- Do you want to integrate your cannabis use with your ongoing care?
- Are you concerned about cannabis reacting with existing medications?
- Do you just want basic information about how to use medical cannabis?
- Would you like to hear how the different cannabis delivery methods affect the body and how one might be better for you than another?
- Are you curious about how much cannabis to consume for your condition?
Doctors’ attitudes toward cannabis can vary widely. And that’s also true for nurses, so not all will view cannabis in a positive way. But with organizations like the ANA leading the way, nurses across the country are stepping up to learn the medical facts about cannabis and support the use of medical marijuana. If you’re consuming cannabis for a health condition, or want to try it, talking to a nurse about it just might be easier—and more productive—than a discussion with your doctor.
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