It Starts with Educating Communities
While the cannabis industry has made tremendous gains over the past few years, it can still be challenging for some healthcare providers to come out in support of cannabis remedies and therapies.
Some are concerned about the legal ramifications, and that support could have an adverse impact on their licensure or professional reputation; others are simply unaware of the benefits of cannabis therapy, and how to find sound, science-based information that they can use to guide their patient care.
Nurses have been leading the way in this area, primarily due to their extensive and hands-on experience working with patients of all backgrounds with a variety of conditions.
We spoke with two cannabis nurses who are focused on sharing their knowledge with their professional colleagues and patient communities alike, with the goal of expanding everyone's knowledge and ending the stigmas related to cannabis use.
Lisa Buchanan - RN, OCN
Lisa has been an RN in Washington State for 25 years. She is a proud alum of Seattle Central College, and, most recently, its Cannabis Institute.
During her career, she has worked on an orthopedic oncology unit, at an outpatient sarcoma clinic, and as a clinical nurse coordinator for patients with lung, head, and neck cancer. After working with patients who were undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatments, many of whom found that the drugs designed to alleviate their nausea and pain weren't adequate, Lisa learned about the benefits of cannabis therapy and began engaging her colleagues and patients on the subject.
"When I was working on the Orthopedic Oncology unit in the 90's, I had a long term patient with a spinal tumor that used cannabis for pain relief so that he didn't have to use so many narcotics," she remembers. "They wiped him out mentally, and he wanted to continue to be sharp so that he could do his work while he was in the hospital for treatment or surgery. He was very pro-cannabis and would talk to all of the nurses and other patients about the value he received from it. I took care of him over the course of several years."
"I lived in Washington, and I voted yes on medical marijuana in 1998 when it was on the ballot in and was happy to see it pass," Lisa continues. "That same patient encouraged me to go to Hempfest to learn. I took his advice and got to meet and speak with amazing people. I also got to see that not everyone who uses cannabis is the stoner caricature that the media and anti-cannabis agencies project. Patient 'R' started my journey to being a cannabis nurse."
Lisa's nursing work currently focuses on education and quality of life. As part of the management team at Dockside Cannabis, she guides and educates people on a daily basis. One of Seattle's first recreational marijuana stores, Dockside is medically endorsed and is also home to the Cannabis Museum. In addition to her nursing credentials, Lisa is certified as a Medical Marijuana Consultant by the Washington State Department of Health.
"What is most rewarding for me is when a patient finds something that improves their quality of life," she explains. "Some patients have a hard time trying cannabis because of the stigma, so it's a beautiful thing when they find a form or a regimen that works well for them, and to watch them bloom as teachers to others. It seems like things just 'happen' to patients, and that there aren't a lot of choices. When they get to make a choice, and it makes their world better, I'm thrilled by their empowerment.
Juhlzie Monteiro - RN, BSK
Juhlzie provides a different angle on the life as a cannabis nurse.
Based in Las Vegas, Juhlzie is a Registered Nurse in the state of Nevada and a UNLV Alum. She has worked for over 20 years in medicine, specializing in Internal Medicine, Orthopedics, Pediatric ER/Trauma (PALS) and Adult ER (ACLS/TNCC), Outpatient Surgery and Pain Management, and as a Nurse Educator in many of these specialties. She is known in her community as @AskNurseJuhlzie and has educated professionals, patients, caregivers, corporations on everything from cannabis-related legislation to the science behind cannabis therapy.
"When I discovered cannabis in January 2010, I had no idea that Nevada had established a legal medical marijuana program in 2001," she recalls. "As an ER/trauma nurse who triaged thousands of patients over the years, I was not only unaware of the state's program; I didn't know that marijuana was a successful treatment option."
Discovering this knowledge profoundly affected the way she viewed the options available to her patients, becoming a veritable Pandora's Box that, once open, she could not close. "It was a paradigm shift for me, and it was impossible for me not to share my knowledge with the world."
Instead of allowing her newly discovered knowledge of cannabis therapy isolate her, she decided to combine her passion, profession, and power of the media to spread the word. Juhlzie knew that health care providers weren't receiving cannabis training in medical and nursing schools and that she could fill that need within her professional community.
"I knew that we as nurses needed a platform to inform and educate our profession on the benefits of this plant -- providing evidence-based education and research written by nurses, doctors, scientists and experts in the field -- which healthcare providers could use as a reliable and respected resource to add to their toolbox," Juhlzie explains. "That is how and why I founded Cannabis Nurses Magazine. It has become a reliable and trusted source for education not just for nurses, but for medical providers, patients, caregivers, and legislators alike."
And education doesn't just open minds; it can change communities. Several US states seeking to add opiate dependency to their list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis recently used Cannabis Nurses Magazine as a vital resource.
But Juhlzie's work is far from done. "I plan to continue planting the seeds of wisdom, truth, and science behind this simple plant."