A Nurse’s Perspective on Cannabis (Marijuana), Legalization, and Safety.

I am a Registered Nurse with 22 years of experience, and I have had an anti-prohibition stance in regards to marijuana (cannabis) for 30 years. I was fortunate that when I moved from California to Maine 6 years ago, I was introduced to Maine’s amazing medical cannabis program. I have also been able to study and learn more about the medicinal benefits of this sacred herb through my involvement with the American Cannabis Nurses Association (I now sit on ACNA’s board of directors) and by going to cannabis clinician conferences, such as Patients Out of Time.


Cannabis is on the ballot in 9 states this November, for either legalization for adult use or medicinal consideration. As nurses, we are often concerned with safety, so the following are my thoughts on safety issues and the end of prohibition of cannabis. If you are unfamiliar with how cannabis works in the body and why it such a safe herbal medicine, I suggest you first visit my blog posting on what nurses need to know about cannabis: https://nursemanifest.com/2015/07/14/the-endocannabinoid-system-what-nurses-need-to-know-an-introduction/.

Let’s consider the following issues:

Access: The idea of increased access for adults over age 21 is compelling on many levels. As many have stated before me, all cannabis use is medicinal due to the way the herb interacts with the body’s own endocannabinoid system. (http://thejointblog.com/all-marijuana-use-is-medicinal/;  https://halcyonorganics.com/all-cannabis-use-is-medical/). Patients who cannot access cannabis legally to support their healing because they did not have a documented qualifying condition may now have access to this safe effective herbal medicine. As legal access increases, black market issues will likely dissipate which creates a safer environment for all citizens. Meanwhile, we know that in legalized states, teen cannabis use drops significantly, effectively decreasing access for younger folks, which is often a concern for those who are considering legalization or medicinal programs (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/08/07/pot-use-among-colorado-teens-appears-to-drop-after-legalization).th-2.jpg

Quality: In Maine, our ballot calls for testing and proper labeling of cannabis products sold at both recreational stores and recreational cafes. This is a major step forward to ensuring safe use of quality cannabis products for both patients and recreational users. Many patients now are being encouraged to start low and go slow with their dosing of their medication, and proper labeling will help to ensure that people can use cannabis with comfort knowing the relative psychoactive effects increase as THC levels of the cannabis products increase. Additionally, products will be tested for pesticides and contaminants, further ensuring the medicine and products people are accessing is safe.

Smoking: I often hear that medical providers are very concerned with the idea that smoking cannabis may be harmful to the person. While there may be some minimal changes to lung structures, there is no strong correlation with COPD and lung cancer in cannabis smokers (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23802821; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21859273). However, there are many ways to ingest cannabis, and vaporizing cannabis is a way to inhale the medicine without having contact with some of the combustive byproducts that are related to any perceived risk of smoking cannabis. For more therapeutic effects, regular users of cannabis and those seeking its healing properties are generally encouraged to use edibles and tinctures, as they target whole body homeostasis more effectively.

OUI/ DUI: Driving under the influence of any psychoactive medication is obviously an issue. However, levels of THC in the body do not directly equate to impaired driving in the same way that alcohol does, secondary to the way THC is metabolized in the body and how it remains in the body due to it being a fat soluble substance (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3456923/). “Stoned drivers” do not pose the same risk to the public’s well-being as “drunken drivers” do; indeed “stoned” drivers tend to drive more slowly. Researchers from UCLA have called for more efforts to be made around lowering acceptable blood alcohol levels to truly curb issues around impaired driving (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/health/driving-under-the-influence-of-marijuana.html?_r=0), as being at .08 BAL leads to an eleven fold increase in the risk for being in a car accident, while driving under the influence of cannabis leads to a two-fold increase of being in an accident (texting while driving has a two fold increase and talking on the phone while driving has a 3 fold increase in risk for car accidents) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-tracy/putting-marijuana-dui-in-_b_6023136.html). Driving or operating machinery while under the influence of cannabis is unacceptable and indicates a risk, however in Colorado since legalization of recreational use of cannabis was initiated, DUI fatalities have decreased (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/08/05/since-marijuana-legalization-highway-fatalities-in-colorado-are-at-near-historic-lows/?utm_term=.64fa02a0cc5e). It should be noted that Colorado made a concerted effort to promote safer driving conditions and decreasing driving while intoxicated once they ended cannabis prohibition. all states should be making efforts to combat intoxicated and unsafe driving practices.

Children: When cannabis was made recreationally available in Colorado, it appeared that more children were being accidentally exposed to cannabis (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/02/marijuana-pot-edibles-colorado/7154651/). I would posit however that once the plant became legal, more parents were willing to seek medical attention if their child had accidentally ingested cannabis infused edibles or other cannabis products. Additionally, the relative number of cannabis ingestion issues versus other toxic substances truly remains quite low in Colorado at 6.4% of all “poisoning” cases treated within the pediatric population (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/27/health/colorado-marijuana-children/index.html). There has not been a single reported death from a child (or any person) ingesting cannabis (unlike other ingested toxins, such as laundry pods: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/10/health/laundry-pod-poisonings/index.html). So while we will need to educate consumers about the risks of pediatric access and ingestion of cannabis, the risks remain relatively low. In most cases, children recover quickly from cannabis intoxication, with hospitalization for supportive care only, which generally lasts 1-2 days and generally leads to no lasting side effects (http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/05/27/kids-poisoned-by-medical-marijuana-study-finds
). Both the states and the individual companies who will be selling cannabis should be responsible for educating the public around ensuring pediatric safety should a state chose to legalize. Ideally some of the tax dollars generated from cannabis sales would be geared toward education of the public on safe cannabis consumption and storage.

Teen Use: Teen cannabis use has actually declined as more states legalize or become medicinal cannabis states (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/16/teen-marijuana-use-falls-as-more-states-legalize/). This in part may be due to tougher regulations making it harder for teens to access cannabis, and a decrease in black market availability of cannabis.

Pregnancy: Dr. Melanie Dreher, the Former Dean of Rush University school of nursing, is a nurse who researched the Ganga culture in Jamaica for over ten years, and determined that there were no adverse outcomes to the fetuses who were exposed to cannabis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9WorIM0RhA; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDV5HhmP4UI). A recent study also reported that cannabis use is safe during pregnancy (though caution may still be advised)(http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/47194/20160910/marijuana-safe-during-pregnancy-experts-encourage.htm) and breast feeding while using cannabis also appears to have minimal risks (http://cannabisclinicians.org/breastfeeding-and-cannabis/).

Harm Reduction: Cannabis has been studied as a harm reduction tool, particularly when it comes to addiction and treating folks for pain related issues. Physicians have called for neuropathic pain to be treated with cannabis instead of opioids (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3295721/). We also know that cannabis can decrease the need for escalating doses of opioids, and assist people who are opioid dependent in either decreasing thier doses of opiates or completely overcoming their addiction (http://nationalaccesscannabis.com/press-release/opiate-study-press-release/).
For an overview of the body’s endocannabinoid system and the issue of biological harm reduction, please see here: http://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7517-2-17


Overdoses with opioids have fallen in states where medicinal and legal cannabis are available (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/04/26/is-marijuana-a-gateway-drug/overdoses-fell-with-medical-marijuana-legalization; and https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2016/05/study-links-medical-marijuana-dispensaries-to-reduced-mortality-opioid-overdose). With high rates of opioid addiction plaguing our country, it makes sense to legalize cannabis now to help address this issue.

Self-Medicating: People self-medicate with substances on a daily basis; from alcohol to caffeine to tobacco. People self-medicate with herbs as well from turmeric to Echinacea, to vitamins and mineral supplements. With legalization and regulation, people have a better chance of using safe, monitored, quality herbal cannabis medicine. For most of our recorded human history, cannabis was used as a healing herb. This came to a halt when cannabis prohibition became a global stance. Additionally, legalization opens the door for more open discussions between healthcare providers and patients. Healthcare providers such as nurses and doctors must become educated around the body’s endocannabinoid system and the therapeutic use of cannabis to create homeostasis and support healing.

Pathways for New Healing Products: Currently, many new cannabis products that are available in legal states are not available to medicinal patients in states where only medicinal cannabis is legal. For instance, various teas, salves, edibles and patches that are available in Colorado, Washington, or Oregon are not yet always available for medicinal patients in other states. Once states have a legalized cannabis regulation processes in place, it may be that people can access items such as a topical sub-dermal patches to deliver cannabis medicine or specific cannabinoids. A person may be able to use a CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabinoid) only patch during the day to help with issues like, pain, anxiety, nausea, and depression, and a CBN patch (another non-psychoactive cannabinoid) at night to help with sleep. In this example, the person would have minimal if any exposure to the psychoactive effects of THC in cannabis, and yet they may experience a greater quality of life. From a justice perspective, people deserve to make choice around the medicines they would like to utilize for their own healing, particularly when the medicines are safe.

Social Justice Issues and Policing: Recently, the chiefs of police in Maine came out against the yes on 1 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Maine. It is interesting to me that this organization stated they are “unprepared to address legalization issues,” when certainly looking at the legalization issues in Colorado and Washington should provide plenty of data and solutions to common issues. I would posit that there would be fewer marijuana trafficking issues and convictions, and the police could turn greater attention to bigger and more harmful issues in Maine, such as the opioid crisis and OUI related to alcohol ingestion. Additionally, cannabis legalization is a step toward social justice given the illogical, irrational, and unsuccessful war on drugs (http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Marijuana-legalization-a-step-toward-social-5848468.php, http://theweek.com/articles/542678/why-pot-legalization-also-fight-social-justice). Legalizing cannabis should free up our law enforcement agencies to fight crimes that cause greater damage, even as it lowers the need for them to be addressing black market cannabis issues.

I would like to close with my final thought:

All cannabis is medicinal. Our bodies have our own endocannabinoid systems; we make our own endogenous cannabinoids. However when we become deficient in these cannabinoids, we may become ill and need to seek exogenous sources of cannabinoids, or support our own bodies in creating more endocannabinoids. Cannabis is a safe effective medicine with a low rate of addiction and minimal if any withdrawal symptoms, similar to caffeine. Ingestion of cannabis itself has never lead to a death (unlike many prescription and OTC drugs, alcohol, and nicotine products), and it is time we begin to move beyond the government’s ineffective “prohibition of marijuana” stance and take steps toward effective access for all adults.

In the states where cannabis is a ballot initiative, I urge us as nurses and other healthcare providers to explore the data around cannabis as a medicine and consider our roles as  advocates for patient access to the healing support this medicine can provide.



Have you ever considered being on a Board?

Here at the NurseManifest project, we have tended to emphasize grass roots, “on the street” kinds of activism to bring our deepest nursing values into everyday experience.  But manifesting nursing values needs to happen everywhere, and one of the spheres whereconference-table this is vitally important is in the Board Rooms, large and small.  Lisa Sundean, who is one of our NurseManifest bloggers, is embarking on her dissertation project to explore nurses on Boards, and in the interest of sharing her work wide and far, she has established website and blog – SundeanRN.org!  Her first blog post is now available, explaining why this is vitally important!  I highly recommend that you read her post: What do Boards Have to do with Nursing?  And if you have never considered serving in this capacity, think about it now!  We need to be manifesting nursing everywhere – at the bedside, the chairside, the curbside, and yes, the board side!

Nurses and Social Media

I recently participated in a live Twitter Chat called Where are the Nurses? I think I saw it promoted on Twitter, but I can’t even remember for sure. Regardless, it piqued my interest and I joined in. The discussion was about nurses in leadership and in social media.

I’m a nurse and certified diabetes educator, and I’ve been engaged in social media since about 2008. That is when I joined Facebook to connect with friends – not at all related to my professional work. Then in 2011 I started a website with a blog because I was about to publish a book and was told I needed to have a blog. I soon became involved in what is called the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), which is made up of blogs, social networks, websites, and more – for, by, and about people with diabetes.

Shortly after that I created a “business page” on Facebook, where I started sharing diabetes-related items & information that I thought people would enjoy. Then I joined LinkedIn and Twitter. Yikes! But for a long time I did not interact much with the “Twitter Universe/Twitterverse” or LinkedIn. I wasn’t even sure what the point was. What I’ve learned about LinkedIn is that it’s about professional networking. It’s a great place to look for positions and to find people to fill positions. I’ve had someone find me on LinkedIn and ask me to write a chapter in a book and another person ask me to be on an advisory board.

My kids are into Instagram and Snapchat. I think of those two social media platforms as being strictly for social interactions. I think of Facebook as being either/both personal or professional. And I think of LinkedIn as being more professional. Twitter can also be used for either/both. I use Twitter for professional interactions: I “tweet” my weekly blog post – to get it out there – and I participate in occasional twitter chats.

Until two weeks ago I had only participated in diabetes-related Twitter Chats (also, it turns out, referred to as “tweetchats”). The one I saw promoted in a tweet was called “Healthcare Leadership” with the hashtag #hcldr (a hashtag is a label for a specific topic – you can search for topics by entering hashtags into Twitter or you can follow/participate in certain discussions by including the hashtag in your tweets). Healthcare Leadership is a “weekly, educational tweetchat Tuesdays at 8:30 pm Eastern (North America).” What was so ironic about my experience participating in this nursing tweetchat, was that several of the people involved were directly related to the DOC and regularly participate in diabetes tweetchats! It truly is a small Twitterverse (despite millions of users).

One of the questions asked in the #hcldr chat was why aren’t more nurses involved in social media? Some obvious answers might be lack of time or interest, but other suggestions included concerns about privacy, liability and “enmeshment.” Here is an abridged transcript of that Twitter-based conversation.

Many nurses (including those who are reading this post) are involved in social media, while several others have not gotten there (yet). Some nurses may be using social media for personal reasons, but haven’t joined the professional side of it. It’s completely your choice about how you use social media. I acknowledge that it can take a lot of time. Time management skills are critical in nursing in general, let alone when using social media. But if you are looking for connections, or a new position, or simply want to reach out to discuss ideas, social media is a fabulous option.

Inspiration in Unlikely Places

IMG_1565Hiking uphill along a strenuous stretch of mountain trail in Vermont, I happened along an older woman hiking downhill. I estimated her to be in her early 80s. My first thought was, “Oh my goodness. I need to help this woman. This is far too strenuous for her. She might fall, get lost or dehydrated.” But I quickly realized she was moving perfectly fine, steady and balanced with 2 hiking sticks, sturdy shoes, a backpack (perhaps with water, a snack, and a phone), a hat, and sunscreen visible on her nose. I didn’t have hiking sticks, a snack or a hat. She had a smile on her face. She greeted me with cheer and moved along with the gait of a nimble mountain goat. And that’s when it hit me.

Why did I assume she needed my help? Why did I assume she lacked the ability and fortitude for the hike? Why did I immediately see myself as her protector? In fact, I am always inspired by older people who are active, agile, and adventurous. I want to be that person in my later years. And yet, I imagined her as feeble, incapable, in need of my help and protection. I based my assessment on the assumption that she was weak. And in that assumption, I never considered her strengths.

As nurses, are we programmed to see problems or opportunities? Do we assume weakness in  our patients, our colleagues, our students? Does caring mean we place ourselves in a privileged position over others? If so, what is lost by this weakness-based approach? Better put, what could be gained by a strengths-based approach?  Consider approaching patients, colleagues, students with the assumption that they bring strengths to every situation. Instead of uncovering problems to solve, we can assess circumstances, identify strengths, and collaboratively define opportunities to optimize those strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. Rather than feeling disabled, dis-empowered or disrespected, our patients, our colleagues, our students, even we, feel strengthened, empowered, energized, and respected. This is not a call to ignore problems and certainly not a call to ignore emergency situations that need immediate intervention. It is a difference in approach between “What is the problem and how can we fix it?” to “What is this circumstance, what is going well, and how can we do more of it to restore balance?”

Perhaps this is a trivial nuance in thinking but plenty of positive psychology and brain science literature point to the power of positivity and strengths-based approaches to situations. It so occurred that I began drafting this blog post just as Adeline Falk-Rafael’s post, Peace as a Prerequisite for Health, appeared on the NurseManifest blog site. I cannot help but draw connections to the deep reflections in her bittersweet post. While reflecting on recent outbreaks of violence and civil unrest, she calls attention to courage and peace, social justice and equity as positive antidotes to violence and antecedents for health. Her photo choice: Lesha Evans, a Black female nurse confronting law enforcement in poised courage beautifully illustrates the power of positivity in creating peace and health. She chose to emphasize a strengths-based approach.

I am inspired by Lesha Evans. I am inspired by the vitality of the woman I passed along the trail. I admire their strength, their passion, and their commitment to living fully in peace and positive strength. I have to admit, even as I recognized the strength of the woman on the trail, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for her on my way back down…just in case… Once again, she showed me that strength and courage win. I never saw her again…she was well along her way to greener pastures by the time I completed my descent. I owe a debt of gratitude to this woman on the trail for giving me the opportunity to engage in critical reflection and to find professional inspiration in an unlikely place. I really do want to be that woman hiking the trail like a nimble mountain goat when I am in my 80s and I hope the younger whippersnapper who passes me thinks, “Wow! I want to be like her one day!”


A special note of gratitude goes to Peggy Chinn for her words of wisdom and encouragement in the development of this post.




Sociopolitical Knowing: Connecting with hearts, minds, guts, and groins

[Edited 8/6/16] At a time when many are celebrating the official nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton I am also acutely aware that many are not. While there are many valid concerns that have been raised, what troubles me most is to hear the contempt and disbelief that anyone could support Trump. It concerns me because it reflects a de-humanizing and de-valuing of many in the white working class.

We expect that our students and coworkers will be sensitive to the values and personal goals our patients and their families. We expect nurses to be non-judgemental towards patients who are living in poverty, suffering from addictions, or making decisions that do not seem based in upper-middle class norms and values. Can we also expect nurses to develop an understanding of how to be respectful and understand what is important to people with different political views. 

Sociopolitical Knowing is a core strength of professional nursing. Conceptualized by Jill White in 1995, sociopolitical knowing occurs on two levels:

1) the sociopolitical context of the persons (nurse and patient), and 2) the sociopolitical context of nursing as a practice profession, including both society’s understanding of nursing and nursing’s understanding of society and its politics. [emphasis added]

To start the dialogue, I am circling back to the Spiral Dynamics model that was used to organize the sociopolitical context of nursing in the published Results from the Nurse Manifest 2003 Study: Nurses’ Perspectives on Nursing.


Basics principles of leadership and motivation according to Spiral Dynamics:

  1. identify the specific needs and capacities of individuals and groups, and
  2. calibrate the precise developmental messages that fit each unique situation.

Sociopolitical knowing requires an understanding of how to connect with and motivate people where they are. It means developing an understanding of what messages will be most effective in “pushing someone’s buttons” or eliciting a strong emotional response. The table below highlights the most prevalent value memes in modern society – defined through worldview, core values, and value-based reasons for violence and war. 

spiral dynamics.JPG

How Trump connects: From sexual innuendos and vulgar speech to stoking conspiracy theories and racist viewpoints, Trump often makes his connection with people’s minds, guts, and testicles. He has effectively tapped into pent-up frustrations and fears, justifying aggression and intolerance to make America “great again” (red and orange) and “safe again” (blue and green). 

How Clinton connects: From It Takes a Village to Hard Choices, Clinton has a long history of speaking to people’s hearts, minds, and ovaries. She has effectively tapped into national pride and hope, focusing on accomplishments that make America “great right now” (red and orange) and safer through unity and tolerance (blue and green). 

Both campaigns employ messaging that is strategically targeted at different audiences. The point of this blog entry was not to start a political debate — this is not the place for that. Rather, I am hoping to start a conversation about understanding how we might apply sociopolitical knowing to strengthen our ability to communicate with others. I hope that through application of sociopolitical knowing we can better connect with different communities about the work of nursing, and issues that impact the patient populations and communities we serve.

Please help build the dialogue around sociopolitical knowing, through comments here, and conversations with your coworkers, family, and friends. 

References for further reading:

Beck, D. E. Human Capacities in the Integral Age: How Value Systems Shape Organizational Productivity, National Prosperity and Global Transformation

Charen, M. What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals About Trump and America: A harrowing portrait of the plight of the white working class. National Review, July 28, 2016.

Harryman, W. Is Hillary Clinton the First Integral Politician? Integral Options Cafe, November 6, 2005.

Jarrín, O. F. Results from the Nurse Manifest 2003 Study: Nurses’ Perspectives on Nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 29(2), E74-E85.

Pew Research Center. Few Clinton, Trump Supporters Have Close Friends on the Other Side. August 3, 2016.

Schwartzbach, S. M. Drowned: Nurses Under Water. The Nurse Sonja. July 27, 2016.

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. 2016; HarperCollins: New York, NY. 

White, J. Patterns of knowing: review, critique, and update. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 1995 Jun;17(4):73-86.