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Mar 25, 2021 4 min read

Why nurses must be involved in cannabis patient care

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by Sophie Hayes, RN
A cannabis nurse looks over a patient file with compassion

Like many people who are drawn to work with and advocate for medical cannabis, I first saw the difference that cannabis can make with someone very close to me. My partner, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 19, was able to improve his quality of life with cannabis by managing his nausea, poor quality sleep, gut motility, appetite, pain, and anxiety with a single substance. 

The more I read about it, the more I became fascinated with the chemistry and potential of cannabis. 

In nursing school, I wrote my dissertation on the role of the nurse when caring for patients using cannabis therapeutically, knowing that nurses are often the first healthcare professional to whom patients disclose their cannabis use. 

I also advocated alongside my partner for many years as part of the patient group United Patients Alliance. When the law changed in the UK in 2018, I was humbled by the efforts of those who suffer on a daily basis to achieve legal access to medicinal cannabis. I remain in awe of these patients to this day.

I have since worked as a frontline nurse in major trauma centers in both Brighton and London, including during COVID, and in my most recent role as specialist nurse at Integro Medical Cannabis Clinics, collaborate with specialists in the care of medical cannabis patients.

Transfering nurses’ skills to cannabis medicine

I have regularly seen nurses go above and beyond for their patients, applying the adaptability, commitment, knowledge and passion that this profession demands of those who join it. These qualities are necessary to ensure that the private medical cannabis space conducts itself with compassion and respect for those who are accessing medication through it.

It is also crucial so that the correct data is collected in order to inform further research and clinical trials that are necessary for cannabis medicines to reach the UK National Health Service. 

Nurses are an integral part of any healthcare team, as they are tireless advocates for their patients and have unmatched organizational skills.

For the past year and a half and with those aims in mind, I have had the privilege of volunteering for CPASS Nurses Arm in the role of clinical lead. 

The goals of our organization are simple. We aim to provide nurses with the most up-to-date knowledge of cannabis medicines, how they apply in practice and to outline the legal frameworks within which they can work. 

Showcasing medical cannabis in a real world setting

One of the ways we are achieving this is through our MDT webinar series

Doctors and nurses are generally familiar with working with the multidisciplinary team meeting format, in which a patient’s complex needs are discussed by a group of skilled health professionals in order to plan and manage the patient’s care jointly. 

Because nurse training is structured into two parts, theory and practice, we structured our MDT series using the same approach — with two events for each area of practice to which cannabis medicines can be applied. The first event will always involve a specialist physician and a nurse outlining the biochemical theory behind how cannabis medicines work on that particular body system, with the nurse explaining how this theory should be applied in practice with patients. 

Part one lays the understanding and groundwork for the second event, the case discussion between specialist physician, nurse, pharmacist, and other allied healthcare professionals who have key insights into that particular case. 

The idea behind the MDT series is to place the unfamiliar cannabis medicines into a familiar case discussion format. In this way, the events emphasize the idea that cannabis medicines are not a panacea, they are a useful tool to be added to the clinician’s toolbox when attempting to manage complex patient cases. 

Nurses bridge the gap between doctor and patient

However, the MDT series also serves another purpose — it showcases the value of the nurse within a healthcare team. 

Nurses are generally more likely than other healthcare professionals to ask questions that address the whole person, not simply a list of diagnoses. This often includes social aspects of their care, the patient’s personality and lifestyle, all of which are vital in assessing whether a beautifully thought out care plan will work for this particular individual in practice. 

It is in this key way that nurses bridge the gap between doctor and patient. This bridge is particularly important when managing “expert” cannabis patients who may have been successfully managing their symptoms for decades with illicit cannabis, but who are now being required to return to a more hierarchical medical system to obtain a legal prescription for cannabis medicines. 

Cannabis in oncology

Our first MDT on cannabis and pain, featuring myself, pain specialist Dr. Anthony Ordman, GP Leon Barron, and chief pharmacist Carl Holvey, far exceeded our expectations. The lively discussion highlighted how effective cannabis can be for managing not only pain, but also the often accompanying conditions of anxiety, low mood, and poor sleep

Our next series of MDT webinars on cannabis for symptom management in oncology takes place on March 29, 2021. Leading the discussion will be specialist consultants Dr. Matt Brown and Dr. Charlotte Fribbens from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, who will be joined by Megan O’Rahilly RN, a Clinical Nurse Specialist specializing in upper GI oncology, and Eleanor Owen-Jones RN, who works in a clinical research setting. 

While our panelists are largely drawn from UK health professionals, the themes covered will have an international reach and we very much welcome attendees from across the globe. 
If you’d like to find out more about the work of CPASS, view the webinars on cannabis and pain or sign up for our upcoming sessions on cannabis and oncology, head to https://linktr.ee/cannpass.

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