Cannabis-trained nurses hold a unique spot in the nursing field 

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Gonzalez-Walker

Patients have long known the potential benefits of cannabis, though the medical establishment has been slower to acknowledge cannabis’s therapeutic potential. Between federal prohibition and outdated stigmas, cannabis has faced an uphill battle gaining credibility among many healthcare providers. However, as additional states legalize and research rapidly grows on cannabis’s potential as an alternative to opiates and other pharmaceuticals, more doctors and nurses are giving cannabis a fresh look.

Cannabis leaf in foreground, being held by a medical marijuana doctor.

Healthcare pioneers have long supported medical marijuana

Pioneering nurses and doctors have been chipping away at cannabis misconceptions and stigmas for over 50 years. In 1971, Dr. Lester Grinspoon published Reconsidering Marihuana, supporting the safety and efficacy of cannabis. Ironically, when he first began researching cannabis his goal was to prove the plant was dangerous, but the research resoundingly said otherwise. (The late Dr. Lester Grinspoon is the father of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, keynote speaker at our most recent Leaf Learning Series.)

Dr. Lester Grinspoon wasn’t the only healthcare professional interested in cannabis therapeutics prior to legalization. The organization Patients Out of Time was formed in 1981, and the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) was first envisioned at the Fourth National Patients Out of Time conference in 2006, with ACNA formally founded in 2010. Our own Leaf411 Chief Nursing Officer and Board President Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC, is the current ACNA President, and all our Leaf Nurses are members of this visionary organization.

Unique challenges in cannabis nursing

Nurses have been on the forefront of cannabis therapeutics all along, often with very little professional support and at risk of losing their nursing licenses or jobs. In many cases, these nurses became interested in cannabis after seeing its benefits firsthand in patients they were caring for, or after diving into research on cannabis as an alternative to medications that have worrying side effects.

Nurses in blue scrubs sitting at a classroom table, learning about cannabis therapeutics.

Unlike their nursing colleagues in more conventional specialties, nurses pursuing cannabis specialization have often had to go outside of their organization and spend their own money on professional development. These nurses also miss out on bonuses and incentives that large healthcare organizations often offer for other speciality certifications.

Needless to say, these nurses—including our own Leaf Nurses—are driven by a passion to provide patient-centered care that addresses the whole person and considers all available research-backed options to restore health and quality of life.

Fortunately, when it comes to healthcare the tides are turning. In 2016, the American Nurses Association (ANA) released a position statement in support of cannabis, urging reclassification to allow for more robust clinical research on the efficacy of marijuana and related cannabinoids. Two years later, in 2018, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) released guidelines for nurses caring for patients who use medical marijuana. Eloise played a central role in developing a nursing continuing education (CE) module for the ANA on this topic, and led creation of a clinical dosing regimen to the cannabis space.

Smiling cannabis nurse in background, holding up stethoscope with a marijuana leaf image printed on it.

Cannabis nurses offer knowledge in an emerging field

For now, cannabis nurses like the Leaf411 Nurses who staff our hotline hold a unique place in healthcare. More people are accessing plant medicine, yet many mainstream medical providers don’t have the necessary background or professional education to answer patients’ questions about cannabis therapeutics. Cannabis-trained nurses help fill that gap.

At Leaf411, we’ve seen the demand on our hotline, with calls increasing by 50% during the first two months of 2021, and we only expect that demand to increase as more states legalize medical and adult-use (recreational) cannabis. Public support for cannabis is also at an all-time high, with 91% of U.S. adults saying medical and/or adult-use cannabis should be legalized, according to a Pew Research Center report released in April 2021.

Stacked wooden blocks with up arrows,indicating increasing support for cannabis legalization across the U.S.

Access to legal cannabis is expanding and attitudes are changing, but patient resources remain scarce. We launched the nonprofit Leaf411 hotline with the goal of providing balanced, accessible cannabis information to the public while also paying our fully-licensed Leaf Nurses a fair market rate, acknowledging the time and resources they have invested into pursuing a cannabis specialization. 

We help patients and consumers cut through marketing claims and anecdotal data to find cannabis and hemp CBD product types and potencies that fit their goals, lifestyles and overall health regimen. We are not beholden to one brand, but instead help consumers sort through the options where they live, whether in a fully legal state, medical-only state, or even an area where cannabis has not been legalized yet hemp CBD is available.

During National Nurses Week, we want to acknowledge our Leaf Nurses’ commitment to making the Leaf411 hotline a leading resource for cannabis patients and consumers. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only RN-staffed cannabis hotline in the United States that provides this service for free to the public, and we couldn’t do it without the incredible passion and dedication that our nurses bring to their work.

Sticky note that says “Share This!” encouraging readers to share the Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline as a resource for others.

Spread the word about Leaf411 and help us grow!

One of the best ways you can support Leaf411 is by spreading the word about our service:

  • Have a friend with questions about cannabis? Point them in our direction.
  • Visiting your favorite dispensary for your cannabis medicine? Mention how Leaf411 has helped you, and suggest that they look into a business membership to help support patients like yourself.
  • Know a physician, nurse or other allied health professional with questions about cannabis therapeutics? Point them to us—we also serve as a resource for healthcare professionals.

We also appreciate individual donations, no matter how big or small. Visit this link to learn different ways you can support Leaf411’s work via direct donation or Amazon Smile. 

For cannabis businesses, a Leaf411 business membership provides a valuable educational resource for your customers while also demonstrating that you care about healthcare inequality. Leaf411 business membership can also set you apart in the increasingly crowded cannabis and hemp CBD marketplace, an issue we tackled in a recent blog post

We have revamped our business membership model to meet you where you’re at, whether you are a newly-launched brand or an industry heavyweight looking to make your mark on the future of patient-centered cannabis education and support. Keep an eye on our Business Membership page for more details, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter below!