Learn what makes us unique in the world of cannabis and medicine, and what to expect when you call the hotline

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

Have you ever tried talking to your primary care physician about cannabis as an option, only to have the conversation fall flat?

This information gap is what inspired Leaf411 co-founders Katherine Golden, RN, and Jennifer Axcell to establish Leaf411 in 2019.

Today we offer a quick rundown of why stigma remains in healthcare, and share an inside look at what happens when you call the hotline.

Cropped image of physician and nurse with crossed arms reflecting judgmental attitude toward cannabis.

Addressing Stigma in Healthcare

Public acceptance of cannabis is strong across nearly all age groups, and more states are voting to legalize either adult-use (recreational) or medical marijuana.

However, if you’ve ever tried bringing up cannabis with your primary care provider, then you’re likely aware that the medical field lags behind. Your provider may have refused to discuss cannabis, or may have even questioned your motives. Why is that?

Some medical professionals still treat marijuana primarily as a drug abuse issue, not as a clinically-valid treatment option. Even physicians who might support cannabis therapeutics are often censored by their employers, including doctors practicing at the VA. In addition, both physicians and nurses may be wary of losing their professional licenses if they discuss cannabis since marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug and is still federally illegal.

Another issue is the gap in knowledge among many providers. According to a 2017 study, less than 10% of medical schools included medical marijuana in their curricula, leaving physicians-in-training on their own to learn about cannabis therapeutics.

Fortunately, awareness of cannabis therapeutics is increasing among the medical professions, with organizations like American Cannabis Nurses Association and Radicle Health providing continuing education to healthcare professionals like our own Leaf Nurses. 

Our Leaf Nurses are fully-licensed registered nurses with clinical experience who’ve completed specialized training in cannabis therapeutics.

Hand holding a cordless phone, calling the anonymous, free Leaf411 hotline

What Happens When You Call the Free Leaf411 Cannabis Nurse Hotline?

Our Leaf nurses approach calls to the hotline just as they would any other patient encounter, bringing nursing best practices into their work. This means that when you call the Leaf411 hotline, you should expect an experience similar to other telehealth encounters, though the focus is on education not diagnosis (diagnosis would be outside of our scope of practice!). 

Generally, you can expect the following steps during your call: 

  • Background Information: While the hotline is anonymous, we gather non-identifying  data (location, age, etc.) to ensure our services match caller needs. This information also helps us determine what cannabis and CBD hemp options exist based on laws in your home state. We may gather this information up-front or as part of the conversation, depending on the caller’s needs. 
  • Triage: Our Leaf Nurses ask a series of questions to understand your healthcare needs and goals for using CBD hemp or marijuana, whether you’re completely new to the plant or an experienced user. We’ll also ask questions about your activities of daily living to make sure that our education is tailored to your day-to-day realities. 
  • Your History of Marijuana Use: When considering marijuana or CBD hemp as a therapeutic tool, it’s important to factor in where you’re coming from. Are you an experienced user, or was the last time you consumed over 20 years ago? Have your past experiences been positive or negative? It’s okay if you have hesitations or concerns based on past experiences! Our Leaf Nurses are non-judgmental and provide balanced information based on your goals and preferences.  
  • Offering Education and Guidance: Once we have a clear sense of your healthcare needs and goals, we provide education and guidance that can save you time and money when it comes to finding the best cannabis options for pain, insomnia, or other needs. Our Leaf Nurses also understand that most callers want relief without impairment so that they can go about their daily lives.

    We start with Cannabis 101 education on your endocannabinoid system, followed by general guidance on product types, routes of administration, and dosing. For example, our Leaf Nurses may suggest starting with a ratio product that contains specific amounts of THC and CBD. They also take into account any physical limitations that callers may have to recommend easy-to-use product formats, like gummies that can easily be divided into smaller doses. 
  • Follow-Up Options: If you’re calling us at the very beginning of your cannabis journey, wondering where to start, you’re not alone! Many of our callers are new to marijuana or CBD hemp. We understand that as you begin trying different products and learn more about cannabis, additional questions may come up. While the hotline is anonymous, we do take notes as part of our nursing practice, including your phone number. That makes it easy for us if you have follow-up questions so that we can pull up those past notes and pick up right where we left off. You can also request to speak with the same Leaf Nurse you previously talked to, though we may need to schedule a call-back time based on our nurses’ schedules.

Want to hear what it sounds like to call the hotline? Colorado Public Radio’s On Something podcast gave us a test call, and also talks to Katherine about the hotline’s work.

Hand holding a puzzle piece with the word “Guidance” printed on it.

How the Leaf411 Hotline is Different than Other Resources

The Leaf411 hotline is unique in that we’re the only free RN-staffed cannabis health resource in the U.S. (at least that we’re aware of!). 

There are many free online resources for general learning, including our own Leaf Library. But when it comes to questions specific to you–your health goals and needs–those are best addressed by a trained clinician, not someone without a medical background.

Other cannabis clinicians provide individualized education, but they charge patients for the service. However, we decided to do things differently at Leaf411, to ensure that anyone and everyone would have access to the same professional and trustworthy cannabis information.

Your Calls Demonstrate the Need for Clinically-Backed Cannabis Education

Whenever you choose the non-profit Leaf411 hotline as a resource, you’re supporting the need for balanced, unbiased clinically-backed education on marijuana and CBD hemp. We point to hotline’s overall call volume as proof when we talk to grantmakers, industry or public health partners. 

We know some people would like to support the non-profit hotline in other ways as well. Sign up for our newsletter below to stay up-to-date on upcoming fundraising initiatives, as well as our upcoming Leaf Learning: Get the 411 series events!