As knowledge around the benefits of medical cannabis spreads throughout the states, the demand for nurses educated in the industry is growing. Most states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the nurses that are well-versed in the ways it can be used are limited. There’s never been a better time to begin a career as a medical cannabis nurse.
Many experienced nurses are unsure about embarking on this career path as there is still much to learn about this new medicine. For that reason, choosing to specialize in medical cannabis means you will be able to find a job quickly and be ahead of the curve when it comes to knowledge. Even once you have your nursing degree, you will need specialized training that fully dives into the subject of medical cannabis and the laws around it so you can serve your patients to the best of your abilities.
The FDA and Federal Government Regulations
The Food and Drug Administration has yet to recognize the marijuana plant itself as a medicine. They have, however, approved one cannabis-derived drug called Epidiolex and three synthetic cannabis-related products. Sixty-eight percent of physicians in the U.S. support the legalization of cannabis, and 33 states have implemented medical cannabis laws. There are five states that are close to jumping on the bandwagon soon, with medical marijuana already on the ballot.
The demand for experienced and knowledgeable nurses specializing in medical cannabis has grown so much that the name “cannabis nursing” has been recognized as its own role. As a DNP or FNP, you can prescribe medical cannabis, providing it’s legal in your state. As long as you have your BSN, you can take online DNP FNP programs to obtain your full qualification.
The medical benefits of cannabis
Medical cannabis refers specifically to parts or extracts of the marijuana plant which are used to treat diseases or symptoms. The reason it’s called cannabis is due to the cannabinoid chemicals which exist within the plant. There are over 100 cannabinoids within marijuana plants, with THC being the most popular.
THC or tetrahydrocannabinol has the potential to reduce nausea and increase appetite in patients. For these reasons, it may be useful for those who experience chronic pain and struggle to eat or keep things down as a result. It may also have the ability to treat muscle control issues, such as Parkinson’s, and decrease inflammation overall.
CBD is another popular cannabinoid that is legal in all 50 states. There is no medical card required to purchase it and it doesn’t have the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD has shown the potential to treat a vast array of medical conditions, including reducing inflammation, pain, mental disorders, and neurological disorders. It may also reduce the seizure severity associated with epilepsy.
What does a cannabis nurse Do?
A cannabis nurse doesn’t directly handle or administer medical cannabis to their patients as they would with other types of treatments. Medical cannabis nurses use standard nurse practices but incorporate their knowledge of cannabis and how it can benefit the patient. A cannabis nurse is there to educate patients and advocate for the proper and most effective use of medical marijuana. As a cannabis nurse, you will have knowledge of:
- Legalities surrounding medical cannabis and its uses
- How to safely use medical cannabis products
- Thorough understanding of the endocannabinoid system
As the use of medical marijuana is still relatively new, patients are interested but don’t know where to start. Things like dosage amounts and how to consume medical marijuana are often unclear and confusing, which is where a cannabis nurse comes in. They advise patients on proper doses and methods of consumption, which will most benefit them and treat their ailments. Coaching their patients with a customized treatment plan can also help reduce side effects and maximize the positive impact.
Often patients who could benefit from medical cannabis are already taking other drugs to combat their conditions. A medical cannabis nurse can identify if there are any interactions between the two substances to help mitigate any risks. To break everything down, the primary responsibilities as a cannabis nurse include:
- Identifying possible drug interactions
- Coach patients using medical cannabis in a way the maximizes benefits and reduces side-effects
- Help patients alter medical marijuana doses based on their needs
- Educate patients and others around the differences between different strains of medical cannabis
- Test different strains of medical cannabis
- Practice safe and hygienic medicine
As a cannabis nurse, you’ll need to have an excellent knowledge base in the physiology of wellness and illness, including an understanding of treatments and drug interactions.
Where can you work as a medical cannabis nurse?
The demand for medical cannabis nurses in all healthcare sectors is on the rise as interest continues to grow from both patients and organizations. Physician groups, hospitals, primary care organizations, and more are seeking professionals with a deep understanding of medical cannabis and its applications. It is still an emerging field, so the opportunities are still growing, but due to the limited number of cannabis nurses, there are more than enough positions to go around. Here are a few other job roles available for medical cannabis nurses:
1. Working in dispensaries
Many cannabis nurses provide education by working in dispensaries to support staff on-site and those who need it. Often the team that works in dispensaries don’t have a thorough knowledge of medical cannabis, nor how to recommend doses and consumption for individual patients. Dispensaries require qualified cannabis nurses to join their staff to provide a higher level of service and knowledge to their customers and patients.
2. Product manufacturing
Cannabis nurses are also needed in the product manufacturing sector to help with the development of products and educational tools. While many product manufacturers may have a thorough knowledge of cannabis, they don’t necessarily have the expertise when it comes to the medical side. Having a medical cannabis nurse on staff will help them develop their products effectively and, more importantly, help create educational tools for the company.
3. Brand ambassadors/product reps
Also related to cannabis products, many medical cannabis nurses become brand ambassadors. It is incredibly beneficial for cannabis brands to have a medical professional endorsing their product and therefore it provides an excellent opportunity for collaboration.
4. Training and education
Since the medical cannabis industry is still relatively new, there is a huge opportunity to educate and train others. By hosting educational gatherings, offering training to other healthcare professionals and advocating locally, you can become a leader within this growing industry.
How to become a medical cannabis nurse?
To become a medical cannabis nurse, you’ll need the same qualifications as a standard registered nurse. Ideally, having your BSN and upgrading to DNP-FNP will ensure you are fully qualified within the nursing field in general.
Using that thorough nursing knowledge as a base, you can then upskill your medical cannabis knowledge. There is no certification in cannabis, though there are educational programs for nurses that are required to obtain thorough medical cannabis knowledge. The Medical Cannabis Institute offers continuing education in medical marijuana for qualified nurses. You can also find additional online courses available from TMCI and other online education options.
If you’re a nurse who is interested in specializing in medical cannabis, you must understand the benefits of the cannabis plant and how it interacts with the body and other drugs. As a nurse, you will have a thorough knowledge of how the human body works, but not necessarily how the endocannabinoid system works with cannabis.
That is why formal education and training in medical marijuana is necessary to further on from your nursing training. During this further training, you will get to test cannabis strains and identify the differences between each one. You’ll also have the opportunity to administer doses so you can become proficient in safe consumption. You’ll learn everything that is known about medical cannabis so you can educate others and advocate for it.
If you’re interested in becoming a medical cannabis nurse, you’re going to embark on a path in a growing industry that will continue to develop. Getting into the industry will allow you to be at the forefront of the medical cannabis nursing professional and establish yourself as a leader in the field. Whether you want to work directly in a medical care facility, at a hospital, in dispensaries, or educating the public on your own, there is a path as a medical cannabis nurse that will suit anyone.
The best place to start is to upgrade your BSN to DNP-FNP and then go into continuing education specializing in medical cannabis. From there, you can decide which path to take based on your own personal interests and how you’d like to be involved in the industry. As a medical cannabis nurse, you have the potential to impact the lives of many patients for the better and increase awareness around a natural medicine, which has the potential to help a lot of people.