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5 Things to Know About Cannabis Nursing

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated September 27, 2023
    Cannabis nursing is a growing field with opportunities for practice in many markets. These five things are important to know about the field.
    Credit: Getty Images

    Cannabis nursing can be an attractive option for many nurses. Research has shown the health benefits of cannabis, but despite a long medicinal history in non-Western societies, there continue to be misconceptions about the drug.

    This page helps demystify cannabis and cannabis nursing. You may even be inspired to pursue a career in this burgeoning health and wellness field.

    1. Learn the Racial History of Cannabis

    In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was signed as part of the “War on Drugs.” This made marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, like LSD and heroin. Schedule 1 drugs have no medicinal use and a high potential for misuse.

    This bill is believed to have increased racial inequality in drug charges and felony convictions. According to the website Quartz, some government officials have since admitted their policies were designed to undermine Black communities and those protesting the Vietnam War.

    Fast forward about 40 years and several U.S. states have begun to legalize the sale and use of cannabis. The change is likely the result of well-documented studies demonstrating significant medical benefits to cannabis.

    However, not every part of society can enjoy the financial windfall that comes with legal sales. For example, Black people are more likely to be arrested for illegal possession of marijuana. However, the law prevents anyone with a drug felony conviction to open a medical marijuana shop. Fewer than 36 of the nearly 3,600 storefront dispensaries in the U.S. are owned by Black people. That’s about 1%.

    The Last Prisoner Project has taken on the fight for over 40,000 prisoners who are serving severe sentences for an action that is no longer illegal. Organizations like Cage Free Cannabis are pushing for drug war reparations.

    Cannabis nurses are in a position to educate their patients. Legalization opened the door for cannabis nurses to work as companions for the elderly, cancer patients, and those with chronic pain. Medical conditions can be positively affected by cannabis, and cannabis nurses can help evaluate potential drug interactions with the patient’s pharmacist.

    2. Understand How Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System Interact

    To practice as a cannabis nurse it is crucial to have a working knowledge of the endocannabinoid system.

    Two types of receptors interact with cannabinoid chemicals from the Cannabis sativa plant and cannabinoid-like chemicals produced by the body. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2. More than 500 chemicals have been identified and 70 different plant-based cannabinoids. This system of receptors and chemicals is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

    To date, researchers have found that your endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in regulating a range of functions, including:

    • Reproduction
    • Fertility
    • Sleep
    • Mood
    • Appetite
    • Metabolism
    • Heart function
    • Stress
    • Memory
    • Pain

    While hemp and marijuana are the same plants, the law recognizes a difference between the two. To qualify as hemp, a plant must contain 0.3% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is primarily responsible for the “high” associated with Cannabis sativa. Since the THC level is so low, it is unlikely to have any psychogenic effects.

    Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical found in the cannabis plant. Researchers have also identified additional chemicals in the plant, which are being investigated for health benefits. These include cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and cannabinol.

    A cannabis nurse understands the essential role cannabis plays in health and wellness and how to use specific cannabis products to affect a person’s mind and body. Cannabis may interact with other chemicals in the body, such as prescribed and over-the-counter medications. To become a cannabis nurse, you must have the skills and knowledge to help treat your patient’s health conditions.

    3. There’s No Certification for Cannabis Nursing, Yet

    When the Farm Bill passed in 2018 legalizing hemp, nursing organizations quickly developed guidelines for nursing care. Guidelines from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing include information on the current legislation and nursing care. They also address education programs for registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice nurses.

    These guidelines are important to help guide education since there is currently no cannabis nurse certification. The American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) has developed two courses to help educate RNs and advanced practice nurses. The first is an eight-hour overview of cannabis nursing and the second contains additional training in the use of medical cannabis.

    The ACNA is advocating for recognition of cannabis nursing by the American Nurses Association and American Nurses Credentialing Center as a specialty. This might lead to the development of a cannabis nurse certification that benefits patients and communities. It will ensure professionals are adequately educated and can demonstrate the necessary skills.

    4. Medical Marijuana Isn’t Legal in All States

    Despite the federal Farm Bill, not all states have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis products. It is essential that cannabis nurses are familiar with their state and local laws governing use and distribution. As of May 2021, there were 36 states and four territories that allow medicinal use of cannabis.

    Additionally, there were 18 states and territories in June 2021 with laws that allow for nonmedicinal use. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, these were the state-regulated programs in May 2021.

    Medical cannabis nurses may find employment in oncology clinics, pain treatment centers, and gastrointestinal facilities. Cannabis may be prescribed for patients with autoimmune disorders or chronic inflammation.

    5. Cannabis Nursing Is a “Budding” Specialty

    The field of cannabis nursing is growing. In the next 10 years, this anticipated growth may be partly fueled by an aging population with increasing numbers of chronic disease and chronic pain. Mounting scientific evidence in the role cannabis plays in health and wellness is also a factor.

    Nurses are at the forefront of community healthcare. Cannabis nurses can advocate for access to proven cannabis products in populations where it was once used to undermine communities. Cannabis nurses may also choose to work in research settings, where scientists are working on extraction techniques. These help to identify specific health benefits associated with different chemicals found in the Cannabis sativa plant.

    Lastly, cannabis nurses can be advocates for change and social justice. Equipped with knowledge and passion for healthcare, cannabis nurses are vital team members in organizations fighting to release people in jail for crimes that no longer exist.

    Learn more about cannabis nursing.

    Feature Image: Charday Penn / Getty Images

    Portrait of Angelique Geehan

    Angelique Geehan

    Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association’s Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.

    Page last reviewed November 23, 2021. Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. Learn more about our review partners.