The endocannabinoid system, which responds to cannabis when a patient ingests it, is one of the most extensive receptor systems in the human body—yet many health care practitioners know very little about it.
“We didn’t learn it in school,” said Eileen Konieczny, RN. “It’s not in our textbooks.”
The American Cannabis Nurses Association, of which Konieczny is president, is designed to fill that gap by educating health care practitioners about medical cannabis. Although its services are geared primarily toward nurses, it can also be a vital resource for dispensary operators.
The foundation of ACNA took root at the 2006 Patients Out of Time national clinical conference on cannabis therapeutics in Santa Barbara, Calif. The fledgling entity was “envisioned as a nursing organization that represented the emerging field of endocannabinoid therapeutics to professional nurses, providing scientific, patient, and educational opportunities to assist nurses in understanding and advocating for their patients’ needs,” according to the ACNA website.
The organization was originally established in 2010 as an Oregon non-profit, and the first board of directors was elected a year later. ACNA underwent a restructuring in 2014 that included re-chartering as a New Jersey non-profit entity and, in 2015, it received its 501(C)(3) status, the website reported.
ACNA advocates for cannabis’ recognition as a medicine for a wide range of diseases. The secret to cannabis’ therapeutic power lies in the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors that responds to specific cannabinoids within the body, including those produced by the body itself.
“The endocannabinoid system is about maintaining balance in our bodies,” Konieczny said.
“Wherever there is an imbalance in your body, this is where these cannabinoids are drawn to, and they either turn something on or turn something off,” she added. “They try to maintain a healthy balance in us. That’s the whole purpose of the endocannabinoid system. And it’s one of the most extensive receptive systems in our body.”
Still, this system largely remains a mystery, even to practitioners in the medical field, she said.
As patients realize the medicinal properties of legal cannabis, more of them are turning to the cannabis industry in search of treatment options. However, cannabis treatments come with their own unique set of medical considerations.
“There are side effects,” Konieczny said. “There are drug interactions.”
Even the way cannabis is administered can have a significant impact on the patient. Inhalation therapy is a safe option, she said, but many patients opt for other delivery methods, such as ingestion, which “has the potential to affect the uptake of other medication,” Konieczny said. “It has the potential to interact with other medications.”
Nurses provide expertise, build relationships
Given the medical complexities involved in cannabis therapy, hiring an on-staff nurse who is well-trained in the science of cannabis medicine can be a significant asset to a dispensary. They can provide reliable medical advice and also help dispensaries build positive relationships with their patients.
“Nurses are the most trusted profession in the country for over the last 10 years running,” Konieczny said. “We’re trusted, and there’s a lot of value in that.”
And because of that high level of trust, “we really believe that we can help build the medical market,” she said.
ACNA can be a resource for helping dispensary owners determine what qualifications and qualities to look for in a staff nurse. In the future, ACNA plans to launch a cannabis nurse network that will help patients and their health care providers find nurses who are well-educated in the endocannabinoid system, Konieczny said. The organization is also working to create more education for the public.
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