- Cannabis nurses provide holistic care for patients with complex needs.
- Laws and regulations around medical cannabis are changing rapidly, so there is a big need for trusted and knowledgeable cannabis professionals.
- There’s no certification pathway for cannabis nurses, but this may change soon.
- Nurses who want to develop their skills in cannabis nursing can pursue several reputable training programs.
Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Despite this long history, many people — including providers — do not understand how to use medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) safely.
Laws around cannabis use are changing rapidly. As regulations change, there is a need for trusted medical professionals who can advise on the safe and effective use of medical cannabis.
Cannabis nurses are experts in the use of medical marijuana. They educate patients and providers about safe cannabis use, advise on treatment plans, and advocate for laws that enable patients to access the care they need.
Completing continuing education credits or earning a certificate in cannabis nursing is an excellent way for nurses to demonstrate professionalism, expertise, and commitment to safe practices regarding medical cannabis. There are also programs for nurses who want to pursue an advanced degree in cannabis medicine.
Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
A Rapidly Shifting Landscape for Cannabis — and Cannabis Nursing
The legal status of cannabis can be a little confusing. While the use or possession of cannabis is technically illegal according to federal law, as of April 2023, medical cannabis is legal in 38 states and three U.S. territories.
The gap between federal and state law has created many problems for patients, providers, and the cannabis industry. But this could likely change soon. In October of 2022, President Biden offered pardons to individuals convicted of a federal crime for marijuana possession.
More recently, The Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act moved forward in the Senate with bipartisan support. The bill would provide legal marijuana businesses access to financial services like bank accounts and small business loans. To date, marijuana businesses must run cash-only operations, which is risky and limits business growth. Now, the bill goes to the House.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs are historically classified as Schedule I because they have a high potential for abuse and no medically recognized use. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and ecstasy.
However, these regulations may change soon because of growing evidence surrounding medical cannabis. In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule III controlled substance, on par with testosterone therapy or Tylenol with codeine.
Cannabis Nursing: Is There a Growing Need?
The number of people who use medical marijuana has exploded in recent years. Between 2016 and 2020, this number more than quadrupled, from 678,408 to 2,974,433.
Patients in medical marijuana programs tend to have complex medical histories that may include multiple diagnoses, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or multiple sclerosis. Others have conditions that are difficult to treat using traditional modalities. These patients require support from highly trained medical professionals who can advise them on safe treatment options, including cannabis use.
Beyond medical cannabis users, more than 18% of Americans have used marijuana at least once in the last year. Nurses from all specialties will almost certainly work with patients who have recently used marijuana.
What is a Cannabis Nurse?
Unlike nurses in other specialties, cannabis nurses generally don’t perform direct patient care like taking vital signs or administering medications. Unless specifically authorized by law, they cannot acquire cannabis for patients or administer it directly.
Instead, cannabis nurses often spend their time counseling and advising patients about the safe use of medical cannabis. They may also work with other providers on planning, dosing, and evaluating a patient’s response to cannabis products.
Cannabis nurses should have a deep understanding of the endocannabinoid system, potential drug interactions, possible side effects, and disease management in the context of medical marijuana use. Cannabis nurses also often take on an advocacy role.
Cannabis nurse jobs are growing. Nurses in this specialty may work in dispensaries, as patient advocates in clinics or hospital systems, or with product manufacturers.
Some cannabis nurses become consultants or entrepreneurs who specialize in preparing treatment plans and developing education resources for other cannabis nurses.
The Top Cannabis Nurse Training Programs
There are currently no credentials for cannabis nurses, although that may change in the future.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognized cannabis nursing as a specialty in September 2023. The American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA), an affiliate of the ANA, is working to build credentialing pathways for cannabis nurses.
Here are some of the best options for individuals who want to become a cannabis nurse, from least to most intensive.
Continuing education credits are the perfect introduction for nurses who wish to support their patients who use cannabis. NursingCE (by ATI) offers a 1.5 credit-hour course titled Medical Marijuana and Cannabinoid Use for RNs and LPNs for just $8.
American Cannabis Nurses Association
The ACNA is a professional association for cannabis nursing that offers training and practice resources for cannabis nurses.
Cannabis Nurses Network
The Cannabis Nurses Network is another professional association for cannabis nurses. They offer workshops and career development resources for cannabis nurses. They also offer a variety of continuing education courses specifically for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
Radicle Health offers several programs for health professionals, from Cannabis Foundations ($99) to specific workshops on topics like chronic pain and cardiovascular disease.
Florida Gulf Coast University Cannabis Professional Certificate Program
FGCU’s cannabis professional certificate program is online and takes four weeks to complete. The program provides graduates with a certificate of completion. It’s open to health professionals and others interested in learning more about the cannabis industry. The program costs $1,395.
The University of Vermont
UVM offers a non-credit professional certificate in cannabis science and medicine. This 8-week online program requires 8-10 hours a week and costs $2250.
Pacific College of Health and Science
The master of science in medical cannabis therapeutics at PCHS is a 30-credit program that’s entirely online. It can be completed in as little as 20 months. The college also offers an 8-credit certification program that can be completed in six months.
The MS in medical cannabis science from UMD was the first program in the United States dedicated to medical cannabis. It’s a two-year hybrid program that requires campus visits once per semester. UMD also offers a two-semester graduate certificate in medical cannabis science, therapeutics, and policy that’s entirely online.
The Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado offers a master of science in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in cannabis science and medicine. The program is entirely online and includes 30 credits.
Thomas Jefferson University
The MS in medical cannabis science & business is a 33-credit program that can be completed in 1.5-4 years. This fully online program includes three stackable graduate certificates in cannabis medicine, cannabis science, and cannabis business.
Cannabis nursing is a growing interest for nurses looking to practice holistic nursing care. It’s also a way for nurses to help patients with complex medical needs that do not respond to more traditional therapies. As regulations and laws shift, cannabis nurses are in an excellent position to serve patients in a rapidly evolving field.