Patient Empowerment and Just Cannabis Laws with Cannabis Nurse Heather and Ken Sobel
This Episode of The Mary Jane Experience was recorded in our Mobile Podcasting Studio, the CannaVan at The National Women of Cannabis Conference.
Nurse Heather and Cannabis Kenny are industry OG’s.
Nurse Heather has been the longest-serving medical director for a medical cannabis facility and she was the first certified cannabis nurse. She’s one of the leading experts in the therapeutic aspects cannabis use.
Canna-Kenny has been in the industry for over 15 years helping pass pro-cannabis laws.
Together they have both done some incredible things in the industry and continue to bring about positive change every day. Here is their story:
Could you both introduce yourselves? Tell us who you are and what you do.
To my left is the lovely Nurse Heather or Cannabis Nurse Heather as we refer to her affectionately in the industry. She’s been the longest-serving medical director for a medical cannabis facility and she was the first certified cannabis nurse. She’s the leading expert in the therapeutic aspects of use of cannabis.
I’m usually just her arm candy, but today I’m also Ken Sobel – some people call me Canna Kenny. I’ve been involved in the cannabis industry for over 15 years. I’m the only person that took and passed two bar exams in the same week on my first try back in 1980 so I’ve always had a license. I was living in California and I got really interested in cannabis when I had a mother-in-law diagnosed with terminal cancer. After we brought her home with the medications that they gave her, primarily opioids for the pain she was literally in a semi-comatose state.
Someone sorta gave me the elbow and said, you know, you really need to try cannabis. And we did. We found that all of a sudden her whole attitude changed. She felt good that she got pain relief. She was able to laugh and giggle and enjoy our grandchildren. So that hooked me right away.
Kenny – Tell Us About Your Work in as a Cannabis Attorney and Advocate?
Pretty much since 2002, I’ve been doing nothing but cannabis work. I was the first lawyer representing The Cannabis Nurses Association to go to court and prove to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that cannabis is safe and effective for multiple medical conditions.
I’m very passionate. That case was for PTSD in which we were representing our returning heroes from the war. Many of them, more than people realize, came back with post-traumatic stress disorder. The reality is one out of 13 people in the United States has PTSD and the majority are actually women. And many of those are from domestic abuse or violence in the home. So basically we set the standard for PTSD and then about 15 other States adopted PTSD as a qualifying condition.
Cannabis is phenomenal for traumatic brain injury. A lot of the returning war heroes and others have suffered some type of brain trauma, which almost necessarily leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. What we found from a UCLA study (see summary here) is that if you have exogenous cannabis in your system – you’re using cannabis, as opposed to a person who doesn’t – if you suffer a traumatic brain injury, you have a four times greater chance of surviving.
I was really passionately involved with student kids sports, the age groups of two to four and 14 to 19. The leading cause of death is traumatic brain injury. If I was to go back now and do all the soccer teams and football teams and baseball teams that I coached, I’d make sure that kids were at least having CBD as a preventative measure.
Football for example, Heather has tons of friends who are former NFL players. You can’t do anything to protect your brain. The brain’s going to bang around inside the skull when you have collisions.They did a CTE study and they saw 126 brains from NFL players and 125 had CTE.
One lucky guy didn’t have CTE.
One of my expert witnesses, when we did the trial was a medical doctor who was the chairman of the US track and field Olympic substance abuse committee. He testified in favor that cannabis is safe and effective for a variety of different uses and it’s even considered a performance enhancing drug.
Thoughts from Nurse Heather on Pro Sports?
I just saw that Major League Baseball is now starting to not test for cannabis. They need to remove Cannabis as an illicit drug. If anything, in my opinion, cannabis is performance enhancing because it helps as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotectant.
I personally use cannabis when I do yoga. I feel anxiety. If I get to the studio and I forgot to smoke, I actually get this anxiety like can I make it? It’s going to be 10 times harder for me to get through this class.
The vast concentration of your CB1 receptors are located in the part of the brain that Israeli researchers have identified as the emotional center of your being. All of those chemical reactions that are directly related to your emotional center are regulated in some fashion by the human endocannabinoid system.
[Nurse heather] – Is a Big Part of your Work as a Cannabis Nurse is to Balance Patients Endocannabinoid Systems? What’s your approach?
My approach is to listen to my patients and to learn from them. That’s how I came to cannabis. I’m celebrating my 10th year in the cannabis industry, meaning that I’ve had a license of some sort within the industry for 10 years. I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve been blessed in that way.
When I first came to cannabis, I was a home health psychiatric nurse and I had a patient that was 32 years old and he had MS and he was Ornery. Because I was a psych nurse, they would always say, give the crazy ones to Heather.
I said, bring them to me! I love them. He had a hard time with other nurses. I got his chart and I opened his medication record. The first medication that he had on there was cannabis. He insisted that the nurse put it on his medication record. He was actually the fifth card holder in the state of New Mexico all those years ago. I started asking him questions and assessing, how does cannabis work for you? What do you do with it? What are the benefits, what are the adverse effects? He taught me a lot because he had a caregiver that was growing his cannabis for him.
He was chair bound, so he was unable to do much. But he had a caregiver that was growing cannabis and then making different types of products for him. He taught me that he would smoke cannabis throughout the day to help him with his mood elevation.
At night he had such a difficult time sleeping because of the spasms in his legs. Imagine trying to sleep at night with your legs spasming! His caregiver would make topicals. This was the first time I really knew about topicals. She would make these topicals and they would put them on his legs, which would help his spasms to reduce. Then he would eat edibles and other things at night along with his muscle relaxers and things that were prescribed.
He was able to manage a lot of his symptoms from multiple sclerosis with cannabis.
He was a great gift to me in my beginnings of knowledge with this plant and how it can be useful for serious medical conditions. I started to realize that a lot of home health patients use cannabis and it wasn’t a strange thing to see little bits of weed on their coffee tables and stuff.
I started assessing patients and documenting what they told me. But I also realized that a lot of these patients were using cannabis without being part of the program. We’re from New Mexico and so we had what you call ‘brick weed’. I would see the quality of the cannabis that these patients had and it was junk. I tried to encourage patients to get on the program so that they could access quality medicine.
From there my story just goes into a million different directions of doing things that will never be done again. But it was legal all at the time because we were in an emerging industry.
Expand on the Differences from the Non-Legal to Legal Cannabis Program?
At that time in New Mexico, they only sold flower. There were no smokeless alternatives. At the time I went to the department of health services and I spoke to the director of the program and said, Hey, I’ve got these patients that are on oxygen, they can be smoking. I’ve got patients that have kids in the house and they just don’t want to risk any kind of exposure. Where do patients get smokeless alternatives?
I’ll never forget. I mean, he looked me dead in the eye and he said, we didn’t really think that far ahead, Heather. You’re going to have to figure it out. I was like, don’t threaten me with a good time challenge! I was the first licensed edible and infusion kitchen in the state of New Mexico.
I Took care of about a third of the patients in that state. That’s when Kenny came into the picture. He pulled me away and said, we’re opening up a dispensary in Arizona and we would like you to start an edible and infusion facility there. So we did it together and it was the first one to open in Arizona and we held the market for nine months. We were the only license in the state for the first nine months.
What Are You Two Up to Now?
Since, we’ve sold and moved on to other things. We’re in California now. We have about a dozen licenses that we’re building out. We like the startup phase. We’re in love with the California Republic.
We’re reintroducing our product line called Nature Nurse. It’s scientifically formulated by Nurse Heather. We always believe that the best assistance that a patient can have is having their own nurse. That’s our whole philosophy. We do the full entourage, low dose, and we provide a service with our product. When someone purchases our product, they also have access to get a consultation with a qualified certified cannabis nurse.
What I’ve found is when you can empower patients, that’s where this plant is helping us to experience a revolution in health care.
The secret to revolution in healthcare is patient empowerment.
The more that we can empower a patient to get in tune with their own body and know what they need and what’s gonna make them feel better and how to gauge those things and be okay and trust themselves, the more we can do to help a patient.
This plant is helping to eliminate a lot of medications. One of the things I saw as a home health nurse was, all these patients that were homebound, meaning that it required taxing effort to leave their home. A lot of them were on Oxygen. They were on hard narcotics and pain medications, opiates.
When we could get them on cannabis and using it effectively, every single one of my patients reduced their opioids by at least 50% and many of my patients got off of opiates all completely.
Once they did, I was able to discharge them from home health. What I learned was that pain medications were keeping people homebound. They were keeping people sick and by transferring to cannabis from opioids, patients were receiving such a better quality of life that they no longer required home health care.
The owner of our agency didn’t like that very much. They called me in and say, Hey, you’re discharging a lot of patients from service. Why? I said, look, my patients are getting better. They use cannabis and if you have a problem with that, then we have a problem.
The endocannabinoid system has developed over 70 million years of evolution. When you start to take that in, this is a plant that was put here by whatever all powerful force you believe in.
But it was an all powerful force that made this plant to specifically benefit humans. That’s what it’s here for. We’re a lot closer to plants than we sometimes think we are. When we set our ego aside we realize that this plant is likely the most comprehensive, beneficial plant that we have on the planet – and there are a lot of beneficial plants.
I think the special part of this endocannabinoid system cannabis connection is that we’re finding that humans suffer from what we call chronic endocannabinoid deficiency. In medicine, anytime someone’s deficient, whether it’s vitamin B12, vitamin D, we supplement with a supplemental source.
Cannabis is a perfect supplement for endocannabinoid deficiency. It’s amazing if you think about it from 1935/1937 when it was prohibited, cancers, immune disorders, and neurological disorders that have increased significantly over this last, 80, 90 years.
I feel that it has to do with the fact that we’ve eliminated plants from our life, specifically cannabis and hemp, but all plants. It’s interesting right now the conversation is going in directions with psilocybin, ayahuasca and different plant medicines that traditionally have always been used for health, wellness, and community. We’re starting to see that come back again.
We’re here for MJBizCon and The Women of Cannabis Conference. What are You Looking to Do this Week?
We’re kicking it off with the national women of cannabis conference. I think that’s a good way to start, the beneficial part of this plant is the female plant. I think keeping the femininity alive at least to start off with is going to be great.
Once you get to MJBizCon, it’s a little bit more male dominated and male centric, which is beautiful as well. We’re thankful to him. You need the males to pollinate the females even in the plant world.
I’m really happy to be here at the beginning doing the women component leading into where we can be strong as women to support the men in our lives and industry that are doing good work as well.
There are also just a lot of parties. We’ll be at the The Dream House Party. The cannabis nurses network is sponsoring the dream event. It has a real focus on veterans.
We’re both advocates and Ganjapreneurs as well. Last year we co-wrote a bill called Senate bill 305 in California. We did so in honor of a very dear friend whose son passed from pancreatic cancer. His story was essentially being admitted initially to a hospital that wouldn’t allow him to use cannabis. Therefore the opiates that they were pumping into him was basically making it impossible for him to enjoy what few weeks left of his life that he had.
We moved him to another hospital that allowed it. So we wrote a Senate bill 305 in California. It basically provides safe access into conventional hospital, hospice, and healthcare facilities for hospice-type patients (end of life). We got it past 40 to nothing in the state Senate.
We’ve got it passed 77 nothing in the assembly. When it ended up on the governor’s desk he vetoed it.
We’ll be re-introducing that in January. I called the Governor out for being in the pockets of the big pharma – to the extent that you won’t allow a patient in hospice to use cannabis becasue they’re not paying $150 a dose for the opiates that the hospital’s going to get.
Meanwhile, another set of legislation in California allows up to 6.8 million K through 12 students who have recommendations to use cannabis to be able to take that medicine at school. So we’re not complaining. We just think it’s silly that even a child that is sick at school can get cannabis, but if they’re in hospice setting and they’re in the hospital they can’t access the same medicine they could access at school.
Ken, you are an Honorary Rastafarian, can you share that story?
My beautiful friends in the Rastafarian community, predominantly in St Croix in the Virgin islands where we met Senator Positive Nelson who was the first Rastafarian Senator in the United States. Senator positive and I worked together and I wrote the medical cannabis patient care act for the us Virgin islands. It was just passed in January and now they’re moving forward to potentially have an adult legal type of thing.
We got to know all the great, beautiful people in the Rastafarian community. The Senator as a token of his appreciation for our help – Nurse Heather was with me every step of the way – but as a token of appreciation he gave me this beautiful little pendant that I always wear.
The Senator has one he wears too.
I did want to mention one thing that Ken never talks about, but I always think it’s kind of special. We had taken a trip to the us Virgin islands to do an educational tour at the request of Senator. When we got back, I had told Ken, we have got to help these people get access to cannabis. It’s ridiculous that that community where it’s ingrained in their culture, that they don’t have safe access and they have to look over their shoulders when they’re smoking.
I went to sleep one night and I heard him typing away and I slept all night. I woke up the next morning and I heard the printer. He had written the U S Virgin islands cannabis patient care act overnight. It was passed with, with quite frankly, very little changes to it or amendments.
It was really an act of nature and the great spirit that he was able to just overnight be inspired.
When it was finally passed this last January in 2019, it was just full circle. We experienced a lot of resistance as we were trying to get it passed.
The governor just a couple of weeks ago has now introduced (the governor of the USVI) has introduced a recreational cannabis bill. They’re not calling it recreational. They’re calling it non-medical cannabis. I think that’s really interesting because it’s nice to see that the work that you’ve done so many years prior where you experienced a lot of pushback and resistance and heartbreak, time passes by and heals it and brings it full circle.
It was heart filling to see that the governor had introduced this bill to provide adult use access to cannabis even amid their resistance, even to medical. Now they want the whole thing.
A cool concept that I came up with that I want to try to get in California is to allow a higher level of home grow. Patients can grow for themselves and then allow them with the ability to sell up to a certain number of pounds into the legal adult commercial system so that families, who are not doing so well in the economy we have these days can actually grow quality strains and sell a portion of what they grow under the commercial system and make some extra money for their families.
I’ve seen patients that got just as much joy and healing and health and wellbeing out of caring for and tending and growing cannabis plants. Even the patients that never could get a harvest. Just having the plant growing, and having something to tend to has medical value to it.
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