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Healthcare Professionals are Needed in Dispensaries

Healthcare Providers at Dispensaries
Photo by Gracie Malley

Joint Opinions

Healthcare Professionals are Needed in Dispensaries

As we enter the second decade of state-authorized medical cannabis the growing pains are evident and the maturing industry is entering a time of reckoning. Having millions of Americans legally using cannabis, medically or otherwise, is a true victory but, frankly, the time has come for a bit of reform within the industry. Those of us with long years invested in this issue can bring some much needed perspective to the issue, as NORML founder Keith Stroup recently did in his article “Concern About the Industry Influence In the Legalization Movement.”  This author’s focus, as it has been for 40 years, is the medical cannabis patient.

It is fair to say that the cannabis industry has grown like Topsy. For those who may not know, Topsy was the lead character in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a wild and uncivilized slave girl who declares, “I ‘spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody ever made me.” The same can be said of the cannabis industry. It emerged from the culture of prohibition with no guidance other than to make cannabis available. So it is not surprising that the model for medical cannabis was built upon the American marijuana culture of hippies, tie-dye and The Grateful Dead. Early dispensaries in California had the distinct look of 1960s head shops and “medicine” was available in glass apothecary jars labeled “OMG Kush” and “Purple Haze.” Patients stayed away in droves. This was not “medicine” in the traditional sense and many Californians, even if they had wanted to try medical cannabis, were completely put off by the trappings.

Today, of course, there are 23 state laws recognizing medical cannabis with at least another 15 acknowledging the medical utility of CBD. The early head-shop style dispensaries have given way to a more modern Apple Store-look that is decidedly calmer and more business like. Smoking cannabis on the premises is verboten. Indeed, “smoking” marijuana at all seems to be going the way of the 1996 dispensary. Today’s preferred delivery systems include vape pens and vaporizers, tinctures, patches, salves, edibles and more. And patients have become bolder. It is not unusual to see grannies and grandpas in the dispensary lines, staring with some bewilderment at the brashly packaged choices of medicine.

These patients receive their “recommendation” from a doctor but all too often that is the last bit of medical advice they receive. Armed with a medical card and dozens of questions, patients ask the salesperson: the budtender. In any other store these folks behind the counter would be called “associates” and, like any sales force, they know their product but they don’t know medicine or physiology and that’s where the problem begins.

Budtenders can tell you all about sativa and indica. They can caution you about edibles, they can help you understand the plant behind the cute names. But they can’t, or perhaps it is better to say they should not, give medical advice. Yet they do so all the time. So do the growers and the manufacturers. In the wild cannabis market of the 21st Century there is everything in medical cannabis except the medical professional. The cannabis industry must take it upon themselves to change this situation.

There is a growing community of medical professionals out there who are studying the medical utility of cannabis and building the new medical cannabis world. There are numerous associations that are helping to educate medical professionals, offering classes with continuing education credit. Cannabis-specific medical clinics are open and staffed with doctors and nurses who will meet with patients in a traditional fashion, take a complete medical history and tailor a cannabis regimen that “plays well” with other medications the patient may be using. But in order to obtain supplies patients usually go to a dispensary or, in some states, they can actually call a manufacturer/grower and have supplies delivered. All too often the budtenders or manufacturer will contradict the advice of the doctor or nurse. Why? Just like associates in a big box store, it often comes down to supply and demand. A healthcare professional may recommend a particular product that is not in stock so the “associate” steers the “customer” in another direction to make the sale. All too often the emphasis is on THC content, an artifact of recreational cannabis world. For the medical cannabis patient, however, it has been discovered that less is often better than more. “Start low and go slow,” is the mantra of all cannabis medical professionals.

For manufacturers and dispensary owners who are serious about medical cannabis and truly care about their clients the time has come to put your money where your mouth is: hire a professional.  Put a trained cannabis nurse on staff and teach your budtenders to say, “I’m sorry, I really can’t advise you about that question but our staff nurse can.” To do any less is simply unethical.

No doubt some are saying, “What’s the problem? Cannabis can’t kill you.” It is true but too much cannabis can overload the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), rendering it less effective in the delicate role of homeostasis and disease management. If you are truly in this for the good of the patient, respect the medical professional and seek out their help. Hire a medical professional or bring one on board as a consultant. These trained professionals will not only help patients, they can also educate you and your bud tenders so that the patient is better served. After all, isn’t that what this is all about?

Would you you like to see healthcare professionals provide services in cannabis dispensaries? Tell us your thoughts below. 



  1. Cindy Brock

    November 18, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    As a practicing nurse and in school to advance my nursing career, I am highly interested in holistic approaches including cannabis. In my experience as working as a nurse in a hospital setting I have really become jaded in this system we call ‘health care’. It is not health care, it is sick care. Nursing is an art but, unfortunately, the health care industry today has forgotten the art and focused on the profit. I love being with my patients and treating them holistically but there is simply no time to do that because you have so much documentation for reimbursement that needs to be done. Out of a 12 hour (exhausting) shift you may spend a total of 30-40 minutes with each patient. There has to be a better way! The thought of being able to work in a dispensary, mingle with the customers, and point them in the right direction would be heaven on earth. There ARE alternatives to pharmacological treatments and the cannabis industry is heeding the call.

  2. Mary M. Ernsberger

    January 28, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I’m a clinical herbalist and as such, I recognize the different needs of each individual even if they both come in with the same diagnosis. I believe it is important for each person to know about all the options available to them, including cannabis. I would love to work in a dispensary.

  3. Lori

    January 17, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I am a naturopath and think that these services would be a benefit and should really be considered a necessity in a pharmacy so knowledgeable recommendations can be made for patients. Perhaps this could be a value added service for responsible pharmacies.

    Also, since particular strains are good for certain symptoms or conditions, and peoples’ systems don’t respond identically to a certain strain, why not have personalized intake consultations, as well as continued follow up checks to see how the treatment is proceeding and if any treatment tweaks should be implemented.

    I know a few people that have tried medical marijuana once and then quit because that experience wasn’t 100% positive for them. A natural health professional could have advised them to try a different strain based on their reaction to the particular strain and their physiology and they would have been able to continue on to a successful treatment regimen.

  4. Anne Goebel

    January 9, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Cannabis is very serious medicine for serious illness.Medical professionals in the field of Cannabis Therapeutics are needed to get the maximum benefit. Children with seizures, cancer sufferers absolutely need guidance. I heard so many stories about patients going to the dispensary and being given the high THC oil. They go home and invariably overdose and never want to touch the oil again.
    Their are studies from outside the U>S. going on for a decade. We do have evidence about what types/are best for specific illnesses.
    If you just want to get high then bud tenders are the way to go.

  5. John

    January 8, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you Alice! As a patient, I look forward to the day when a medical professional can help me chart a treatment course and adjust as I try the different medicines available.

  6. Jasmine

    January 8, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Holistic Health practioners are well suited for Cannabis wellbeing.

  7. I.B. Shaester

    January 8, 2016 at 12:35 am

    After giving this question a great deal of thought my answer is no. I believe the homeopath , bud tender , herbalist or whatever they are calling themselves sre going to be trained to know thier product line. The patientis will have a medical card already with a recommendation ” Big Pharma ” and their “Dr Peddlers” want a piece of the action . They don.t care about you. Trust me , I am a cancer ..”survivor ” on disability with no quality of life poisoned by chemo and radiation , left with memory loss and no sense of taste or smell and in constant pain . Oh , they say it will come back,and the pain will go away , that was in 2013 . So don’t tell me they care about us . It’s all about the Benjamin’s . They will destroy and jack up the prices of the cannabis industry if we allow them to get thier greedy grubby hands on our precious medicine . We must NOT allow that to happen. I live in a state where it’s not legal and we were once considered “the hemp state ” it’s all outdated prohibition based on politics of the 1700 s and the 1930’s . Give it up already. Someone tried to argue with me the other day that booze was good for sterilizing instruments. Lol, ri-ght , tattoo anyone? Needles Been soaking in Jack for bout an hour now…” Gimme a break.

  8. Brenda Rose

    January 7, 2016 at 7:22 am

    I am a retired RN who resides in a state with legal medical and recreational cannabis. I am also a professional photographer with a special interest in the cannabis industry which has allowed me access to dispensaries, growers and other cannabis professionals. While I am awed by the passion and knowledge of the cannabis professionals I have met I am frustrated in the lack of large scale scientific studies which are essential to the formation of a medical model for cannabis. We need to declassify cannabis from it’s current schedule 1 classification and begin to do research that will provide us with the data we need to devise appropriate medical recommendations for strains, dosing etc. Once we have established that we can move foreward to create medical professinal guidelines for educating medical professionals who are already knowledeable in anatomy/phisiolology and disease process. In the meantime we need to continue to allow patients who are willing to use cannabis to allviate pain and suffering on a trial and error basis.

  9. Tyler

    January 6, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    I would not recommend any kind of medical officials from the pharma side of the medical industry whatsoever. The majority of the time they prescribe pills and other medications that they have no idea what effects they truly have on people. They are sold on these drugs from reps and literally are just drug dealers but those drug dealers selling the stuff that’s killing people and making their lives worst not knowing what they are giving out and not caring. The cannabis Industry needs to be completely seperate from pharma but yes professional bud informants would be smart.

  10. BlueDreamer

    January 6, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I really would hate for the cannabis industry to go the way of the general medical industry. I don’t want to go to a dispensary and talk to a nurse and feel as if I’m in a “consult the pharmacist” type situation. Everyone’s’ systems’ are different.

    • Alice O'Leary-Randalll

      January 7, 2016 at 6:35 am

      Hi BlueDreamer – Thanks for reading my article. I did not mean to imply that everyone who uses a dispensary to obtain medical cannabis MUST see a nurse. Many patients are knowledgeable enough to tailor their care appropriately. There are so many cannabis naive patients entering the market, however, who are overwhelmed by the choices and whose medical conditions may often be complex (diabetes, for example) and require more than cannabis to treat it. So many individuals have more than one ailment and treatment can be complicated. The cannabis industry, and medical cannabis in particular, is forging new ground and can contribute to a radical, holistic approach to medicine that will greatly benefit America but they will not do so by totally ignoring the needs of the patients and the ability of the healthcare professional to enhance quality of life. I am advocating that the medical cannabis dispensaries become proactive rather than waiting for restrictions to be placed upon them, restrictions that will undoubtedly follow the flawed “Western” approach.

    • Karen

      January 4, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Yes, I think nurse professional help for guidance should be recommended for those less knowledgeable to start from. Smoking weed will guide you also, usually only stays in system 2_3 hrs, make sure no additives just great natural weed. I recommend organic, much less chemicals used in the growing process. Edible products are a different story, I’m not comfortable discussing, because of things I’ve read, and I don’t know. Smoking good, start slow and go.Enjoy.

  11. francesco marrone

    January 6, 2016 at 11:45 am

    I’m an Italian grower.. belladonna. supersilverhaze. nebula,white russian. skunk, superskunk,big bud,withewidow,washing machine,LUI,cinderella 99,sensi star,and many more….. so ??? I want to grow up everything a want in safaly

    • Alice O'Leary-Randalll

      January 7, 2016 at 6:37 am

      Thanks for reading my article. Yes, I think we all want safety and a much broader acceptance of the medical value of all botanical products. I wish you well and good harvests!

  12. Rod is on the Gas

    January 6, 2016 at 10:05 am

    “In the wild cannabis market of the 21st Century there is everything in medical cannabis except the medical professional.”

    Yeah, for a solid reason, you’re NOT trustworthy. You don’t have the data nor the experience. You seem to be a salesman of fear.

    “The cannabis industry must take it upon themselves to change this situation.”

    We might allow a few educated professionals who don’t mind the peace, love and brotherhood which has always guided the Cannabis Culture.

  13. Rod is on the Gas

    January 6, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Entirely overdone in the recommendation of a professional intermediary to guide medicann patients. This article is self serving chit-chat about future job placements that are complete nonsense.

    A good budtender will suggest a newbie to take home several different joints or edibles and try it on yourself. Asking a stranger to select your herb for you is counter-intuitive, and will fail.

    You are your own best doctor or herbalist. Ask for suggestions, sure, but only trust yourself. Your correct course of treatment or lifestyle is already internalized within each of us.

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