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Medicinal Cannabis Nursing: A Pivotal Medical Specialty

Courtesy: Cannabis Clinic

As International Nurses Day approaches on May 12th, the spotlight turns to the potential of medicinal cannabis nursing as a pivotal medical specialty. Growing research continues to indicate that medicinal cannabis can serve as an effective option for a range of health issues. Medicinal cannabis clinics around the globe and locally are currently prescribing plant-based products for numerous conditions, offering patients an alternative or supplement to conventional treatments.

Medicinal cannabis use continues to climb, with an estimated 266,700 New Zealanders reportedly turning to cannabis for medicinal purposes.* The momentum behind medicinal cannabis is undeniable, reflecting the projected growth of the global medicinal cannabis market to $55.8 billion by 2025.**

Shannon Norton is the Head Nurse at the Cannabis Clinic, the leading and largest medicinal cannabis clinic in Aotearoa. Since opening in 2019, the clinic has been dedicated to delivering tailored care and guidance in the realm of plant-based medicine, having consulted with more than 30,000 Kiwis on their journey to a better quality of life.

Norton's journey into nursing started at 16 years old, when she felt a strong pull toward helping others in their health journeys. "I debated between nursing and becoming a doctor," she recalls. "But a meaningful encounter with a nurse at a Nelson hospital convinced me that nursing was the path for me." Graduating with a bachelor of nursing from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in 2020, Norton values the therapeutic relationships and connections (whanaungatanga) she builds with her patients.

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"In 2022, I began a new journey with the Cannabis Clinic, where my eyes were opened and I gained a deeper understanding of the vast knowledge surrounding medicinal cannabis and its interaction with our bodies," Norton explains. "I was fascinated by its therapeutic potential as a medicine.

Reflecting on her journey, Norton emphasises her commitment to utilising medicinal cannabis as a tool for healing and empowerment. "My role as Head Nurse allows me to push boundaries in healthcare," she says. "It's not just about treating symptoms, it's about empowering individuals to take control of their health."

Despite her enthusiasm, Norton acknowledges the challenges in the field. "The most challenging aspect is overcoming preconceptions and stigma," she admits. "But witnessing uplifting stories every day fuels my passion for plant-based medicine."

Norton is proud to embrace her Māori heritage, which plays a significant role in her connection to plant medicine. "My cultural background deeply influences my approach to healthcare," she says. "Drawing upon the wisdom passed down through generations, I am honoured to support the well-being of individuals in our community."

Norton is proud to identify as tanga te whenua or Māori, alongside her Pākehā heritage. Māori nurses comprise 7.5% of the registered nursing workforce, while Māori comprise 16.5% of the population. There has been no appreciable shift in the proportion of Māori nurses over the last four decades, languishing between 6% and 7.5%***

‘’My connection with my Māori roots also pulled me into the plant medicine field, as my people believe in papatuanuku (earth mother) providing the resources to heal ourselves. This includes the cannabis plant. My cultural heritage deeply influences my approach to healthcare and my belief in the holistic healing properties of medicinal plants. It is an honour to draw upon the wisdom and traditions passed down through generations to support the well-being of individuals in our community’’ Norton says.

The nursing population in Aotearoa, New Zealand is predominantly New Zealand European/Pākehā (58.6%), while internationally qualified registered nurses comprise 27%. More than 40years of intentional efforts to increase Māori registered nurses reflect a failure to do so.***

As nurses like Norton continue to lead the way in medicinal cannabis nursing, their dedication and expertise promise to shape the future of healthcare, offering hope and healing to countless individuals locally and worldwide.


*NZ Drug Foundation

**Grand View Research Inc.


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