Cannabis has taken a huge step forward in the medical industry. The American Nurses Association recognized cannabis as a specialty practice area. Nurses will now be able to provide patients with guidance on how to incorporate it into their medical treatments.

Cannabis as a Specialty Practice Area

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is comprised of over 5 million American Nurses. It is described as “the sole reviewing body of specialty nursing scope of practice and standards of practice.” It announced that it would formally recognize cannabis as a specialty practice area on Wednesday, Sept. 27, in a press release. The change is a huge step forward in the medical cannabis industry.

“This recognition highlights the essential roles and special contribution of cannabis to nurses to the health care system and promotes enhanced integration of cannabis therapies for health care consumers across diverse health care settings,” said ANA President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy.

The American Cannabis Nurses Association Supports Cannabis as a Specialty Practice Area

The ANA also acknowledged the initiative of the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) and its support of cannabis as a specialty practice area. The group backed medical cannabis research, education, and reform. The ANA stated that the organization was instrumental in “pioneering the cannabis nursing field” and “contributing to the broader landscape of nursing practice and patient care”.

ACNA president Rachel Parmelee said the organization was “deeply gratified by the groundbreaking establishment of cannabis nursing as an ANA-recognized nursing specialty.”

“Nurses are the largest group of health professionals, providing an opportunity to change the health care paradigm and include diverse wellness modalities beyond traditional Western medicine,” said Parmelee.

“Cannabis nursing requires specialized knowledge and competencies to navigate care and address the stigma associated with medical cannabis use to support a healthy society. We seek to create lasting, transformative change that enriches both specialized and general nursing practices, ultimately serving the well-being of patients nationwide.”

Cannabis as a Specialty Practice Area and What it Means to the Industry

Medical marijuana, alternative herbal medicine concept

The ANA recognizes cannabis as a specialty practice area. They are hoping this leads to other changes in the industry. They include:

Cannabis Rescheduling

The ANA requests that marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance. They believe this move will help set dosing and usage standards, facilitate research, and protect patients and providers from penalties for using and recommending marijuana.

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug meaning it has few medical benefits and a high potential for addiction. It is in the same category as heroin.

The Biden administration is considering moving it to a Schedule III drug, and many critics say that isn’t enough. It’s unclear whether the legislation will go through during Biden’s time in office. Many Republican presidential candidates don’t support cannabis legalization on any level.

Federal Legalization

Cannabis is legal in many states, but it is still not legal on a federal level. The ANA supports legalization. A 2018 survey showed that 82% of ANA nurses supported legal medical marijuana while 57% backed the legalization of both medical and recreational use.

Federal legalization would remove research barriers, help set standards for dosage and use, promote social equity in the industry, and more.

Several agencies worked alongside the ANA to fight federal prohibition, mainly for research purposes. They were supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the Food and Drug Association (FDA), the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The ANA’s Argument to Recognize Cannabis as a Specialty Practice Area Dates Back

The ANA has supported cannabis as a specialty practice area for years. A reaffirmed position statement for 2021 advocated the review of marijuana for reclassification purposes. It addressed the role of nurses in the medical cannabis industry.

The statement acknowledged that, although cannabis has been recognized for its ability to relieve nausea and vomiting, stimulate appetite in HIV patients, reduce pain, improve sleep, treat anxiety, depression, and psychosis, decrease pressure in glaucoma patients, and ease multiple sclerosis symptoms, findings are mixed. The organization stated that reclassifying and federally legalizing cannabis would open doors for research so medical professionals could get a better understanding of its benefits.

Medical marijuana, alternative herbal medicine concept

The statement also reviewed the history of medical cannabis. It pointed out that marijuana was widely prescribed throughout the United States until 1937 when the Marijuana Act went into effect. It also cited the 1970 Controlled Substances Act which established marijuana as a Schedule I drug and prohibited its medical use.

The classification limited the number of DEA licenses that permit marijuana clinical research. It also limits the DEA to one marijuana source used for research purposes.

While the FDA supports scientific research, it has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for medical purposes.

The statement recommending cannabis as a specialty practice area mentioned that several organizations and scholars support cannabis scientific research. However federal regulations limit their efforts. The ANA called for additional research to prove marijuana’s therapeutic benefits.

The ANA statement referred to increased cannabis legalization in the U.S. states. However, the government’s prohibitory stance means it can penalize people who grow marijuana at home, even for medical purposes. These patients are still at risk of criminal prosecution.

The organization requested that patients be given the right to safely use marijuana and that nurses be allowed to prescribe it for therapeutic purposes.

The statement also reiterated previous position statements. It asserted that health is a “universal right” and includes access to health care, education, and the prevention of health conditions.

It pointed out that the ANA has supported medical marijuana use for over 20 years. In 1996, the ANA’s Congress on Nursing Practice stated its public support of medical marijuana research and education. The organization’s House of Delegates went on record in 2003 supporting nurses’ integration of marijuana and cannabinoids in patient care.