Cannabis - Get Informed or Get Left Behind

13 Nov 2017 5:30 AM | Nicole Withee (Administrator)

The Denver Dietetic Association hosted their most recent monthly meeting at Rose Medical Center in Denver with a presentation by guest speaker Donna Shields, MS, RDN on how cannabis fits into the world of nutrition. 

Donna Shields, MS, RDN is co-founder of Holistic Cannabis Academy, a cannabis education, training, and business-building platform for holistic-minded practitioners about medical marijuana and its integration with other healing modalities. Donna and her co-founding partner Laura Lagano, MS, RDN, CDN both have personal experiences that led them to the use of cannabis and eventually the startup of Holistic Cannabis Academy.  


Here is a recap of what Donna had to say about incorporating cannabis into the world of nutrition.  

With more than half of the states in the U.S. being approved to use cannabis for medicinal purposes it’s important for the nutrition community, specifically RDs, to be informed.  

Cannabis is being used to treat a number of illnesses and conditions, many of which are also being treated with some form of nutritional therapy; therefore, Donna suggests by using a holistic approach and integrative system to incorporate cannabis into our nutrition therapy recommendations, we will better serve our patients/clients.  

For example, chemo patients can often benefit from some sort of nutritional therapy for nausea, vomiting and/or appetite stimulation, all of which can also be treated with cannabis, so by incorporating a holistic integrative approach for treatment, cannabis and nutrition can work in synergy, to better treat the patient.  

Other illnesses and conditions that are often treated with some form of nutrition therapy that can also be treated with cannabis here in Colorado are: 

  • Cancer 

  • Glaucoma 

  • HIV/AIDS 

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome) 

  • Persistent muscle spasms 

  • Seizures 

  • Severe nausea 

  • Severe pain 

Donna also mentioned that by using this holistic/integrative approach, we, as nutritional professionals, will have more opportunities to expand our scope of practice and gain new clients/patients. Cannabis is is being recommended by doctors and other health care professionals to treat a number of disease and conditions, so to stay relevant and valuable it's important for the nutrition professionals to understand cannabis and how to incorporate it into their area of expertise if it applies to their patients.

However, breaking into cannabis is still a scary thing for many health and nutrition professionals, and recommending it presents a number of challenges. To name a few, cannabis is not covered by insurance, it is not approved for all health conditions, accessing certain forms of cannabis may be difficult and it hasn't been approved in all states. Many also question if they will be judged for recommending cannabis. Cannabis has long been classified as a schedule one drug, which is also where heroine lies, so this classification alone makes recommending cannabis a challenge. There have also been horror stories of people who have had extremely bad experiences with cannabis, but Donna states that these fears and horrific experiences are likely due to lack of education and improper dosing.  

Healthcare professionals have had next to no training on cannabis - the plant and its components (THC, CBD, CBC, THCV, CBN, terpenes - just to name a few), quality and safety, different forms and uses, dosing, the benefits of its effects, or how it interacts with human receptors. 

Being educated and able to answer simple questions a client may have, such as where to buy cannabis and how to determine the quality and safety of the product, (for example, if it has been contaminated with pesticides or mold) is one of the most basic, yet overlooked questions. Although there is no required testing, or standards for cannabis, many grow operations/facilities have reports that show the quality of their product.   

It is also important to understand that cannabis can be used without having the psychoactive effects and that the ratio between THC and CBD is extremely important. Donna stressed the fact that you don’t have to be “high” to receive the health benefits of cannabis. This is often how pediatric treatment is conducted.  

The are many forms in which cannabis is available as well, so if a patient is opposed to smoking, for example, they have other options. Smoking, eating, vaporizing, tinctures, and topicals are among the most common forms in which cannabis is available.  

Donna stated that cannabis is not a gateway drug, but an exit drug from opioids.  

If you are considering furthering your education on cannabis treatment, unfortunately at this time, continuing education credits (CPE’s CPEU’s, CEU’s) for the Holistic Cannabis Network program have not been approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but Donna says they are working on getting it approved.  There are however, a few nutrition-related organizations that do recognize their members’ continuing education in the cannabis field. Those organizations are: 

  • National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) 
  • Nutritional Therapy Association (NTA) 

  • Canadian Health Coach Alliance (CHCA) 

  • Canadian Association for Integrative Nutrition (CAIN) 

Thank you, Donna for your insightful information into the synergistic world of cannabis and nutrition! 

Is cannabis right for your practice? Will you be incorporating it into your field of practice? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Donna has also contributed to Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook. You can find the book here. 

Slides from last week's presentation here.

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