Nurses have a responsibility to respect and support patients who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, but they must stay within the law and follow professional guidance at all times, according to a research review in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Anita Green and Kay De-Vries studied more than 50 published papers, together with professional and Government guidance documents, official reports and media coverage, from 1996 to 2009.
They point out that the fact that the cannabis is usually obtained illegally can have consequences for those who choose to use it for its medicinal value and create real dilemmas for the nurses and other healthcare professionals who care for them. For example, it is vital that any drug use is recorded on the patient's medical records for their own safety, but many patients may be unhappy for that to happen.
"Nurses are increasingly likely to deal with patients using medicinal cannabis and it is important that they put their personal views to one side and deal with the health consequences of that drug use" says Green, a nurse consultant.
"The literature on the medicinal use of cannabis repeatedly refers to changes that could improve people's quality of life, like improved sleep, a better appetite and reduced depression, and these perceived benefits have led to greater usage.
"However, it also states that far more research is needed and it is very important that patients are fully aware of the legal consequences of taking cannabis, together with the physical and psychological effects it may have on them.
"Nurses and other health care professionals need to be well-informed about the medicinal effects of cannabis and how this can interact with other medication the patient is being prescribed. It is also vital that the patient's cannabis use is accurately documented in their records and that other professionals, such as pharmacists, doctors and substance misuse teams are brought in to provide advice, with their permission."