In 1963, when I started nurse’s training, John F. Kennedy was the president, Jackie was the first lady, and, if I played my cards right, Prince Charles might wait for me to grow up before he found a bride. Life was good.
By the time I took my state boards to become a registered nurse, everything had changed. Camelot ended in November 1963. Nobody cared about Prince Charles (sorry, Charlie.) Being a princess might be overrated anyway; I was going to be a nurse and save the world.
I could count on medical science, like the fact that there were 11 main systems in the human body. These included the nervous system, the circulatory system, the skeletal system and the muscular system.. If faced with a Jeopardy question, I could name them all.
I was secure in my nursing knowledge until one day in October of 2016. I attended a Cannabis Nurse Network conference, where I learned there was an additional system: the endocannabinoid system. As a cannabis nurse, I knew I needed to learn as much about it as I could. The more I learned, the more it seemed that anyone interested in using cannabis needed to have some knowledge of this system.
If you Google “What is the endocannabinoid system?”, the search will return thousands of hits. An Israeli scientist, Dr. Robert Mechoulam, is credited with isolating and identifying the cannabinoids THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These are just two of the over 100 cannabinoids found in marijuana. THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana; it gets you high. CBD, which has many therapeutic benefits, does not.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, defined as “the state of steady internal conditions maintained by living things.” Two types of receptors comprise the system. CB1 receptors are found primarily found in the brain and the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are primarily found in the peripheral organs. (See chart.).
Over the last several years I have met with hundreds of people interested in learning more about cannabis, ranging in age from 21 to 95. While many are totally new to cannabis, others report they started smoking “weed’ in the 60s, and other than taking short breaks, they have used ever since.
Most of the people I talk to express little interest in learning more; most seniors are bottom-line people. They want to “fix” whatever ails them -- pain, anxiety, sexual disfunction, insomnia, acute nausea, loss of appetite, or neuropathy. I also see seniors who “just want to get high, to enjoy life more.”
If you are reading this and disagree about using cannabis for health, reach out to me. While I do not claim to represent all seniors, I know that many have goals similar to mine. I want to continue to live successfully at home as I get old. That means I need to maintain my ability to walk, to eat well, to keep my brain fresh and engaged. I need to be able to sleep well at night. I want to be able to enjoy life.
Years ago, I was the Director of Nursing in several long-term care facilities. All of them had really good ratings with government reviewers, families and patients, but when I made rounds on the midnight shift, patients were often crying and calling for help, even when staff was with them. Facilities were evaluated in part on patient weight loss, but it was sometimes difficult to coax them to eat. I know now that some of these behaviors are a reflection of an unbalanced endocannabinoid system, and can be treated with cannabis.
You can read everything you ever wanted to know about the endocannabinoid system in our Cannabis 101 section or attend a class online or at a dispensary. Several times a week, I see people who come in to say thank you for giving them back their joy in living. For helping them manage their migraines. For ending their anxiety, making it easier to go enjoy dinner out with their family, and for returning their interest in sex.
That’s good enough for me. I may not be saving the world, but believe me, cannabis can make it better.