Northern New Mexico College To Offer New Online Course On Introduction To Medical Cannabis For Health Care Professionals

Ellen Trabka, MSN, RN, chair of Nursing and Health Sciences at Northern New Mexico College, will teach an online course on medical cannabis for health care professionals beginning in March. Photo Courtesy NNMC


Studies suggest that cannabis can be effective in treating HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, sleep, anxiety, trauma and other conditions. Research also supports the use of cannabis for reducing pain without the harmful side effects of substances such as opioids. Yet published studies indicate that healthcare professionals lack formal education related to medical cannabis.

Ellen Trabka, MSN, RN, chair of Nursing and Health Sciences at Northern New Mexico College, wants to address that issue through a new online course, Introduction to Medical Cannabis for Health Care Professionals, which will be offered for the first time from March 20 – May 12, 2023.

“My basic thought is that whether you are in support of or against legal medical cannabis, the bottom line is that the public is using cannabis, and healthcare providers need to know about the effects of cannabis on the body and interactions with other drugs,” Trabka said.

The course is open to healthcare professionals, including Registered Nurses, nursing faculty/educators, nursing students, Medical Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Doctors of Oriental Medicine, and others with proof of licensure/credentials. It will introduce the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and provide foundational knowledge for healthcare professionals for the safe and effective use of cannabis medicine for healing.

Trabka points out that people are using medical cannabis in record numbers and have questions about safe and effective use.

“Medical providers don’t know how to answer those questions because they don’t have the basic understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the endocannabinoid system, they don’t understand the pharmacology of cannabis, how it is dosed or administered, or potential contraindications, especially in vulnerable populations such as pregnant and lactating women, the elderly population, children and adolescents,” Trabka said. “I want to provide basic education for healthcare providers so they can better care for their patients and understand how cannabis works in the body.”

The class will cover the basics of the endocannabinoid system, the pharmacology of cannabis, dosing administration, legal and ethical issues, safety concerns and cautions and contraindications with vulnerable populations. It will also look at the history of medical cannabis and cannabis prohibition.

“It’s only been restricted for the last 100 years,” Trabka said. “It’s been used for tens of thousands of years as medicine. So this is like a blip in the history of cannabis.”

Despite its long history, medical cannabis still holds a stigma for many healthcare professionals, some of whom have a “zero tolerance” attitude toward the drug. Trabka noted that the growing number of states legalizing cannabis has been driven by consumer initiatives, not advocacy by healthcare professionals.

According to Trabka, legal and ethical issues for healthcare professionals (which will be covered in the class) are complicated by the fact that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substance Act and illegal at the federal level. That classification has also restricted the research and development of evidence-based care guidelines that could legitimize medical cannabis for some providers.

Trabka hopes the class will help destigmatize medical cannabis use among healthcare professionals, whom Trabka believes should be the ones advising their patients, not budtenders working at cannabis dispensaries.

“I think the more that you know as a healthcare provider the better you are able to care for and advise patients who are using medical cannabis,” Trabka said. “We need to advocate for our patients to make decisions about their health. They’re saying that they want to have access to this medicine. So as healthcare providers dedicated to providing better care to our patients, we must allow consumers to have the autonomy to make those informed decisions. But they need information from their healthcare providers.”

On the flip side, Trabka wants to dispel any misconceptions that medical cannabis is a miracle drug.

“It’s a plant, it’s an herb, it’s a medicine, it’s effective, it’s anti-inflammatory, it’s got lots of potential uses,” Trabka said. “But it’s not a miracle drug, and it works differently with different people. Some people can’t tolerate it and other people just don’t want to use it. It’s an herb that has side effects like many other herbs, but I think it can be a really effective medicine for many conditions. People just need to understand how it works.”

Introduction to Medical Cannabis for Health Care Professionals is an online, upper-division course. The three-credit class costs $885 and is eligible for financial aid.