March 8th, International Women’s Day, is all about celebrating our wins as women, but also highlighting how far we still have to go in order to reach the holy grail of equality. At Project CBD we’d be the last to suggest that the cannabis industry has got women’s gender parity licked, but when it comes to female doctors and nurses, cannabis has got a pretty good record.
So this year we’re shouting loud and proud about some pioneering women health professionals whose commitment to getting the best outcomes for their patients initially led them to cannabis, and who have since gone on to become global leaders in the field of cannabis medicine.
Women healers throughout history
For thousands of years, women have been healing and caring for the sick. They were (and in some parts of the world continue to be) the custodians of many traditional plant remedies used for millennia to restore health. Indeed it’s quite likely when cannabis was a commonly prescribed folk medicine, medicine women around the world would have administered it in the forms of tinctures, teas, and ointments to the sick.
Unfortunately, both medicine women and the cannabis plant have been victims of witch hunts. Between the 15th and 18th centuries in Europe and North America, women healers were accused of practising the dark arts and burned at the stake, leading them to diminish in number or practice in secret. And in the 1930s, Harry Anslinger’s infamous racially fuelled ‘war on weed’ expelled cannabis from the twentieth century pharmacopoeia.
Until recent times, our society viewed becoming a physician very much as man’s work. After the introduction of medical schools in the 18th century, it was over a hundred years before women could study medicine, although some brave and determined female souls passed themselves off as the opposite sex in order to fool the admissions boards.
These days, despite women often outnumbering men at med school, family medicine and specialities like pediatrics, inequalities still exist. Not only are there significantly fewer female hospital consultants but women are also generally underrepresented in faculty and leadership positions at U.S. medical schools. Furthermore, in the United States women doctors are paid on average 25% less than men.
While there are no real differences in patient outcomes between the sexes, studies show women doctors tend to spend more time with their patients, adopting a more holistic approach and counselling them on lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and social relationships.
This might explain why so many women doctors and nurses have found their natural home in cannabis medicine, where an individualized approach, thinking outside of the box, and really listening to the patient are key.
Bonni Goldstein, MD
This has certainly been the case for Dr. Bonni Goldstein, one of the most well-respected and long-established cannabis doctors in the United States. Bonni, who had previously worked for fourteen years in pediatric emergency medicine, developed a passion for cannabis when she witnessed how helpful it had been in treating a friend’s illness.
This inspired her to eventually open Canna-Centers Wellness and Education in California where she specializes in treating children with intractable epilepsy, autism, cancer and other conditions.
Most recently, Dr. Goldstein has consolidated her position as a world-renowned expert through the publication of her book, “Cannabis is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Pain” and the co-authorship of two peer-reviewed articles researching the use of Cannabis-Responsive biomarkers to document cannabis treatment efficacy, guide clinical decision-making, and improve outcomes in children with autism.
After thirteen years leading the field as a cannabis physician, during which time she has seen thousands of patients, Bonni says there’s no one moment that makes her proud. “I celebrate the many small (and sometimes big) improvements that my patients gain from cannabis medicine,” she says, “such as a reduction of seizures, discontinuing pain medication, or hearing that one of my patients with autism is speaking for the first time. These are the victories that are most rewarding.”
Dr. Dani Gordon
Another woman doctor who has gone on to be a successful author, is Dr. Dani Gordon, whose ‘CBD Bible’ came out in 2020.
Dr. Gordon is double board certified in family medicine and integrative medicine. Having started her medical career practising in Canada, she is now located in the United Kingdom.
“Cannabis is a very powerful botanical medicine,” she says. “And it is such a natural fit for integrative medicine because we look at the whole person.”
As an integrative medicine practitioner in Canada, cannabis was just one treatment option amongst many she called upon to return patients to optimal health. However, since moving to the UK, it’s her expertise in cannabis medicine that has been most in demand.
Alongside Professor Mike Barnes, Dani helped set up the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, of which she is Vice Chair, and her extensive knowledge has been integral in the training of many new medicinal cannabis prescribers in the UK. She has also just opened up her own integrative practice Feel Clinics specialising in women’s health and mental wellbeing where she offers her own particular blend of cannabinoids, other botanicals, functional medicine testing, and evidence based mind/body practices.
“I think when it comes to women’s health in cannabis,” says Gordon, “women are leading the way for obvious reasons…. We have a unique voice, because we have all experienced at some point in our lives, myself included, women’s health issues that might have been dismissed by the medical community, often by a male doctor, sometimes female doctors. I think now because of the cannabis community’s spotlight on women’s health, more women are talking about these issues and how cannabis and CBD might be able to help.”
Dr. Rachel Knox
Like Dr. Dani, Rachel Knox MD, also trained in family medicine and integrative medicine. During her family medicine residency in North Carolina, Knox was struck by how any conversation about cannabis was quickly shut down by colleagues who cited a lack of evidence.
Around this time Dr. Knox’s mother, Janice, an anesthesiologist of many years, had already moved into the cannabis space, sparking a passionate family interest in researching the therapeutic applications of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system.
And so it seemed obvious for Rachel to team up with mom Janice, her father David, an ER physician, and sister Jessica, also a doctor, to create The American Cannabinoid Clinics.
In an interview with Project CBD, Dr. Knox explains:
“In cannabis medicine the focus for a long time has been on cannabis, but people come to us with physical conditions and we doctors are trained to treat the patient. What we’re really treating is the endocannabinoid system when we’re assessing different disease processes or symptoms. And, so it made sense to me and my family at the American Cannabinoid Clinics to call ourselves endocannabinologists who practice endocannabinology. And we use cannabis, which is probably as far as we know, the most versatile tool that works on that system, but along with lots of other things that help us treat that system.”
Dr. Knox is committed to addressing the Minority Health Disparity Gap, educating communities of color about how cannabis, psychedelics, and other plant medicines can impact their total wellbeing.
Dr. Paola Pineda
Colombian physician, Dr. Paola Pineda, who also holds a degree in medical law, is not only one of the first doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients in her country, but has also played an integral part in moving forward medicinal cannabis regulation in Colombia.
Dr. Pineda first prescribed cannabis as a medicine of last resort to a patient with HIV who was having trouble sleeping and was in severe pain. When she saw how successfully cannabis treated his symptoms, she gradually began prescribing it to other patients for their complex health conditions. Very quickly her patient list grew, and eight years later she has seen over one thousand patients, including children with refractory epilepsy, patients with cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and autoimmune diseases.
For Pineda, who also founded the cannabinoid research group Curativa, the development of a legal medicinal cannabis industry marks an important step away from the darkness of Colombia’s history with the cocaine trade.
“I’ve worked hand in hand with Colombian cannabis farmers,” says Pineda, “so they can get licences and bring their broad experience in cannabis cultivation, extraction techniques and making final products to a burgeoning industry in the region. It’s really important to view this as an economic opportunity for a country hit by the war on drugs.”
Dr. Pineda is hopeful about the role of women in the Colombian cannabis industry.
“Women must be present in all areas of this sector, from working with seeds, cultivation, preclinical trials, administration, activism, working with patients, policy making, teaching, journalism and decision making,” she says. “Participation in changing the perception of plants like cannabis and other ancestral plants, will close the chapter on the war on drugs, and make our country a leader in medical cannabis research. This will not only generate well paid employment for those who’ve been working illegally for years, but also create jobs for women who’ve been victims of this drugs war.”
Eloise Theisen NP
Representing the important work done by nurses in the care of patients receiving cannabis medicine, there’s no more deserving candidate than Eloise Theisen, current President of the American Cannabis Nurses Association.
Based in California, Eloise is a board certified Adult Geriatric Nurse Practitioner, who’s been a nurse for over twenty years. Originally working in oncology, Eloise saw first hand how often patients’ medications were poorly managed.
“I think sometimes the complexity of chronic illness is that you have so many providers managing the care that there’s not always a captain of the ship to look over the medications,” she explains, “and say you’re late stage dementia, why are you still on this medication to try to improve your memory? Or you’re dying of a terminal cancer illness. Why are we still concerned about your cholesterol?”
In fact, it was Eloise’s own personal experience of polypharmacy that piqued her interest in the therapeutic potential of the cannabis plant.
“I was being prescribed multiple medications,” Theisen told Project CBD. “When they added in the eighth medication and they weren’t communicating with each other, I ended up with serotonin syndrome, which can put you in a coma and kill you.”
Thankfully cannabis came onto Theisen’s radar, allowing her to successfully come off her prescription drugs and manage her pain.
This led her to change professional direction and set up Radicle Health which offers patient care focussing on cannabinoids, as well as cannabis education for clinicians and industry training.
In her clinical work, Eloise works largely with geriatric patients suffering chronic pain and neurodegenerative diseases.
“Lately, my passion has been dementia patients,” she says. “And looking at using cannabinoids to help with some of their neuropsychiatric symptoms… I’ve just seen tremendous turnaround in some of these patients, you know, they’re happy, they’re laughing … So it can be really gratifying to see their quality of life improve.”
Since making the change to cannabis, Eloise has gone on to see approximately six thousand patients and was one of the first healthcare professionals to bring a clinical dosing regimen to the cannabis space.
However, she learned early on in her career that as a nurse she couldn’t afford to take a back seat when it comes to cannabis policy making.
“Somebody told me that nurses tend to be too nice… And I think that I took that to heart and make sure that if there’s something that I think needs to be different for my patients, or the industry, I want to make sure that I have a seat at the table, and that can get exhausting because then you end up on all these different boards, advisory boards and stuff, trying to, to get the message out there.”
I’m sure all of you reading this will join us at Project CBD in our tremendous respect and gratitude to all the women healthcare workers who are so dedicated to ensuring their patients get the best treatment possible, be it with cannabis or otherwise.
To hear full interviews with Dr. Dani Gordon and Eloise Theisen RN, head to the podcast Cannabis Voices hosted by Mary Biles.
Mary Biles, a UK-based journalist, educator, and Project CBD contributing writer, is the author of The CBD Book (Harper Collins, UK).
Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.