Patients on the Front Line: Nikki Lawley’s Insights on Medical Cannabis Today

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Columns | <b>Cannabis Voices</b>

In the ongoing dialogue surrounding cannabis, the testimonials of medical cannabis patients stand as crucial reminders of its impacts and benefits in the industry. For a deep dive into this topic, Cannabis Science and Technology sat down with Nikki Lawley, founder of Nikki and the Plant, LLC, for her take on the challenges patients face today in the midst of discussions of industry developments such as the rescheduling of cannabis. A traumatic brain injury survivor, Lawley now actively supports medical cannabis access and engages diverse audiences through her journey as a pediatric nurse-turned-patient-and-advocate. Here, she explains the importance of educating people about cannabis, the need for patient perspective in cannabis policy decisions, and the benefits of empathetic approaches to medical cannabis use.

In describing your journey with medical cannabis, you have said that cannabis helps you “connect the dots.” Can you share more about what that means to you?

Nikki Lawley: Cannabis became my lifeline. Back in 2017 I almost took my life. All the pharmaceuticals I was on created a cascade effect, and there were absolutely horrific side effects. As a result, I almost took my life in Las Vegas, where I discovered cannabis by accident. When I started to learn about the plant and dived deep into Canada’s medical program, I then learned all about the plant, what works for my particular symptoms, and why. Everyone has a different system, so what works for me might not work for you. Just like medications, just like some people have food intolerances, cannabis is no different. When I have the right terpene profiles, I say I become the Rain Man, because it really connects my neurons and allows me to focus, function, and not have that brain fog and that lapse of memory and that lapse of judgment, but it actually allows me to focus.

But I also use it because it connects me with community. It helps me build relationships. So, I'm constantly connecting the dots with other industry people, with other educators, with the canna curious. Had I not been hurt, I never would have met this amazing, incredible group of humans that are known as activists, advocates, educators, champions for the plant. And every single day, I learn more, and I try to really be humble and understanding of other people's struggles with the plant and try to really make a difference, because at the end of the day, we just need people to be kind to us. Cannabis really brings people together and connects dots.

What are your currently working on now?

Nikki Lawley: I just recently got back into the job field. I'm working for a testing lab as their salesperson. Cannabis has connected my dots so well that for the first time in seven and a half years, I'm able to work again. That's huge. I never thought I'd be able to do this. But cannabis has connected my dots so well that I feel that I'm very employable. I'm a relationship builder and I'm a dot connector, and I just want to teach people and help remove that stigma.


How would the rescheduling (or descheduling) of cannabis affect medical cannabis patients?

Nikki Lawley: Rescheduling will allow more research because it's no longer Schedule I, which has prohibited research other than the harms of the drugs, But while rescheduling is a step forward, it's not necessarily the way we want to go, because it will still be criminalized, and now we've just literally invited the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to tighten its new regulations and its impact in an already suppressed industry. They want isolated compounds, but isolated compounds are not where the medical benefits lie. It's not about high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it's about the whole plant, it's about the terpenes, and pharmaceuticals want just little bitty individual, easily controlled things.

Descheduling will mean it basically comes off the drug schedule of controlled substances, so it will be legal and more available in medical and recreational dispensaries. We still get all the research like we would under rescheduling, and the FDA still could tighten regulations on medical use, but patients should have an easier time accessing their medicine.

Why is it important for people who use medical cannabis to share their experiences?

Nikki Lawley: There would be no legal industry if it wasn't for the legacy growers and the patients. We needed medicine, and we had legacy growers growing it, yet the legacy growers and the patients are not in seats at the table where decisions are being made. That's one of the biggest problems with creating policy about brands, about packaging, about dispensaries with ADA access. Americans for Disabilities Act states that everyone should have access if they're challenged. For instance, when I myself read the menu up high in a size 10 font and the menu shifts every 10 seconds, I have problems because I can't retain the information. That's never even in consideration, making menus readable for those of us that have sight challenges. Or having a lower counter for those that are mobility challenged.

What's happening now is not working for patients. I fear that our medical program is going to go away. I fear that if patients aren't involved where decisions are being made, it's a problem. I feel that where decisions are being made is the most important place for patients and legacy growers to be, because these big companies, whether it's pharma, whether it's states, they need to hear that patient perspective. They need to know this plant saved my life. I don't get high, I get well. And at the end of the day, people don't know what they don't know. And it's so critically important that these people in charge of these big companies start listening to the little guy, the reason this industry exists.

What is the biggest challenge with the cannabis industry and educating people?

Nikki Lawley: Censorship, 100%. It’s affecting all of us, and it's something that we need to talk about. It's no different than legalization when we had to all band together and complain and use our collective voices. With censorship I feel we have to do that as well. Shadowbans are prohibiting the canna curious from getting the information they need—the people that need the information the most can't access it but they don’t know that because it's shadowbanned. That's a huge issue. How can they know if they're not getting the information they need because they can’t access the word “cannabis”?

That is by far the biggest challenge. And also the stigma. I still get in chats with very disgruntled people that feel cannabis is the devil’s lettuce, saying “it’s horrible and you’re going to destroy our youth’s brains, and it’s a gateway drug,” but over half of the country has legal cannabis for medical and adult use. So, it’s time to get with the program, people.

But put people in positions where decisions are being made who have experience with the plants.

What is your ultimate vision and hope for medical cannabis patients in the US?

Nikki Lawley: To have safe access for all and to have doctors that actually understand what they're recommending, actually have knowledge of the products in a dispensary, and look at what patients have available to them. It's not a one size fits all. Cannabidiol (CBD) is cool, but it's not the only part of the plant.

I just hope the patients don't give up and instead try to really identify what works for them and why. There are lots of products and there are not a lot of educated consumers or people like myself that can kind of help. I don't want to educate individuals, I want to educate large quantities of people, so they can take their own health in their own hands and be their own advocate. When you suffer a life changing injury where everything gets taken away from you and you can't count, you can't remember anything, you don't recognize change, you're not able to do basic math—it's a struggle, and I don't think I'm alone with that.