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UArizona to study cannabis, substance use in nurses

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 6:52 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Now that 47 states have some form of legalized medical marijuana, it is estimated three million Americans use cannabis for illness relief.

Some of those Americans are likely healthcare workers and nurses and a new study done by the University of Arizona College of Nursing is out to find how many and why nurses workers use cannabis and other substances.

Long shifts, sick patients and a pandemic to top it, are all forces adding physical and mental stress on healthcare workers. Many in the industry have talked about COVID-19 fatigue and compassion fatigue.

“That concept of fatigue is experienced every day by our healthcare workers, our public health workers, I would say our frontline health workers,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Pima County Health Department director.

A recent CDC study found more than 50 percent of healthcare workers surveyed reported at least one mental health condition, like anxiety or depression. Sadly, nearly nine percent reported having suicidal thoughts.

“Our frontline healthcare heroes have been at this now for over a year and a half,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, with Banner Health.

Now, researchers at the University of Arizona College of Nursing are looking into how nurses cope with the mental and physical pain of the job, specifically when it comes to cannabis and substance use.

“Thinking about what are the things that are impacting nurses’ health and safety that is leading them to use substances and is there a way we can develop interventions within the work system to address some of those issues,” said Dr. Jessica Rainbow, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, UArizona.

Early findings of the two year study show nurses were using coping mechanisms, like cannabis, after work.

“We really found that nurses were doing these things to recuperate after work. So, they were coming home from work, they were in a lot of pain, and then they were using these different coping strategies, rather than using them prior to work,” said Rainbow.

The study aims to find out how often and why nurses are turning to cannabis and other substances. The findings could help improve work conditions or help the state boards of nursing reconsider recommendations when it comes to substances and work environments.

“There hasn’t really been a big study on nurse cannabis use since cannabis became legal in so many states in the United States,” said Rainbow. “So, I think that’s why it’s such a regulatory issue for them, is they’re having their state boards of nursing ask well, ‘what should we be doing in this space?’”

If they can help find the root cause in a work environment, it may help nurses’ physical and mental health in a time it is so desperately needed. The study will also look into the effects on patient care.

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