How some death doulas are using cannabis

Published Nov 25, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Ivan-balvan

According to 87 percent of Americans, the use of cannabis for an end of life journey is acceptable. This indicates that cannabis should be an option for terminally ill patients. The death doula is educated on the use of cannabis during the journey of death.

A doula will be comfortable assisting the patient and the family throughout this difficult time. Helping both the patient and the family is what the death doula is trained for, and cannabis can be a part of that journey. The death doula and marijuana can help terminally ill individuals and their family members travel on the road towards a peaceful, tranquil, and dignified end of life process.

What is a death doula?

The death process requires assistance much in the same way that you'd expect during the birthing process. The main difference is the death doula assists both women and men who are dying. The death doula is a non-medical professional trained to care for a terminally ill patient facing death. A doula will help the patient and the family walk through the journey of death by meeting their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs, which are tended to by the doula throughout the death process.

Cannabis has been well documented to address one's anxiety level. Emotions are stabilized with the use of cannabis, and often cannabis is used instead of an opioid that traditionally the death doulas are trained to provide. Pain management is often a reason for the death doula to administer cannabis to the patient.  Cannabis and marijuana-derived products leave the patient in a much more cognitive state, with less pain while maintaining the ability to be in the moment and conscious of their surroundings, according to death doulas involved in cannabis programs their patients.

Qualification for medical cannabis

Some states in the U.S., Canada, and other countries consider end-of-life care as a reason that may qualify a person for medical cannabis. Sadly, even with the law allowing cannabis as a therapy for end-of-life care, many physicians and health care professionals are not prescribing this as a tool for the death doula to assist patients and family in their care. Physicians prefer to stick to the usual medications to control the symptoms that the end-of-life patients are experiencing, and that’s a problem.

Hospice settings

Pathways Home Health encourages the use of cannabis for controlling symptoms and pain during the end of life journey. Managing pain is a hallmark of a hospice setting. Pathways Home Health Hospice is one hospice that advocates for death doulas to freely use cannabis for patient care. Providing a dignified quality of life for terminally ill patients is the goal of this and many hospices.

Using cannabis has been seen by doulas as a positive addition to the care of patients. Often asked by those in the health field and those who have been faced with making a hospice decision for someone they know are questions surrounding the use of cannabis because marijuana is not legal on the federal level in the United States.

As patients come to terms with their life-ending situation, cannabis can often help to control anxiety. Cannabis has also been beneficial for assisting cancer patients by soothing symptoms that include vomiting, nausea, and pain. In many hospices that allow cannabis, it is deemed to help and benefit spiritual thoughts. As the patient comes to terms with their outcome, the death doula has often witnessed peace and tranquility when the patient consumes marijuana as part of their care.

Final thoughts

Studies published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine indicate that there is an overwhelming amount of support for the use of medical cannabis in the hospice setting. However, evidence suggests that until more physicians are educated on the benefits of cannabis, the death doula may not always be able to help their patients with the type of serenity and dignity that all people are entitled to, no matter when their death journey occurs.

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