TRU faculty look to remove the stigma of using cannabis as medicine for kids

Florriann Fehr and Nan Stevens are researching the use of medical cannabis for children with neurological disabilities

Stevens (left) and Fehr (right) are researching the use of medical cannabis for children, while at the same time breaking down stigma. (Submitted)

Florriann Fehr, a school of nursing professor specializing in pediatrics and Nan Stevens, a professor in TRU’s school of education both share the same goal. Simply put, they want to see children, more specifically children with neurological disabilities, receive the best care available.

As a former nurse in the community, Fehr has seen the stigma attached to using cannabis as medicine in both the workplace and the classroom. While research has often been conducted on the detrimental effects of marijuana, she says that studies, especially in the field of nursing, rarely explore the substance’s medical benefits.

For Stevens, however, using medicinal cannabis in pediatrics hits much closer to home. Stevens is the mother of a child with a neurological disability. After years of her and her husband treating their child with pharmaceuticals to no avail, Stevens looked elsewhere for help.

After Steven’s physician admitted that she was simply “grasping at straws” when it came to prescribing her son pharmaceuticals, Stevens reached out to RIH doctor and supervising physician for medical cannabis in Kamloops, Dr. Ian Mitchell.

“I contacted him and asked if he’d serve my child, he said no and everyone else was saying no. I pleaded and begged and said I needed him desperately to help my kid,” Stevens said. “Ian said I’d take you on as a child case. He started him on CBD oil and now here we are three years later and my son is phasing out the last of three pharmaceuticals and he is better than ever, he is more talkative and he his calm. Relatives and teachers are noticing a significant change.”

Since then, Stevens has become the regional contact for cannabis support for the Family Support Institute, a parent support group.

“CBD oil is a game changer,” she said.

Two years ago, Fehr and Stevens first met while they were assisting in setting up community health cannabis forum here on campus. From there, they got to know each other and realized that they could work together to see how cannabis could treat neurological disorders, while at the same time breaking the stigma surrounding the substance.

Fast forward to today and Fehr and Stevens are co-investigators in a research study that looks to explore the experiences of parents and guardians of kids with neurological disorders who are currently using medical cannabis as a treatment.

The study is meant to help parents considering cannabis-related intervention for their child, as well as health care professionals and policymakers. Fehr and Stevens hope their research creates a clearer understanding of the use of cannabis as medicine, as well as the challenges faced by parents navigating the health care system in regards to using cannabis as a treatment for their children.

“The pediatric population has a great deal of stigma, as a community child health nurse I worry about growth and development,” Fehr said. “Evidence-based research of families’ lived experiences will assist in breaking down stigma.”

For their part, TRU has been extremely supportive the study, says Stevens.

“They were so supportive because they see the value of being first to the starting line as well, because it is coming into post-secondary research” she said. “But post-secondary research isn’t connected to community, we are connecting it.”

In addition to the research they’re conducting, Fehr and Stevens are also helping set up a cannabinoid research conference later this October. The free evening session is open to the public. Health care professionals will be in attendance to answer any questions.

The Kamloops Summit on Opiates and Cannabinoid Research, which will be held here on campus on October 3, looks to empower the British Columbians to use evidence-based cannabinoid research in guiding harm reduction and substance abuse strategies. In addition to this, the conference will also be improving the community response to the impact of opiates.

“Basically what we are doing is supporting research, supporting advocacy groups across Canada, basically whatever it takes to get a better grip on this whole legislation, but also medicinal cannabis use,” Fehr said.

Stevens and Fehr are hoping that this is the start of a greater commitment by community health providers to support cannabis intervention as a treatment option for families.