Interviews

Staffed by Nurses, This Cannabis Hotline Wants to Answer Questions and Calm Worries

Staffed by Nurses, This Cannabis Hotline Wants to Answer Questions and Calm Worries
Getty Images/JeffKearney
The more people learn about cannabis, the more questions they have. But nurses, who make up one of the most trusted and educated professions in the country, often can't or won't discuss the stuff — because hospitals and traditional clinics continue to shun cannabis.

Katherine Golden used to be one of them. A registered nurse for nearly thirty years, Golden didn't trust cannabis use until she saw medical marijuana help treat a family member's lung cancer. She then transitioned into working for a Boulder medical marijuana clinic, which led her to help found Leaf411, a phone hotline for questions about cannabis use. Launched in 2019, Leaf411 is staffed by registered nurses, who answer questions from regular users, new medical marijuana patients and curious senior citizens, among others.

We asked Golden a handful of questions about her experience behind the hotline, plus tips for avoiding a freakout after one hit (or edible) too many.

Westword: What are some words of advice you have for new cannabis users?

Katherine Golden: It’s so easy to overconsume when you are new to cannabis, so we remind folks right away that you can always take more, but you cannot take less once you have overconsumed. So first, start by consuming only a quarter of the suggested serving size. If it’s an inhalable product, start with just one short inhalation. Then we suggest waiting a full two hours before repeating the dose. Everyone responds differently to cannabis, so no one should judge their experience on a friend’s experience. Use the buddy system with someone you can trust who can help if you have any problems. Be sure to hydrate while consuming cannabis, and, of course, do not consume and drive.

Even experienced users can overconsume sometimes. What do you tell users who've overconsumed? Any remedies or techniques?

If you find that you have overconsumed, one of the most basic and most important things to remember is to stay hydrated. We tell people to stay with a friend, who is preferably sober, where they feel safe and familiar. Get comfortable in bed or on a couch, and take a nap or watch a movie or TV show to distract yourself. It's a myth that taking CBD will counteract the high from THC. When combined with THC, CBD may lessen the effects of the THC, but not after it has been consumed.

Is Leaf411's advice for edibles overconsumption different from dabs or flower?

We absolutely advise against dabbing for a person’s first cannabis experience. Dabs are only for the very experienced consumer. The impairing effects of edibles are likely to last much longer than flower or dabs, but the symptoms are pretty much the same: feelings of anxiety and paranoia, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness, dry mouth and extreme fatigue.

What are some of the most common calls you get? What about ridiculous calls?

Our most common questions overall include “What dose should I take?” “Can I use CBD for sleep, pain or anxiety?” and “Will CBD interact with my medications?”

We certainly do get all kinds of questions, but one call stands out that demonstrates that we need to be ready for anything. A caller who seemed to be in a panic said, “I need help! I’m growing some plants in my backyard and went outside right now, and one of my plants fell down! What happened to it?” I told the man I was not a cultivator, but that I would see what I could do to help. After I asked some very basic questions — Did you water the plants equally? Did you provide nutrients equally? Could there be a rodent problem? — the caller said, “This is great! I think I did all those things, but I’m not sure. I will take a look and call you back if I can’t find a reason.”

We could only laugh. Of course, he never called back, so I guess he figured it out!
click to enlarge Leaf411 CEO and registered nurse Katherine Golden - COURTESY OF LEAF411
Leaf411 CEO and registered nurse Katherine Golden
Courtesy of Leaf411
 Has the nature or topic of the questions you receive changed since launching in 2019?

Yes, especially due to the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the questions we received always focused on pain, insomnia and mental health concerns, in that order. Once the pandemic hit, and throughout the past two years, insomnia and mental health overtook pain. Unfortunately, cancer questions have remained in fourth place, but now we are seeing an increase in cancer-related calls, so that may overtake one of the top three in 2022. There do seem to be cycles to certain questions when it comes to medical conditions, but we also receive lots of calls about which variety of flower to purchase, how much is safe to take and where to buy it.

Leaf 411 also answers product questions. Given all of the products out there, both licensed and unlicensed, how do you go about giving effective information?

We do a lot of research and vet the companies that support us. All of our nurses are educated through Radicle Health, and we do nurse training with our members, as well, so we can ensure that we are up to date on the science and evidence.

When working with patients, we first suggest brands that we have nurse-vetted. What that means is we have met with the company’s leaders and they have provided us with assurance that they have no violations. We also review their website to ensure they are completely transparent with who they are as a company, and that their values are in line with Leaf411’s mission. We also ensure that they have adequate certificates of authenticity for their products that are accessible to the public.

We also tell our callers that there are a ton of really great products out there, and if they are using one that has not been nurse-vetted by Leaf411, then we look at that product's website for all the information needed to guide them accordingly. If that brand doesn’t have the necessary information we need to guide them safely, then we educate them as to why we can’t stand by that product at this time.

Do you expect 4/20 to generate momentum for Leaf411?

That’s our hope! We want recreational users to know that they can utilize our services for any questions regarding cannabis. We are not just for medical patients. With new states legalizing cannabis every year, the number of people becoming interested in cannabis keeps increasing, and it is important that consumers have a resource for evidence-based information.

Schedule a call or leave a voicemail for a Leaf411 nurse at 844-LEAF-411 (844-532-3411) or at leaf411.org.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell