Some people think my job is fun, some see a certain glamour, while others look down on what I do, a holdover from the stigma of cannabis use in the past. My work is thoughtful, remedial, emotional, analytical, service-oriented and supportive. My goal is to create a welcoming environment for communication and impart knowledge to patients about cannabis so that the patient can be empowered to make educated decisions for themselves no matter what dispensary they visit.
The Patient Consultant Experience
I love interacting with patients and a lot of the time the work is intense. You must be “on” and present, you need to be able to hold space for someone who may possibly have just heard bad news or is dying. Sometimes for whatever reason, a patient may emotionally trigger you in some way. You must maintain space for your patient and then afterward hold compassion for yourself. You become a bright moment in the day for many, a familiar face in the storm of life. I have many critically ill and senior patients that may only talk to one other person that day besides myself. Being a good listener is essential. Hugs are optional.
In my work, I talk to patients about what they are looking to relieve health-wise and make suggestions for products they might try. There is a lot of relationship building as patients return to pick up new medicine. Often times they want to discuss past experiences- what worked, what didn’t work and get further information to expand the possibilities for relieving their symptoms. Education on medication modes and dosage models creates true safe access, and an educated public also creates a demand for the ability to medicate in the most effective mode that addresses their symptoms.
Many patients are nervous about getting high. Not infrequently, patients (especially seniors) are using cannabis as a last resort and are frustrated by their past experiences with doctors and medicine. The idea of euphoria is frightening and packed with stigma. It is our job to educate the patient on appropriate modes of titration such as topical use, vaporization or tinctures so that they may find relief using conservative dosages.
Being a patient consultant is rewarding and stimulating work. You get the chance to engage with wonderful people from all walks of life as patients and may be surprised at how diverse they truly are. It is satisfying to help others find solutions to their symptoms. From a patient who suffers from arthritis coming in wiggling her fingers in joy after finding the right topical, to the cancer patient that is relieved to once again enjoy their favorite breakfast after chemo, it’s an amazing feeling to share in their victories over suffering.
Every interaction is also an opportunity to learn more about how cannabis chemotypes and modes of medicating work with different patients, this, in turn, enables us to have better consultations and broaden our knowledge base. The education is continuous and exciting. I love it when someone looks at me and says “Your job must be so much fun!” I just nod, smile and say, “That’s a fact!”
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Sara Payan is the vice-chair of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, nationally published writer, award-winning cannabis educator specializing in cancer-related therapies and the Director of Education at the Apothecarium. She is a stage-three colon cancer survivor who was introduced to the medical marijuana program during her treatment. Cannabis is what got her through her initial illness, surgery, and chemo.
The desire to bear witness and help others suffering through illness is what moved her to become an educator, advocate, and activist for medical cannabis patients and is what drives her to lead the movement in normalizing cannabis use for health. Her patient experiences and her civil rights background fueled her passion for about creating safe access to cannabis through education and also inspired her to create a compassionate consulting training program for those in the medical cannabis industry and beyond.
Sara has had the honor of speaking and lecturing at such conferences as Patients Out of Time, Women Grow and The Women’s Visionary Congress. With over 10,000 hours of hands-on experiential medical cannabis patient research, she has consulted with many large healthcare organizations such as Kaiser and UCSF, to help them better understand the role cannabis can play in their patients’ lives and has held continuing education credit classes at accredited schools for healthcare practitioners.
HealthMJ lists Sara as one of “10 people who are leading the movement to inform patients about medical cannabis”. Her work has been highlighted in Dope Magazine, Cannabis Now, High Times and Ladybud.