Mary Lynn Mathre: A Nurse for Medical Cannabis
MMJ Advocate: Mary Lynn Mathre, Howardsville, VA
Unlike many who have just become aware of the benefits of medical cannabis, she has been an advocate for it for over 30 years now. She’s inspired by the countless stories she hears daily from patients, she’s empowered by her passion to spread awareness, and she’s living out her credentials as a nurse to educate her patients about how to lead a healthier life, which she sees cannabis as playing a major role in doing so. Mary Lynn Mathre is the founder of Patients Out of Time and the co-founder of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and she’d like to reach out to the CannaEffect community to share an important mission she has for all of us!
Can you tell us about your current work in the space?
I’ve been involved in the conversation of cannabis since doing my thesis back in 1985. In 1995, my husband and I co-founded Patients Out of Time (POT), which is basically an off-shoot of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We were involved with that organization and believed that cannabis was a plant that should not be prohibited, but it became clear from my graduate work that cannabis had medical value and that’s what we really wanted to focus our energy on promoting. Healthcare professionals were very afraid of marijuana and anything associated with it, so we broke off from NORML and formed Patients Out of Time.
Around that time, the federal government had a program called IND, Inventional New Drugs, that allowed patients to use cannabis, their own cannabis! By 1990, there were 5 patients in Mississippi and we got them together for the first time and produced a show about it. Then by 1992, since the show had been picked up by some major media channels, the government was getting too many requests from people wanting to be a part of the program, so they closed the program. At that time, there were 15 patients in the program and they essentially cut them off. By 1995, only 8 out of the 15 patients were still alive and that’s what spawned our organization’s name – Patients Out of Time. We felt that the government was literally hoping that these patients would die so that they’d never have to admit that they were giving marijuana to patients legally under a federally funded program. The purpose of our organization is to provide education about the medical use of cannabis (we always use the word ‘cannabis’ because that’s the proper name for it).
When was your interest first piqued by the cannabis plant?
The interest came in 1985 when I did my thesis. It was a large survey on medical cannabis to healthcare professionals and I had NORML send it out to their email list and I got 900 responses! It asked about their general demographics; their usage patterns; if they had ever been asked by a healthcare professional if they used cannabis, if they hadn’t been asked, would they tell them; etc. My last question asked them about their health concerns and it listed various options that they could check off. One of the boxes listed ‘other’ and that’s where I made the breakthrough. A majority of the surveys had checked ‘other’ and used the provided space to write about it helps them with their pain, their back spasms, their nausea, and that literally opened my eyes! I knew cannabis could be used enjoyably or for minor problems, but the answers I saw jotted down on this survey opened my eyes to so much more! Seeing so many use cannabis medically piqued my interest and I was hooked from then on!
A majority of the surveys had checked ‘other’ and used the provided space to write about it helps them with their pain, their back spasms, their nausea, and that literally opened my eyes! I knew cannabis could be used enjoyably or for minor problems, but the answers I saw jotted down on this survey opened my eyes to so much more!
What were you doing before becoming a part of this industry?
I’ve been a nurse for 40 years, but prior to that, I had been in the military as a navy nurse and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where I then taught at the local university. It was there that I got more and more interested in addictions and substance abuse issues because so many people were there in the hospital for that particular reason whether it was alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs. And as healthcare professionals, we never really addressed it; We kinda just overlooked it; No one was comfortable dealing with it. So, I picked up the course on substance abuse at UVA and started teaching that and then I left the school and went over to the Addiction Treatment program and was a nurse there. For many years, I worked in the addictions field and learned a lot about cannabis, but not because it was an addictive substance, but because it was considered to be an ‘exit drug’ ; It helped people get off harmful addictions. It’s not a gateway drug at all; It’s something that actually helps put people back in balance, especially people who were addicted to other things.
What’s the most touching story you’ve heard from someone you’ve encountered in your work?
Awh, that’s almost impossible to answer because I have heard thousands and thousands and thousands of stories and it breaks your heart every time you hear about patients finding out how helpful cannabis has been for their medical issues and/or the trouble they’ve gotten into for using it illegally. A story that comes to mind is Kathy Jordan from Florida who came down with ALS. She now has been living with this disease for 28 years and if anyone knows anything about ALS, you know that you don’t survive more than about 5 years with it. People start losing all their ability to function, they can’t walk, they have to be in a wheelchair, swallowing gets very difficult… it’s terrible!
Now, Kathy Jordan, a young mom at the time, came down with ALS and was losing her ability to function and started realizing that she was becoming very limited and was beginning to suffer a very slow death and she was literally considering suicide. As she was still contemplating this, she went on a trip with a friend who randomly offered her a joint and after a single inhale of cannabis, she felt something click in her body and she knew it was good for her. It was from that time on that she started using cannabis and testing different strains and after numerous years, found something that really works well for her.
And I’ve seen her improve; I’ve literally seen her go from not being able to understand what I’m saying when I’m looking directly at her to a point where I can understand her talking on the phone. She’s made AMAZING improvement. It’s literally unbelievable. But there are so so so many stories about cannabis actually making a difference in a person’s life. And then there are also stories about how the laws surrounding cannabis have destroyed their lives as well. People have been put into jail or have lost their jobs just because they have been using a very beneficial plant that for whatever reason, our government has made illegal.
How would you describe the cannabis consumer community?
Well, I think there are two different communities: recreational and medical users. It’s frustrating to see people wink, joke, or smirk when they say ‘medical marijuana’ because it’s really not a joke. This is medicine for patients suffering various diseases and it’s becoming very clear that cannabis is a very important food and medicine for humans as well as other animals. In terms of medicine, I not only see cannabis as a ‘first-line’ option, and I say ‘first-line’ because it is incredibly safe and as a medical professional we should always give our patients the safest form of medicine first, but cannabis can also be used as a preventative medicine. It’s a powerful, herbal, natural medicine.
In terms of medicine, I not only see cannabis as a ‘first-line’ option, and I say ‘first-line’ because it is incredibly safe and as a medical professional we should always give our patients the safest form of medicine first, but cannabis can also be used as a preventative medicine.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have the recreational users, people who want to use it to relax. Over the years, we’ve heard a range of stereotypes: the stoner, the couch potato, the doper, etc. In reality, the people who are consuming it or vaporizing it are doing so to get enjoyment; They feel good, they feel happy, they socialize more with people; It’s a social lubricant and is certainly safer than alcohol and other drugs people use recreationally. So, I’d definitely say we have two very different communities: medical and recreational.
What do you wish people would know about the cannabis plant?
I wish they would recognize that this is the most beneficial plant on the planet and I don’t say that lightly. I look around and I ask other people if they can think of ANY plant that this more beneficial than cannabis, and they can’t think of anything. The medical value is enormous; Again, it goes back to how all humans have an endocannabinoid system. We make cannabinoids similar to those in the cannabis plant and these little molecules are very important to maintaining balance in our body. So, if people could understand how beneficial this is as a medicine, then they can certainly recognize the value it has for our nutrition as food. In oil form, it is probably the best source for essential fatty-acids and consuming the seeds are a great source of protein.
Then we look at everything else it benefits and what it can be used for: things like fuel, fiber, mold-resistant houses, anti-microbial casts for broken bones, etc. I’d love for people to understand that this is an absolutely wonderful plant and our government has prohibited it; THAT is the crime, prohibiting this plant is the crime, not the growing of this plant.
I’d love for people to understand that this is an absolutely wonderful plant and our government has prohibited it; THAT is the crime, prohibiting this plant is the crime, not the growing of this plant.
What words do you live by? Is it a quote? A mantra?
Always see the best! Try to make the world a better place.
What part would you like to play in moving this industry in a positive direction?
Well, as with POT, our basic mission is to educate healthcare professionals and the public they serve about the therapeutic use of cannabis and that’s been my goal for over 30 years now! I want to educate people and help them understand that this is an ancient plant that’s been with man since before recorded history. This is a wonderful plant and everyone needs to know the truth! There is nothing to fear. Hopefully in the near future, we’ll be seeing cannabis growing in everyone’s garden! I hope to see people juice the leaves just as they would carrots for a great nutritional supplement. There’s a place for all medicines and there’s a place for all sorts of health products. My main role is to educate and as a nurse, my main purpose to educate patients about how to lead a healthy life.
What trait does one need to do great work in this space?
Perseverance! Persevere to persevere. It’s been a long haul and it’s very exciting now because of the fact that we have 23 states legalized for medical, about 12 states legalized for CBD-only, and it is becoming more and more acceptable in the United States. It’s a very exciting time, but it has taken a lot of perseverance to get here. I run into old friends who say, ‘You’re still doing this!’ and I reply, ‘Well, yes. It’s still illegal!’ The goal here is to just hang in there until we free this plant completely.
What is your message to the CannaEffect community?
Don’t give up and continue to spread the word! You can talk about it to anyone and I think that’s the biggest message of them all. When we first started out, people wouldn’t even dare to say ‘marijuana’ out loud, people would whisper it and we still see that today! I’m also a co-founder and board member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and we’ve got nurses are are afraid to let people know that they belong to the association and/or being drug-tested at work. In some hospitals, nurses are forced to sign an agreement that they will not talk to the patients about cannabis and I find that totally unethical. Everyone out there, please talk about it! The science is there, the facts are there, please share the truth about cannabis and go and do your own research on the cannabis plant! Educate yourself. Once you learn about the endocannabinoid system, I ensure you that a lightbulb will go off and you’ll see why this is such an important effective plant!