UA doctor set to study how stress, pain and depression can drive nurses to medicate with cannabis

UA doctor set to study how stress, pain and depression can drive nurses to medicate with cannabis


Since the start of covid-19, nurses have been under a lot of pressure as they work long hours in hazardous conditions to care for victims of the novel coronavirus.

They’ve been celebrated as heroes by most and targeted for abuse by a smaller group of anti-vaxxers, anti-mask zealots and even some political commentators.

There are signs within the health care community that the stress has led to increased drug use and high rates of suicide in a profession that was already hard enough before the pandemic hit.

The data is thin on how nurses are coping with pain and stress, however, so University of Arizona assistant professor Jessica Rainbow, PhD. RN, has embarked on a study to find out the prevalence of drug use in the nursing community, focusing on cannabis and how it might affect nurses’ mental health and patient care.

“I was really interested in how nurses are using these substances in relation to when they’re working, because I think that’s a question we haven’t really explored,” Rainbow said. “We haven’t really done any studies of nurse cannabis use since it’s become more legal, so this is hopefully going to get at how prevalent it is.”

Rainbow hopes her study will lead to better working conditions for nurses, which would lead to improved care for patients.

Now that cannabis is legal in some form in 37 states with an estimated 3 million Americans using it medicinally, there are more opportunities for more Americans to have legal access to weed.

The two-year study that began in July is an extension of Rainbow’s prior work that sought to explore and quantify physical and emotional pain nurses experience due to their working conditions. That study surveyed and interviewed more than 3,000 respondents who reported that they were experiencing an average of three pain sites, including mental and emotional pain.

While back pain is common from a career spent moving patients, mental health is increasingly seen as a problem that has led to high turnover in the nursing community and compromised quality of life for some in the field.

“My research really focuses on how we can improve the hospital work environment to improve nurse health and safety,” Rainbow said. “It was really interesting, just the breadth of pain that nurses had, because a lot of the prior work is focused on back pain. I think we all know nurses have back pain from moving patients, but we had nurses complaining of everything from psychological pain to some of that more musculoskeletal stuff like pain in their feet.”

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