Cannabis Today BDN Blog

A Compassionate Death

By Becky DeKeuster

By Dr. Carey S. Clark PhD, RN, AHN-BC, RYT

“Is it rational to forbid patients who are dying from taking marijuana as a palliative to permit them to gain body weight and to get some food down? It seems madness to say, ‘We’re worried that they’re going to become addicted to marijuana’ — there’s no evidence whatever that it’s an addictive drug, but even if it were, these people are dying, what are we saving them from?”- Carl Sagan (

As a registered nurse with a background in hospice care, I have a vested interest in supporting peace and ease for patients and families facing the end of life process. I am currently teaching a thanatology (the study of death and dying) course for registered nurses, and these nurses often express their frustration with being unable to adequately address patients’ end of life and palliative care needs in hospital and skilled nursing facility settings. Despite the greater use of hospice care in the USA, sadly, the stats around having a “good death” experience for most Americans have not gotten better over the years. According to recent research where pain was evaluated at end of life, level of pain reported by patients within the dying population increased 11.9 percent from the years 1998 to 2010; incidents of depression and confusion at end of life also were increased by 4.7 percent..1

Medical use of cannabis at end of life has been shown to ease pain and anxiety for many folks facing this journey, while potentially decreasing the need for morphine1. While morphine is a very effective pain medication for most people approaching end of life, it is not without its side effects, including increased tolerance, constipation, anxiety, agitation and nausea.

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