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Nurse touts medicinal benefits of cannabis

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Megan Mbengue wants to talk to Claremonters about a pungent elephant in the room: cannabis.

“Who better to educate the public on that than an RN — the most trusted profession in the country for the last 20 years now?” Mbengue asked.

Regulars of Claremont City Council meetings may remember Mbengue advocating for cannabis back on July 26. Days after, she appeared on popular local podcast, Claremont Speaks.

Last month Mbengue, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Allison Fung, local realtor Stacey Caponigro, and retired CEO and COURIER columnist John Neiuber, authored a rebuttal to the argument against Measure CT, which seeks to establish a tax framework on future possible cannabis-based businesses in Claremont. More information is available at ci.claremont.ca.us.

Mbengue’s journey from registered nurse to RN and “canna nurse” began with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Arizona State University in 2012. From there she landed a job at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s oncology and intensive care unit in Baltimore. After five years she made the cross-coast switch to California and became a traveling labor and delivery nurse. Three years later she moved to Claremont and took a job as a home hospice case manager.

Early this year she came across a female patient on “four or five different seizure medications” who was not getting relief. Mbengue theorized cannabis might be an effective alternative medical solution to treat what she suspected to be epilepsy, as past studies have shown it to be.

“At that point I knew that we had to try cannabis, I just knew that in the abstract it would work,” she said. “I had no idea where to start. Where do you get products? How do you dose? What kind of product do you use?”

Mbengue tried to find a nearby medical professional with which to consult. Unable to find one, she decided to become what the doctor ordered.

She spent months researching the medicinal benefits of cannabis, cannabidiols, and their associated products. She found humans have what’s called an “endocannabinoid system” — part of our central nervous system — that includes cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body that interact with cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecules.

In her research she found cannabis was and likely always has been legitimate medicine, especially for people with chronic illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and fibromyalgia, since those directly correlate with a dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system, she said.

As an RN for 10 years, she had witnessed her industry’s reliance on mainstream pharmaceuticals. After learning the benefits of cannabis, Mbengue found herself at a crossroads.

“We have a problem, we throw a pill at it,” she said. “That pill has a side effect, so we throw another pill at it.”

This spring she began taking classes at Pacific College of Health and Science, an online college where she hopes to be one of the school’s first graduates to earn a master’s degree in medical cannabis therapeutics. She’s on track to graduate in 2024.

Mbengue became a cannabis advocate partially due to the plant’s ability to treat multiple ailments. “You have cannabis that acts in dozens of different ways around the body to help manage symptoms” like pain and inflammation, she said.

With a goal of educating the community about cannabis, three months ago Mbengue founded Trusted Canna Nurse. The business has Mbengue talking with patients, medical professionals, “budtenders” (cannabis dispensary employees who make recommendations to customers), and the public about how to use cannabis medicinally. She provides phone and online consultations, and even takes clients to dispensaries to teach them how to talk to budtenders so that they might find effective products to alleviate their symptoms.

The daily life of a canna nurse consists of heavy communication and very little sleep. After visiting hospice patients, Mbengue comes home to finish paperwork, the occasional college essay, consult with clients, and create TikTok content. She’s also a mother to two children, which alone would be a full-time gig.

She said the week of September 5 would be her last as a hospice nurse. She gave notice because she felt compelled to pursue Trusted Canna Nurse full time.

“I decided that it’s time to jump all the way in and dedicate everything to the business,” she said.

Her entire operation, which currently consists of a website and her reputation, is self-funded. It’s difficult to obtain business loans for a cannabis-based business, she said.

“Banking in the industry is a huge challenge,” she said since cannabis is a Schedule I substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. “A lot of banks don’t want to work with cannabis industry people.”

Marketing has also been a challenge. “There’s so much red tape around this industry,” she said.  Her primary avenue for marketing for the last few months has been TikTok. Her account, @trustedcannanurse, has amassed more than 58,400 followers and her posts more than 290,000 likes.

Despite growing engagement numbers, she said TikTok has red-tape layers of its own. The Chinese-owned video sharing company has previously suspended her account for talking about cannabis.

“They say it’s for drugs. They think that I’m promoting it, but I’m just educating [people] about it,” she said.

An August 28 post about how much Big Pharma has to lose should cannabis be legalized gained more than 140,000 views. It also got Mbengue temporarily suspended from the platform, a sentence she’s no longer serving as of this week.

Mbengue recognizes cannabis can create adverse effects when consumed in high doses. This is why she’s passionate about teaching the public how to use it as medicine, not recreationally.

“I know the thought of dispensaries coming to Claremont can be really scary for people because the only thing they know is prohibition and the war on drugs,” Mbengue said. “But cannabis itself and THC is just a plant; it’s plant medicine.”

Adults 18 and over can learn more about cannabis and CBD at an in-person and virtual workshop hosted by Mbengue and her business partner (and mother) Kathy Simmons at 10 a.m. Saturday, September 17 at the Laemmle Claremont 5 theater, 450 W. Second St.

The canna nurses will answer questions, discuss THC and CBD, the history of cannabis prohibition, and how potential users should shop for such products. No cannabis will be consumed at the workshop. General admission begins at $30 for those who attend in-person. Admission for virtual attendees is $20. To register or to learn more about Trusted Canna Nurse, visit trustedcannanurse.com or call (909) 575-8007.

Photo/courtesy Scott Nichols

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