Updated: Oct 27
In September 2021, Higher Learning LV conducted an exclusive interview with Nikki Lawley, a prominent patient advocate from New York. In October 2016, Lawley's life was turned upside down and her career sidelined by a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, resulting from a work accident.
Brain injury medical cannabis patient advocate Nikki Lawley
As a result of the accident and resulting TBI, Lawley's memory and cognitive function were impacted significantly. She could no longer maintain her job or even regular social relationships. The accident resulted in a diagnosis of cervical instability and TBI and caused extreme and chronic pain that resulted in severe depression and other negative symptoms, including suicidal ideations.
Lawley describes cannabis medicine as something that helped her "save her life and restore her hope."
Lawley has gained relief from her use of medical marijuana. She tells others that this controversial herb has returned to her a semblance of a normal life and happiness. These are things she says were lacking from her life after her accident—but before discovering cannabis. Lawley said that this period featured "constant pain, withdrawal, depression, and hopelessness."
She describes cannabis medicine as something that helped her "save her life and restore her hope." In September 2021, Higher Learning LV's Curt Robbins conducted an exclusive interview with Lawley, delving into her activism and effort to educate patients, lifestyle consumers, and businesses.
To learn more about the scientific research behind cannabis for TBI, see the exclusive Higher Learning LV article THC for Traumatic Brain Injury.
Other popular articles in the Higher Learning LV Interview series include:
Higher Learning LV: "Nikki, thank you for taking the time to share your brave story of patient advocacy and education with our readers."
Nikki Lawley: "Thank you so much for including me in your series! I value all you're doing at Higher Learning LV."
HLLV: "As a TBI patient, what are your preferred forms of cannabis consumption?"
NL: "Personally, I must smoke my cannabis. I have sampled more than 450 legal industry products and formulations; the only consumption avenue that works for me is combustion of loose-leaf cannabis flower.
"Personally, I must smoke my cannabis. I have sampled more than 450 legal industry products and formulations; the only consumption avenue that works for me is combustion of loose-leaf cannabis flower."
"I have tried many different methods of consumption, including oils, tinctures, suppositories, edibles, pills, capsules, and infused beverages. I have discovered that anything that requires first pass digestion is not effective for me. This is because I do not absorb fat soluble products well due to having no gallbladder and weight loss surgery many years ago.
"I wish there were alternative means that was effective. I do not enjoy smoking. However, the effects are nearly immediate, which helps my symptoms so much. I do not enjoy having to conceal or hide my cannabis consumption. I notice a benefit whenever I medicate with the proper medicine with the right major and minor cannabinoids and terpenes.
"However, living in New York state, this has been a huge problem. Even in our medical program, we do not have access to COAs [Certificates of Analysis] that detail the ingredients and their relative potency in the loose-leaf flower from our medical program. For me, personally, a COA is a critical component for my medicating."
HLLV: "You're a proponent of science-based education and active on Facebook, including in our popular group Understanding Cannabis. What advantages does social media give you, as an individual and self-funded advocate, for effectively educating both yourself and others?"
NL: "Since TBI, I struggle with learning and retention of information. I have found social media—and Facebook specifically—to be instrumental in helping me retain information. I learn so much from Facebook groups on topics such as cannabis, TBI, mental health, and female empowerment.
"Since becoming a patient, my opinion has changed one hundred percent. I have seen the life saving effects this plant has given so many, including myself. The more I learn, the more outspoken I become."
"There are so many great groups with information with current information. I discovered that so many people, just like myself, are simply seeking credible and science-based information about medical cannabis and how to use it to get better.
"Unfortunately, I have also learned the problems, including censorship, with social media. The federal Schedule 1 status of cannabis is such a problem in so many areas. But social media censorship is ridiculous...and very challenging. But back to learning...I learn best with short excerpts of information. Higher Learning LV really helps me in this aspect."
HLLV: "Before your accident, when you were a pediatric nurse, what was your opinion of cannabis as medicine? How does your perspective then compare to your current opinion of medical cannabis?"
NL: "Prior to my injury, I consumed cannabis recreationally. I used it to relax and viewed a joint like a glass of wine. I definitely did not consider it a medicine when I was working as a nurse. If you had told me that you were giving your child cannabis for a medical reason, I would not have been objective or understanding.
"Since becoming a patient, my opinion has changed one hundred percent. I have seen the life saving effects this plant has given so many, including myself. The more I learn, the more outspoken I become. I was never taught about an endocannabinoid system or how we have receptors in our body for cannabinoids from hemp and cannabis! As a nurse, I was never taught that chronic autoimmune issues may be the result of an endocannabinoid deficiency. As medical professionals, we were never educated in any of this."
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HLLV: "You discovered medical cannabis in January 2017 on a vacation to Las Vegas, about four months following your TBI accident. In early 2021, you told the TSC Talks! podcast 'that trip saved my life. When I was contemplating my death, I saw a billboard on Las Vegas Boulevard. My husband said, 'let’s go!.' Can you explain that experience and how it changed your life?"
NL: "I was in the darkest place of my life! January 24, 2017 is the day I got my medical cannabis card and had my first dispensary visit. I physically was in so much pain and agony. My mind was just not able to function properly.
"I had so many symptoms that were just made worse by the pharmaceutical drug cocktails I was on. I could not shake the awfulness and despair. The nonstop pounding headache I have been living with since my injury was relentless. Nothing helped. Not the drugs or the procedures or the therapies...nothing helped. This really made me question the value of my life. That day in Las Vegas, I was planning on taking my life…. I was at the end of the line.
"The medicines I was on were overtaking my sensibility and decision making. I was not in the right frame of mind. While staying at the Cosmopolitan, I for the second time saw a particular billboard advertising medical marijuana cards. I mentioned it to my husband, who suggested giving it a try. I got my medical card and went to a dispensary, which was overwhelming, to say the least.
"I had an educated budtender who showed me the different products. I left with quite the assortment that day. I learned very quickly, after returning home to New York state, that I was right back where I started. I could not get cannabis legally because chronic pain was not on New York's list of qualifying conditions.
"I had an educated budtender who showed me the different products. I left with quite the assortment that day. I learned very quickly, after returning home to New York state, that I was right back where I started. I could not get cannabis legally because chronic pain was not on New York's list of qualifying conditions."
"I live close to the Canadian border. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, I was a medical cannabis refugee. I would get purchase products in the Canadian medical or adult-use markets and consume them while in Canada. My quality of life improved significantly. I learned so much about what worked for me—and why. My life has forever changed."
HLLV: "What are some of the greatest benefits you gain from your use of cannabis as medicine to fight the pain and other symptoms produced by your TBI?"
NL: "My average daily head and neck pain level is about seven out of 10. With the right cannabis, I can get my pain level down to a level three or four, which is a really big deal. Cannabis helps my mood, including managing the anxiety and depression that have become part of my life.
"Because of cannabis, I no longer feel hopeless. My cognitive function and my ability to do everyday life skills has improved dramatically. I am much less overwhelmed. However, cannabis alone is not enough. I had to learn different ways of coping and how to manage my cognitive challenges. I have had to listen to my body more and recognize when I am overdoing things. But overall, with cannabis, my quality of life has improved dramatically."
HLLV: "Many patients attest to the various levels of benefit they gain from medical marijuana, including physical, emotional, and psychological improvements. What has been your experience in terms of the core benefits gained from daily use of cannabis as medicine for your TBI?"
NL: "My experience is yes to all the above. Cannabis has given me back a quality of life that I lost as a result of my brain injury. It has also given me a purpose to help others find hope in cannabis as medicine. I believe my injury happened for a reason. Perhaps I went through it so others can gain hope."
HLLV: "Nikki, thank you for talking with us and helping educate our students and readers about your experience in using cannabis to treat TBI."
NL: "Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me as one of your patient experience stories. If it gives just one person hope and the comfort to try cannabis, then we have both done a good job!"
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