Q & A: Sarah Lovegrove
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your professional experience?
A: The past decade has allowed me the privilege of an invaluable amount of education and the opportunity to be present in several different professional roles. Prior to entering into the field of nursing in 2014, I most closely identified with the roles of both learner and advocate. Much of my time was spent in the world of academia earning a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Psychology, a Graduate Certificate in Victimology, a Master of Arts in Women’s Studies with a concentration in sexual violence and human trafficking, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Throughout that time, I also worked in early childhood care (nanny and camp counsellor, extraordinaire!) as well as in the university setting as a research and teaching assistant. My energy, however, has always naturally gravitated toward advocacy and activism work, and I spent much of my time living in Ottawa volunteering with non-profit and non-governmental organizations dedicated to human rights and anti-human trafficking work.
My most recent (and until now, all-time favourite) role has been that of a Critical Care Emergency Registered Nurse and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, but I retired my stethoscope and nursing cap in October 2018 after being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of a variety of traumas experienced in this role. Since leaving the bedside permanently I have been given the serendipitous opportunity to utilize my knowledge, education and lived-experience as a consultant delivering education on trauma and violence informed practice to Emergency Department staff across Vancouver Island.
On a more personal note, I moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island in August 2017, and I still spend most of my spare time exploring this amazing island with my dog, Luna - hiking, road tripping, or stand-up paddle boarding. The recognition of my own trauma and the resulting shift in my professional path prompted a cascade of other changes in my life - personally, professionally, and everything in between; and coupled with the recent losses of both my grandfather and father to dementia, I made changes in how I prioritize my time, dedicating much of my energy toward spiritual growth, self-care, and care for my community. My relationship with nature and plant medicines has been a transformative component of my own healing journey and trauma recovery; and I am grateful for the opportunity to now have the ability to speak openly and advocate for the ways in which I have healed in my new professional roles, both in and out of the cannabis industry.
Q: When did you decide to dive into the cannabis industry?
A: I didn’t even start consuming cannabis regularly or with any intention other than occasional recreation until I was 29 years old, turning to cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceuticals for sleep and anxiety support. It wasn’t long until I noticed how much of a positive impact cannabis was having on many aspects of both my physical and mental health, significantly improving my overall quality of life. As someone who needs to understand the “why” behind just about everything, I was intrigued and took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about how this plant was interacting with my body. As a new consumer, I was disappointed and surprised by the lack of reliable resources for evidence-based cannabis education available to the public. With legalization on the horizon, and simply out of curiosity and the desire to share my ongoing learning about cannabis, I created an Instagram account (at the time, called @nurselovegrove). My mission was to provide thought-provoking, evidence-based cannabis education with hopes of inspiring knowledge development and critical thought about the status quo surrounding cannabis education. Through this platform, I was given the opportunity to speak at a cannabis education series in Victoria, BC, which is how I met Vanessa La Belle, my now business-partner and co-founder of the Sangha Collective, allowing us to join forces in common goals and visions for this industry.
While I continued to navigate the emerging cannabis industry, I also volunteered with New Leaf Outreach, a local harm reduction and drug user advocacy organization in Nanaimo. New Leaf Outreach was initially founded from cannabis, with the intention of fully funding the organization and its efforts through the corporate social responsibility strategy of a brand in the emerging legal cannabis industry. I worked with this group as an ally to help build the foundations of the organization. We also explored the development of a cannabis for harm reduction program, supporting individuals choosing to reduce or stop using opioids and other substances using cannabis, CBD oil and other products provided to us generous private donors. I continue to be inspired by the people I have met through this organization, the important work we started, and I maintain hope for the potential of this industry to be a pillar of positive change in our communities.
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be able to continue the work I started with New Leaf Outreach as a consultant on a team of five incredible people, co-creating and facilitating a uniquely compassionate trauma-informed practice curriculum for Emergency Department staff across our local health authority in response to the ongoing drug poisoning and overdose crisis. Our work is aiming to reduce the trauma experienced by the people who access Emergency health services, as well as creating a space for healing from trauma experienced by nurses and other staff in doing this work. Furthering one of the founding goals of New Leaf Outreach and in collaboration with our community allies, our team is also in the initial phases of the development of a program bringing peer support and drug user advocacy into our local Emergency Departments.
Although much of this work is outside of the cannabis industry, my advocacy for cannabis and plant medicine remains central to my motivation to pursue these initiatives, as it is cannabis that has given me the capacity to heal from my own trauma. Plant medicine advocacy and education, particularly the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and psychedelics, is a necessary and integral part of the conversation surrounding trauma recovery and trauma-informed practice. Cannabis activism is also inherently connected to the advocacy for issues such as harm reduction, the safe supply and decriminalization of drugs, and wide-spread policy change disrupting the systems influencing healthcare, mental health, housing, and beyond.
Q: How has your previous job as an ER nurse contributed to your cannabis usage and support?
A: My background as an ER nurse gave me a breadth of knowledge and abundance of clinical experience to draw from when I made the decision to choose cannabis (and other plants) as my medicine. I have spent most of my life existing with the symptomatic manifestations of complex post-traumatic stress disorder - anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep and nightmares, pain, suicidal tendencies, and the list goes on. I managed individual symptoms and coped with inconclusive diagnoses as they arose with pharmaceuticals; but it wasn’t until I experienced acute, physical trauma as a nurse that I was able to rationalize and recognize the sum of these symptoms to be the result of traumatic experiences over my lifetime. My education and clinical experience as a nurse has given me the ability to apply my medical and nursing knowledge, including advanced pathophysiological and pharmaceutical education, in the decision-making process to choose cannabis and psychedelics for my own treatment. I came to the conclusion that plant medicines were my best option for holistic healing; and were an inherently safer and more effective option for healing trauma, particularly when compared to the multitude of pharmaceuticals I would have needed to consume in order to survive the most acute periods of my recovery. My academic background has allowed me the privilege of alumni access to many medical and academic journals, as well as the capacity to understand the findings with critical perspective; so with curiosity, I spent a great deal of time digging into the existing and ongoing research surrounding cannabis and the emerging psychedelic revolution. In addition to vastly expanding my definition of “trauma”, my research and intentional use of plant medicine (including cannabis, psilocybin, ayahuasca and other entheogens) throughout the last year has broadened my scope of what it means to “heal”: moving beyond the confines of western medicine, in full recognition of the holistic, multi-dimensional nature of human beings and the inherent value of treating every part of us, beyond the physical, that holds onto wounds.
My own healing experience with cannabis has encouraged my ever-expanding support and advocacy for the integration of cannabis and psychedelics into our current healthcare model, particularly as a tool for harm reduction. Incorporating cannabis into my own self-care regimen prevented me from having to turn to pharmaceutical medications for sleep support (which I used to use regularly as a shift-worker); benzodiazepines and SSRI’s for anxiety, panic attacks, and depression; as well as anti-inflammatories and opioids for work-related injuries. As this was prior to legalization, I remained a closeted cannabis user, secretly experiencing this form of healing with cannabis while playing a direct role in the ongoing cycle of “symptom management” with the band-aid pharmaceutical treatments. I want to premise this with the full recognition of my support for and the value of medical intervention and pharmaceutical medication for the treatment of a great many circumstances - and give particular credit to the incredible life-saving interventions I’ve been witness to throughout my career. However, as an ER nurse, I also saw many people suffer, coming in & out of our doors with undiagnosed and untreated chronic or long-term pain, migraines, inflammation, autoimmune symptoms, addiction and symptoms related to mental health issues and underlying trauma. I see the opportunity for cannabis as an option for a natural alternative to so many of the pharmaceuticals being prescribed in these cases. The one area I see the greatest potential for cannabis in the management of pain - particularly as a replacement for opioid use or as first-line treatment prior to the administration or prescription of opioids for certain presentations of pain.
Q: From a professional standpoint, what are some of the positive changes you have seen in patients using cannabis? What type of patients seem to benefit most from cannabis usage?
A: In my research and experience, the greatest potential for positive change is in the decreased use and dependence on prescription medications and other substances. There is an increasing amount of research and anecdotal data providing case evidence wherein people (of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences) have intentionally substituted cannabis for other pharmaceutical medications such as opioids and other pain medications, steroids and anti-inflammatories, benzodiazepines and other anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. The potential and promise here is ultimately a decrease in risk related to pharmaceutical use, including overdose and addiction, particularly related to a decrease in polypharmacy (the use of multiple prescription medications) by potentially substituting multiple medications for a single, natural alternative.
Cannabis is a plant that requires active engagement between plant, person, and symptom; and often requires a certain consciousness or intention in its use for the greatest therapeutic effect. Therefore, cannabis consumers have the opportunity to develop greater literacy or understanding around their own health in the process of learning and engaging with cannabis. There is a significant gap in health literacy in our culture, particularly in relation to understanding the medications we take in relation to our own wellness; and through cannabis and other plant medicines, there is a space for education and ample opportunity for engagement. Thinking beyond the western medical model, I also see the opportunity for healing ourselves through cannabis - individually and as a collective - by recognizing the difference between “treatment” and “healing”. It is important to consider more than physical symptoms and clinical definitions, inciting a certain curiosity for the spiritual as we explore the use of cannabis for healing our bodies, minds and souls.
Q: Tell us about Sangha and your role there.
A: The Sangha Collective has been an ever-evolving initiative over the last year as my business partner and co-founder Vanessa La Belle and I have been adapting to and navigating the moving landscape of our cannabis industry. The Sangha Collective has been growing since January of last year, initially aligning with the goal of bringing together individuals with a passion for the cannabis plant and creating a culture of community.
This opportunity has created space for us to exercise a few different muscles and try on a few different hats, allowing us explore how our own unique strengths and skills are best-suited to support the progression and advocacy of plant medicine. Ultimately, the formation of this collective has allowed us to find a space where our empathy, passions for humanity, and energy for advocacy work have seamlessly overlapped. The definition of our own individual roles within this initiative are constantly evolving as well, but my role has naturally gravitated toward one of advocacy, engagement; as well communicating our voice and vision via social media.
Through the magic of Instagram and our local Island networking events, we have become connected with a whole community of beautifully compassionate and like-minded souls dedicated to the spirit of this plant, engaging in the cannabis industry in so many unique ways. As we move into a new year, Vanessa and I are focusing our energy on continuing to support this community through a variety of events, networking, and education opportunities. Through knowledge sharing, networking and connection, and the compassionate support for those who are building the foundations of our future, we seek to empower people within this collective on their pursuit to heal themselves and the world around them through the power of cannabis and other plant medicines.
Q: In your opinion what can we do to promote cannabis research within our community?
A: In order to promote cannabis research within our community we must first shift our focus away from fiscal sales and recreational consumption and make a commitment, as a community, to prioritizing the promotion of widespread comprehensive, evidence-based cannabis education to consumers. As cannabis becomes normalized, and the public and medical professionals become more educated on the existing knowledge about cannabis and its therapeutic effects, the demand for more education, more expansive research, and the inspiration for new and exciting methodologies will emerge.
As a culture, we also need to expand our scope of what we deem to be “acceptable” or “valid” research methodologies, becoming much more inclusive of alternative ways of learning, knowing and collecting information. The intricacies and complexities of cannabis and how it interacts with unique human bodies make cannabis research a complicated match with the traditional western scientific method, a way of “knowing” that demands an ability to consistently reproduce or replicate results across broad samples of people. If we do not provide adequate space for consideration of other forms of collected data such as anecdotal research, indigenous knowledge translation, individual case studies, and community-based research models, we are omitting a huge quantity of potentially life-saving data and inherently narrowing the of value of lived experience.
Finally, we must also demand a shift in our culture in which we allow for free and unlimited access to research on a global scale. The majority of information about cannabis based in scientific research is locked within the walls of academia, accessible only by alumni passwords or expensive journal memberships. Valuable research projects about cannabis continue to be executed around the world, but data and results are under-accessed and under-utilized due to inefficient knowledge translation and education for the public. This inaccessibility of information makes self-education via reliable sources virtually unattainable and has created a culture in which the public has become wholly reliable upon external sources for health information.
About Sarah Lovegrove
Sarah Lovegrove is a multi-passionate cannabis educator, community advocate and former registered nurse based in Nanaimo, British Columbia. She is dedicated to shifting healthcare culture and community narratives through compassion, trauma-informed practice and advocacy for cannabis and other plant medicines. As a life-long learner, Sarah has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art History & Psychology, a Graduate Certificate in Victimology & Victim Studies, a Master of Arts in Women’s Studies, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Co-founder of the Sangha Collective, she is passionate about empowering others within the cannabis and planet medicine space, enthusiastic about evidence-based cannabis education, and wholeheartedly believes in the capacity for cannabis to improve the world around us. Sarah is an avid yogi and restless explorer, and when she’s not working on various community initiatives, you can find her hiking in the mountains and exploring Vancouver Island with her dog Luna.