“We’re not talking about hitting bongs, and we’re not talking about getting high. We’re talking about [cannabis] as medicine. And I can look you guys in the face and say, ‘I don’t get high. I get medicated.’”
Nikki Lawley, a pediatric nurse turned cannabis advocate from New York, is emphatic about the powers of medical marijuana to heal and transform lives because she experienced those live-changing powers firsthand.
“I found cannabis by accident,” she says. “It was only after being on 50 different medications over 18 months and going to over 50 physicians in different states and countries, really seeking answers. Because my mind was not working the way it always had been.”
While trying to administer a vaccine to a combative child, Nikki suffered a traumatic brain injury that forever altered the course of her life. “All of a sudden, I’m behind the child trying to restrain him, and he ended up head-butting me frontally, and then I bounced into a wall and back into his head,” she says. “It felt like I got tackled by a 700-pound person full force.”
The brain injury was severe and had immediate effects on Nikki’s ability to function and perform everyday tasks. “This didn’t feel like a concussion; this felt like something was wrong,” she says. “I never had a head injury of this degree until this happened to me, and I didn’t know what chronic illness was or what chronic pain was.”
As a medical provider, Nikki had enjoyed excellent relationships with many reputable doctors, but she struggled to find any treatment that could relieve her ongoing and often unbearable symptoms. Because her accident occurred on the job, her private insurance would not cover anything. Instead, she had to go through the New York workers’ compensation system, where the doctors continually told her she should have been feeling better by now.
“You go from being the support staff and nurse to being a patient, and you’re treated differently,” she says. “It was a real eye-opening thing for me, especially in this quest for a diagnosis. Everyone was just blowing me off, and I’m fighting for just basic physical therapy, psychotherapy, and medications.”
After living in chronic pain and with a brain that simply didn’t work like it once did, Nikki began to spiral into despair as depression and anxiety set in. “I was contemplating my death in 2017,” she says. “It was a dark time.”
Trying to cheer her up, Nikki’s husband took her on a trip to Las Vegas, her favorite city — but she couldn’t even bring herself to leave the hotel room. Looking over the edge of the balcony, seven stories up, Nikki thought she should just end it right there. But then a truck drove by with a billboard: “Get your medical marijuana card in Nevada today.”
“It was this aha moment,” she says. “I had never even thought of cannabis as a treatment for my brain injury.”
Nikki visited her first cannabis dispensary that day. As someone who had used marijuana only sparingly in her life until that point, the experience was incredibly overwhelming. But she left with information and products that changed her life forever.
“You’ve always been told: Drugs are bad for your brain. To learn I had an endocannabinoid system? Hello, I’m a nurse — this can’t be right. But then I learned about it, and it made sense why this plant can transform lives. This is medicine,” she says. “It got me off the ledge, literally and figuratively.”
Excited to explore this promising new treatment avenue, Nikki quickly bumped into several roadblocks while trying to understand and access the cannabis strains and methods that would work best for her. For instance, through the medical program in her home state of New York, Nikki didn’t have access to full-plant flower medicine. Living in Buffalo, the easiest route was also a complicated one: She had to get out of the country.
“I learned all about cannabis in Canada because I could sample so many different cultivars,” Nikki says. She tried everything she could: tinctures, edibles, gum — you name it, she scientifically studied it, documenting her body’s reactions and medical progress to the finest detail. She even set up a storage unit in Ontario where she would regularly drive to medicate herself.
“I found smoking the plant works by far the best for me,” she says. “I know it’s controversial, but I can’t find another usage that gives me the same rapid onset, the same next-to-no side effects as far as interactions with other medicines and having potential chemical issues going through the digestive system. None of that happens when you smoke.”
But Nikki experienced continual frustration with the inconsistent policies and legal barriers to cannabis in the United States, even from state to state. “I found they do different ratios in different states,” she says. “And the Canadian market is completely different than the U.S. market. It’s crazy that we have to experience so many different challenges.”
What Nikki wanted was a way to access a Nevada-like system from New York — one that provides certificates of analysis and terpene lists, with labeling everyone can understand that’s not in hieroglyphics.
“I had a great experience with Tikun Olam,” she says. “I had heard about the brand and all the research they do. Every single thing about Tikun resonated with me because it’s so medically focused.”
Nikki felt all the Tikun strains burned well and had wonderful aromas, but the one that helped her the most was a complete surprise. “I was hesitant to try the Midnight strain because it’s a 1 to 1, and I’ve found that higher THC to CBD ratios work better for me. But I’m so glad I bought it!” she says. “By far, it’s been my jam, and it really improved my cognition.”
As a survivor of a traumatic brain injury, Nikki wants to extend her passion to help others battling chronic pain. For those interested to incorporate cannabis into a medical treatment, Nikki advises looking into reputable, established brands — those that are in multiple states and have a following that’s real. There are many great independent sources of information available, but Nikki feels you have to do your homework and go beyond a Google search. The time and energy will pay off.
“When you smoke the right cannabis, and you have the right products, it’s like that lock and key, and everything just flows,” Nikki says. “You have nothing to lose. This plant saved my life. No one should have to fight to get access to it.”