Using Cannabis as a Holistic Medicine with Donna Shields

donna shields holistic cannabis network

Interview with Donna Shields, Cannabis Culinary Nutritionist and Co-Founder of Holistic Cannabis Network.

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Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Are you an accredited investor looking to get access to the best cannabis investing opportunities? Join me at the next ArcView Group event. The ArcView Group is the premier angel investor network focused exclusively on the cannabis industry. There is simply no other place where you can find this quality and diversity of cannabis industry investment opportunities months or even years before the general public. If that’s not enough, you will also be networking with the top investors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the cannabis space. I have personally made many of my best connections and lifelong friendships at ArcView events. If you are an accredited investor and would like to join me as an ArcView member, please email me at feedback at to get started. Now here’s your program.

There is a growing curiosity about using cannabis medicine, particularly as an alternative or supplement to existing traditional medicines prescribed by doctors. However there is a huge chasm between what doctors know about cannabis as medicine and what patients want from their doctor or healthcare professional. To help us sort through this I have invited Donna Shields, Cannabis Culinary Nutritionists and cofounder of Holistic Cannabis Network onto the show today. Welcome to CannaInsider Donna.

Donna: Well thanks so much. It’s a great pleasure to be here.

Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where you are in the world today?

Donna: Well I am based in Boulder, Colorado. I am a registered Dietician/Nutritionist that has found their way actually from corporate food industry to a health education platform for cannabis. My cofounder, Laura Lagano and I have recently founded the Holistic Cannabis Network, as you’ve already mentioned, and we are building a cannabis education platform specifically for health practitioners.

Matthew: Okay. And what’s the interest here? What was the spark that caused this to happen and change from whatever you were doing before to get into this?

Donna: Well you know Matt like most things in life I think people find things because of a personal situation in their own lives. And for me that was a breast cancer diagnosis a few years ago which really put me on this path in being more interested about the therapeutic of cannabis in health conditions and realizing that as a nutritionist I had this great body of knowledge about nutrition and holistic healing modalities and why not combine that expertise with my own personal experience and really bringing it together to try and educate other practitioners about what I was finding to be true in the therapeutic world of cannabis.

Matthew: Okay. So tell us more about Holistic Cannabis Network, what that means and how we should think about it.

Donna: Well as you’ve mentioned in the introduction there is a huge gap here between what is traditionally been done with this healing herb and what modern day practitioners know about it, and basically they know very little. And so as we looked around and thought how can we try and educate consumers, educate practitioners and move this national conversation forward in a very legitimate and positive way. We came to the place we really have to get people trained and educated. So that’s exactly what we’re doing. The Holistic Cannabis Network is an online platform for providing cannabis education training for what I would call Holistic Minded Practitioners.

So when I say that I mean our audience are really practitioners such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, health coaches, nutritionists, Reiki practitioners, yoga instructors, everyone who is working in, already working in one of these holistic healing modalities and would like to integrate cannabis education into their practice not only to educate their patients and their clients, but we see this also as a great business building tool for the practitioner as well.

Matthew: Yeah gosh that’s a good point. I feel like there is such a huge shortcoming with traditional medicine. It’s a challenge but also an opportunity. I’m sure there’s a lot of healthcare practitioners that want to get this information, want to help patients with it, but you know it’s just not there. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems like the more into insurance a practice is, the less they seem open to cannabis. It’s more the healthcare providers that are not taking insurance. They’re more outside the system where there seem like they’re more open to it. That’s my perception. I don’t know if it’s true. What do you think about that?

Donna: Well I think you’re spot on. The reality is that the practitioners who are open to this and who want to integrate into their practice tend to be more of the integrative or functional medicine practitioners. And when I use those words, integrative and functional medicine, what I’m really referring to is practitioners who are approaching healthcare by getting at the root cause of a problem. You know in this country we do a fabulous job of treating acute situations with our means of surgery and medications and we’re good at that. But what we’re not so good at is really approaching all of the chronic health conditions that are plaging our country. Things like cancer and heart disease and fibromyalgia and these things that are just chronic problems for people.

And using that integrative or functional medicine approach really allows us to get at the root cause of what ails you. And that’s really where we see the shift heading in this country. There’s a big paradigm shift in this country moving from the mindset of let’s just relieve the symptoms with a pill to let’s dig a little bit deeper, find out the root cause and then we can really get people on the path to wellness.

Matthew: Great point. There’s an inspirational writer, Louise Hay, who says every time you take a prescription medicine you’re telling your body to shut up. I don’t want to hear what you’re telling me, what you’re trying to tell me about what’s going on and it’s masking it. You know I get the point there. Obviously there is conventional medications that are really important and that don’t fit that criteria, but I think a lot of times now we’re just looking to pills to you know quick fix. It seems like there’s a huge opportunity in just autoimmune situations alone because there’s a tsunami of autoimmune problems sweeping the country. I don’t know if it’s just from GMO foods or what, toxins in our lives, but it seems like everywhere you turn you’re seeing more and more autoimmune issues and that might be a good kind of entry way for cannabis to come into people’s lives. Where do you think the low hanging fruit is where we can incorporate cannabis treatments for different ailments?

Donna: Well you know certainly chronic pain is the number one reason that people cite for using cannabis. And so if we look at just that area along we know that a lot of that chronic pain is the result of autoimmune disease of inflammation. And we know that cannabis has great anti-inflammatory properties. So you know whether it’s arthritis, fibromyalgia, Chrohns, a whole host of conditions we believe that cannabis as an adjunctive therapy, and so I want to be really clear about that. That in no way are we suggesting to practitioners that cannabis is the panacea for everything because it clearly is not, but when used in combination with a lot of these other healing modalities, when you put the whole package together in an integrated approach then that is really a great way to get people to feel better more quickly with less side effects from medications, probably with less cost and it also empowers people to take responsibility for themselves.

I think people, many people certainly are wanting to participate in their healthcare, and so we’re getting away from this idea of healthcare is something that the doctor does to you or for you, but you have to have an active role in it. So as we can get people to understand the therapeutic value of cannabis along with a great diet with exercise, with meditation and other modalities, this is really where we want to bring people.

Matthew: Yes, consumer driven change too. I mean we’re beginning a golden era here with exponential technologies allowing and empowering patients to do more of what they want or at least exploring more of what they want. I just had my gut bacteria biome sequenced for under $100. I mean it’s really just a remarkable thing to think that that could happen.

Donna: That’s great and that’s exactly the kind of testing that, you’re right, is now more readily available where people can dig a little bit deeper to see what the underlying problem is. And so as registered dietician/nutritionist we see a great interplay with cannabis therapy and obviously diet because when you really stop and think about it this is a medicinal herb not unlike many other botanical herbs that we encourage people to incorporate into their diet. You know using tumeric for inflammation, using Ashwagandha for anxiety relief. So this is not a farfetched ideal and we are, what we’re communicating to people and to the practitioners that we’re training, you know, this has been around for a really long time and we need to think about this medicinal herb just like we would all of these other herbals that have a therapeutic effect.

Matthew: I want to circle back around to that term integrative medicine which is becoming more widely known and understood, but there’s still a lot of people out there that say I’ve heard that, I don’t know what it means. I mean you might see someone on TV like Dr. Andrew Wilde, the guy with the huge salt and pepper beard talking about it. But we just don’t know what that means. And you said hey that’s getting at the root cause, but how is that different than traditional. Can you just compare and contrast, integrative with traditional a little bit more?

Donna: In a traditional appointment with a physician you go in for your 7 minute or 15 minute appointment, whatever is allotted by insurance, and you tell the doctor your symptoms and the prescription or the therapy is based on relieving those symptoms. So you go in with an earache, a sore throat, whatever, you get an antibiotic. Well in an integrative approach the appointment typically would need to be a little bit longer because this requires a conversation between practitioner and patient to find out a little bit more about what’s going on in the patient’s life. What’s their diet like? What kinds of products are they using? And you know after a little more conversation and maybe thinking about doing that micro biome test that you just had, you find out that there is a dysbiosis that the bacteria in the gut is not quite what it should be. So gee your immunity is compromised and that’s why you keep getting all of these recurring sore throats and ear infections. So that means let’s stop this repetitive cycle of giving antibiotics because while they are relieving the symptoms of the ear infection and the sore throat it’s playing havoc with the bacteria in your gut thus compromising your immunity even more.

So what’s happening is sometimes the treatment that we give people in a conventional setting is really compromising and compounding what the root problem is. So it really requires stepping back, digging a little bit deeper and the therapy needs to address the root cause and in that example I just gave you would be repairing and enhancing the bacteria landscape in the gut that’s going to build your immunity, you’ll get less ear infections, less sore throats, end of story.

Matthew: What is holding back healthcare professionals from integrating cannabis more? I mean my sense is that there’s a lot of fear out there. It’s like hey if I talk about this with a patient, the DEA is going to bust through the window and I’m going to lose my license. Also there’s not really a clear way for prescribing cannabis so much. I mean doctors are used to saying take 10 mg of this and do you think it’s going to take moving more to cannabis oils and capsule form where they can know exactly okay this is what I’m prescribing. It’s very objective. There’s very little in the way of differences from one cannabis oil pill to another. What’s it going to take to surmount those challenges?

Donna: Well I think the first and foremost thing is that physicians as well as others need to get some basic training and education because they really are operating in the dark right now. To understand the mechanisms of the endocannabinoid system and all of the other things that go on with understanding how this plant impacts the different systems in the body. The thing that you’re suggesting about dosage and what’s going to be the best way to address this with a patient, this is a very individualized situation because one size does not fit all for every patient. So you really can’t just send somebody out of the office after one visit and say here, this is it, this is the dosage that may work for you.

You know people respond differently just like they do to other medications. And so I think first and foremost we have to get practitioners trained and get comfortable with this whole topic. And there is a certain amount of fear that exists that they think oh will my patient think I’m a little, you know, am I crack pot if I bring this up? You know am I compromising my professional ethics by even suggesting this? And certainly in some states it’s more readily accepted than in other places. And so I think this is going to be really a slowly evolving process, and the more that practitioners hear about this at conferences, I mean, I’m delighted to say that at our annual… those of us who are registered dieticians at our big annual meeting this year there’s a program on cannabis and cancer care. Now that’s a very mainstream conference and yet it has made its way onto the program and I’m delighted to see that.

So you know Laura and I are trying to do exactly that to get ourselves onto speaking panels for different medical professional conferences so we can start getting the word out and getting the word out in a way that is accessible, understandable and very practical. Because at the end of the day you know the practitioner wants to know okay how do I implement this in my practice tomorrow.

Matthew: Great point. Now with your nutritionist’s hat on, just looking at cannabis as a food, I know I’ve had guests on in the past that say hey you know I take the fan leaves of cannabis and I make a salad out of it or I juice and so forth. Do you hear anything like that going on?

Donna: Well I think everyone is going to be comfortable with a different form, Matt, and again that’s one of the areas that I think most people think oh the only option is to smoke this. Well we know there’s many other delivery systems; tinctures, topicals, edibles, what have you. So that’s one of the other areas that we’re trying to get people to understand that depending on your personal preference and what you’re more comfortable with, and again I really want to drive home this idea that you have to meet people where they are. Whenever you’re asking people to make a behavior change, whether it’s exercise more or change their diet or start incorporating cannabis, you have to meet them where they are.

So for some people you know the idea of vaporizing or smoking it may just seem a little bit too out there. So for them maybe a tincture or maybe incorporating it into a meal that they’re preparing is the way to get them to take a baby step moving forward. So I think we have to offer all of these options to people and just get them in their comfort zone with it.

Matthew: Now you have some infused edible prototypes in development right now. Can you tell us about those?

Donna: Sure. Laura and I have a brand that we are looking to bring to market called CannaBatana, and the premise of this product line is using botanical based ingredients as the foundation for these food products because if you look at what’s readily available for the most part in the edible category most of it is candies, baked goods, sodas, foods that are highly sugared. And while you know that’s fine it’s not fine if you’re trying to use cannabis in a real therapeutic way.

If you walk into a dispensary and you’re looking for an edible to take therapeutically and you’ve got an inflammatory problem, why wouldn’t we want to have a product available for somebody that also has some other ingredients that have some nutritional ethicacy. Maybe some green tea in there, maybe some tumeric, some rosemary. Some other herbal and other ingredients that are delivering on a nutritional benefit. So that is our concept with the product line that we are looking to create. And I would clearly say that if any of your listeners have an interest in collaborating in developing this kind of a product we are absolutely interested in speaking with people who have production capabilities and are in a like-minded philosophy of bringing some nutritionally based products to the marketplace. I’m looking to talk to collaborators on this topic.

Matthew: And let’s talk a little bit about the Cannabis Kitchen, a book you contributed to. You know back to talking about meeting people where they are, are there any popular recipes or dishes in that book which would kind of help people just get their toe in the water and experiment with cannabis cooking that you would recommend?

Donna: Well you know the approach of this cookbook which different from some others that I’ve seen out there is that these recipes needed to be doable and practical. It’s not fancy company recipes, although some of them are certainly appropriate for entertaining, but the idea was to you know create everyday recipes that people really could make. So one of the things that I really like about the approach in the book is that every recipe has three different tiers of the foundational oil or butter that one would make the recipe with. So there’s a beginner oil for somebody who’s just getting their toe wet with this. So the milligram dosage is fairly low. And then there’s a moderate and a more ramped up version.

So I think this is a great way to get people comfortable with hey let me try this recipe with the beginner oil. A more experienced person could ramp it up. So I think these are the kinds of tools and tips that we need to give people to get them to try this. There’s a lot of base recipes for drinks. You know, you’re busy. How to make a really good smoothie. Things that people already understand how to make a trail mix, something like a stuffed mushroom. Okay we all know what a stuffed mushroom recipe is like. Here’s a way to do it with a cannabis infusion. So I think Robin Lawrence who is the author of the book had about ten of us from around the country who are experienced chefs and recipe developers all contribute to this book, and I think what you get is a really nice assortment of recipes that speak to everyday cooking. So I think people are really going to enjoy this book. The photographs are beautiful, very appealing, and the book just came out a couple of weeks ago. So it’s out there for people to try.

Matthew: Many listeners out there have a deep interest in integrating cannabis into their work lives. You have a seminar coming out in early 2016 in this area. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how people can learn more about it?

Donna: Sure. We are hosting the first ever Virtual Holistic Cannabis Summit. This has never been done before. We are hosting this February 16th through the 19th of 2016, and online summits for those who are familiar with it know that it’s a great way from the comfort of your home or your office to tune in over the course of several days and listen to presentations by renowned speakers. So we are doing exactly that. We are bringing together over the course of four days presenters from the integrative medicine world as well as clinicians and researchers, growers, edible producers from the cannabis world.

So we’re taking these two disciplines and we’re integrating them together for an online summit that is going to have 20 to 30 speakers. So people register for free. This is all completely free content. Our website is what’s up right now, but very shortly and in fact right now we have a save the date on And beginning in January people will be able to start registering. You register, it’s free and then you tune in. If you’re not able to sit through four days worth of our presentations, you have the ability to get all the presentations with the PowerPoints. So there’s that option as well. So I really encourage people whether you’re a consumer, you’re a health practitioner, you’re in the cannabis industry, this is a great way to get access to a broad spectrum of speakers right from the comfort of your home without any travel.

Matthew: Okay and could you give out the URL one more time?

Donna: Sure that is So that’s where the information will reside for the summit and we will have all of the speakers up there with the presentations they will be giving. So you will have a very good idea of what you can expect when you tune in.

Matthew: Okay and is there any other ways that you would like listeners to follow you online or get a hold of you?

Donna: Sure, you know, our website is and that is where we are actually having our training modules reside. Very shortly there will be very detailed information about our webinar modules which when a practitioners completes that we will be offering a certification as Holistic Medical Cannabis Coach. And this is going to be a great business building tool for the practitioner. It’s a way for them to get a competitive edge in the marketplace, establish a point of difference for themselves within their community and really be able to enhance their practice, bring more clients in and obviously generate more revenue for themselves in their practice.

Matthew: Well Donna thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate your time.

Donna: Oh well this was delightful. Thanks for having me.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.

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Key Takeaways:
[2:28] – Donna talks about how she got into the cannabis space
[3:26] – What is the Holistic Cannabis network
[5:36] – People outside the insurance system seem more open to cannabis
[8:16] – Cannabis for ailments
[12:14] – Donna compares and contrasts integrative and traditional medicine
[15:16] – What is holding back healthcare from recommending cannabis?
[18:13] – Incorporating cannabis into your diet
[19:42] – Donna talks about their edible prototypes
[24:32] – Donna talks about a seminar she is conducting in early 2016
[27:10] – Contact details for Holistic Cannabis Network

Important Update:
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five year? Find out with your free guide at: