Nancy Southern—baby boomer, creative life coach and cannabis advocate—has recently teamed up with Bellingham’s Center for Mindful Use (CMU) to bring cannabis awareness and education to local seniors. With a master’s degree in psychotherapy and mental health education, and decades of experience as a practitioner of alternative therapies such as Reiki and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), she is no stranger to helping people achieve their mental, emotional and physical potentials. Having recently discovered the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and integrating it into her life, she is on a mission to help others like herself to feel better, live lighter and age gracefully.

Nancy Southern teaches Whatcom County seniors the benefits of mindful cannabis use. Photo courtesy: Nancy Southern.

Nancy’s interest in healing started with her own struggles as a child. She grew up in a household where there was a consistent alcohol use, cigarette smoking and mental and emotional instability. “I saw a lot of suffering—and as a child, I could do very little about it. Then my mom got lupus and suffered even more, as the meds she used caused more problems than they solved,” she says.

As a result, Nancy became deeply interested in spirituality and emotional healing, and pursued a career in mental health. In college, she got a masters in psychotherapy and mental health education and went on to start a career helping people. She soon became discouraged with the confines of her county mental health practice. She wanted to help in a more innovative and direct way, with people who were open to new, proactive ways for changing their lives for the better. I began to look into alternative healing methods and practices for mind, body and spirit. “I got into spiritual coaching, counseling, energy work. I explored everything alternative including meditation and yoga. I loved seeing the results that clients were experiencing,” she says.

Nancy first began to experiment with marijuana in her early 20’s as an alternative to alcohol for socializing with peers. She also saw it as a therapeutic tool and, importantly, as a way to facilitate her spiritual growth. In the 70s there was little reliable information about different types of cannabis, let alone any formal quality control. So while she saw and experienced the benefits of intentional, conscious use, she lacked education and there was no consistency in the product. “Back then, I didn’t have any control over the quality—or the effects,” she says. So she quit cannabis altogether, only smoking occasionally during the mid-90s, until again rediscovering it—and its therapeutic potential—in June of 2017.

Nancy has been facilitating educational events at the Center For Mindful Use, where seniors learn how cannabis can help them age gracefully. Photo credit: Will Kersten.

For several years prior to 2017, her physical health had taken a significant downturn, and she began to suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression and a host of physical symptoms that defied diagnosis. A friend of hers—an acupuncturist who recommends cannabis as therapy for some of her clients in Oregon—saw Nancy suffering and gifted her an online course about the healing powers of cannabis, titled “The Sacred Plant.” It changed Nancy’s life.

“I was so grateful that I lived in a fully legal state and immediately found a source of cannabis oil and tincture as I was not, at that time, interested in smoking again. Within three days of experimenting with doses and frequency, my severe depression lifted significantly. I went from feeling that my depression and debilitating health problems would end my life prematurely, to experiencing a lightness of mind and emotions, improved energy and a sense of hope that I now could truly heal my body.”

She began to share “The Sacred Plant” with friends and fellow baby boomers. She says, “So many of us want to maintain a quality of life as we age. We want to sleep well, reduce aches, discomfort, inflammation and just feel normal again.” Over time, she continued experimenting with new forms of cannabis now available in the legal market and discovered she could achieve different results depending on which type of product or method she used. For example, vaporizing cannabis oil offers relief in minutes and tends to wear off in one to three hours, whereas ingesting it in the form of edibles and tinctures has a slower onset but the effects can last for many hours during the day. Another dose of a different type of strain helps her through the night.

The Center for Mindful Use is a wonderful community resource, hosting classes, workshops, yoga, meditation and monthly Cannabis Alliance meetings. Photo credit: Will Kersten.

Nancy wanted to learn as much as possible and felt inspired to look for a job in the cannabis industry where she could not only learn more about this amazing plant but help other Baby Boomers like her who are looking for alternatives to pharmaceuticals, or anyone who might benefit from the therapeutic, conscious use of cannabis.

In August of 2017, she discovered the Center for Mindful Use, which hosts free events for the community to come together and discuss responsible, conscious cannabis use and its benefits. CMU also offers yoga classes, meditation workshops and other uplifting, free events in line with Nancy’s overall interest in alternative tools and therapies. Located in downtown Bellingham, CMU shares a building with the recreational cannabis shop, Satori. In fact, Satori, in its commitment to education and promoting conscious use, donates the space to CMU. As it happened, by October there was a receptionist position open at the store. With Nancy’s background in alternative healing, her desire to help people and to be an access point for seniors, she was a perfect fit.

Since Nancy started at Satori, more and more seniors have been showing up interested in learning what cannabis can do for them. “There’s this look of recognition with fellow baby boomers,” she says. “People feel more comfortable sharing their story with someone they can relate with. Even younger customers often comment positively when they meet me at the door.”

The Center for Mindful Use space is warm and inviting, perfect for Nancy’s events. Photo credit: Will Kersten.

Not only does she understand where they’re coming from, she has the knowledge and experience to help them make more informed decisions. One of her goals is to really drive home the fact that cannabis can be so much more than a way to get high—that, in fact, you can use it to target specific symptoms and achieve specific results with a little education, guidance and experimentation.

“Knowledge is key to mindful use,” she says, and that’s where CMU comes in. Nancy and CMU Director Mike Hiestand use the space to conduct free educational and inspirational events, such as Conscious Cannabis Use for Seniors, Aging Gracefully, and even Cannabis and Pets. “We can talk about it and dispel some of the mythology and stereotypes in a safe, fun and open environment,” she says.

These events can be talks, educational films or group discussions with Q & A at the end. And the program is evolving. Mike and Nancy are even developing plans to take these events into places like senior centers and community rooms in order to bring the message directly to the people—especially those who may have mobility issues or who can’t make the trip to downtown Bellingham. “We want to be available to groups around the county who want to know more about cannabis and look forward to being asked to bring this information to them,” Nancy says.

Nancy Southern greets guests at Satori in Downton Bellingham. Photo credit: Will Kersten.

And what is that message? That with intentional, responsible, mindful use, cannabis can help enhance people’s lives and help seniors age gracefully. Nancy says, “I like to call it medicine rather than a drug. ‘Drug’ has so many negative connotations. I want to advocate for descheduling and get cannabis back to an herbal plant with healing properties like lavender and rosemary.” She added that cannabis has virtually zero life-threatening side effects, as compared to so many pharmaceuticals. And that what side effects there are (getting “high” from taking too much or getting the “munchies”) are not only harmless, but wear off fairly quickly.

If you’re a senior new to cannabis, on the fence about it or haven’t used it since, say, the 60s or 70s, Nancy recommends going into a qualified store and consulting with a medical marijuana consultant or an experienced budtender (and of course, talking with your doctor or healthcare provider). Much has changed and new research is just beginning to tap into the health benefits offered by this unique plant. “Most conventional medicines and supplements seem to be compatible with low doses of cannabis,” says Nancy, “but it’s always advisable to make sure you’re conscious and mindful about it. The general rule is ‘start low and go slow.’ Consultation and education are very important.”

Nancy herself is in the process of getting certified as a medical marijuana consultant so, between her role at Satori, her events with CMU and her life coaching practice, she’ll be able to offer even more help to seniors—and anyone, really—who is looking to enhance their lifestyle with cannabis. Nancy’s personal favorite types of cannabis are those that calm her mind and ease anxiety. “I lean toward an indica or predominately CBD (a non-psychoactive component of the plant that has shown much promise as a medicine), due to my individual situation,” she says. Everyone is different, with different needs and sensitivities.

If you’re interested in learning more about cannabis or would like to talk with others about it, check out the schedule of events at CMU online or stop into Satori and say hi to Nancy! For more information about Nancy’s creative and spiritual life coaching services, visit her website Road Less Traveled Coaching.


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