This article was first seen in print as part of our Cannabis Community Column.
About this column: The purpose of this column is to share stories from patients, advocates, and professionals in the cannabis space. We hope to bolster the discussion about cannabis and help break the stigma associated with cannabis use in our community by highlighting people with incredible stories.
Meet Nikki Lawley
Nikki Lawley was working as a pediatric nurse when one day, as a result of an accident at work, she suffered a severe head injury. She was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and was subsequently run through the mill of medical specialists, tests, and treatments. These conventional treatments and tests only aggravated her symptoms. After dealing with intense headaches, sensitivity to light, issues with fine motor skills, and cognitive tasks, she eventually turned to cannabis out of desperation.
Because Nikki’s journey started before the New York State Medical Marijuana Program was in place, she was forced to purchase cannabis through other means. After New York approved medical marijuana, Nikki registered as a patient, hoping that medical dispensaries would provide her with a safer and more affordable alternative to the unregulated products of the black market. She soon became frustrated with the limited scope of treatment options and the high price tag on products available through New York’s program. She was forced to medicate out of the country, in Canada, where she has an address and access to Canadian Medical cannabis. She experimented with countless products, strains, and dosage forms, before arriving at the conclusion that smoked or vaporized cannabis, its most natural form, provided her the most effective relief. Nikki said it took her some time to find the correct strain with the specific terpene profile  that worked for her. Nikki is a strong believer in the entourage effect, the idea that all of the phytocannabinoids present in the cannabis flower work together to provide a synergistic benefit, and the effect produced from these compounds together is greater than the effect produced from any isolated compound(s) alone. After she saw the difference that cannabis made in her life, she realized the suffering she could save other patients. Nikki became outspoken on the benefits of cannabis for head injuries and also a member of online support groups for individuals that have suffered head injuries such as Brain Tumors, TBIs, concussions, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) . She also supports and shares her story with organizations that conduct studies with cannabinoids for the treatment of symptoms associated with CTE and other head injuries.
Nikki is passionate and infinitely interested in the benefits of cannabis. She is determined to help patients find access to medical cannabis products that provide them the relief that they otherwise would not have access to.
Nikki hopes her story can inspire others to never give up, to live in the moment. “Cannabis is my medicine and my hope is that others don’t have to suffer to the point I did. Cannabis should be offered as a treatment for TBI / Concussion symptoms.”
 Terpenes are chemicals found in plants that are responsible for the different aromas that we associate with citrus, berries, spearmint, etc. Terpenes in cannabis can moderate the effect and uptake of cannabinoids and have therapeutic properties of their own.
 CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that is caused by repeated head injuries that can occur in sports like football, boxing, and other combat/high impact sports. CTE was discovered in 2005 when Pittsburgh researchers examined brain tissue from deceased NFL players.