“I want to help revolutionize holistic healthcare and destigmatize the use of Cannabis as a therapeutic.”
We connected with Oregon-based naturopathic physician Dr. Shena Vander Ploeg to learn more about her approach to wellness, and her thoughts on the role Cannabis has to play. Though plant-based medicine predates all other forms of treatment, it has encountered varying degrees of acceptance since the dawn of westernized medicine. With the growing success of the Cannabis legalization movement, people are becoming increasingly curious about the potential of this plant, as well as many others, to treat ailments and enhance quality of life.
My dream is to pioneer the use of Cannabis and botanicals as therapeutics
How did you begin your journey with naturopathic medicine? Why did you choose to get involved in naturopathy?
Undergraduate studies in biology, chemistry, and psychopharmacology created the foundation of my inquiry into health and medicine. At first, I thought I would make my way into pharmaceutical research and design methodology. My education and experience led me to botanical medicine, nutrition, and yoga. I soon realized that a more integrative, sustainable, and holistic approach was my preference.
I explored graduate programs in naturopathic medicine that seemed much more in alignment with me, my values, how I wanted to live my life, and what I wanted from my career.
I love that naturopathic medicine affords people options! Naturopathic physicians can offer conventional treatments, as well as time-honored naturopathic supportive therapies.
Where do you feel naturopathic medicine fits into the overall pursuit of personal wellness, as compared to pharmaceutical and westernized medicine?
Naturopathic medicine guides patients in pursuit of holistic personal wellness, prevention, and health optimization – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This individualized approach allows the practitioner to meet the patient where they are. Conventional medicine, alternatively, is best suited to manage acute health issues, trauma, or injury.
I find it best integrated with conventional medicine where appropriate. Naturopathic medicine empowers people to partner in determining their course of treatment. Pharmaceutical interventions may be indicated, while simultaneously providing naturopathic supportive therapies and developing other lifestyle practices to best support health goals. This scenario offers an opportunity to remove obstacles so that new lifestyle practices/habits can further contribute to their desired health outcomes.
I like to think that this multivariate approach offers synergistic support that can be more restorative and regenerative in the long term.
Naturopathic medicine seems to be growing in the public’s consciousness, and it’s approaching new levels of mainstream acceptance. In what ways can conventional westernized medicine and naturopathic medicine coexist?
You’re absolutely right. Every year more states adopt licensing for naturopathic physicians. I think this is due to public demand. People want wellness care to improve their health, to prevent disease, and to minimize their reliance on pharmaceuticals by being more active in their health and ultimately in their lives.
I think integration is the future. We are seeing these two areas of medicine coexist more now in the developing field of functional medicine. Ultimately, providing holistic healthcare services to support wellness will reduce primary care visits and prevent chronic diseases.
What challenges do you face as a naturopathic physician?
I don’t think people realize the options available to them. A common misconception is that naturopathic physicians cannot offer the same “level of care” as a conventional medical doctor. The scope does vary from state to state (which is confusing), but in Oregon and Washington, for example, we have the ability to prescribe and act in the capacity of a primary care physician.
It is our responsibility as naturopathic physicians to educate the public on our training and expertise. Naturopathic physicians train in botanical medicine, pharmacology, nutrition, biomechanics, IV nutrient therapy, and complete a four-year rigorous accredited medical program including clinical internship and licensure with prescriptive authority.
Do you believe cannabinoids and other Cannabis-derived compounds have a role to play in the pursuit of personal wellness?
Yes, absolutely. The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is well researched, and it is one of the most prolific and integrated systems of the body. As it turns out, Cannabis, many other botanicals, and lifestyle factors influence the ECS. Cannabinoids offer many people alternative sustainable treatment replacement for stronger conventional treatments that have unwanted side effects, secondary effects, or withdrawal symptoms.
What role, if any, do hemp or Cannabis derived compounds play in what you do at Merkaba Natural Health?
Botanical medicine is a pillar of my practice.
Regarding Cannabis, I want to be very clear that I cannot and do not prescribe cannabinoids. No doctor can according to federal law because it is a Schedule I substance.
Personally, I want to help revolutionize holistic healthcare and destigmatize the use of Cannabis as a therapeutic.
My question is, “Can we integrate Cannabis into botanical medicine where it belongs?”
For Cannabis curious patients, some have read, heard, tried CBD/Cannabis products, and/or want to learn how to optimize their experience. This is where the naturopathic principle “doctor as teacher” comes in.
We discuss the endocannabinoid system, distinctions between Cannabis and hemp, how to assess growing practices and products, how to access resources relevant to their exploration of Cannabis, dosing strategies, sensitization breaks, and harm reduction. This provides support in making well-informed decisions in a rapidly changing supplement market.
Over the past five years, Cannabis therapeutics have become an integral part of my practice.
With the passage of Measure 91 and pre-existing medical programs, there is increased demand for educated professionals willing to discuss these topics with their patients based on existing research and evidence.
Botanical medicine was instantly a passionate interest of research, one which I delved into fully. In 2008, I was personally looking for an alternative to prescription medication, so I began formulating botanical and Cannabis combination products. Then once licensed, in 2014, I worked under a medical doctor at The Aurora Clinic in Portland, serving many Oregon Medical Marijuana Patients. Working with this patient population was so rewarding; I was so inspired by transformational stories about relinquishing dependence on pharmaceuticals and attaining a much-improved quality of life (with Cannabis alone).
My experiences and clinical work inspired PROTANICALS™, the first physician-formulated Cannabis and botanical product line that is medically minded, offering therapeutic options for the Cannabis consumer here in Oregon.
My dream is to pioneer the use of Cannabis and botanicals as therapeutics. My goal is to create products that I can recommend confidently. It is time that we have products that address cannabinoid tone, so it becomes a pillar of support and a cornerstone of holistic healthcare approaches.
What advice do you have for people who want to employ a naturopathic approach to their own health?
It all starts with finding a naturopathic physician that is a good fit, as I think is true of any healthcare provider. Creating an open and honest dialogue is key, so your doctor can best understand your healthcare goals and your current level of motivation.
Like conventional doctors, naturopathic physicians may have particular areas of expertise and preferred methods of assessment and treatment. It is important that their methodology works for you. I think naturopathic medicine is best suited for those looking to actively participate in their health process, while being offered holistic options in their healthcare.
Insurance companies provide limited coverage for naturopathic medical services (policy dependent), so be prepared to invest in your health. I think this is actually an upside, because people who invest in themselves are committed to participating in the process.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
interview by Tom Bowers @propagateconsultants