More and more, people are starting to choose unconventional methods of handling their health and wellbeing. This behaviour extends from a shift towards whole and natural food sources, to holistic medical treatments. This trend, coupled with the unfolding of legal cannabis in Canada, is making the job of a dispensary worker more than just budtending. It has become a meaningful and nuanced role now that people are seeking relief for themselves through medicinal cannabis, and while budtenders are not doctors or pharmacists, they are the ones in the position of providing this new choice of treatment.

The Emotional Side Of The Job

The emotional weight and ethical implications of being a budtender can be heavy. You deal with customers who are in varying situations, from the holistically driven consumer, the mild insomniac, or casual stoner, to the serious opiate dependent, cancer afflicted, or severely unwell senior. All of these customers have chosen cannabis as a method to aide them on their journey to health and wellness. And all of these customers deserve and require the same level of service. But the emotional toll of dealing with the seriously ill can be taxing, to say the least.

Seeing customers in a severe state of illness walk into your dispensary can put a strain on the heart of the compassionate worker, and that is entirely understandable. It is human. But in order to provide the best service possible in a fair, safe, and objective environment, a certain element of detachment combined with a refined emotional attunement is required.

Experiences From The Village 

Andrea Dobbs, a close friend of CannaReps, talks about her emotional experiences in an article she wrote for the Georgia Straight. She explains the emotional investment and deep connections she has with her customers at her dispensary, The Village. This level of connection makes it extremely difficult for her and her staff when they receive news that a customer has passed away. This is a reality not many are quick to recognize when considering dispensary work. You’re not just bagging weed- you’re participating in someone’s personal healing journey. And the sad reality is, it’s not always a happy ending.

We spoke with Andrea to get more insight on her experiences with dealing with grief and the loss of regular customers. She mentioned that it was important to realize that budtenders oftentimes choose their career path because it seems like a fun and edgy job with a sense of political activism. But what they don’t initially consider is that the people you see everyday will be dealing with serious issues. And the fact of the matter is that people die, and sometimes that familiar face no longer shows up. Eventually word of their death comes around and the grief is a new kind of reality.

Andrea talked to us about how she and her staff honoured the passing of one of their regulars. They rolled a joint of his favourite strain and had a ceremonial “sesh” where they passed the joint and shared their memories of the customer. These kinds of group activities can help the team express their emotions, and the process of the ceremony can help them feel a sense of closure and peace about the death.

“It’s important to check in with each other, make sure we are doing okay” Andrea told us on the phone, generously taking time out of her day off to give us her insight, “I have been around much longer than many of these budtenders so I have more experience dealing with loss, but they generally don’t. We need to consider this aspect of the job because we are dealing with sick people and the sad reality is that they don’t always survive. Hopefully something can be put in place to help them deal with the emotional side of the industry.”

Dealing With Grief And Loss

Grieving lost customers, who quickly came to feel like friends and family, can become detrimental to the mental and physical well being of budtenders who are not properly trained to handle such intense emotional situations. In order to protect the well being of the budtender, and thus ensure consistent service for their customers, there must be an element of tact when processing the emotional element of the role.

How can budtenders maintain the level of service that comes with emotional connection, without succumbing to the emotional toll that can come along with it? Well, the best place to take note from is the world of medicine. While it is imperative that budtenders understand that they themselves are not doctors, pharmacists, or in any legal position to be making unconfirmed medical claims, they may adopt aspects of the physician’s mentality that are aimed at coping with the distress that comes with losing patients: detached compassion and emotional attunement.

Compassion, Empathy And Detachment

The fine line between empathy and objectivity is one that the medical community has been developing for a long time. The nature of working with sick people requires a certain kind of emotional diligence. This is done in order to protect the caretaker as well as guaranteeing equal and objective service for everyone. By introspecting the emotions of another, you may end up carrying their pain inside of you. This can cause many issues including emotional grief and reactionary responses.

This empathetic sweet spot comes in the form of emotional attunement and detached compassion. Attuning yourself to the emotions and cues of an individual can allow you to respond in a way that they react positively to, which will encourage trust, openness, and make the interaction a productive one. As well, maintaining a sense of detachment, while still retaining  genuine care and concern, can help the budtender remain emotionally level and prevent over sympathizing. When you over sympathize with a customer you may end up prioritizing them over others without meaning to. The aim is to provide the same high quality service to all customers, without harming your mental health while doing so.

With that being said, it is also extremely important to maintain understanding and compassion at all times. Detachment does not require you to harden your heart for the sake of self-protection. Budtenders must operate from a place of non-judgement and understanding in order to provide the human touch that makes a difference. Some of the people that will come to your dispensary may not be completely stable, they might be dealing with addiction or a severe mental illness. Compassion and understanding from a perspective of detachment means you can appreciate their struggle, accept the opportunity to help them, and withhold any judgement regarding them or their circumstances.

Combining compassion, empathy and detachment alongside with an awareness of the emotional spectrum the industry can throw your way will equip budtenders as much as possible for their careers in the industry. Of course, experience is the best teacher, but a well prepared heart and mind can make the learning curve less painful.

In Conclusion

All in all, these budtenders are brave and passionate people who see their job as an opportunity to change the laws of their country and provide a service that reduces the suffering of many. As CannaReps continues to develop a standardized method of training budtenders we hope, too, that as legalization unfolds, the governing institutions recognize and consider the emotional weight of budtending.