Shirlee McDaniels, like many in the cannabis industry, came to the profession through her personal experience as a patient.

“Two years ago, I did a knee replacement and a hip replacement within ten weeks of each other. I can’t take narcotics; they make me deathly sick. So I did virtually all of my pain relief with cannabis,” McDaniels says, noting that she found particular therapeutic value in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in certain strains of cannabis and also widely used in medical cannabis products, such as tinctures, extracts, and edibles.

Knee and hip replacements are nothing to take lightly, medically speaking. Both procedures are serious orthopedic surgery — and the post-surgical pain is intense, Doctors regularly prescribe powerful opiate medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, the narcotic painkillers found in Percocet and Vicodin, to manage that pain.

“For two weeks following the knee replacement, my doctors were so concerned about the level of post-operative pain, they forced me to use narcotics, basically, as a requirement of the surgery,” McDaniels says.

“But I got so sick on the narcotics that my doctors agreed to let me use medical cannabis, and I did the rest of [my recovery] with medical cannabis.”

When asked how her medical team responded to her successful therapeutic use of cannabis, McDaniels is quick to answer:

“They were shocked. They had been skeptical — they had been extremely skeptical.”

McDaniels says that her surgeon, a well-respected physician who has done an “astronomical number” of these procedures, did not expect her choice to use cannabis for pain relief to yield good results. So he was “astounded when it did,” she says. “He really was very surprised.”

Her success with medical cannabis spurred McDaniels to open an ongoing dialogue with her primary care physician, with whom she shares recent information and studies regarding cannabis’ efficacy. “It’s encouraging to see my physicians recognize the real therapeutic value in cannabis,” she says.

Of even greater reward to McDaniels, though, is the insight and support that she provides to other patients. Because Shirlee McDaniels isn’t just a medical cannabis success story; she also uses her experience to help others as a “budtender,” serving patients and customers at cannabis dispensaries in Denver, Colorado. Her mission is to provide both relief and education to her clients.

McDaniels is committed to countering cannabis fiction with cannabis fact. “People have a lot of misinformation about cannabis and what it does,” she says. “They have a mistaken notion of cannabis as harmful, and a lot of this goes back to decades-old propaganda that many of us grew up with.”

What counters this? “Experience,” she says.

She recalls a friend she’s had for years — a man in his eighties, who was “astonished” that McDaniels had begun working in the cannabis industry.

“He had a lot of mistaken beliefs about people who use cannabis, medically or otherwise,” she says. Of particular concern to him, she says, was how people might behave when they’re “high.”

McDaniels used this as an opportunity to educate her friend. She explained that, in fact, she had been a consistent user of medical cannabis throughout their friendship. “I — his friend, someone he knows, someone he trusts and loves — had hardly ever been around him when I wasn’t using cannabis. That really opened his eyes.”

Since then, her friend has not only become an advocate for medical cannabis, but also a medical cannabis patient himself. “He’s found a lot of relief, he tells me — especially with insomnia,” McDaniels says.

Such experiences aren’t rare for McDaniels, 60, who says she has “seen a lot of people open, or re-open, their minds about cannabis, especially people of my generation and older. I’m proud to be part of an industry that is helping real people get real relief that they may not be able to achieve with standard medicine.

“Above all, I encourage my clients to be educated and to be responsible. Cannabis is not going to be right for everyone or for every condition, but what is?

“For those for whom it works, my job is to make sure that they get the most benefit from it, safely and with as much knowledge as possible. To see people who may have seen cannabis as a negative now see it as beneficial is extremely rewarding. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”