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[0:58] – What is PayQwick
[1:20] – Ken’s background
[3:06] – Headaches in the cannabis space regarding cash
[5:30] – How does PayQwick work
[6:26] – PayQwick’s ease of use
[8:23] – Ken talks about the Cole Memo
[11:45] – Cost to use PayQwick
[15:38] – Common compliance mistakes
[20:58] – Ken talks about cryptocurrency
[27:54] – Personal development questions
[32:12] – Contact details for PayQwick
Kenneth Berke is the co-founder and President of PayQwick. He is helping cannabis consumers, dispensaries, processors, and cultivators pay and receive payments digitally with their electronic wallet.
Learn more at:
What are the five trends disrupting the cannabis industry right now?
Find out with your free cheatsheet at https://www.cannainsider.com/trends
While Canada enjoys full legal banking for cannabis businesses, US cannabis businesses are not so lucky. Business owners struggle to run all cash businesses in the absence of clear banking guidelines. To help us understand how cannabis business owners are using technology to circumvent this issue is Ken Burke of PayQwick. Ken, welcome to CannaInsider.
Ken: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Ken: Los Angeles. So, north LA County.
Matthew: Okay great, and I’m in the San Miguel de Allende, Mexico today.
Ken: Oh lovely.
Matthew: And what is PayQwick on a very high level?
Ken: Sure, well, PayQwick is a compliance based electronic payment hub. Is that enables state legal cannabis transactions to occur cashlessly through the entire marijuana supply chain.
Matthew: What’s your background, and what caused you to start PayQwick? What was the need you saw?
Ken: Well, the need we saw was the tremendous amounts of cash changing hands both at the dispensary level, from the dispensary to the consumer, and also from the cultivator or manufacturer to the dispensary. You have people driving around making their deliveries, getting paid in cash, heading back to their manufacturing facility or farm with $100,000 to $200,000 in cash in their car, and we thought that was just insane from a public safety standpoint, as well as a normal business practices standpoint.
Matthew: Yeah, there’s huge amounts of cash going on and even having to pay taxes in cash is a real problem and you get charged a penalty for paying in cash, taxes. I think it’s Colorado anyway that requires when you pay in cash you pay a penalty. So, there’s all kinds of reasons you want to do it. Security, inconvenience, penalties. I can see what you mean. It almost feels like that show Miami Vice from the 80s where people are lugging around masses amounts of cash everywhere here and there.
Ken: Yeah. That is exactly it. It’s insane. It’s just insane. Then in Washington State you’ve got people driving hundreds of miles across the state to pay their excise taxes, or you used to have that before we got going in Washington and assisted with the banking situation.
Matthew: Let’s frame this a little bit more so people understand the extent of the problem. Can you talk about what life is like day-to-day for maybe an extractor or a cultivator, dispensary owner, and what they’re having to deal with in terms of hassle, security and compliance exactly?
Ken: Yes of course. Let me give you actually a real world story from one of our clients. They are a producer up in Washington. I’ll use the jargon from Washington State where they’re called producers and processors. Like many of them up there they’re family owned businesses so it’s the mom, it’s her husband and it’s her son. As they were operating it was typically the husband or the son that was making deliveries to the dispensaries or retail stores, but one day they couldn’t do it so she said, I’ll go make the deliveries.
So, she drove out, made the deliveries to the retail store. They had a couple of stores and she had about $30,000 to $35,000 in her car, and she wanted to stop for lunch and get a sandwich. She pulled into - maybe it was a Starbucks or something - just to get a sandwich or what have you and she was thinking what do I do with this money. I’ve got $30,000 in my car. I don’t want to leave it in the car. I don’t want to carry it in with me. What do I do? And then she also realized the danger that she was putting her husband and her son in on a day-to-day basis because they were the guys usually making the deliveries and bringing the cash back.
Matthew: Then she turned to PayQwick, or what did she do next to kind of mitigate this problem?
Ken: She turned to PayQwick, and she signed up for her PayQwick account and is getting paid now electronically through our platform.
Matthew: Does she have to - all the vendors and people she works with and so forth, she says, okay I’m going to be on PayQuick. This is how you get signed up. So there’s kind of a viral component to it in that the more people get onboard the more they want to get everybody else they work with onboard.
Ken: That’s absolutely correct. And our whole goal and what we’ve done is to make it easier to pay. To make it just as easy to pay with PayQwick or easier to pay with PayQwick than it is to pay with cash, but you’re right. It does have that viral component to get additional people signed up.
Matthew: How does a dispensary customer get their money into PayQwick if they wanted to pay a dispensary? Let’s say they bought a hundred dollars worth of items and they wanted to pay for it with PayQuick. How does that work?
Ken: Twofold, one, just like PayPal or Vimeo you link your PayQuick account to your personal checking account, and then you can transfer funds from your checking account into your PayQwick account and then use that to make your purchase at the dispensary. The other way that people are able to do that, we’re just rolling that out this month as a matter of fact in Washington, is the ability for people to load their PayQwick account with a Visa or Mastercard. So they’ll be able to use a credit card to transfer funds into their PayQwick account and then obviously use those funds in the store.
Matthew: This is getting interesting here. People are getting more options on ways to do it. Do customers who are loading up PayQwick have an questions the first time, or is it pretty much simple for them? They’re like, oh this reminds of PayPal or anything else.
Ken: It’s pretty simple. We don’t get a lot of questions in that regard. I think folks generally are familiar with how an eWallet works, given the prevalence of PayPal and Vimeo out there these days. There’s not a lot of explaining that has to go on in terms of using an eWallet these days.
Matthew: So, if I’m a customer at a point of sale at a dispensary, is there QR codes, or how do I actually then initiate the movement of money from my phone to a dispensary?
Ken: Yeah it would be a QR code on the phone that said just scanned at the point of sale.
Matthew: That makes it easy. Okay good. So, let’s say I’m a licensed dispensary that made $100,000 this week on PayQwick. What happens after all those sales in terms of compliance and know your customer, anti money laundering, all those things that a dispensary really has to stay on top of to ensure that they don’t get in trouble and spend their life dealing with bureaucracy?
Ken: That’s a great question. And people ask us what is PayQwick and when I answered your question we are first and foremost a compliance company that happens to have a pretty sophisticated eWallet. But we do all the normal filings that a bank would file. So, the bank files a CTR, currency transaction report, that would be - we file those as well. We’re a BSA filer. We file the marijuana limited marijuana priority or marijuana termination, SARS, Suspicious Activity Reports because we are registered federally as a money service business and so we file all those reports directly with FINSIN.
Matthew: And just for people that are still getting up to speed with the Cole Memo, can you just explain what that is?
Ken: Of course. So, the way the Cole Memo works is basically the Department of Justice obviously they’re tasked with enforcing the Controlled Substances Act and going after folks who are violating federal law. And as everybody knows, cannabis is illegal federally. So the local attorney generals went to Deputy Attorney General Cole and said how do we decide who we’re going to go after and prosecute and how do we decide who we’re going to leave alone. So, what James M. Cole issued was he said, this is how you use your prosecutorial discression and that’s what that’s called really. Every prosecutor has prosecutor discression.
So, he said to them, if you have a cannabis business that’s operating in compliance with state law, and the state has a robust licensing program for cannabis businesses, and that business is not implicating any of the eight enforcement priorities, let’s call them bad boy acts, which would include selling cannabis to minors, selling cannabis across state lines, having firearms at the premises, being a front for drug cartels or gangs, disguising your activity or using your legal activity as a disguise for illegal activity, growing on federal lands. These basically eight bad boy acts, if the marijuana business is operating in compliance with state law and not implicating these enforcement priorities, not doing any of these eight bad boy acts, leave them alone. Just leave them alone and go after the cannabis businesses that are engaging in any of these eight bad boy acts. So, that’s the Cole Memo in a nutshell.
Matthew: So, PayQwick helps marry up to each one of the points in the Cole Memo so your customers can kind of be at ease about it.
Ken: That’s absolutely correct. Under the Bank Secrecy Act there’s something called the know your customer due diligence obligations. That’s part of the banks’ responsibility and even at PayQwick we’re regulated under the same thing. We’re a non-bank financial institution so we’re subject to the Bank Secrecy Act and the anti money laundering laws as well. And under that there’s something called, like I mentioned, know your customer due diligence. You’ve got to go in as part of your compliance program and know you customers. There’s nothing magic about it. You really got to know your customers, which part of that obligation entails knowing that they’re not implicating any of these eight enforcement priorities.
So, when we onboard a client we go through the exact same onboarding process that a bank or credit union would engage in when bringing on a marijuana business themselves. That includes onsite site inspections. We’re looking at who all the owners are, all that kind of stuff, and making sure that they’re operating in compliance with state law and not implicating any of those eight enforcement priorities.
Matthew: Well, all those compliance points have expense. How much do your customers pay to keep up with PayQwick in terms of onboarding and then sustaining costs to use PayQwick? Can you give a ballpark there?
Ken: Typically when we onboard somebody there’s a $495 application fee that takes care of the initial onsite inspections, compliance review, that type of thing. Then we go out periodically and do onsite compliance inspections as well, and depending on where the business is, those typically run about $150 per inspection. I will tell you that the banks absolutely love it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the banks in terms of compliance and share our compliance information both with the bank and with our clients. So from a bank’s perspective they can’t outsource their know your customer obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act, but they certainly can have someone who stands shoulder to shoulder with them and buttresses their own compliance efforts with respect to each of those marijuana businesses. So, it’s a huge benefit to a bank if they’re banking a cannabis client to have that client as part of the PayQwick platform because they get to piggyback on our compliance efforts. That’s number one.
Number two is a tremendous for our clients because when we go out and do our onsite compliance inspections if we find something that’s wrong or a potential violation, we tell them about it. They have an opportunity to fix before the state regulator shows up and issues them a notice of violation. So, a good analogy would be an OSHA inspection. If you have your own independent OSHA expert come in and review your facility, he or she is going to catch things that you can then fix before your state OSHA inspector comes in and takes a look and issues you a violation for something.
Matthew: That makes sense. Do other industries besides the cannabis industry use PayQwick?
Ken: Right now the answer is no, although it’s fully usable for any other industry. It’s an eWallet. I will tell you that we do have a number of what we call ancillary businesses and those would be landlords, they would be accountants, they would be lawyers or any other business that is serving cannabis businesses and historically have been getting paid in cash. The landlord, for example, I’ll give you another real world example, can open up a PayQwick account and just get paid electronically. We did get a call from a landlord who was getting paid about $30,000 a month in rent. He was getting it in cash and taking it to his bank and depositing it. After about three or four months the bank said to him, don’t bring that cash here anymore. We don’t want it. We’re not going to close your account. We know you, we trust what you’re doing, but do not bring that cash here.
So, the guy went out, before having a PayQwick account obviously, he went out and he bought a safe at Costco and he started putting the cash in the safe, and when he had contacted us his comment was basically, I have this $30,000 and it’s useless paper. There’s only so much I can buy at Best Buy and I’ve exhausted that. It’s just stacking up in my safe as useless paper. Now with a PayQwick account the tenant pays him the rent, $30,000, electronically through PayQwick. His PayQwick account is linked to his bank account so then he just transfers the money from his PayQwick account to his bank account, that same account that didn’t want the cash. The bank goes, great, fantastic. Now the money is coming in electronically. We have no problem.
Matthew: Interesting. In terms of when you see people make mistakes with compliance what are the top two or three offending mistakes that you see?
Ken: A couple that we see is, which is a really bad one, they’re not properly checking drivers licenses. So, and a drivers license should be checked not only at the door but again at the point of sale. Some states consumers are comfortable with doing that, excuse me, having the driver license checked at both places. Make sure your surveillance cameras are on. Make sure everyone is badged, all the employees are badged. There’s sign-in sheets and visitors get badges, that type of stuff. As we’ve seen is really some of the traps for the unwary. It’s just a matter of being diligent.
The other thing that we counsel all of our clients to do is appoint a chief compliance officer for your cannabis business, and send that person to the appropriate training classes. Make sure they’re familiar with the law and what has to happen and give that person appropriate authority within the organization to make decisions, to engage in disciplinary action, because compliance really starts from the top. It’s the owners of the business that have to have a mindset of compliance and make compliance a priority and then that will trickle down through the organization. If the owners don’t really endorse compliance, you’re going to end up with a corporate culture that doesn’t stress compliance as important.
Matthew: In terms of getting new customers signing up, do you see dispensaries sending out emails or text messages inviting customers to sign up so that when they come in, they walk in the door they’re good to go so they don’t have to wait and it’s more frictionless, or do most new dispensary customers actually do it there in the dispensary?
Ken: Most customers do it in the dispensary or they do it beforehand. They’ll download the app or they’ll go on our website and apply for their account and do it before going into the store. So, that’s where it’s typically done. And then the other big piece of our business is the business side of the house, the B2B transactions. There any cannabis business in the states in which we operate, they can go online to our website, fill out the application and you can attach copies of your articles of the organization or your operating agreement or that type of thing and get the application part started to open up a PayQwick business account versus a consumer account. That’s really where we seen the greatest amount of growth over the past 12 to 24 months is on the business to business side.
Matthew: I imagine those transfers are probably much larger.
Ken: They are much larger, and the other thing that we’re rolling out with respect to that side of the house is what we call our ecommerce solution. In the industry today there’s a number of companies out there that are starting what we call marijuana exchanges. And an exchange is pretty similar to Amazon. All the sellers, manufacturers and cultivators they list for sale what they have, their inventory, at the wholesale level. The dispensaries and the retailers can then go online, login to the website, select the items that they want to purchase for their store. They drop down into a shopping cart and then at checkout there’s a button where they can pay with PayQwick versus cash on delivery. That’s a really big part of our platform today is that ecommerce solution because again the biggest headache is not delivering the cannabis product. The biggest headache that we hear out there is carrying back the cash. That’s where the biggest risk is too.
We found, the criminals, they’re not really interested in stealing the product itself because they’re just going to have to resell it. If they can hit the driver when he’s driving back with the cash in his truck, then that’s the attractive target. So, what we try and do is eliminate that cash in the truck, if you will, coming back.
Matthew: I have to ask you about the block chain here in cryptocurrencies. I still think the volatility of cryptocurrencies is quite a problem for businesses and consumers in the space. They don’t want to watch their value drop 10 to 30 percent in a day on cryptocurrency they acquired and then have to come up with more cash to buy whatever they’re going to buy in the dispensary or from another merchant in the ecosystem. There is new entrants like (Di) and Tether that aim to fix cryptocurrencies to a stable collateral like the US Dollar or the Euro. With that, do you think there’s a place for cryptocurrencies emerging in the cannabis ecosystem for payments?
Ken: We really don’t, and I have nothing against cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and (21.06 unclear) and the other cryptocurrencies out there. It’s an interesting idea, interesting concept. Clearly it’s here to stay. We just think it’s premature for the cannabis industry to be dealing with cryptocurrencies. What we typically tell clients is there’s no greater way to invite additional scrutiny from Jeff Session than to be engaging in cryptocurrency in the cannabis space. We already have strike one against us because we’re dealing with cannabis. Bringing in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is just going to be another red flag for them.
So, having said that we just think it’s too early. It’s too soon. Let’s let the industry get its legs under them and under it and normalized and stabilized before you start introducing something as potentially dangerous or vague or inviting scrutiny as cryptocurrency. The other thing that listeners should be aware of is that Visa and Mastercard have now come out and said if you are buying Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency with your credit card that they deem that to be a cash advance and they’re charging another five percent fee to the consumer to purchase the Bitcoin. I know there’s been a number of banks, Citi Bank, Chase, Bank of America, they have prohibited their customers from using cards issued by those banks to purchase cryptocurrency. You can’t buy cryptocurrency at all with your Bank of America, Chase, Citi Visa card or Mastercard. You just can’t. They prohibit the purchase of cryptocurrency.
So, at the end of the day, like I said, we don’t have anything against Bitcoin or cryptocurrency per se. We just don’t think it’s the right time for it to be entering into the cannabis space. It’s too early in the life of the cannabis industry.
Matthew: Yeah if you’re bank is playing referee on what your purchases should be as an adult, I encourage anybody to switch banks if they do that. Because that’s a slippery slope when they say hey you can use your card for this or not that, or this or not that and it gets very political. And when it’s something, a political view you agree with that’s fine, but then how do you know the next year they’re not going to do something that you don’t agree with. So, I really don’t like to see big Wall Street banks deciding who should be able to purchase with what, with your own money. I guess you can still purchase with debit cards because it’s not the bank extending credit for something that might ultimately cannibalize their business. So, I can understand that.
Ken: I think the other thing I would mention with cryptocurrency is that all the banks and credit unions that I know except for one will not accept funds that have ever been in the form of cryptocurrency. So, if you’re a dispensary and you’ve signed up with one of these credit card processing companies where they use the credit card to purchase Bitcoin and then that Bitcoin operator tries to send you an ACH or tries to give you a check for those purchases, your bank is not going to accept them. No bank that I know of or credit union except for one will accept that check for deposit. So, you’re still kind of stuck, and you certainly can’t go and open a separate account at a different bank or credit union, try to deposit that money under a different name. That’s money laundering 101. You certainly don’t want to engage in that. Even all the banks and credit unions that we know of they won’t even accept the funds if they’ve ever been in the form of cryptocurrency.
Matthew: I’ve not heard of that, but you deal with more banks than I do. I definitely see this issue. I can almost see this across age demographics. When I talk to Millennials versus GenX versus Baby Boomers, the responses are almost entirely in the same bucket 80 percent of the time. Whereas the Millennials they see this as absolutely inevitable. They don’t trust banks. They don’t trust mutual funds, and they definitely are in to Vinmo and Square cash app and definitely into Bitcoin but also other cryptocurrencies, and they actually see it as not so much the payments as a store value. And then the GenXers are kind of schizophrenic on the topic but they see it like yeah I kind of have my feet in both worlds. Then Boomers generally but not always thinks it something crazy. It’s made up money. It doesn’t even make sense. It’s like Minecraft for adults. It’s totally something that’s just going to go away. It’s like a fiction. It’s interesting to see how different those world views are, but it seems to me like the Millennials are just waiting. They’re like the (26.26 unclear) waiting for the Boomers to get older, just a little bit older, a little bit older, and then they’re going to move. I’m a GenXer saying that, but I can just tell there is a wariness and frustration with the stranglehold that the Boomers have on the financial institutions and not changing them quickly enough to their liking. That’s why we see this kind of crazy (26.52 unclear) revolution that you’re part of happening here is people want more options and they want to see more of their banking services come from Silicon Valley than from Wall Street.
Ken: I agree with you. It’s interesting the demographics. I don’t doubt those demographics for a minute. Personally I’m a Baby Boomer, and I’ve fully endorsed eWallets from Vimo and PayPal and that type of thing. So, have completely gotten onboard with that technology if you will and that kind of (27.28 unclear) technology but definitely still feel more comfortable dealing in US dollars than in a cryptocurrency where the value can just fluctuate so dramatically day to day or even hour to hour.
Matthew: That’s true. Good points. Let’s pivot to some personal development questions here. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you’d like to share?
Ken: I’m trying to think, a book. Alexander Hamilton’s book frankly and just how he, and obviously it’s an incredible musical at this point, but just what he went through and what he persevered to get where he did and the thinking involved was just so far ahead of his time. It really opened my eyes to things.
Matthew: Do you have a couple of examples you’d like to share of what you mean about what he thought about?
Ken: He thought ahead how he traded on the political level. What they were doing, the checks and balances in creating out government and the banking system etc. Just very impressive to me if you will.
Matthew: Have you seen the musical Hamilton?
Ken: I did. I was lucky enough to see it in New York on the very last night of previews before it opened. It’s just genius. I mean it’s just absolute genius how he read a book and thought, you know what I can make a musical out of this. It was like what.
Matthew: I guess you can make a musical out of anything, but a good musical is the challenge.
Ken: Right. And I had seen In the Heights and absolutely loved In the Heights, and my son is a musical theatre actor in New York. So, musical theatre has always been near and dear to our hearts growing up. My mom took me to a ton of plays, all the classics in Los Angeles at the Pantagias. So, musical theatre was a big part of our lives. We exposed our son to it and now he’s made a career out of it. Having said that, that’s another - and me personally I have absolutely no musical talent at all whatsoever, none, zero so I’m always in awe of people who can sing and dance.
Matthew: Maybe we could see a musical ad from PayQwick soon. Challenge accepted?
Ken: I won’t be in it but yes.
Matthew: Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your productivity apart from PayQwick?
Ken: Yes as a matter of fact and that is I’ve gotten completely addicted to using One Note to keep track of everything that is going on in our company, in PayQwick. We share One Note amongst ourselves, amongst certainly the executives in the company to keep everybody focused and rolling in the same direction. So, One Note for us has just been an incredible productivity tool to share information, to share ideas, and most importantly with any business you got to stay focused and particularly in this space. There’s a lot of shiny balls that pop up all over the place that you can go chasing. If you do that you’re going to get distracted from your core competency, which for us is compliance and electronic payments. So, that One Note in keeping everybody focused and on track with what they need to be doing has really helped us, and obviously it syncs with your phone, computer, iPad, etc. So, you can really use it and have access to it wherever you go.
Matthew: Do you use it primarily for project management type function, collaboration type functions?
Ken: Correct. That’s exactly right.
Matthew: That makes sense. Ken, thanks so much for coming on the show today and helping us understand this mess that we’re in with the banking and finance. Your offering sounds like it makes it easier for people and everybody welcomes that. I hope we get some more clear direction from Jeff Sessions soon, but I’m not going to bet on it. Please tell us one more time how listeners can find out more about PayQwick and learn about your offering and connect with you.
Ken: The best way to do it is going to our website, and we’re spelling challenged. So, we’re at www.payqwick.com, but we spell PayQwick, P-A-Y-Q-W-I-C-K. There are phone numbers on there. There’s contact information on there. You can fill out an application to open a PayQwick account both business-wise and consumer-wise. We’d love to hear from you and join us.
Matthew: Ken, thanks again for coming on the show. We really appreciate it and good luck the rest of the year too.
Ken: Oh thank you so much.
Why would a Harvard-educated physician leave behind traditional medicine and create a practice that helps patients use cannabis to help alleviate symptoms associated with stress management, insomnia, and human sexuality? We are going to find out today in this interview with Dr. Jordan Tishler.
[0:57] – Dr. Jordan’s background
[5:18] – Dr. Jordon talks about being an ER doctor
[7:53] – What is Inhale MD
[19:36] – Educating other MDs about cannabis
[26:03] – Jordan talks about his most common cannabis treatments
[32:43] – Jordan talks about cannabis dosage
[34:16] – Cannabis helps sexual dysfunction
[42:39] – Common concerns patients have about using cannabis
[45:57] – Dr. Jordan talks about starting a cannabis practice
[47:36] – Jordan answers some personal development questions
[50:55] – Contact details
What are the Five Trends Disrupting The Cannabis Industry?
Find out with your free cheat sheet at https://www.cannainsider.com/trends
Why would a Harvard educated physician leave behind traditional medicine and create a practice that helps patients use cannabis to help alleviate symptoms associated with stress management insomnia and human sexuality? We’re going to find out the answer today in our interview with Dr. Jordan Tishler. Dr. Tishler, welcome to CannaInsider.
Jordan: Oh, well thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Jordan: Today I’m in my home which is in the Boston area.
Matthew: What is your educational and professional background, and what brought you to focus on cannabis?
Jordan: I have a very sort of traditional educational background. I went to Harvard College way back in the day. Then to Harvard Medical School, something that we affectionately call Preparation H. Subsequent to that I trained in internal medicine at the Brigham Women’s Hospital here in Boston. So my background is very traditional in that regard. After I finished training I have worked in various emergency and urgent settings and spent 15 years in the emergency for the VA hospital here in town. And actually ironically, given the federal position on cannabis, it was in fact working for the VA that led me to the interest in cannabis.
When I worked in the emergency department I saw so many veterans who were dramatically harmed by substances, primarily alcohol as a matter of fact, but then to a lesser degree substances like benzos and opiates who have certainly entered into the national discussion. So over 15 years of treating folks with these either as sort of a primary problem or complicating whatever their more routine medical issues were it sort of became a defacto expert in the treating of these illnesses. And that coupled with in the year 2012 Massachusetts started this ballot initiative, actually passed the ballot initiative to legalize cannabis for medical use sort of led to this aha moment where I said, you know, I’ve seen all these guys who have been so harmed by these various substances and yet in all these years I’ve never seen anyone sick from cannabis.
If it’s not harmful like these other medications or at least not evidently so, then maybe there’s something to this medical idea at least worthy of exploration and that sort of led me to delving into the medical literature. It’s very popular at the moment to say we don’t have a science. We can’t do this and that’s just bologna. The reality here is that we have over 26,000 studies in the medical literature on cannabis making it one of the most researched topics ever. Now in fairness not all of those studies are all that well done. Most of them were designed to look for harms caused by cannabis, but the remaining swath of them that is actually fairly compelling. And the more research we do get the more compelling it is.
So, after a couple of years of digging through this pile of science, then I started reviewing in a rather skeptical manner. I ended up being fairly convinced that we had some pretty good data on this, and we have a pretty good starting point on how to do it. People always say well don’t we need more data. I always say, well of course. Who would every argue against more data. I mean even in fields that are very advanced like cardiology we continue to do studies all the time because we want to explore and learn and refine our abilities and our techniques. And I think where we are with cannabis is of course we want to do more studies. We’d have to be brain dead to argue against that, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have enough science now to be making meaningful use of the plant and its derivatives that we now. And of course we will refine our understanding and our techniques as we go forward.
Matthew: Now you mentioned you were an ER doctor. Any interesting stories? What’s it like to be an ER doctor day to day? That seems like it would be a lot of wild ups and downs, exhilarating and then bleak soul crushing sadness. What’s it like?
Jordan: That’s a good question. There’s definitely moments that are like that, but as with everything most of the reality doesn’t make a good television series. If you go back in the day and you think about ER the television show, that was bananas all day long. It’s just one gunshot wound after another after another, and reality thankfully is not that hectic or that bleak. But there are certainly many stories that I could tell, most of which I think would probably repulse your listeners. From the time that I had to resuscitate somebody in a bathroom stall to the times that I ended up covered in various bodily substances. There’s some reality to its being an unusual profession. Let’s put it that way.
Matthew: Yeah I would imagine people put themselves into a lot of weird situations. I know as a kid I had another kid shoot a bb in my ear from 20 yards away. It was like the perfect. I mean I still can’t believe he shot it in. It went directly in my ear, and then I had to go to the ER. The doctors were using suction and these long weird shaped tweezers, and I was like ER doctors just have to be really creative coming up with different ways to solve problems.
Jordan: Yeah. There’s a certain cowboy mentality that persists in the emergency department, more so than other fields of medicine. Because you’re right, we see all kinds of weird stuff and have to kind of figure out the best way to make people as well as possible. Does that ear work for you now?
Matthew: Still works.
Jordan: Okay well you’re a lucky man.
Matthew: Remarkably no problem, resiliency. I mean most of the impact hit the outer ear and then it was like a bank shot in.
Jordan: Yes. And there’s a reason why our ear canals are not straight. I mean it’s to keep things out. While everyone goes eww when we start talking about ear wax, it’s there for a reason. It’s not just sort of icky.
Matthew: Yeah it keeps things out. Keeps little insects from crawling in them. Gets them kind of stuck, yeah. I’ve started a separate podcast just about ear issues in my bb experience. I’m just kidding about that. Tell us more. What is Inhale MD? What is that?
Jordan: I was telling you about the saga of how I came to be interested in cannabis medicine. Sort of the second part of that story is that once I had kind of learned enough about this to be convinced that this was something that should be available to patients, then I started taking a look around at the landscape and said, obviously I worked for the federal government so that’s not going to happen. Though I’ve certainly applied a fair amount of pressure both locally and in Washington to try to help that along. But then I started looking at the private institutions that I knew well, like the Brigham Women’s Hospital, Mass General and those places, and what I realized is that even private institutions get so much of their funding from the federal government, both in terms of being paid through Medicare, but also paid for the support for their residents through NIH and then the research money from NIH.
I mean the federal government really funds the vast majority of any hospital’s budget. And as a result, they set policies that are in line with federal policy. Obviously, that makes sense, but it meant that very few of my colleagues knew the things about cannabis as medicine that I knew, but perhaps even more importantly those institutions were going to be in a position of saying we’re just not going to go there yet because it’s federally illegal. At that point, I said how do I make this available? How do I get this to work, and I thought, I never really sat out to be in private practice. But a private practice is not constrained by the policies of the institutions. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to set up a private practice where I can see the patients, but I’m then going to go back into these major academic medical facilities where they know me and I’m going to be like, hi it’s me. You know me. I’m not a quack and I haven’t lost my mind. Here’s a lecture on why I’m doing this and what the data are, and it’s been a phenomenally successful approach because at least here in the northeast my colleagues have been wonderfully receptive. Very curious, very open-minded about this. They know that they don’t know.
So, they’ve been interested and eager and also very grateful that they don’t have to take it on themselves. One of the things that’s sort of a misunderstanding in the cannabis advocacy world, and this is sort of an outgrowth of the beginnings of medical cannabis in the middle 90s in California, is this idea that a physician is going to just say yes or no without really knowing much about cannabis as medicine, or that they’re going to somehow shoehorn all of this new information into their already short jam-packed 15 minute visit with their patient. If you could imagine, most primary care practitioners have 10 to 15 minutes with a patient to cover everything. Head to toe, inside to outside, things that are going on now, things that are on the patient’s mind, preventative care issues, whatever it is. You got to do that in 15 minutes. It’s an undoable combination.
Now you want to add cannabis into it which is something that the doctor doesn’t know that much about, the patient doesn’t know that much about and things are not cut and dry like they might be, take these pills. It’s a setup for it not happening. In my clinic I said, that’s fine. You don’t need to understand all this stuff. Know enough that you (audio cuts) and you need to know enough that you don’t think you’re berzerk. That’s worked really well. So, I spend an hour with that patient at the first go around. And I’m talking about only cannabis care and their illness and not worrying about helmets and seatbelts and all those other things that the primary care folks deal with. It works very well in that way. And so I’ve sort of defined my model and the model that I’m trying to sort of get others to adopt as cannabis specialist.
Jordan: Let’s put it this way. If I really knew the answer to that, I would at least be the head of Health and Human Services, if not perhaps President of the United States, not either of which is jobs that I really want. I think that there are massive problems with our healthcare system. And many of the things that actually make our healthcare system as difficult as it is are things that are not really obvious. We have some of the broadest health problems compared to many other nations. We have a very economically diverse population compared to many other countries. We also do almost all of the research, particularly drug-related research and development as well as technology development for the rest of the world.
There are ways in which some of these other countries that you’ve mentioned, for example, Canada, are sort of drafting off us. I don’t personally find that a problem. Conceptually it’s just a problem when our system is having as much trouble as it is and we’re sort of trying to continue on supporting not just our own country but the world by extension. I’m not suggesting again that we should be somehow undermining world health. That’s not my point at all but simply to understand that the issues that we face are large and even broader than some of the stuff that we’re aware of. You went back a few sentences ago and said you never spent this much time with a doctor. I think that almost all physicians would be overjoyed and really excited to be able to spend half an hour or an hour sitting and talking with their patients.
Most physicians went into this field because they like taking care of people, and they like people. They like to talk to people about what’s going on and figuring out ways to figure out what the problems are and how to fix them if they can be fixed. We’ve just generated a system that is the financial factors require that you see patients more frequently than is medically feasible. That leads to physicians being burnt out and feeling miserable and suicidal. We know that physician burnout is amongst the highest in the nation and that physician suicides are, I don’t know the actual numbers off the top of my head, but they’re huge. As well as physician substance abuse problems and these are all related to the fact that they’re overworked and frankly underrespected and I don’t necessarily mean by the population. I mean by the people who are running the healthcare system.
If we could get to a position where physicians and their patients could be working together without so much intrusion from the financial and management side of things, I think we could make a system that was a lot better and it’s part of why I structured my clinic the way I did was I said look, what does it take to get the patients what they need. Well at least for the first visit it really requires an hour between asking them about what’s going on and talking about their experiences and then going through a packet of material that I want them to understand and teaching them about cannabis and how to use it and what the pitfalls are and who’s out there that’s going to try and misguide and twist their arms and all of that. And then sort of toward the end we actually boil that down to what looks like a prescription. These are the things that it takes and it just takes an hour.
If there were a lot more price pressure, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it. I also have a bunch of employees whose livelihoods and therefore their quality of life is dependent on my being able to pull all of this off.
Matthew: It’s amazing, when I do interact with people in the medical profession how much more enjoyable it is for both sides when we skip the insurance company layer where we just say, you know what can we just have a private transaction between us. We’ll agree upon some rate and I’ll just pay you cash. Everybody seems more relaxed. We know that the motivations of both parties is direct instead of having, well my insurance company says this and we need to look up this code and will I get reimbursed. All of those are taken out and the relationship is rightly restored between patient and doctor and I just feel like that’s so much more natural. And then what I’ve seen happen too is if I say I can pay cash, somehow the price always comes down compared to the quoted price. Like if you’re going to pay me cash right now. What does that say? That says there’s unnecessary layers there that are not serving a function for the value between the patient and the doctor. That’s the feedback I feel like the system is telling me when I create that direct relationship. What do you think?
Jordan: I think you’re on the money. If you take the case, which you would exemplify and people who earn a fair amount of money would exemplify a direct relationship. As you describe it, I think that that model works wonderfully. Just for comparison sake, when I sat down and tried to figure out what I would charge, I took a bunch of plays out of different playbooks. I charge an annual fee. The reason I did that is because I wanted patients to feel like they could come back to me either by email or telephone or in the office as needed without worrying that they were going to get hit with another fee. So, it’s an annual fee and it includes the first visit of the year and a midyear visit and whatever else we might need.
Capitation, that’s what that model is called. When I thought about the number of dollars I actually try to figure out what it is that other institutions were charging. The Brigham Women’s Hospital for the kind of visit that I am emulating or approximating there, their effective rate is $2,600 an hour. That is billed to the insurer and then they get pennies on those dollars. So, there is this weird dance where it’s like you write down - if you went to Midas Muffler and you got a muffler and they said that will be $600, you wouldn’t say, I’m going to pay you 9 cents on the dollar. You give them a credit card and you them $600. There’s this weird thing in the insurance world that’s like, you told me that your price is X. We’re going to give you a fraction of X and you’re just going to be happy with that. That’s nuts, but then, of course, you’re going to bill higher so you get a proportional fraction and then they try to cap how much you can bill.
It’s just a nutty system, and really what people should be doing is saying this is what I cost. Take it or leave it. And if everybody leaves it, then I got to reduce my price, but the problem and where the simplicity of that free market stuff gets muddled up is that we only look at sort of a constrained relationship between a doctor and a patient in an office visit where that particular patient happens to be able to afford some reasonable rate. There are many many Americans who can’t afford anything even if it were reasonable by some measure. So, that’s another population that we have to look after. Then there’s the question of what happens when you land in the hospital, a catastrophic illness.
The reality here is that those become 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars very very quickly and some of that is that inflation that we were just kind of talking about that gamesmanship. But some of it is if you have a big building with a lot of staff and a lot of medicines and a lot of technology, it just costs a lot of money. So there are probably shaving that could be done by a system that we’re less full of the bologna, but on the other hand I think even if you shaved off all that bologna, you’d still be left with a price tag that was out of both people’s reach and then you get into how do we cover that cost. Will we use insurance? And insurance is again a risk pool where people who are using less pay for those who use more on the sort of contractual or social idea that when those people were paying less grow older and become people who are needing more, then there will be money in the kitty to cover them. That becomes just an extraordinarily complicated math problem.
Matthew: I agree. I don’t think there are any easy answers. I’m glad that Chase Bank, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway, I think that it’s a good idea that they have almost a million employees and they’re going to create their own kind of cutting-edge technological co-op to see where and how they can bring down costs with that sample size and what works and what doesn’t.
Jordan: I think they’re going to get their heads handed to them.
Matthew: They might. Then again, Amazon does seem to have an incredible track record of doing incredibly complex things at scale logistically. So, I don’t know.
Jordan: Yeah. Let’s put it this way. Those three companies, I don’t know about Chase, but certainly Berkshire and Amazon, if this can be pulled off entirely in the private sector, those are the guys who are likely to do it, especially if they are smart about it, which they tend to be, which is then to hire some people who have been at this for a while in other settings to kind of help plan it out rather than really just try to drum it up out of thin air. But I have the feeling that even with a million people and that intelligence, etc, it’s just such a complicated issue that I think it’s unlikely to be solvable in any simple fashion and throwing money at this has not worked many times over.
So, I don’t know. I think it will be interesting to see how it goes. I wish them the best of luck because even if they don’t succeed, maybe we can learn some stuff from this process that will help with the next iteration. It’s just an insanely complicated process.
Matthew: It is. It really is. And we could go on and one about, but let’s pivot back to cannabis here. Can you tell us about the most common treatments you find yourself suggesting to patients, and then how they implement those suggestions day to day?
Jordan: Sure, before we even get into the most common treatments, let’s talk briefly about the most common issues that come up, meaning what are people coming to me seeking care for. By far, the number one complaint is pain and the pain can be from many different things. It could be from a degenerative disease in your back. It could be from various neurologic disorders. It could be from cancer. So, pain is a broad category, but that is the number one thing that people come to me seeking care for. The interesting bit about that to me is that pain is the number one presenting complaint of Americans to their doctors across the board, but it is also the number one complaint where people say, we are just not doing a good enough job.
That really I don’t think surprises many of us in so far as it turns out that we don’t have a lot of tools. In fact really only three choices. There’s Tylenol which lives in a class by itself. And for some things and for some people can be very helpful but not for everything and not for everyone. Then you have this class called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, which is the long way of saying things like Motrin or asperin. There are a bunch of other medicines in that category, and again they’re helpful for some things but not for everything and not for everyone. And there are reasons why people can’t take one or both of these two things. Then if you ruled those things out because they either didn’t work or you can’t take them, the only other choice is opiates and that’s it. End of the line.
We know we don’t want to go there. So, we can get very bent out of shape about the poor job that medicine is doing controlling pain, but we really don’t have a lot of tools. And then cannabis becomes sort of the fourth leg of this chair for the moment. So, this is why I’m seeing a lot of it. The reality is is that what we know at this point is it for chronic pain, meaning pain that’s ongoing more than three months. Opiates aren’t a very good treatment. Leaving aside their risk, they just don’t do a super good job of controlling that pain. It turns out in head to head studies that cannabis isn’t any better. That is to say, both are mildly or moderately effective but not brilliant. But on the other hand, cannabis is much much safer.
So, to me when I look at this and I say I have two equally, if not perfectly effective agents to treat pain, one is dangerous and one is safer. Which one should we choose? I would personally choose a safer one. I think that’s what we might call a no brainer. We sort of got all this political and social overlay here that we’re sort of having to navigate our way through while we’re getting back to something that’s a little bit more rational.
The second most common complaint I see is insomnia. It turns out that across the nation insomnia is the number two complaint to doctors, and again the number two complaint where patients tell us, the things you’re giving us aren’t working really well. When it comes to treating insomnia again, we have a fairly limited number of options. You’ve got things like Benadryl which for young people is actually modestly effective and generally fairly safe, but isn’t super safe in the elderly. Can cause people to fall over and hurt themselves. It can prevent me from being able to urinate. Then you got stuff like Ambien which works reasonably well for some people, but for other people cause a significant hangover the next morning. Then you got things like benzodiazepines like Valium or Ativan and stuff like that, which again work, but can create that hangover and also can create dependence which by the way you can get from the Ambien as well. But the bottom line is at some point you have to ask what’s the risk/benefit profile and we’re worried that the benzos risk is significant and probably underappreciated.
So, again, enter cannabis, which is I think of all the things cannabis does well, treating insomnia I think is the thing it does best. And very very small amounts before bedtime can really be very restorative. One thing I would also add is that there’s a pretty wide divergence between my experience with treating patients. Let me rephrase this another way. Patients tend to come to me sort of in one to two categories. People who have never used cannabis or maybe they tried it back in the 60s or 70s but not since. So they’re functionally naïve to the substance. Then there’s this other smaller group who are people who are coming to me sort of already using it.
What’s interesting to me about this is it’s much easier for me to deal with the folks who are not using it and to get them started and to help them land at a very functional and very low dose that has good outcomes. The folks who come in already using by and large are using way more than I find is necessary for people. Largely because they’ve gotten into it either from a recreational point of view or on the advice of or with the guidance of people who are more recreationally oriented and that tends to mean that they’re using much higher doses. And with higher does comes greater tolerance, greater dependence, and greater side effects so that it becomes better for their health if I can kind of talk them into sort of ratcheting it down, but that’s oftentimes a harder sell.
Matthew: I know what you mean. Now you mentioned dosaging and just so people get a sense, what dosages do you find yourself prescribing the most that you consider a medicinal dosage?
Jordan: It’s funny you ask that question because a lot of people in the field will hear what I say and they’ll call it a microdose. I’m thinking, no, that’s not a microdose. That’s a dose. If you want a microdose, we’re talking about things that are even smaller than what I’m talking about. We can talk about micro-dosing but that is its own thing. When I’m thinking about treatment type doses I’m thinking about sort of 5, 10, 15, maybe up to 20 mg of the THC component from whole plant cannabis. So, we’re talking about again fairly small quantities. As opposed to sort of on the recreational side where people might start at 20 but more typically be taking anywhere between 40 and 100 mg and there certainly people who are way beyond that who are taking many hundreds of milligrams over the course of a day.
That’s just not a place that I found my patients need to be. It comes with some risk and baggage if you get up in that range.
Matthew: One thing that we don’t talk about a lot or hear a lot about is sexual dysfunction and how cannabis can be used to treat that. What can you tell people that are not even familiar that that’s something that goes on using cannabis for sexual dysfunction? Maybe you can talk a little bit about sexual dysfunction in general.
Jordan: In that relationship between two people the method of use becomes all that much more important. So, you asked me to talk a little bit about sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction is a very broad category of issues in both men and women. Certainly Hollywood has made a big deal out of sexual dysfunction in men regarding difficulty getting and maintaining an erection, and we have a class of medicines out there that treat erectile dysfunction, but that’s all we’ve got from male sexual dysfunction. The Viagra and Cialis of the world don’t do anything for women.
When we think about male sexuality we don’t really tend to discuss the fact that men may have other problems that don’t have anything necessarily to do with erections and having to do with libido. In particular, I think the common misconception is that all men are horny all the time, but the reality is that up to 30 percent of men actually have low libido and that presents issues with their partners and also for their self-esteem and such like that. Then there are a number of other issues around male sexuality, but then turning our attention to female sexuality, which obviously we’ve come to understand over the last 40 years is a complex set of interactions that need to happen in the proper cascade in order for things to go well.
Having to do with interest, libido or more mechanical things like arousal which is more about lubrication and relaxation. Then around orgasm, which is a problem for some women. And even for both genders in that sort of final phase where there is a bonding phenomenon. It turns out we’ve got this one class of medicines that work for erectile dysfunctions but otherwise, we’ve got no treatments for sexual dysfunction at all. Well, I should say no medical treatments. I mean obviously there’s couples counseling and there’s more of that psych/social approach, which I don’t mean to discount at all. I think that’s hugely important, and couples therapy is the best thing since sliced bread for many people.
That all being said, it would be lovely to have some level of pharmacological intervention that makes people’s lives better, and cannabis really kind of fits this bill. It works in both men and women and it can address many of the areas of dysfunction or difficulty that we’ve just kind of talked about. It’s very important to understand dosing when it comes to sexuality. Women, generally speaking, can kind of get away with being a little bit more loose with the dosing, but men have to be very meticulous about it because if you get too much, you just sort of stop performing if you will. When I often say, slightly glibbly in talks that I give is that it’s very hard to sort of keep going with the mechanics of sexuality if your head is orbiting Jupiter. That there’s a certain physical repetitive motion that you have to concentrate on doing. And if you’re too far gone, it just doesn’t work.
There’s this expression from the old days called stoner boner, which was men would have trouble maintaining the erection. And I think that’s, all funny names aside, it’s true because maintaining an erection requires a certain amount of concentration. You have to stay in the here and now and if you get too much cannabis you kind of wander away. But interestingly there is a sweet spot where in fact it enhances erections. It enhances tactile sensation. It decreases anxiety and over increases the intimacy and the ability to kind of be together in that moment and have that relationship move forward. So, again, dosing is everything.
The other thing is going back to the routes of administration stuff. If you are with your significant person and you want to have an intimate relationship, you need it to be in sync. You need to be interested at the same time, both of you. If that is out of sync, then that becomes problematic. A lot of the discussion out there on the web about cooking this gourmet five-course cannabis related meal for you and your partner is all very romantic, but I’m not sure it’s very effective because sure cook a five course meal, but I don’t think I’d put the cannabis in the meal. When it comes time to either enjoy the meal together or after the meal when we’re starting to think about the bedroom, that would be a time to use inhaled cannabis because it works not only quickly but within a synchronous timeframe. You’re both going to get the effects of the cannabis fairly simultaneously and be at the same stage of that arousal process together using it that way. Whereas with the food because it takes longer and because it behaves erratically from person to person and moment to moment, you just don’t know it’s going to click for both of you at the same time. Not to mention do you really want to wait an hour or two hours after the meal? Is that part of the plan? I suppose it could be, but it’s not a lot of spontaneity which something people talk a lot about.
Similarly, there are products out there now like lubricants and stuff like that now have cannabis in them with the idea being that you use this in the foreplay to enhance the sexuality or the sexual experience. There’s little doubt in my mind that those compounds or those products enhance things locally, meaning at the level of the vulva or the penis to enhance the sensation. But when we’re really thinking about the broader category of sexual difficulties, in particular, we need to remember that 90 percent of what goes on in a successful sexual encounter occurs above the neck. We are sensing beings and feeling beings and all of those things which happen between our ears have far more to do with sexuality than what’s going on at the genitals, which is sort of just kind of where the friction happens.
So those products that are applied topically locally, meaning down on the genitals are really missing the vast majority of where the action needs to happen. So in these cases I think systemically administered, meaning taking the medicine not just locally but into your entire body is really the only way to kind of get what we need out of it.
Matthew: I know common questions and concerns for patients are how can I use cannabis without getting high. Also how do I manage the side effects of cannabis? What’s your answer to patients that have those questions?
Jordan: Good question. The first is I would say there isn’t a cannabis that doesn’t get you high, or that cannabis which doesn’t get you high isn’t going to work for you. So, that gets the second question which is and therefore in the non-recreational concept, meaning in the medical concept, that high or intoxication is a side effect, and we need to manage that. Just like we would manage side effects from any conventional medication. If we’re talking about the sexuality stuff that we were just talking about, then we’re anticipating and using that intoxication for our purpose and taking advantage of it.
Again, it’s a dosing thing. A little is helpful and a lot may just be too much. And if we’re thinking about it, then that is not a problem. But if we’re careless, then it can become a problem. Similarly, when we are thinking about the treatment of all the other stuff that we were talking about, dosing and timing become extremely important. If you have episodic pain, you don’t want necessarily to be intoxicated all the time. So, again that’s a reason to get those edibles with their long mechanism of action. Not the right idea. If you are fine most of the time and occasionally you get a horrible migraine, you need relief now and you also want relief that lasts only as long as you really need it to last and then it should go away and you should be back to normal.
Similarly people with anxiety disorders cannabis can be extremely helpful, but for most people who come into using cannabis for anxiety through the sort of recreationally guided paradigm, they tend to use a lot of cannabis sort of all day long, and that turns out to be not the best way to do it and that smaller doses in the evening can be just as effective and don’t require intoxication during the day while you would be out doing the things you need to get done. Again, timing, dosing and some I to lifestyle. When does this happen? What do you have to do? What are your responsibilities? All those sorts of things factor into the dosing and the timing.
Matthew: That makes sense. If there are other medical professionals listening, and I know a lot on the West Coast have contacted me and they’re saying I want to build a practice like Dr. Tishler and build a community, get patients and really start off on this new cannabis medical journey. Do you have suggestions on how to be successful doing that?
Jordan: Sure. The first thing I would suggest is throw away everything that you think you know about cannabis from anything that you’ve read that wasn’t a decent study. The second thing is I would say go to Pub Med and just start reading and reading. That being said, that’s really the starting point. The next thing I would say is we don’t practice in a vacuum and the more we communicate with each other and particularly with colleagues who are interested in science and evidence-driven medicine the better. Because I found that that was not something that was readily available, I started one. So, we now have an international organization called the Association of Cannabis Specialists, and I would urge people to come and check out the website and contact us and get to know us.
The website is www.cannabis-specialists.org. Of course, people can always email me directly and ask me questions.
Matthew: I like to pivot to some personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. With that, is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you’d like to share?
Jordan: Now that’s a really good question, and I don’t have a great example. There are so many to choose from that I don’t know that I can pin one down that would be helpful to your listeners.
Matthew: How about is there a tool that you use daily or weekly that you consider helpful to your productivity or effectiveness, either personally or as a doctor?
Jordan: The biggest tool that I use in terms of treating patients are a couple of vaporizers. Which is to say that so much of what we’ve talked about today is about inhaling the medicine but also the dosing. So, a lot of my physician colleagues will put forth the concern, how do I know how much people are getting and how do I make sure that it’s the right amount if we’re talking about smoking this stuff? So, the first thing I would say no, we don’t want to be smoking the stuff because we’ve got really good data that cannabis smoke doesn’t cause lung problems, but the research there is not done. We need more research there before we can say it’s truly different, but vaporization is the way to go because what you’re doing in that setting is you’re heating the cannabis to a temperature where we can get the medicine as a vapor but there’s no combustion. So, there’s no smoke.
Using well crafted vaporizers and a particular inhalation technique that I teach my patients, which by the way isn’t rocket science, I can tell how many milligrams of cannabis or THC they’re getting per puff, per inhalation and that allows me to know what they’re getting and how to compare that against other patients or against their own progress. So, the vaporizers that I use, two of them in particular that I recommend to people, one is the Stores and Bickel Crafty, which is a small handheld unit. There’s another one by a company called Boundless that makes a version called the CFX, and the CFX is a fine machine. It’s principle advantage, however, is it’s less expensive than the Crafty. I think the Crafty is sort of the cream of the crop at the moment. I’m actually working with a number of companies on developing better vaporizers, ones which can deliberately deliver specific know doses, a metered dose vaporizer. Those are not entirely to market just yet.
Matthew: You did mention how to get a hold of you, but if you could repeat that one more time, your website and your email or any way to get in touch with you that’d be great.
Jordan: My website is www.inhalemd.com and you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re interested in checking out the Association of Cannabis Specialists, that’s www.cannabis-specialists.org.
Matthew: Well, Dr. Jordan Tishler, thanks so much for coming on the show today and educating us. We appreciate it.
Jordan: Thank you. It was great. Lots of fun.
Dr. Stuart Titus is the CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc and General Hemp. Dr. Titus talks about how he got into the industry as an investor and then eventually became the CEO. Dr. Titus talks about how cannabis and CBD patients are using it and how he is expanding his business abroad.
What are the five trends disrupting the cannabis industry?
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– Wall Street to Cannabis and Hemp
– Noticing how athletes and patients use hemp
– Staring in hemp as an investor
– Expanding outside the United States
– How patients are using CBD and Cannabis
– Where the industry will be in five years
Dr. Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc. and General Hemp is here to help us understand the promise of medical applications with cannabis and hemp and understand the fastest growing areas in the cannabis ecosystem. Stuart, welcome to CannaInsider.
Dr. Stuart: It's great to be with you today. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world?
Dr. Stuart: Well, today I am in Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm on company travels, and certainly, our home office based out of San Diego, California.
Matthew: That's a nice place to be in the winter months. Good job. Well done.
Dr. Stuart: Well, certainly, we're enjoying some better weather than many people in the rest of the world, and certainly, it's a great pleasure. But, you know, we do travel extensively, and certainly, this is part of the business that we're in.
Matthew: Yes. And what are Medical Marijuana Inc. and General Hemp? What's important to understand about each of those businesses?
Dr. Stuart: Well, Medical Marijuana Incorporated is a public company. We're actually incorporated in Oregon and were founded back in 2005. In March of 2009, Medical Marijuana Inc. had become a publicly-traded company, the first one in the United States in this industrial hemp medical cannabis space. And certainly, our ticker symbol is MJNA for those who like to follow. And the General Hemp, LLC was formed in 2012. We're a private equity company and General Hemp is the largest single shareholder in Medical Marijuana Inc.
Matthew: Okay. And what was your background before getting into the cannabis and hemp industries?
Dr. Stuart: Well, my career started on Wall Street. I was a bond trader and underwriter for about 11 years. I worked with Credit Suisse First Boston for the majority of my career, kind of a big white shoe investment banking firm and certainly had some great experiences on Wall Street. However, after 11 years, enough of the stress and burnout, everything from Wall Street. So, I totally changed gears and I got into the field of physical therapy and physio therapeutics. I had a wonderful practice in the Carolinas and did that for many years. Certainly, here was where I found out that many athletes using cannabis to help with their pain, inflammation issues, and help them with sleep. I started taking some medical cannabis symposiums and from there, saw a tremendous amount of research going on into these extracts from the cannabis plant family, the cannabinoids. And when our public company started out in California in 2009, I became involved just as an investor. And over time, I've taken on an increasingly large role of the company to the point where today I'm the president and CEO.
Matthew: Wow. Okay. Talk about you get your foot in the door as an investor, and then fast forward, now you're the CEO.
Dr. Stuart: Certainly, it's been a great journey. And we've been very excited about the fact that not all cannabis or not all forms of cannabis, necessarily, are psychoactive. There's the whole industrial hemp side with tremendous industrial use and application. But also the non-psychoactive cannabinoids, CBD or cannabidiol, this has presented a tremendous evolution, if you will, in the field of cannabis-based medicine.
Matthew: Okay. You're doing a lot of different things. Can you summarize your business, medical, and research projects to help listeners understand the scope of work here?
Dr. Stuart: Yes. Our company is certainly well-involved in the cannabis space and we have currently five divisions that are in the nutraceutical sales of hemp-based CBD products. We also have two divisions that are in pharmaceutical development. We're very excited about a lot of the research that's going on, not only in the U.S. but also around the globe. Our company, in particular, are doing a good amount of research in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and some of our pharma partners, actually, over in Europe in the Netherlands. So, with this, we're certainly an international company and believe that there are tremendous potential opportunities here. We're certainly ones who keep investing back into our businesses and developing global operations. It's been great to have had our products introduced and accepted into the country of Brazil as of April 2014. Here in the U.S., basically, our products are available OTC or over the counter to individuals. They can order them online. But in Brazil, it's only available by doctor prescription.
And the initial indication for us was for what's called refractory epilepsy. This is a type of epileptic seizure disorder that children have that basically is resistant to pharmaceutical intervention. And here, in April of 2014, the country of Brazil saw that our products were working when pharmaceutical products weren't to help certain families and children with epileptic seizure disorders, and they welcomed our product into the country at that time. Subsequently, February of 2016, our products were accepted into the country of Mexico, again, similar indications, refractory epilepsy, again where pharmaceutical medications weren't exactly able to control some of the seizure episodes in these children. Our products were able to do so. And certainly, this has been a great journey for us. We're certainly excited about moving into other markets throughout the globe. And currently, you know, we've had a good year last year in terms of sales, and we're expecting further increases coming up here in 2018.
Matthew: As you get into more international markets, how do you manage currency risk? Because, you know, look at the dollar. The dollar has been super strong up to about January 2017. It's gotten weaker. And recently, it's had a bit of a recovery. But when we're talking about some Latin American countries, sometimes we're dealing with volatile currencies, the Brazilian real, the Mexican peso. How do you manage these currency risks? Do you denominate everything in dollars so you don't have to worry about it? How does that work?
Dr. Stuart: Well, yes, a lot of our transactions do wind up in U.S. dollars. And it's nice to know that, say, in Brazil, for example, the country of Brazil, through their health care system actually reimburses citizens for the cost of our products. So those with the necessary doctor prescription, the necessary importation paperwork will actually get their product paid for and covered by the government of Brazil. And they'll, you know, pay us in either the local currency or in U.S. dollars. And most of this, at the moment, we're being able to convert to U.S. dollars.
As we expand over to Europe, obviously, like any international or multinational company, we're gonna have exposure to currency fluctuations. And that's just part of the cost of doing business. Certainly, if we get large enough, and we're just a, you know, small OTC-traded company, but if we were to grow and get up to the, you know, Nasdaq, New York Stock Exchange level where we're doing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year, I believe then we'll be a little bit more active in some of the futures markets where we can offset or hedge some of our risk in terms of currency trading.
Of course, my Wall Street background, I've been fairly familiar with the hedging at risks. Most of the risks I took back on Wall Street were in terms of bonds, U.S. Treasury bonds, and hedging that type of risk. But nonetheless, I was very familiar with the currency-currency trading. And certainly, this is a good way for many multinational companies to help smooth out some of the ups and downs that happen, not only in terms of sales but also in terms of relative values of one currency versus another.
Matthew: I know mortgage-backed bonds are still, kind of, traded by individual mortgage-backed traders. And corporate bonds, I believe, are too or most of them. Do you see, kind of, a fintech revolution coming where all that's gonna be put on the blockchain or somewhere into a fintech cloud where people have more transparency on bond issues and things like that?
Dr. Stuart: I certainly believe so. Of course, back when I was on Wall Street many years ago, this was way before we even had electronic trading. I remember all my trades and tickets were done by hand. And certainly, the advent of the computer and computerized trading has moved us to a whole different dimension here, certainly opening up the markets to many people who would not necessarily have had access back when I was on Wall Street throughout the 1980s.
So, you know, we're certainly excited about the fact that, yes, there are additional opportunities, not only through the blockchain but also through new and innovative products. We really believe that once we get to legalization of cannabis, this will be the largest cash crop in the entire United States, bigger than wheat, corn, soybeans. Certainly, there will be a cannabis futures market in Chicago on the Board of Trade. We truly believe that even things such as cannabis backed bonds may have significant appeal for various investors.
Matthew: Yeah. You know, that's really interesting. I actually, in college, worked on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and I was able to see kind of this open outcry environment before it went away. And the thing I wonder about, like, hemp seems like a perfect opportunity to maybe be listed as a commodity. But with cannabis, we're talking about all these different grades and different aspects of it. Do you see that being possible?
I mean, hemp for sure, but you'd really think cannabis could be something that could be a commodity that is exchanged because what would you say? It's like you have Blue Dream over here or this... I mean, how do you define the characteristics? Like, corn or pork belly or orange juice can be really commoditized down to a certain grade level. Do you think everybody would start to move into a certain type of grade to make it possible to have huge liquidity on an exchange or something like that?
Dr. Stuart: Well, I think this is a very interesting concept and a lot of it remains, kind of, in terms of speculation and conjecture. But certainly, I think that we could grade this, say if it was, you know, a marijuana type of cannabis that you could have certain grades, say, a 5% THC, maybe a 10% THC, 20% THC, etc. And potentially, these would be contracts that could potentially be deliverable through the commodities exchange. Say, someone wanted to take delivery of their, you know, existing futures contract, and we would have that potential to have it available. And, of course, on the hemp side, you know, there are many different potential industrial applications and different types of hemp are better for, say, textiles, for example. And other types of hemp are maybe perhaps better for, say, your hemp construction building materials. Some types of hemp grow a better seed than others, other varieties. So I can see several different grades of both the marijuana side of cannabis, as well as the hemp side.
Matthew: Yeah. That would be outstanding if that could happen. It would really help a lot of different market participants hedge their risk in ways and know what...lock in their revenue when they're planting their crop. That would be great if that could happen.
Dr. Stuart: Well, certainly, yes. You know, of course, here in the U.S., the hemp industry is very much in its infancy. We're looking to bring back hemp as a tremendous agricultural crop and commodity like it was many centuries and generations ago. But, yeah, I really think that we can move forward with some interesting things in terms of the various potential applications for hemp, and certainly, I think this has got some real legs to it, I think, for the farmer particularly, since this is a developing market that there isn't a lot of, say, production processing facilities in the U.S. like there are in many foreign countries. And until we get, you know, all these production and processing facilities, the farmer needs to have some type of farm gate outlet or a place where they can go to potentially sell their crop to buyers. I'm sure over time as we develop, you know, large hemp textile facilities or hemp building construction material facilities that the farmer will easily have a place to sell their crop and product, even here while the industry is developing. Certainly, the futures market can help bridge that gap. And obviously, once this industrial production starts to ramp up as we achieve economies of scale by larger and larger hemp production here in the U.S., I think it will be easier and easier for the farmer to find great sources and different uses for their potential crop.
Matthew: Let's pivot to cannabis as a medication and CBD as a medication. Do you think that traditional pharmaceuticals are being cannibalized by CBD and cannabis as a medicine or is the whole market just growing, and now cannabis and hemp are making up a part of that growth?
Dr. Stuart: Well, it's interesting to see this return of cannabis as a medicine. And certainly, since the beginning of recorded time, we see, you know, about 8,000 years B.C., ancient Chinese manuscripts and some of the first, you know, Britain-recorded history of the world. We see various cannabis oils, tinctures, preparations, being used medicinally. And really right up until the late 1800s, early1900s, all the large pharmaceutical companies had several cannabis-based medicines that were, you know, routinely available.
And it's great to see this come back. I think it's going to certainly disrupt some of the markets for pharmaceutical medication. Certainly, we believe, as does Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a great Israeli-based researcher, the grandfather of cannabis medicine, if you will. Dr. Mechoulam believes that once cannabis is fully researched and has gone through clinical study and approvals, etc., etc., this may replace as much as 40% of all pharmaceutical medicines on the market today.
And certainly, if we can get good cost of production, I think this will help lower overall healthcare costs. Certainly, from the nutritional supplement or nutraceutical side, we believe that cannabinoids help supplement the very large self-regulatory system known as the endogenous cannabinoid system. That's a characteristic of all us humans as well as all mammalian creatures. And certainly, to support this very large self-regulatory system, we find many people moving to much higher levels of overall health and wellness. So certainly, there is nutritional applications as well as medicinal applications.
Matthew: We see the advent of personal genomic mapping like 23andMe bring down the cost massively to under $100 to map your genome. Do you think that there is going to be a bridge between cannabis medications being customized to individual genomes so people can get a much more customized and individualized care plan from a plant like cannabis?
Dr. Stuart: That's very, very interesting. I know, again, the research here very early stage, but certainly, quite exciting. We do see that cannabis, and particularly cannabinoids CBD, seems to have a very strong affinity for a certain group of receptors within the human body. Most people in the cannabis industry are very familiar with the CB1 receptors expressed widely in the brain, the spinal column of the central nervous system. Your CB2 receptors expressed nicely throughout the gut, the viscera, the internal organs.
But interestingly enough, there is another receptor group called the G protein-coupled receptor sites that... Well, a very famous cannabis researcher, Dr. Orrin Devinsky from New York University Hospital, basically looking at epileptic seizure disorders in children. Basically, Dr. Devinsky credits CBD's action on these G protein-coupled receptor sites as the reason that these seizure episodes are decreasing so significantly in children with the types of refractory epilepsy.
Interestingly enough, these very same receptor sites are called technically, the G protein-coupled receptor sites, are responsible for the action of about 800 human genes or about 4% of our entire genomic sequence. So, I think that right there bodes extremely well for cannabinoids to actually affect genetic expression and over time, perhaps we can develop certain types of what you might call designer cannabinoids that will continue to improve on the ability of the human body to properly express genes. Hopefully, this will help us overcome some very significant genetically inherited disorders and the other tendencies that cause significant problems for many people with their health and wellness.
Matthew: Yeah. Fascinating. I can't even imagine what it's going to look like 10 to 20 years from now in terms of what's available as medications and ability to target specific symptoms and issues, get into underlying causes and so forth for individual's specific genome. One question, in terms of applications right now for cannabis and CBD, what is the most popular for your products? Is it oral, liquid, pill? What's the application style the people seem to prefer the most?
Dr. Stuart: Right. Well, nice question. Certainly, we have different forms of delivery and our original form is a paste form, which comes in an oral applicator. It's kind of like a dark-colored toothpaste, if you will. And that was basically our original formulation and product. From here, we've taken this, and of course, many parents with epileptic children find it much easier to feed the child with a liquid form. And so we've taken our paste, reformulated this in combination with an MCT oil. This is technically a medium-chain triglyceride oil such as a coconut oil or an olive oil, for example. And this has been a nice advent that we've been able to develop these liquid products. Many people, of course, are familiar with traditional capsules, and we have those capsules that are available for people. And we also have a topical application salve product that many people are enjoying the benefits from the topical application.
We've also been able to develop a nice vape product. This is a vaporization form of CBD. And here, we feel that this actually goes more directly into the cardiopulmonary system, has a much more immediate effect. Of course, when you take CBD and you swallow it, say, in a capsule form like you do any traditional pharmaceutical medication, basically this goes through the digestive tract and then the liver will certainly metabolize it. And with some pharmaceutical meds, this is what really causes the unwanted side effects. But sometimes it takes, you know, an hour or a couple of hours for the effect of the medicine or, you know, say, for example, for our product for people to potentially have this absorbed into their system and throughout the bloodstream, where the vapor aspect really gets more direct effect into this cardiopulmonary system and a more direct effect up to the brain. So some people feel a more immediate sense of relaxation, well-being, etc. by utilizing the vapor technology.
One of our pharmaceutical development partners, Axim Biotechnologies, is actually working on a medicated chewing gum. And here this would be a combination of THC and CBD, which are delivered through the oral mucosa. Again, here, we feel this can be more directly absorbed, directly into the bloodstream versus going through the digestive tract. And I think this would be nice advent if we get this fully across the finish line and up and available for people around the world to use.
Matthew: Okay. Are you involved in any specific research, past or present, or studies of cannabis or hemp?
Dr. Stuart: We're doing clinical study and research with our natural botanical products. We're doing quite a lot down in Mexico and Brazil at the moment. We've had two nice studies from doctors that basically are just informational studies regarding epileptic seizure disorders in children. And certainly, they've been very favorable as far as some of the early-stage results. Our pharma partners at Axim Biotech are doing clinical study and research over in the Netherlands. One study at the University of Wageningen. And then KannaLife Sciences, our other pharma partner, has done a lot of great research in terms of preclinical work at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. And now, some of our animal studies are being done at Temple University in Pennsylvania as well.
Matthew: Do you think legal cannabis is having an effect on diminishing opioid addiction at all?
Dr. Stuart: Oh, I certainly do. There's no question there. We're certainly seeing in the cannabis-friendly states, the incidence of opioid overdose death is about 30% lower than the non-cannabis states. And certainly, this is something that even our National Institute on Drug Abuse has seen the potential here for cannabis or cannabinoids to help assist, or possibly even replace opioids. I think this is a tremendous trend. I think over time, this will certainly happen. And it's just an unfortunate, terrible situation, this opioid epidemic. And we really believe cannabis and cannabinoids hold some significant answers for this problem. I think the last count I heard, that on average, about 143 Americans die every single day from opioid overdose. This is something we really need to look at very seriously.
Matthew: It really is. I mean, if you're listening to this, if you yourself aren't addicted, you probably know someone, a friend or family member, that's had a problem with it. I know I've had a friend die from this and it's just... I don't know why we won't talk about it as a country. And it's really affecting the U.S. much more than other countries and it's just a terrible thing.
But switching over back to the international market, you mentioned Mexico and Brazil. If you were to pick one country outside the U.S. that's...you think is ready and poised for adoption and penetration in terms of, you know, the population getting into this type of thing and adopting it, which country would you say you're most excited about right now? And you can't say all of them. You've got to pick one.
To Be Continued
Gregg Steinberg is the CEO of Growcentia. Together with his three co-founders, Gregg has created an additive called Mammoth that helps cannabis plants become more bioavailable to absorb nutrients. https://mammothmicrobes.com
What are the five trends disrupting the cannabis industry?
Find out with your free cheat sheet at
– Ag tech coming out of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins
– Why most cannabis nutrients are locked up in the growing media or washed away
– How to make your cannabis plants more bioavailable to receive nutrients
– How to increase your plant yield with additives
Matthew: What happens when three Colorado State University soil microbiologists with PhD degrees that share a passion for enhancing soil health and promoting sustainable agriculture get together and create a bio-stimulant that can help cannabis growers? We are going to find out today with our guest, Gregg Steinberg, CEO, and one of the three founding partners of Growcentia. Gregg, welcome to CannaInsider.
Gregg: Thank you Mat. Much appreciated being here today.
Matthew: Gregg, give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Gregg: Well, it depends on how we look at that question. Physically, I'm in Colorado in Fort Collins, which is where our company is based and where we were founded. And we can talk more about where our product is and where our global landscape is as we get into this.
Matthew: Okay. And Elon Musk might say you're not even really there and you might be a simulation. What do you think about that?
Gregg: I'm sorry. Say it again.
Matthew: Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla thinks we might be living in a simulation and we might not even really be here to begin with. Have you heard that?
Gregg: I have heard that and it's...He's a unique individual for sure, but our simulation seems to be pretty real every single day. We got lots of people running around, we're building a company and we're living in the moment. Definitely, not a simulation. That's for sure.
Matthew: Okay. Well, Neo in the Matrix thought so too, and then look what happened to him. That's a different podcast. Okay. So tell us what is Growcentia? What is that in a high level?
Gregg: Growcentia is a leading biostimulant company where we produce an additive and an amendment that helps to enhance the yield and help plants. It is an organic product and we're a tech transfer from Colorado State University as you mentioned are three co-founders, are soil microbiology research scientist at CSU initially, and that's where technology comes from. We took that technology off campus. In March of 2015, we raised our first piece of capital with an intent of bringing the technology to the market to help biological solutions, make the win in the marketplace reduce chemical inputs in agriculture in general, and think about a sustainable way, organic way to be environmentally friendly and to help feed the world. That's where we started with our research on campus. And then as we got started and thought about what we would do for business perspective, we pivoted and took a hard look at the cannabis and hemp space, and this is where we find ourselves in the world today.
Matthew: Seems like CSU's spawning a good bit of entrepreneurial activity. Are they doing a good job of helping businesses transition out of CSU? Is there a program for that or is it just kind of a natural organic process that's happening or are they actively encouraging it?
Gregg: There are actively encouraging it. We've had a great relationship with the tech transfer arm with CSU ventures, with the CSU foundation, with the entrepreneurship component of the university both on the agriculture side as well as on a business side. In addition, we're an alumni of the Ionosphere, which is an incubator in Fort Collins, the largest incubator in Fort Collins. And we've had the benefit of many resources at CSU throughout our various components of our business whether it's on the fundraising side, on the business development side, thinking about IP portfolio strategy, thinking about our agriculture inputs and our research and development there. We still maintain labs for research at CSU. We still use resources at CSU for our genomic sequencing for much of our QC work and QA work. We also keep greenhouse space at CSU which we leas from them for plant trials and the product development, etc. So we have a great relationship in university and they've been very supportive in many ways.
Matthew: Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background and the background of your founding partners so we can get a sense of kind of the expertise at play here.
Gregg: Sure. So three founding members all engaged heavily at CSU. Two co-inventors within that group of our technology, both PhD in soil and microbiology research scientists. Matt Wallenstein share the company currently, still on faculty at CSU, and one of the leading folks in the world on his specialty in terms of soil ecology and soil health. Rich Conant also on faculty and still at CSU, and another sort of core global leader. I'm thinking about environmental health and soil health, etc. And then Colin Bell, the third person of the co-founding team who is both co-inventor on the technology, he was the lead. He was the lead investigator for the grants that we were under at CSU to do an initial technology discovery. And also left the university in March of 2015 when we handle the tech transfer and to get the company started. And Colin is also sort of well-respected and well peer reviewed person in the soil ecology and soil health environment.
Matthew: Okay. And so you have a mission to bring biology back to ag. What does that mean?
Gregg: Well, we think about how to think about reducing...I'm sorry, I'm getting some noise. We think about how to reduce chemical inputs in terms of enhancing yield. Obviously, the last or the first green revolution, if you will, was really driven by chemical solutions to enhance crop yield and to reduce pesticide, and so reduce pests and diseases. And it's served us well to get us to where we needed to get through the feed the world in the population that we have today, but it's had some negative impacts as we all know, to say the least. And the next green revolution really needs to come out of biology rather than out of chemistry. And so we think about using biological solutions naturally occurring bacteria that live in the soil that we extract and isolate to do certain things, driving around a core functionality and utilizing those to really enhance yield and enhance health of the plants and find a way to have those bring nature back to agriculture.
Matthew: Gregg, if you were to sit down and have lunch with a cannabis grower or a cannabis business owner, and help them get the most of the information that you know about plants and plant health, and your product Mammoth and how it can help them, what would you tell them to bring their information level up from where they're at to your level?
Gregg: We're very discovery-based. I think we can start with a couple of questions whether it's to a hobbyist grow, medical care giver or to large-scale commercial grower, really trying to understand what their current methodology is, how they're currently growing, whether they're inside or outside, whether in hydroponic system, what kind of media they are using, how they think about their cloning process, what their cycle is in bench through bloom, etc. And then understand the inputs that they're currently using. What's their recipe? What's their formula that they're currently abiding by? And then have a discussion around how adding a biological solution, such as ours, into that regime, having that additive be a component of that, how that might modify what they're currently doing.
Typically, we suggest not to change anything that they're currently doing, just to add our product on top of everything that they're currently doing. They already have a baseline. Most people are pretty dialed in, they know exactly what they're getting and based on the strains that they're growing, and by adding our product on top of what they're currently doing and seeing what that differential is, at least creates then a new baseline of understanding what that impact is. And then after that, if they wanna play or modify other things that they're doing, we can work with them on thinking about that relative to those core baselines. But we, for sure, wanna have a baseline of where they're at and then a baseline of how you're utilizing product is gonna impact them in a positive way both in terms of the health of the plant as well as in terms of yield enhancement.
Matthew: So if I were to walk into a hydroponic shop and I see all bunch of soil nutrients, and then I see Mammoth, tell us how Mammoth is different and what it can do different than a typical nutrient. And if it's a nutrient at all, or how we should categorize it.
Gregg: For sure. Yeah. And we're actually not a nutrient. Thanks for asking it. We're actually an additive. So we help to cycle the nutrients more effectively and efficiently.
Matthew: Okay. So, an additive is...How is that different than a nutrient, just so we can understand that a little more clearly?
Gregg: For sure, for sure. So you think about nutrient is having a core NPK, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium type of components to them as well as other micronutrients, magnesium, iron, calcium, etc.
Gregg: And most of the time, it doesn't matter if it's in cannabis or in a corn or wheat or tomatoes. Plants in general are absorbing these nutrients to enhance their health and to enhance their growth cycles. However, many of those compounds don't actually end up in the plant when they're put into the soil or into the substrate or into reservoir, etc. They're not in quite usable form, they're not in a manner that the roots can actually absorb them. They end up binding to substrate or to soil, etc. And this happens in general agriculture as much as it happens in cannabis. And so, these are the impact that you see of things like heavy leaching of phosphorus into the Çeşme Bay and ending up with [inaudible [00:11:05] and things like this as this is heavy phosphorus buildup over decades of phosphorus binding based on fertilizer inputs and nutrients input into soil.
And so what biology does in general, what Mother Nature does is she has bacteria in soil thousands and tens of thousands and millions of different bacteria in soil to help cycle these nutrients. Over time though, especially outdoors, we've seen a breakdown of that natural component because of all the chemicals we've put in. And in the indoor systems some of these biological solutions and cycles aren't there. So by adding a biological solution and additive and amendment such as us into that nutrient cycle, it actually helps to cycle the nutrients more effectively and more efficiently. It breaks them down and puts them into more plant usable form. And so we have 50%, 60%, 70% of the nutrients aren't always absorbed by the plant, it helps to break those nutrients down so you get much greater nutrient use efficiency of the inputs that somebody is putting into their system, before you end up with much more of it up in the plant and as the plant absorbs more of those nutrients, it's gonna be healthy and obviously increase the yield.
Matthew: Okay. So it makes the plant available to receive the nutrients, more of a bio available situation, and maybe even catalyzing the process of getting the nutrients into the plant instead of them washing away when the plants water the next time, just going through the bottom of the soil or whatever media you're using.
Gregg: Yeah, either washing away or just staying bound up in the substrates and the media that are being used and creates the bioavailability of those nutrients for the plant to absorb.
Matthew: Okay. And then what kind of effects have you seen on yield in terms of the clients you work with that have started using Mammoth as an additive?
Gregg: We've had pretty impressive results. We've seen fairly similar results regardless of media being used, cocopeat, etc, with deep water culture, very essential the hydroponic systems or outdoors in soil, various type of soil types around the country, and actually around the world now. Where we've seen an average about a 16%, the one 6% increase in yield across all these different types of methodologies and grow environments that people find themselves in.
Matthew: Okay. Is there bacteria in Mammoth?
Gregg: There is, and this is the core functionality of our technology. So there's four key strains of bacteria in the Mammoth currently. These are strains that we isolated in our work at CSU in the labs during that initial technology breakthrough. It's for strains that sit underneath the patent that we currently have. And they're unique in the sense that we isolated them towards a very specific functionality of ones that would help to cycle phosphorus more effectively and efficiently. And so, these are proprietary strains to us in terms of our consortia, and they're driving towards this core functionality of unbinding phosphorus, releasing phosphorus, increasing the phosphorus uptake into plants as well as helping to breakdown other micronutrients, again, to have that impact on yield.
Matthew: Okay. So it sounds like phosphorous uptake is a bit of an issue and one you've addressed with Mammoth. Why are plants having this problem uptaking phosphorus, or cannabis plants in particular?
Gregg: It's not necessarily a problem with uptaking the phosphorous, so the plants naturally wanna absorb it. It's the bioavailability of that phosphorus in the environment that the plants find themselves. So again, with these nutrients that are put in to have phosphorous in them, even though those nutrients have phosphorus in them, that phosphorus isn't 100% in a form that the plant can actually absorb and take up through its rises and through its roots. And so our product helps to break that phosphorus down and put it into a format, if you will, that the plant can actually absorb through its roots.
Matthew: Okay. And so you mentioned before that you have a kind of lab setup to conduct research. Is that something that's going on like weekly or quarterly, or do you have kind of a test you're doing or what does that look like?
Gregg: Yeah, we actually have 13 people in our company that are full-time dedicated to R&D in our labs. We both have labs at the CSU as I mentioned. We do a sequence work there, isolation work there, extraction work there, etc., in terms of new product development that are in our quality control for current product that we're manufacturing. We also have lab space at our headquarters facility in Fort Collins off campus. And then we have members of our R&D team around the plash trial side. As I mentioned we have the greenhouse space at CSU that we do plant browse on. We also have another facility just outside of Fort Collins that's a farm that we also have greenhouse space as well as a large acreage to do outdoor testing on. And so this group is working diligently hard every day, looking for ways that we can now both bring new products to market as well as think about different methodologies to enhance yield and health of plants.
Matthew: How do you see your product line evolving over the next few years?
Gregg: I mean, we're really focused on bringing biological solutions to the market, and doing that in a manner that helps the grower, the farmer, the producer think through the entire life cycle of his grow. So all the way from clone all the way through harvest. And the products that we think about bringing to market have certainly maintain our view on biological solution, natural solution, and organic solution that's gonna help with this life cycle of the plant growth. So whether it's on clone and I think about products that are held with root growth and root mass and fast root development could be in terms of the early stage in terms of that cycle, obviously, as we think about the yield side of it and other ways to impact both yield enhancement as well as other cannabinoid impact that we might be able to have. So all the way through the life cycle is how we think about products that we can bring to market.
Matthew: Okay. And where are you in the fundraising process? Have you raised funds and where are you now?
Gregg: We have raised funds. We've gone through three different rounds of fundraising. We've been part of the ArcView community and have developed some very good relationships and friends through that community as well as a number of investors. We have some institutional investors that are involved in the cannabis space that have institutional funds as well as some large-scale of any offices that are also focused on both cannabis space as well as thinking of bringing biological solutions into the broader ag space.
Matthew: Okay, let's pivot to a few personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Gregg: Well, there's two actually that I would mention. One is called "The Starfish and the Spider."
Matthew: It's a great book. Great book.
Gregg: By Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. So, this one's really interesting. It comes from a couple of different viewpoints in terms of hierarchy or non-hierarchal organizational structures, how to empower people in terms of moving an organization forward, and we've also sort of as we live in, especially in a world where so much is driven by social and digital, how those social webs are put together and how that sort of power of the network really drives opportunity and forward-thinking and innovation. And so that one is a book that is definitely giving me time to think about different ways to think about how to be innovative and creative and have our organization be forefronts and leader in our community for sure.
And the other book is "Legacy," it's by Dr. Barrie Greiff who was a professor at Harvard in the '60s and sort of was the father of psychology in the boardroom. And the book that he wrote, "Legacy," is based on a number of different L words and actually living your legacy, not waiting until you're gone to have your legacy be created around you. And the things that it talks about are loving, learning, laboring, laughing, lamenting, linking, living, leading, and leaving. And a lot of these have sort of personal implications to them. They also have implications across each of them in terms of how we think about an organization and creating community in an organization and team in an organization and connecting with community both internally and externally in terms of those people that we network with, our stakeholders, our customers, our partners, our vendors, our investors, our employees, etc. And so each of these core L words that Dr. Greiff talks about are things that we try and incorporate in the everyday component of our business and how we interact with our community around us.
Matthew: Okay. Sounds like a great book. Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise that you consider vital to your day-to-day productivity?
Gregg: There's a couple, and then obviously, as a startup I find myself definitely in engrossed in the day-to-day activities of the business 24/7. So in terms of staying connected to the world, I use two different things, one, is app called SmartNews which is sort of an aggregator of news and helps me understand lots of different places. Expresso is another one, which is the sort of a daily feed in the Economist Magazine, tell me and stay put in what's going on. That in terms of sort of operationally from day to day organizational things in terms of my own project management, I use Google Tasks as sort of a key way to keep me aligned with what I'm doing every day, not miss things. We use normal CRM from the businesssalesforce.com and these types of things. But Google Task really helps me to stay on point.
Matthew: One question I didn't ask that I was just kinda curious about. You probably talked to a lot of different growers that have different skill levels, different size grows. Do you see a big spectrum or dichotomy in terms of the growers that are really planning for efficiency and that are gonna take big leaps in terms of being able to grow at scale for a reduced cost versus maybe smaller artisan grows that aren't prepared for that? Is there a big spectrum you're seeing?
Gregg: Yeah, and I think that's a spectrum that we're seeing a widening spectrum that we're seeing in various parts of the country, that was this divergence, if you will, between a large scale industrial institutional large fund backed type of grows with multiple licenses all over the country, and how they're diving in on a very specific regime really focused on cost, really focused on producing as a lower cost as possible, and the artisan grower. And I think that evolution is one we're gonna continue to see. I like and it's what we've seen in the beer industry, as an example with large scale, these large-scale breweries, etc., and then the artisanal micro brew. And I think we're gonna see exactly the same thing and that divergence and how one thinks about the quality and the ability to get one's hands on artisan products versus the large institutional product. So obviously, as we stay state by state but as regulatory environments change and we're able to come across state lines, I think we're gonna see even more divergence on that artisan grow versus the large institutional facility.
Matthew: Great points. And the artisanal growers and smaller growers have to really have a narrative and experience that pulls people in in terms of getting them to feel good about paying more for what herb that is, like, "Hey, is this part of a family grow?" Is this one that has zero pesticides and is doing something regenerative for the ecosystem it's in, or just something that really helps the person feel good about why they're paying more and then the experience of the cannabis expect itself because it's something I think about a lot. I have the same experience as you where there's this massive amount of money coming into automation and doing things at scale and bringing a price per gram down. And those folks will probably do fine because they're just kind of they're leading the change, but then everybody else that's kind of doing it the same way they were. I'm a little bit concerned about them, especially if they're not investing in that narrative or that experience that helps people feel good about why they're choosing their product at a higher price. So I guess just throwing that out there for listeners.
Gregg: Yeah, man. And we see this in terms of what's the value proposition that people are looking towards us in terms of why they're utilizing our product. I think in these large institutional grows they're really focused on the fact that they have the strong yield enhancement benefit, and so therefore, without a lot of that added inputs on many different components; labor, utilities, nutrients, etc., and are able to produce more with the same amount of inputs, and therefore obviously that reduces their cost of production. And the other side on the artisanal grower, it's less about the yield, it's more about the fact we're an organic input. We're helping with the health of the plant. We're helping to cycle other organics that they're using more efficiently and effectively And so therefore for the artisanal side, it's really about what that input component is.
Matthew: Okay, great. So Mammoth, again, is an additive, not a nutrient that helps the nutrients to be more effective and make the plant more bio available so the nutrients can get in and not be wasted.
Gregg: Correct. And make those nutrients more bio available to the plant. You can always think of it like a probiotic for plants to a certain extent where we help to cycle those nutrients more effectively and efficiently.
Matthew: Okay. Well, Gregg, as we close, how can listeners find out more about Growcentia and Mammoth?
Gregg: You can find us on all of the social channels, #mammothmicrobes, website, mammothmicrobes.com is full of information, lots of FAQs, lots of growing tips, lots of information about the product and our technology. You can find us up on Facebook, obviously, and Twitter and LinkedIn and all these things. So check us out at mammothmicrobes.com or #mammothmicrobes.
Matthew: Gregg, thanks so much for coming on the show today, we really appreciate it.
Gregg: Thank you Matt, I really appreciate your time.