Overcoming the Stigma of Medical Marijuana, and the Challenges of Growing Cannabis
A man who lost function in part of his brain after getting hit in the head with a golf ball. Cancer patients. Parkinson’s sufferers. People with chronic insomnia. Even a dog with seizures. These are only a few of the patients that caregivers Dave Martin, Charles Orns and Chris Taylor of Herbnmeds treat with medical marijuana. We spoke to the founders of the Traverse City, Michigan-based company about working in the medical marijuana industry, finding the right strains for their patients, and their upcoming growth trial using PittMoss.
Herbnmeds operates under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which permits caregivers to grow cannabis plants for up to five patients each. During their over fourteen years of collective experience as caregivers, Dave and Charles witnessed firsthand the growing demand for medical marijuana. “We found out how beneficial the plant is,” said Charles. “We started helping some people, and the results we saw blew us away.” They were inspired to create a company in order to provide more patients with natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals.
Herbnmeds patients range from long-term users of cannabis to people who have never tried it before. This is why the company’s caregivers favor ratio capsules, which contain liquid marijuana with specific ratios of cannabinoids tailored to each patient’s tolerances and needs. For patients who have minimal experience with marijuana, Charles said, “We don’t want to ruin the experience for them. That happens a lot with people who go with too much THC in the beginning.” This can lead to patients discontinuing treatment before giving medical cannabis enough time to have an affect on their symptoms.
For many of his patients, Charles compounds products that primarily feature Cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is a compound that provides pain-relief without the psychoactive effects that are commonly associated with cannabis-use. In the correct ratio, CBD can even counteract THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. “Most of my patients don’t want to be high,” Charles explained. “They’re all working people. They want to feel better so they can work.”
Despite more and more states passing medical marijuana legislation, apprehension still plagues the industry. “We still face stigma ever day,” said Dave, adding that some people consider marijuana to be “the devil’s lettuce.” He believes this is in part because not all medical marijuana providers test their products as thoroughly as Herbnmeds does, leading to a negative experience that unsuccessfully treats their symptoms. There are also stigmas unique to smaller businesses in financially lucrative industries. “We’re just a small three-man company,” said Charles. “We’re just like everyone else, working hard. People think ‘Oh, you’re in the marijuana business, you’re making millions.’ Not anywhere near that, but we love what we do. It has that benefit.”
Growing marijuana plants presents a unique challenge in that there are thousands of different strains, each one varying in terms of the attention they require and the environment in which they thrive. “You have to tend each specific strain,” Charles cautioned. “Some may come from the tropics. They require hotter temperatures. Some may come from mountains where they thrive in colder temperatures,” said Dave. In order to evaluate the properties of individual strains, Dave and Charles must first grow the plants from seed. They later run a terpene test that provides a DNA-like profile of the strain, breaking down the plant’s terpene, cannabinoid, and THC content. The results of this test suggest what effect the strain will have on patients.
The team looks for specific terpenes, or aromatic organic hydrocarbons, in order to best treat each of their patient’s health concerns. Growing plants from seeds can lead to unpredictable results, so they prefer to clone their staple strains every time they grow them in order to always have plants with desired profiles in their rotation.
Herbnmeds’ facilities are currently indoors, where they grow their gardens in living soil fueled by compost. This is where they plan to trial PittMoss in a side-by-side growth comparison with plants grown in peat moss. “From everything we’ve read about PittMoss, it’s less finicky, so that’s going to be good for our plants,” Dave said.
They most look forward to taking advantage of PittMoss’ superior water-absorbing qualities, which will help to significantly cut down on labor. “Right now, some plants, when they get big, you have to water them every day. If we can cut that down to every 2-3 days, then that cuts off time on our labor, so we’re excited to try it,” Dave said.
When asked what advice they have for aspiring entrepreneurs interested in entering the medical marijuana industry, Dave and Charles offer cautious encouragement. “It isn’t as easy as everyone thinks it is,” Dave advises. “There are a lot of ups and downs. You gotta stay up when the downs happen. It’s not just throwing a plant into the ground and having it grow. There’s a lot of work involved.” Charles agreed, adding, “You’ve always gotta be willing to change with the new.”
Although recreational marijuana legislation will appear on Michigan ballots this November, Charles said that they would prefer to “stay on the medical side of the industry.” While they won’t rule out expanding beyond medical if a recreational bill passes, Dave and Charles prefer to focus on serving patients who rely on them for their medical marijuana needs.
Dave described his goals for Herbnmeds in terms of growth—the number of caregivers, the patients they help, the company’s ability to distribute CBD products nationally. “We’d like to have a CBD company aside of urban meds that we can grow nationwide and help more states out with our CBD products,” he said. “We’re teaming up with some people from Chicago to try to get a CBD-only company going.” Most of all, he hopes to see the company continue to thrive. “I would just like to keep going. I’d like to keep touching lives.” He would also like to see more people get involved in the industry as caregivers with the understanding that they won’t necessarily get rich by helping their patients. “Finding people like that is really hard, so it’s a pretty big ambition of mine to find the right people with the right mindset and expand out of our little town a bit.”
To learn more about Herbnmeds, visit their website.
Or, you can follow them on Instagram @herbnmeds.