By Marshall Ogen, VP of Business Strategy CannabisBPO
About a year ago, a dear friend told me a story that broke my heart. His father was dealing with end-of-life issues. At one point, his father had very little desire to eat, and pain often caused him to sleep for most of the day. While trying desperately to make his father more comfortable, and improve his appetite, my friend decided to give a low dosage CBD: THC ratio for his father who had not previously been a user of cannabis. The results were incredible! His father started to eat and was able to sleep comfortably. He became more personable, and his dad (not just his father) emerged once again. The joys in the family were indescribable. Now, they were able to create memories that, otherwise, never would have existed. This continued for several months. Sadly, we can’t outrun father time forever. As time passed, his father weakened, which led to another hospital stay.
Inspired by the previous results, my friend drove to the hospital to give his father the cannabis that he believed restored his father’s vitality before. However, when he arrived at the hospital, it was before visiting hours, and the medical group had shifted to end-of-life conversations. He was honest and told the hospital staff that he was there to give his father cannabinoid therapy. Upon hearing this, he was informed about two things. First, cannabis could not be administered at the hospital, and second, he could no longer visit with his father at the hospital. Consequently, he decided to check his father out of the hospital. That decision sounded the proverbial alarm with the hospital staff. The next thing you know nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff showed up to convince him to keep his father in the hospital where they could manage his pain and discomfort with the proper medication. Ironically, while flipping through the hospital patient information, my friend noticed that they “advertise” pain is treated with opioids. After a lengthy discussion and some IV fluids, he decided to stick to his guns, and checked his father out of the hospital, to start hospice at home. The family flew in, and the last conversations were held. The morphine was only days away. So, my friend resumed his father’s cannabinoid therapy one final time. But something amazing happened. His father, in what were thought to be his final days, perked up. His father ate. His father laughed. His father lived and is still alive to this day. Hospice is no longer a conversation. I am not stating his extended life was due to cannabis. But what I am suggesting is that even modern medicine is still often a guessing game.
The foundation of the Hippocratic Oath is to do no harm. Sadly, the approach to cannabis has created an atmosphere that leads to dishonesty with patients’ healthcare team and can lead to harm. First, it’s important to state that the medical community had their hands tied by either policy on cannabis legality or the lack of appropriate education. The latter is true for both legal and illegal cannabis states. But these are now different times, and physicians and all healthcare practitioners need to take an interest in learning about cannabis, so they ensure that they “do no harm” in treatment.
We need to unpack why there is dishonesty between patient and their healthcare team. The crux of the issue is that typically the patient knows more about cannabis than the practitioner, which is a major roadblock in the healthcare journey. Today, only about 15% of medical schools teach the endocannabinoid system. There is also a stigma about cannabis that is based on THC. When discussing cannabis, there is little, to no, discernment between CBC, CNG, CND, CBN, THCV, and THC. The entire cannabis conversation is forged into one misleading assumption: it’s about getting high. The medical community needs to understand the holistic uses of the plant, and their role in the body’s homeostasis. The lack of appropriate education has resulted in suppressing cannabis conversations in physician and patient communications. This gap needs to be closed, but it also presents a unique market opportunity.
While the title of this is “It’s Time to Stop Lying to Physicians About Cannabis Usage.” The reality is that the solution is to create an environment that welcomes open and honest dialogue between the patient and the physician. Let’s talk about how this “safe space” environment can be established through an illustration using a well-known office visit scenario.
A patient arrives at the office 15 minutes before their appointment time. They sit in the waiting room, watching their scheduled appointment time pass. Eventually, they are called back into the examination room. At this point, a medical technician starts to process their intake forms. This includes the reason for the visit, current medications, changes in medication, allergies, weight, blood pressure, and more. After they complete the intake, the patient waits in the examination room for the physician or practitioner to arrive. This is often when the patient realizes that their mobile device does not have a signal and the minutes start to feel like hours. Quite often the patient starts to look around the examination room. They may play with the pump of the blood pressure device, but when they are hung, nearly every patient looks at the medical posters on the wall. This is where the communication aspect of strategy can begin.
Imagine the poster on the wall is focused on the endocannabinoid system and specific cannabinoids. Also, imagine that the poster is branded with a cannabis company’s logo or specific product SKUs. This small visual on the wall signals to the patient that the cannabis conversation is both welcomed, and safe in this office. It’s also an example of the first step if a cannabis brand is interested in physician recommendation of products, which is called clinical adoption. The desired effect is that the patient becomes more truthful about their cannabis usage and the reasons that led to it. It also leads to a physician identifying that cannabis could be a first or second line of a treatment protocol for a patient. As both the laws and stigma shift, this cannabinoid conversation must transpire. This is important because in many cases, the intake forms of current medication sets are incomplete due to both parties’ unwillingness to discuss cannabis simply because both are uncomfortable with the topic. Being open about cannabis usage matters because of drug-drug interactions that can occur with cannabis and traditional prescribed medications. Without an accurate intake form, a physician could inadvertently prescribe a medication that should not be taken (or needs to be monitored) with cannabis. This patient-and-physician conversation is crucial and needs to become the norm.
This is also an opportunity for brands in the cannabis sector. Being at the forefront of initiating and enriching these patient-physician conversations can lead to a significant market advantage for the right cannabis companies and brands because many patients don’t know where to start in their cannabis journey. If the physician can help them with guidance, it leads to patients staying on therapy and often with specific trusted and recommended brands. This conversation cannot happen without physician education and an environment that fosters communication.
This practice is very common in the over-the-counter (OTC) medication and supplement sector; why does a physician recommend Metamucil versus cilium husk, for example? It’s because the physician was educated on the safety, efficacy, and availability of Metamucil. Or maybe the decision was tied to the physician being sent educational materials, coupons, or samples. That’s how clinical adoption and the OTC strategy turn into brand awareness and become the go-to product for the patient. According to a Consumer Healthcare Products Association study, 84% of consumers say they trust their healthcare provider’s advice on what OTC medicine they should take or give to others. Think about that percentage in terms of cannabinoid therapy. It’s a greenfield (pun intended) for the right brands. But more importantly, it promotes better health outcomes because the wall of untruthfulness between patient and physician has been removed.
If there is any takeaway from this, it’s that when we can speak openly with our physicians, wellness can improve. It’s incumbent upon cannabis users, adult, or medicinal users, to be more vocal with their healthcare professionals. It’s just as important for physicians to educate themselves, or possibly acquire education sponsored by a brand. It’s important to realize that, in terms of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, we have a significant lack of professional training for our medical industry. It starts with the truth and ends with acceptance, understanding, and participation in the healthcare journey. Lastly, in today’s cannabis market, differentiating from other brands is one of the keys to growth. If we are going to call cannabis, medicine or medicinal then it’s time to take the appropriate actions to involve the physician. It’s a win-win for ensuring better health outcomes, and it’s a financial growth opportunity for the right brands.
CannabisBPO is a specialty provider of contact center services including clinical adoption programs for the cannabis industry. With locations in Canada and the US, the company offers outbound and inbound contact center services in a 24/7 setting. The company’s core service channels are text, email, mail, phone, chat, and social media for customer service, sales, and technical support projects. CannabisBPO helps cannabis companies drive revenue and mitigate risks. For more information, visit https://cannabisbpo.com. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Marshall Ogen is the Vice President of Business Strategy at CannabisBPO and has nearly 30 years of experience in outsourced contact centers, and quality assurance, having consulted with many of the world’s most recognizable brands to ensure successful customer engagement activities. He is a strategic advisor to the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a former member of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Marketing and Advertising Committee, and the former co-chair of the Mid-Atlantic Professional Association of Customer Experience (PACE). He is a member and contributing author to Rolling Stone Magazine Culture Council(cannabis) and has taught cannabis-specific curriculum at Rider University.