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Episode 108 of Utah in the Weeds features Brandon Voorhees, a "marijuana missionary" who made the switch from traditional painkillers to cannabis after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everyone out to episode 108 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett, and I am the host here. A podcast about cannabis in cannabis culture starting right here in Utah, trying to branch out a little bit here and there. Today is a great episode, great conversation with Brandon Voorhees, a Utah patient that found medical cannabis after a traumatic brain injury in a horrific accident that you should really hear about. Traumatic brain injury is something that a lot of people suffer from after getting in a car accident or getting in a bicycle accident. We treat patients who've been hit by cars and things like that. Great story, great guy too. Just a real positive take on what could've ended up being ... And really what was, for a time, a devastating, devastating injury and situation for him.

Tim Pickett:
From a housekeeping perspective, Utah in the Weeds is well into its second ... 100 episodes, weekly episodes. We release every Friday at 4:20, or at least we try to stay up to date. If you know somebody who you'd like to have share their story, or if you're somebody who feels like they want to share their story, go to Utahmarijuana.org and find the podcast. Reach out to us on YouTube at Discover Marijuana. We're doing giveaways on Discover Marijuana every couple of months. This week, I believe we're giving away a desktop vaporizer Volcano in partnership with one of the Utah cannabis pharmacies, WholesomeCo out of Bountiful, Utah. A great pharmacy there. They do home delivery all over the state. Go to YouTube Discover Marijuana to find out more there. Thanks for subscribing to Utah in the Weeds. Again, my name is Tim Pickett, enjoy this interview and discussion with Brandon Voorhees. How are you involved in the cannabis space now?

Brandon Voorhees:
I have been using cannabis as medicine for close to 15 years-ish now. 13 years-ish about that. And so I was using it under the radar in the beginning anyways or trying to. As far as signing petitions and things, I wasn't on doing the footwork like I wish I could. I was working and supporting a family and things. I was still one of the first cards. I'm card number 180. When the bomb dropped that your doctor could write you a notice saying, "You're got your" ... This is at least legal. I went to my doctor and he pulled the "Well, we don't know what to do about that yet." And I was like "Well, I think it's time to find a new doctor."

Brandon Voorhees:
I don't know if you know who Rita Rutland is out at Restorative Health. She was one of the first few writing a letter, or at least giving that permission to say, "Hey, this is" ... "We're using it as medicine. It's not a bunch of crap, it's not kids being stupid." And so I was ready to fill out for my card 10 minutes before it actually opened up on the EPS or the-

Tim Pickett:
The EVS.

Brandon Voorhees:
EVS. And so I got my card. I had one of the first cards and was able to go down to Dragonfly and buy a tincture within probably the first week maybe.

Tim Pickett:
That's cool.

Brandon Voorhees:
I was still in the very beginning. Because of it as well, I am all about trying to change the stigma like yourself. There's so much that people think it's about getting high, but if you looked at the list of medications I was on prior, that's not even a comparison to what I was dealing with prior. I openly talk to people about this. I actually was able to speak at the Brain Injury Alliance's Wellness Fair. It happened to be going on the same exact days that UCann was. But I was able to get Julian to come out and do a little talk with me. Putting something together to try and help people realize that there is a better option than the pills that are out there. And not just is it another option, but I personally feel a better option, it's a natural option. It's not another pill that you're taking. I was on pills for the side effects of the other pills.

Brandon Voorhees:
And worst case with the cannabis is that a night with some munchies and sitting on the couch. Back in the day when I was on medications, there was no ... What do they call it? A NARCAN pill or nothing to save your life if you OD'd on opioids. And I was being prescribed 60 Percocet 7.5 every month. I used to carry them around in a little pill box in my pocket like a Pez dispenser, and I was never, without at least 20 ... Or actually, it was 60 Percocet 7.5s and I was always had 25 in my pocket. I was always scared to be without it because of pain.

Tim Pickett:
Really? And that's a lot of them, but that's real. I mean, that 25 of them in your pocket all the time because you're really scared of not being with them. I don't know. I got to take that-

Brandon Voorhees:
Scary.

Tim Pickett:
When you take it in as a medical provider, and I'm sitting here thinking well, you've got patients you're prescribing these medications to and things like that, but when you really think about it, okay, no, this person actually carries around their supply because ... There's a couple of things that go through my mind. One, you really are so dependent on it that you have to have it very close, right. You need to know where it is at all times. That's another thing, the fact that you're mentally is ... It's like a comfort blanket to have those pills in your pocket or with you, right, it's a woobie blanket. To put that much dependency on a substance like that. Just the fact that we've gotten to that point with people and we've ... It's not that providers encourage it, but they sure don't seem to be dealing with it, right. Your provider wasn't necessarily dealing with it I'm guessing, right? Just don't overuse or else I'm going to drug test you and then I'm going to cut you off.

Brandon Voorhees:
And mine wasn't like that. I don't know how much of my history you know, or if you've read my story on ... I was featured on Wholesome's patient page a little while ago.

Tim Pickett:
Talk about your story. People really need to hear this.

Brandon Voorhees:
Even if you're not religious, there's guardian angels out there. One night I had just proposed to my girlfriend all excited. She went to go pick up two children that she had from a previous marriage and I went to go meet them at home. I stopped at a drive-thru and picked up some shakes, and I forgot to put my seatbelt back on when I got my wallet out. I take off down 3300 south, and just above 2000 east, I had a Jeep Wrangler that was a little bit lifted in things and I got in an accident where I clipped the other guy's front end. What he says, what I remember don't jive, but either way, I rolled and was ejected from my Jeep. Literally fell out the soft top hitting the right side of my head and my ... The whole upper shoulder and everything on the street. My dog ran home 26 blocks. She took off and ran home.

Brandon Voorhees:
I was sent to the U of U. I had two epidural hematomas that they had to evacuate so they did a C scar or a C flap surgery they call it, where they cut open all around here and had it opened. I've got 16 titanium screws and eight straps holding the sections on my skull together here under where I pretty much crushed it on the street. With that, I had a couple fractured vertebrae, broken scapula, shoulder blade. My whole shoulder up here is just a scar from hitting the road. I woke up in the burn section of the ICU of the U of U Hospital four days later.

Brandon Voorhees:
When they went to release me, they found that I was leaking CT fluid out my sinus cavity from a fracture in the forehead so I had punctured my dura. So they put a spinal tap in and kept me in there for a few more days until that had resolved and then they sent me on my way.This was back June 3rd of 2005. So as far as resources for brain injury go, being released and resources for anything else that time really there was nothing. They made sure I could walk, and talk, and I wasn't a vegetable, and they gave me my papers and sent me on my way.

Brandon Voorhees:
From there, I was having, not just the pain issues but I was having a lot of emotional issues. And so at that point, who do you go to? It was finding someone who had some knowledge of brain injury. And it was put on the usual pain medication opioids along with ... There was Gabapentin, there was amitriptyline, Celexa, or Citalopram. A whole host of them that I actually went through the whole gambit of different ones where they changed it to Lyrica. Tried another one, it didn't work out. I had gone through Trileptal and Tegretol. Not just headaches, but where the scar was from where they cut my head open right by my ear. The suspicion, or what their thought is, that the scar tissue is pushing against my trigeminal nerve-

Tim Pickett:
Oh wow.

Brandon Voorhees:
And so it's causing trigeminal pain in my jaw. It feels like I got in a bar fight the night before. Usually, it's my face and my teeth that hurt. A lot of facial pain, and that's my biggest issue there. I was at the point where I was just talking to a pain specialist about a subdermal pain pump. I had gone through a Gamma knife to try and desensitize some of the pain in the nerve. I was doing acupuncture. Pretty much all of these things. With all the medications up and down I was too emotionally ... My wife was ready to be done with me, it was bad. That's where I was, at least my injuries, to put me to where I was at that point where it was just boiling over. Too many things that were not working and just hurting me more than helping.

Tim Pickett:
How many years did you go through this before ... And did you find cannabis in ... What years are we talking about? Your injury's in 2005. This is a long time before cannabis is legal in Utah. There's only a couple of states that it was even legal in that point and not something that I would imagine you even considered.

Brandon Voorhees:
It wasn't for probably three or four years into it. I was 25. Or I was 28 so about 2008, just about 2009, where I was ... I think we'd been on a trip to California ... And I had used cannabis when I was a younger kid in later teen years, 17, 18, 19, and so I wasn't ... I was familiar with it, but it wasn't until I was trying it later on that I was like wow, this is ... Not just the pain issue, but it's helping some of these other facets that are making it a little better off. One of the biggest problems with taking a handful of prescription pills for breakfast is you don't ... You're not hungry, or it throws off your whole gut biome at the same time, which they're now even finding out is your second brain.

Tim Pickett:
So I worked in GI surgery for seven years, and people who are on chronic medications, in general, but certainly chronic pain medications, and antidepressants, chronic pain medications, you talked about amitriptyline, you're talking about messing with the motility of the gut in some serious ways. The other thing you're about to say is, there are a significant amount of ... The same receptors that we consider for depression, the serotonin receptors, there's tons of those receptors in the gut, right. We're talking about a lot of the same type of tissue. In fact, have you ever read that there's a very similar tissue in the gut and the brain, right? This is somewhat similar tissue. So all these meds you're taking for your brain injury are having a ... They're playing a number on your gut.

Brandon Voorhees:
Oh, yeah. And what good does your brain do if you can't fuel it properly, if you're not fueling it properly? I mean, my breakfast was maybe coffee, and then a lunch of a can of Pepsi, and then maybe I'd eat dinner because by then I would finally be hungry at the end of the day after all those pills had kicked off. It was not just their side effects but the trickling down other side effects of just taking them. Again, what good does a car do if you have no gas for it? It doesn't get you anywhere.

Tim Pickett:
Right. So when did you start using cannabis at all?

Brandon Voorhees:
It was about 2008, 2009. Four or five years after my accident. Four.

Tim Pickett:
An aha moment you feel like or just something you were like oh, wow I mean, this feels good, it seems to help?

Brandon Voorhees:
That was a little bit of that aha moment. We had had a family trip to California and within that, there was a medication swap that threw me for a loop that was a family fight that I will not ... I never want to bring up. That's another side effect of medications. This is helping the pain and not stupefying me as much as the Percocets and the other issues. Because I was at that boiling-over point already, it was like I was reaching for something. Again, I told people I'd had an acupuncture appointment and people would look at you like you were crazy. You're going to go get needles stuck in you. When you're in enough pain, a bunch of needles being stuck in you, if it's going to help, is nothing compared to other pains that you might be already feeling.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Brandon Voorhees:
I was at that boiling-over point where I was searching outside the box. When the pain specialist told me, "You want to put me on oxycodone or Oxycontin, or whatever the strongest was at that point." And then he talked about putting a pain pump under my skin that would refill monthly, that scared me to death. That scared me. And cannabis, the way it helped me ... Because the only way to use it was to smoke it, inhalation. We didn't have the options we now have here in Utah. That instant helping was huge. Because part of the problem I was finding also with the Percocet is, when you're getting the onset of pain you have to take it or you weren't going to get relief from it. You pretty much had to make sure. And sometimes was I going to be in pain? I don't know but I was taking it anyways just to make sure because you didn't want to be in pain it would ruin your day. Not just your day, it ruined your life. It ruins your life.

Brandon Voorhees:
And a Percocet takes how long to kick in? A good 45 minutes to an hour depending on what you've eaten. And then you're stuck with it for a good six to eight hours, that whole issue with it as well. Smoking a little bit of cannabis at the time, I could wait for the onset. I could make sure I was having an actual pain onset or something was coming before I had to actually do it. And it was a lot more immediate. Granted, it did wear off a little bit sooner but sometimes I didn't need that eight hours of relief. It's not relief. Getting that over it in that hour or two was more what I needed rather than that Percocet that was stuck in my system for eight hours on that ride if you will.

Tim Pickett:
So essentially it's giving you a little more control.

Brandon Voorhees:
Exactly. A lot more ability to cater it to what I'm doing. And now, with all the abilities or things we have here in Utah with ... I love topicals. All day I've got a topical on this nerve here. That does an amazing job without giving me the head change or the effects that I'm not looking for when I'm trying to work or have clarity. The other idea of layering our medications now is huge to be able to get through a night of sleep.

Tim Pickett:
Yes, it is.

Brandon Voorhees:
The medication they had me on for sleep was Seroquel, which was a high, strong, bipolar medication, to my understanding. And the day they took me off that medication and put me on Ambien, Ambien just ... I'd be laying in bed and be like I'm not even ready for bed, I'm high now because the Ambien was nowhere near what the Seroquel would do. Again, one more medication that was thrown into the gambit for this, that, the other. Guess what? Cannabis can also really help the sleep. I mean, it was finding where it was needed. And this one medicine, I could make it work where all this plethora of pills were being thrown at the wall and some helping but still throwing me more out of balance.

Tim Pickett:
So did you end up getting completely rid of your pain medicine?

Brandon Voorhees:
I still sometimes take some Tylenol PM or Advil PM once in a while, and, of course, some Advil or whatever. I've gotten completely off of any prescription pills other than now prescribed cannabis that I was on in that time period. And I also put part of that to changing my diet. Every morning I now start out with a ... I'm not a vegan, but it's a vegan all-in-one shake that's got my probiotics, my protein, my fiber, my veggies for the day, but it's at least putting that in there.

Brandon Voorhees:
Because I still have that feeling where I don't want to eat in the morning from the years of medication, but I need to have something to fuel my body and so that's the ... I've changed the way not just the medications, but at least how I'm feeding my brain. My wife will tell you that she can tell when I haven't had my shake in a few days, my all-in-one, because it starts to throw my brain off, it really does. It's in linked with natural cannabis, natural foods, and helping all in one has changed a lot for me, it changed my life completely.

Tim Pickett:
So what is it being legal? What is cannabis being legal and accessible to somebody like you really mean beyond just the use, right? You've talked a little bit about how using it has really freed you from the brain fog, it's given you more control. You've used it to help your diet and your gut biome. Cannabis has it sounds like has really changed your life, and yet there's this legality piece of it that we really haven't talked about. When you started using it was still illegal, still under ... You were having to buy it out of state or buy it on the black market. But now, all that's changed. What's that legality meant for you personally?

Brandon Voorhees:
Because it still even has such a stigma even with now it having this accessibility issue, there's still so many people that frown upon it. It brings me so much peace to where I feel I'm not having to hide it from an employer, I'm not hiding it from my family, I'm not hiding it from my neighbors and my religion, or all these things. When your brain or your computer is broken and you have to tell it that it's thinking wrong or something, it just adds to the issues when you feel like you're hiding something. You're not good enough, or it's not ... You're in the dark being sneaky about something.

Brandon Voorhees:
I do try to be as open as possible now about it. I'm lucky enough, at least the last couple employers, I've been able to say, "I use medical cannabis". The last employer, it wasn't even completely out yet and he said, "That's fine. I've seen the way you work, I'm happy with your performance." It's such a relief, a huge relief, to just ... A weight off your shoulders. I mean, to not have to worry about looking over your shoulder and worry ... Driving in the rearview mirror or thinking that you're going to get pulled over and go to jail. I mean, when you've got a family, that's even scarier. That's even scarier when it's illegal and you've got your family involved. It's not just you being stupid about something.

Tim Pickett:
It affects a lot of people. I think that it's lost on a lot of people where that legality is so important. But you also bring up the other point of that which is the stigma associated with cannabis use. And legality can't ... It doesn't necessarily get rid of that, right. It doesn't get rid of the stigma. It does for a lot of people and it does a lot of good, but we're ... I hear you saying, you don't feel like we're there yet. We're just not there yet.

Brandon Voorhees:
We've made such strides but we haven't crossed that finish line. Because you talk about it and people still laugh and go, "Oh yeah, right."

Tim Pickett:
Medical marijuana.

Brandon Voorhees:
Sometimes then they hear your story. Right.

Tim Pickett:
But then they listen to-

Brandon Voorhees:
Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
I'm telling you, I mean, you listen to a story like yours and you're like no, let me paint you a picture right here of Brandon Voorhees who got in the accident in 2005, was essentially ... Who took a handful of pills for breakfast. And now is a contributing member of society, he's not addicted to pain pills. We're 15 years later, I mean, congratulations, man.

Brandon Voorhees:
Thanks. It's been a long rough road. It's been a really long rough road.

Tim Pickett:
And we still have work to do for the other people, right, because there's-

Brandon Voorhees:
A lot of work.

Tim Pickett:
For every Brandon there is out there, there's got to be 10, 20, 30 people who are still really in that mode of get up, got to have 25 pills with me all day in my pocket. You know what we ought to do? Do you carry your cannabis with you like that? I mean, it doesn't seem like you probably need to.

Brandon Voorhees:
That's the other thing is I don't. It's something I can leave at home. And I now get to work at home, fortunately, but it was something where I would use at home, I wouldn't have to leave or take it with me and use it at work. It's not something I would have to do like that. So it makes it a lot nicer in the fact that I can use pretty much just at home and I'm not worried about it.

Tim Pickett:
We were just talking about the stigma and how the stigma, right, the stigma of cannabis is still such a big issue. But honestly, it's getting better because if there's 30 people out there that are you in the past, and one of them listens to the podcast and finds cannabis then I guess we've done our job, right?

Brandon Voorhees:
That's the idea is, if there's at least one person who finds a better way to manage their pain and have a better quality of life from it, I mean, that's what matters. I would never wish on anybody what I went through and had to go through as a guinea pig to learn that lesson and to deal with it. I mean, it was a literal nightmare. There's no way to describe. I mean, night sweats, day sweats, restless leg syndrome. I mean, so many things that you wouldn't even think of with a medication that's supposed to be helping you, and you're getting these other issues that are nowhere near what ... And again, then you're taking another one to counteract that and that one's causing these.

Brandon Voorhees:
They had me on Tegretol and Trileptal, or switched them off, my wife ... It was like a narcolept. I would sit down and pass out in 30 seconds. My wife couldn't leave me alone with the kids. It's scary that people are so afraid of what cannabis does to you, and if you ever saw what I looked like on all these medications. The next day I'd be like "Honey, what did we have for dinner?"

Tim Pickett:
Right. There should be a meme, right? You could be your own meme. Everybody's so worried about me being a stoner, but this was me before, right?

Brandon Voorhees:
Right. Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
Me before addicted to drugs and having trouble keeping down a job, get my family. Me on pot, have a job, have a family, happier. What things do you do for fun now?

Brandon Voorhees:
Camping. We're a big camping family, we like the outdoors. Gosh, my wife likes to play in her garden so pretty much playing outside. As long as it hasn't been 102 degrees to kill you lately, it's trying to get outside and enjoy it.

Tim Pickett:
That's cool. Are you restricted? Do you still get migraine headaches? You said you use a topical still. I mean, using all kinds of cannabis, but you still get migraines from the TBI and still have some-

Brandon Voorhees:
Somewhat. I rarely get migraines. I did come from a family of migraine sufferers before so they were ... Genealogically I did have them here and there already but nothing more because of it. I guess something that we refer to as drive-bys in my family. It's like a bubble or something, you can feel it work its way through. I'll be sitting there doing dishes or something and have a pinch behind my eye and be able to feel it sort of move on through even if you will. Sometimes those leave a little bit more residual pain. Sometimes they'll come and go and just be gone. Those seem to be the other one that's a little bit harder on me is the drive-bys. I'll get a few of those a day sometimes and sometimes I won't have one at all. But the bigger issue like the weather and things, that's what sets off my jaw again like when we get the weird monsoon season. Clouds that can't make up its mind when it's cloudy and sunny and cloudy and sunny.

Tim Pickett:
So dude, what do you do for work?

Brandon Voorhees:
I did small engine repair so I work on chainsaws, lawnmowers, rebuilding small engines, and things like that. I actually just got hired to do it over the phone pretty much and help out dealers over the phone doing it.

Tim Pickett:
Whoa. Virtual small engine repair?

Brandon Voorhees:
I work for the manufacturer. So if you call to get a warranty, I'm the guy that now is going to be like okay, did you try these things? You do these things?

Tim Pickett:
Right. That's cool. How technology has moved the needle. This is totally random. So I've heard small engines are ... They're the thing that we need to replace because they pollute the air more than cars. Is this something you guys talk about at work?

Brandon Voorhees:
Yes. And there is a yes and no with all the ... Everything's got a pro and a con. You're giving and taking with all of that. A lot of people will preach that a Tesla is super clean emissions. Well, if you've got enough solar panels at your house to power it, then sure it's free energy. Most of our stuff is still coming from burning coal. If you're plugging it into the grid at home, you're not a zero-emission vehicle. Now, the idea is you're zero-emission at the point of use. However, that is here nor there, you're still going to be getting pollution. And the idea is lithium battery mining and all that jazz. You're getting into other stuff too.

Tim Pickett:
For example, I got a gas blower and a gas edger at my house. My kids are like "Dad, we need to buy the battery-powered ones." And I say, "Look, this one works, I don't have to. If I buy a new one then the new one is ... I've got to waste this one," which is ... This one's already operational so repairing this one seems like it's less bad for the environment than buying the new one. And essentially all the plastic, all the boxing, all the battery. All that stuff for the new one has a significant cost compared to just using the one I have. I get that it pollutes. I don't know. Maybe I'm just starting to become an old man. Am I becoming my own father?

Brandon Voorhees:
No. Probably, partially, maybe. I don't know your dad so maybe. There's this idea that it's not powerful enough and things like that. Now, where you were touching on. Manufacturers do have to go by an emission standard. Granted there's certain things that people are more likely to do to their small engines on their own. Most people aren't ripping off their mufflers and catalytic converters on their cars and getting away with it very long. There is a certain standard that if a shop got caught doing certain things to your equipment that goes against the EPA, we can get fined $50,000 so it's a big deal to go against it and make it worse if you will. But I know of cases even where people have brought equipment over from Europe and they're getting it taken away because it does not meet the standards of what we have here. A whole different game there.

Brandon Voorhees:
Now, when it comes to your equipment when it wears out, I would probably recommend going with that. But I wouldn't say replacing it right now is helping out because then you are wasting what you have already and you're just putting that [inaudible 00:35:36] sort of passing it along. But this is also a whole other sales aspect. If you want to know the pros and cons we can go into that where it's ... You never have to go get gas for it. There's a lot less issues with a gas ... Or I mean, a battery power equipment than a gas-powered. There's a lot more things you can do to ruin a gas-powered equipment. Not the proper oil or things like that. Where battery is-

Tim Pickett:
Go.

Brandon Voorhees:
Plug it in and that's pretty much all there is.

Tim Pickett:
Interesting tangent.

Brandon Voorhees:
The future will go there eventually.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, yeah, for sure, right. The future is all going to be ... It just seems like it's all going to be electric except for weed.

Brandon Voorhees:
Hardest thing so I don't think so.

Tim Pickett:
Man, you're never going to get-

Brandon Voorhees:
No, we vaporized it now.

Tim Pickett:
Well, okay. Are you a flower guy, edibles, vape carts? What works best? You talked about topicals a little bit. Do you have a favorite strain?

Brandon Voorhees:
I don't have a favorite strain. See now with all the science these days you don't talk about indica and sativas, we talk about the terpene profiles. Prior ADHD as well as with ... One of the things with some people with brain injuries, the over stimulation, that too much going on. Compared to the medications I was on, I don't mind something a little more sedating usually. I feel that's that oh, okay, I can breathe. For me personally, that's my effect with it. Where I do still like what would be a little more uplifting and what some people would call sativas, but I do tend to lean a little more on that heavier side.

Tim Pickett:
Indica side.

Brandon Voorhees:
Myrcene and things that are going to give me a little more sedation just because it's a little more relaxing for me. And like I said, the medications I was on had me so lethargic already it doesn't bother me as much. Where some people, they call it couch lock and would be stuck for hours. I'm still the guy who wants to go hiking.

Tim Pickett:
So how long do you think it took you to get a regimen down to where you know what to use and you learned how to use it? Take you a few months you think or did it ... Are you still working on it?

Brandon Voorhees:
That's what I was just going to say. I mean, besides where that healing process might be, what level you're at. Things have changed so much and drastically over the last few years. Now that there's tinctures available for me and different ratio edibles. I mean, what was that five years ago? There weren't ratios of CBG to CBD. It was edibles and they were trying to make them stronger and more potent with THC all the time.

Brandon Voorhees:
When you are going through the black market, and there's that old term you trust your dealer, there was a few places it was kind of ... It's like shopping for a pharmacy now. I had to go for a few times and find someone who was more about it as a medicine than it was about making the money or a profit on it. He was actually giving me better stuff at a lower cost, but it was more ... I still even tell people he was my apothecary. It was somewhere where I could trust him a little more and know what I was getting. He knew more about it than what everybody else had at the time. And he was also getting some ... Was supplying stuff from out of state that was a little more what you would call exotic back in the day. I mean, we never saw all these other things.

Brandon Voorhees:
So it has become changing that regimen, going with it, but I still ... Flower is my go-to. It was what I always used and grew up with if you will, or it grew with me. I also find that the flower gives you that little more ability of, this one's a little more sedating or this one's a little more uplifting. Where your edible is the same almost every time except on how much you've eaten that day, or that can change it. Where a tincture is very uniform. I love how a tincture, you know what you're going to get out of using it. It's changed all the time and it's worked up to where it is. Like I said before, years ago all it would've been was a bunch of flower. Now, it's mostly topical with some flower here and there throughout the day maybe.

Tim Pickett:
Cool. Well, this has been fun. Is there something that we've missed? Anything else you really talk about?

Brandon Voorhees:
Something I put together myself. Being a TBI sufferer, being traumatic brain injury, I took that and rolled with it so I put together what I call TBI cannabis, which is just ... If there's someone out there who wants to be informed on cannabis ... Like yourself, Tim, I'm not a doctor though, I'm not a pharmacist, but I'm the guy who had to learn the lesson the hard way and has a little bit more of here this is what I would recommend trying. Again, just from being the person who was there. Because I've been to the pharmacies even where I ask the pharmacist, "Oh, well, what do you use?" And when the pharmacist tells you he's never tried cannabis of any sort but he is working in a cannabis pharmacy, you go, "Look, I respect your word of what your patients have told you, but you don't that firsthand knowledge." It's harder to connect with them at that point.

Tim Pickett:
It's something to be said about it.

Brandon Voorhees:
So that's where I've put that together just as being ... It's not like it's a business or anything at this point, but if someone wants to ask me about it they can hit me up at TBI.cannabis@gmail and I'm willing to just let you know "Hey, these are some resources." Your information is probably the first thing I throw out is your YouTube videos is "Here, here's some info because I'll just be a flood of too much and you'll never get it all. Here's some stuff to pick through and see what might help with you." I just want to get it out there. I mean, let these people know who don't even consider it. Don't laugh at it. Give it some thought. I mean, it's not about the highs.

Tim Pickett:
Give it a try.

Brandon Voorhees:
It's about a quality of life.

Tim Pickett:
No. Well said. Well, Brandon, I appreciate you coming on telling your story. I think it's powerful to hear, it's good for people to hear. We don't hear enough of it, frankly. There's a lot going on in the Utah cannabis space now, and the more we can continue to just push legitimacy and push this type of use, the more the program will expand organically I think. And the more people can find it, that it will help. Congratulations again.

Brandon Voorhees:
Thank you. Thank you much. And for yourself, I love all you do and I am just a huge fan of the show, all the shows you do. The information all around is just ... It's phenomenal. Thank you.

Tim Pickett:
Thanks. I appreciate that. For those of you who aren't subscribed to the podcast Utah in the Weeds, Utah in the Weeds, my name's Tim Pickett. Brandon Voorhees, thanks for coming on. Stay safe out there, everybody.

Episode 107 of Utah in the Weeds features Matt Hoffman, a Michigan man who is dedicated to cannabis philanthropy. Hoffman started one of the few nonprofit cannabis companies, and he shared some advice for those interested in working in the cannabis industry

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody to episode 107 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett and I'm the host. Here's a podcast about cannabis and cannabis culture. We're expanding the program today after discussing with Lissa Reed about the Utah's uplift program, the subsidy program that helps low income and terminally ill patients right here in Utah. If you haven't heard that episode, go back and listen to episode 106. This episode is a discussion with Matt Hoffman, who is from Michigan, spent some time growing, producing and selling cannabis there in a legal gray area, spent some time in jail actually. After that experience, decided to turn everything on its head and start one of the first and only nonprofit cannabis companies in the United States. Talked to him about that experience and what he's doing for the cannabis culture and the cannabis community, and people who want to work in cannabis space.

Tim Pickett:
This is an interesting conversation with somebody with an entirely different perspective in my opinion about cannabis. He doesn't hold back his opinions about what's happening in cannabis and his experience. Great. We cover a lot of stuff too in this conversation. From a housekeeping perspective, summer is well underway. If you need to renew your medical cannabis card, or you're having trouble finding medical cannabis access in Utah, head over to utahmarijuana.org, you can find out tons of information there, and lots of information about specific conditions. The Utah program, you can find out a lot more on our YouTube channel, Discover Marijuana. This next few weeks we have a big giveaway on our YouTube channel, so pay attention to that. Subscribe where you can if you'd like. Comment, we always love to hear your comments and answer all of them.

Tim Pickett:
Again, my name's Tim Pickett. Enjoy this conversation with Matt Hoffman. I joke sometimes with my staff, the only requirement to be adjacent to cannabis or in the cannabis business, one of the main requirements is you have to have microwaves in your office big enough to nuke the laptops if the black Suburban show up. You always have to have stuff like that in the back of your mind. It's stories like yours that solidify it in people's minds. You think about where we are now. I'm 36. I thought where we'd be when I was into my 50s, well into my 50s. If you were told 10 years ago that we were going to be here, I would've been like, "Fuck you. There is no way it's going to be legal in Utah and any of that." Right?

Matt Hoffman:
Right. You and I laugh about nuking laptops and having go bags and all this other stuff, but that was my reality, like it's movie stuff. I think that people that are part of the culture now, they're like, "No way that's real." I'm like, "Yeah, that's real." That's how the industry functioned back then and back then was about five years ago.

Tim Pickett:
I know. Okay, so introduce yourself. I just want to hear the whole thing really.

Matt Hoffman:
Okay. Hi, I'm Matt Hoffman. I am a legacy cannabis owner and operator. I grew and owned a dispensary for a number of years in Western Michigan. After my tenure and time served for participating in the cannabis industry, I got out and realized that I was totally fucked because I couldn't pursue a license that many hold now [inaudible 00:04:27]

Tim Pickett:
Because you're a felon.

Matt Hoffman:
I sidestepped the felon [inaudible 00:04:33]

Tim Pickett:
Thank goodness.

Matt Hoffman:
They stacked me up with three of them and I was facing seven years. I got off pretty easy, but my life was in shambles regardless. I wasn't able to do what I honed my skills over the years doing. We first started, I was... If you bought a [inaudible 00:04:56] from me, you get a quarter of seeds and stems and I probably got a couple pieces of shitty schwag weed.

Tim Pickett:
This is in Michigan?

Matt Hoffman:
This is in Western Michigan. This is over here by Lake Michigan.

Tim Pickett:
Okay.

Matt Hoffman:
Over the years of just living, eating, sleeping, and breathing cannabis, we ended up winning back-to-back-to-back caregiver cups in 2015 and ended up doing 1.3 million a year in revenue through our dispensary, which we started with our family's 401(k) of $37,000.

Tim Pickett:
How does that work? How do you get your family to say, "Oh, I know, this is a really great idea, Matt. You should take our retirement plan and invest in a federally illegal business and grow weed."

Matt Hoffman:
I think charm and persuasion is a gift I have. Apparently I have an abundance of it because I convinced my family to cash in their 401(k) and start a illegal enterprise with me. It starts as any other pitch is feed people, make sure they have to go to the bathroom and they've had a relatively good day and just have a conversation and it went, "Hey, how do you think life's going to go?" My mom said, "Oh, I think I'm going to fall over debt at my desk." I said, "Well, I'm probably going to work in a factory and die broken and standing in a machine." Here is this thing that is legal now in Michigan. I think we could have a go at it." Drug dealers do it. We're smarter than them. We're educated, so we could do it and we did and failed for three years straight.

Matt Hoffman:
Both of us ended up working two jobs and building our grow and messing up and learning. There were resources back then, but we kept at it. It paid off. It took about eight years to get that million, but we did. After that you can't do what I did in the time and in the place that I was doing it and not get in trouble. It's almost impossible. I got in trouble and then went away for a while and got out and thought, "Okay, well, what do I do? I'm fucked." We had an idea for a workforce development agency, like indeed of weed. We started a tech company. I've never run a tech company before. I had no idea what I was doing. It blew up wildly successful and holy crap. We were inundated with people asking for help. Can you help us make a resume? Should I bring weed to an interview? Should I bring a plant to an interview? Should I wear a tie? Will my skills translate. Help me, help me, help.

Tim Pickett:
Wow. This is something I didn't know about you. What year was this?

Matt Hoffman:
Oh, this was like 2017, 2016.

Tim Pickett:
You get online, you create this tech company that focuses on the cannabis industry, jobs, connecting people who need to work together. The indeed of weed is a good way to put it.

Matt Hoffman:
Then people would pay to list their jobs.

Tim Pickett:
Yep.

Matt Hoffman:
What happened is we ended up making more money off of valuations and headhunting than we did off the technology. The technology was an aggregate for people to come to us because it didn't exist at that point in time. There wasn't people that were really out and knowledgeable that could talk with another grower and say, "Hey, this guy knows what they're talking about." Or they say, they're here and they're really here. We think they'd be good here. We did a lot of valuations and placing people.

Tim Pickett:
Boy, I feel like that's still really a necessary thing because I still run into people and no offense, if you're one of the... I'm not going to pick anybody out. In this short period of time I've been in this space, I've met a lot of people and there is a significant number of people who will tell you, they are God's gift growing the plant. They know everything there is to know about the science, the growing, the cycles, the education, they're amazing. Really, when you dig into it, they could barely grow a tomato compared to somebody who really can do it up. Set up the growth facility, put it all together, put the humidity, all the machines and the equipment and all that. There's so much more to it. It seems like that would be a really necessary thing to do those valuations where you can take somebody and say, "Okay, well, give me your resume. I'll tell you where you actually fit."

Matt Hoffman:
Well, it morphed. We had a guy... I was actually talking to him today. One of our first alumni, Dane, he was one of those guys that couldn't get a job. The word master grower is thrown around a lot. It's a self-appointed title. There are people that are master growers, but they would never call themselves that, but I would. I would say Dane is de facto master grower. I know that because I know my business and I've grown for more than a decade. Also, because he proved out. He came to us where we ended up rolling that for profit, indeed of weed, company was called handgrown.jobs.

Matt Hoffman:
We rolled that into a nonprofit called Our Cannabis because the demand was so overwhelming for people like Dane, who could... He didn't really talk the talk, he just walk the walk. He needed to be able to come in and get a job and health insurance and W-2s and all the things that a lot of people in traditional industries take for granted. When he came to us he had, no bullshit, he had 11 page resume. It read like a novel. He had been looking for a job for a year. It was readily apparent to us and my team within five minutes of talking to him like, "Whoa, this guy's awesome." The problem is that our recruiter, a headhunter, an HR person, they would never read the novel that he wrote as his resume. He didn't know how to get their attention. We do. My mom's background, her master's degrees in education and workforce development. She worked at multiple nonprofit agencies, helping refugees find work.

Matt Hoffman:
She doesn't speak a second language, by the way. She helped mentally and physically disabled adults find work rather job training. She did program development for the State of Michigan. This is kind of our thing. We said, "Okay, well, we have this cannabis background and we've got all these people that are asking for help. Then we have mom's workforce development pedigree. She's been doing it for 30 years, so let's start a nonprofit that focuses on helping people write resumes and prep for interviews and go through the negotiation process, which most people don't even know that they can do and support them throughout their careers. That was formed in 2018. We've rolled everything into that. It's a robust suite of services that helps people now. It's built on her professional background and our professional background and in the cannabis field. That's what I do now is chair and then fundraise major gifts for cannabis charities.

Tim Pickett:
How did you get a 501(c)(3) approved?

Matt Hoffman:
Fuck if I know. It took four years.

Tim Pickett:
What people don't realize is normally when you set up a 501(c)(3), it's a six-month waiting period. You do the application process, you turn it in and then you got to wait six months. I don't know why. Sure there's reasons the governments like you can't start a nonprofit if you have a million dollars. You need to sell all your stocks and put it in a nonprofit, whatever, tomorrow you can't do that like a normal business. You have to have this whole application process. Then typically wait six months. In the cannabis space, it's not, and it took you four years to get it approved.

Matt Hoffman:
I don't think that I need all my fingers to count the registered 501(c)(3) cannabis nonprofits in the world. There're just aren't that many because it's incredibly difficult to do. There are so many hoops that you have to jump through. Let's just say, if you wanted to be a 501(c)(3), that's an arduous task in and of itself. For us, they had a lot of questions and they move at their own time table and then there was a pandemic and so we got lost in there. It was a lot of us on the phone saying... They would go, "Okay, your name is Our Cannabis." It was a debate between the founders and the board and I. They thought, "Hey, let's do like Americans for prosperity." I said, "Fuck that." Can I curse on your show?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, podcasts have no rules basically. You know, no rules. We haven't broken enough rules yet to get in trouble. I should put it that way.

Matt Hoffman:
Okay, good. I said, "Fuck that. We're planning the flag at the top of the hill. We're call ourself Our Cannabis because fuck them".

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, like "We're going to do what we're going to do." We're obeying all the rules. This isn't illegal, what we're doing. We can call it whatever we want. We have this conversation all the time.

Matt Hoffman:
It was future forward. I was looking forward and it was saying, "Hey, in 20 years, this thing that is a liability because it is a fucking liability right now, this thing in 20 years is going to be a massive asset." To be that explicit, to be that at the top of the hill planting the flag, that's over the horizon posturing. I said, "Well, I'm from cannabis." We fought with the state and local and federal government, like, "I'm not really afraid of anything or anybody because I fought the biggest guys in the room and they pummeled me, but I didn't die." I went, "Well, so what? Let's do it." We still had challenges with it. In my view it was worth it.

Matt Hoffman:
My board still disagrees with me. As far as the naming and trying to go all the way... Yeah, they said, "Matt, why do you want to go pick a fight?" I said, "Because I can, and because we can win, and because we were winning guys, we're winning." That's something that I think is lost on cannabis in general is at some point in time we stopped asking and start conquering. It was a conquering mindset.

Matt Hoffman:
It's a winning mindset of we're going to call ourself something explicit like Our Cannabis, because it won't be taboo in a very short... When we started this interview, one of the first things we said was imagine 10 years ago where we'd be today and we're only accelerating from this point forward.

Tim Pickett:
We have to remember that. We are only accelerating from this point forward, despite the periodic, what looks as setbacks, right? There has to be. I do a lot of medical evaluations. I see a lot of patients. That's our primary... That's my primary thing. I teach people how to smoke weed for a living and nice. It's extremely rewarding that I come from a medical background and I teach at the University of Utah Medical School, their cannabis program.

Tim Pickett:
When we go up there, I have to really focus on... It is not all awesome, right? Cannabis isn't all the answers to all of your problems. There is a significant like psychosis. There is a significant correlation between psychosis and cannabis, especially in young people. We don't know the answer, but we know there's this five times more likely thing that's correlated between heavy cannabis use and young people developing psychosis, like, "Look that might be a setback for the industry, but if you don't acknowledge it, it will come up as a skeleton later and you're going to be dealing with it later if you're not dealing with it now. You can't get legitimacy for all of the wonderful things that it does in opioid reduction and benzo reduction and sleep medicine reduction. Literally 79% of our patients use less prescription medications within six months, right?"

Tim Pickett:
Well, I can't get to that legitimacy without acknowledging the hiccups, but you are absolutely right. In my opinion, it's accelerating. I respect your board, but I tend to lean on your side. That's the point of a board is feedback. You go in a closed room and you argue it out. There's the quorum and it's professional. At times is passionate. That's the point of the board.

Matt Hoffman:
For sure.

Tim Pickett:
Are you into all the states?

Matt Hoffman:
As far as what I do exclusively, everything is focused on the nonprofit. I don't grow, I don't sell, I don't do that anymore. I don't have the desire. A real quick aside, I don't have desire because anybody could do that. More students that come through the programs, more people that are trained up and mentored, anybody could grow weed and do it consistently and do a fine job. Okay. Not anybody can do what I do because they don't know what I know when they're not in the position that I'm in. I'm solely focused on cannabis philanthropy, impacting people's lives and through workforce development and enriching them that way. Finding meaningful work. To answer your question, we are all across North America. We have worked with people in Australia and India, all across Europe. We don't have the capacity right now to support Spanish job seekers. We have in the past I brought... My aunt is a fluent Spanish speaker. She's a Spanish teacher doing it for like 20 years. We brought her in to help some Spanish speakers.

Matt Hoffman:
Yeah, we're all over the place. Anywhere, there's a medical or recreational cannabis program, we are forming relationships with state agencies and making them aware that a resource like ours exist and programs with proven track records are there to support the workforce. That's [inaudible 00:20:54]

Tim Pickett:
When you go into a state, like here in Utah, would you go to the regulators and say, "Hey, we have a platform that not only will connect people, professionals, and you want us really to be successful because you want a professional program." Do you also offer with the classes and education, it standardizes that level of the budtenders, the patient advocates or the people who work in the dispensaries. Are you training them as well?

Matt Hoffman:
God, no. We've veered right away from that because we looked at it and went, "Okay, the universities are going to come in and we would like to be a resource in what we know and flip a coin in the jar collectively for that." The standardizations and the certificates and all that is in my view, too big of a thing for any one individual to tackle. When it comes to accountants, if I went to the University of Nebraska and I got an accounting degree, it would be acknowledged in Miami, where with certificates and things like that in cannabis that is more often than not the case. Our view was let's let academia catch up and then be a resource for them and let them collectively use their might to tie everything together.

Tim Pickett:
We've run into that same type of thing. I'm sure in the beginning, people were constantly saying, you should develop a program. You should develop education. You have all these people that need your services. You could charge for it, but it does not standardize.

Matt Hoffman:
Then you got to work for it. You got to go sell it. You got to standardize it. You got to compete.

Tim Pickett:
That's not the wheelhouse you want to be in.

Matt Hoffman:
No. Why would somebody want a red cup certificate when they could go to the University of Michigan?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, when you speak of master growers. In Utah, we have the Utah State University, which is one of the best agriculture and farming and growing universities, probably in the world. They have really, really good programs. Why not go there? Right? They're going to figure it out.

Matt Hoffman:
Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
They're going to develop a program, probably ought to just let them do it.

Matt Hoffman:
Well, what the savvy universities are doing is they're finding guys like me that are keen on education and sharing the knowledge. They're bringing us in to be guest lecturers, which I've done for a number of years. The other side of the fence, the guys from my side are getting their credentials up so they can become educators themselves at some of these programs. That's where you get people that have real world practical in the field experience that can come into an institutional framework and provide the maximum value for the students. That's exciting to me. When you talk about Utah and their ag program, I'm like, "Man, if there were some guys that were legacy growers that would come in, that'd be cool." The state would have to get the license, which is starting to happen. Mississippi had a cultivation license, a research license for a number of years. We're starting to see that where some of the universities from the state level are being given special licenses, special uses to actually cultivate cannabis at the facility.

Tim Pickett:
Mississippi, you used that example. They were producing like a 100 marijuana cigarettes for the veterans and they'd ship them all over the country. You'd get your allotment of a 100 marijuana cigarettes, Mississippi weed. I don't know what type of research they still do, but I think Penn State has some research in medicine that they're doing. I know...

Matt Hoffman:
North Carolina's hemp. I know that.

Tim Pickett:
Utah has tried to incorporate and change their laws to allow the University of Utah to do some medical research because we have a big cancer research facility here. You fit well into all these places because I'm thinking, "Well, where do you get the person who knows how to set that up, right?" You have to be you.

Matt Hoffman:
The way that it was done and the way that it's still done now is if you want the guy and I'm not the guy, but let's say, I'm the guy. If you want the guy, guess what? The guy is getting mega bucks either because he's either a part of a leadership of either a regional or a multi-state operator or he is at the helm of his own company or he's still underground. There's not many incentives for that guy to come and be a part of anything because to be a part of cannabis is the pursuit of ferocious independence. We're a wild bunch. That's why we do what we do. The prospect of coming in and playing well with others is not one for most guys. What we've done is we've found people that have this particular skill set and then we match them and we fill in their weaknesses with other people's strengths, where you could have the guy come in and do three roles, you'll have four or five other people come in, assemble and do the role of the guy.

Tim Pickett:
Interesting way to look at it. I wouldn't have thought about it this way. All the people that I know who you could hire to do this, they're not interested. They already have either their own thing underground on the secondary market as I would consider it, right? Or they're in a multi-state operation and they're making great money on that side, or they're in jail. What was that like? How long were you in jail? Do you want to talk... Do you talk about this a lot?

Matt Hoffman:
Not really. I was there for four months and to be honest, it was a vacation. It was wonderful. It was hell, don't get me wrong. It was hell. At the time my company had just... We had just crest it and I was working so much that the only time that I would get a break was... I drove a Lincoln, and I got one of those monthly passes to get a car wash. The only time that I would get a break was I would go to the car wash and turn off my phone, turn off my radio and I just closed my eyes during the car wash. I did it so much that it actually removed the paint off my car. I was so burnt out because it was a criminal enterprise. It wasn't like I could bring on, I had a staff of 12 people that I paid cash and that were like my ride or die people. I couldn't scale because of the nature of my business. It being a criminal enterprise, it was operationally gray area.

Matt Hoffman:
There were no protections. There really weren't incentives unless the local or state or federal police wanted you. I was burned. I was just strapped to the outside of a rocket ship. When they came and got me, everything was in place. Everything was fine. It ran without me. I ended up getting a job in jail where I go and make 19 pots of coffee for the East Grand Rapids road commission and clean their bathroom and read a book every day. For me it was... I would've never stopped. I would've had a stroke or a heart attack and probably died from the stress. Going to jail and having to fist fight somebody or watch people fist fight over a remote control or play cards or watch people steal it, fuck each other up. I didn't care because I was from the world. I was from the underground. Unfortunately, that is a currency in that world. It didn't phase me, but I didn't have the burden and the stress because my team was at the helm. I had strong people. The team was at the helm of the business, which ended up being taken.

Matt Hoffman:
I think the effect it had on me was one, it forced me to take a break, but I didn't get the punishment until afterwards, when several asset forfeiture was leveraged and all of my assets were taken. I don't know how they didn't take my house. I think it was because I was remodeling at the time. They thought that it was like a [inaudible 00:30:49] or something. They didn't take my house, which was great, but they took everything else. When I came out, I was financially destitute. I don't listen to good advice. I act on it. I was very lucky, or fortunate or blessed, whatever you want to call it early on to get tied in with some very smart people in finance and illegal. They said, "Matt, we love you bud, but you're going to burn. You need to go bury some cash in the yard type of stuff." They showed me how to protect some of my assets. I was able to restart when I got back out and it was the most gnarly brutal thing that I've ever gone through.

Matt Hoffman:
I thought, "Oh my God, I have all the advantages of the world." I am haggard, like my guts are hanging out. I'm wrapped. It took years for us to get back on our feet. I thought other people that don't have even a fraction of what I have are so fucked, it's not even funny. These are my people, like, "What can we do to help them?" That's where the idea for indeed of weed came through. Also, all I'd ever done professionally was grow a cannabis companies. I didn't know how to do anything else. It was shocking for me to go, "Okay, well the State of Michigan's issuing licenses. I'm connected. I'm respected. I have resources. I'm a known entity and people are throwing money around left and right, but I couldn't even own a fraction of a share of company." It just killed me.

Matt Hoffman:
I thought, "Okay, well in service of myself, how can I service others?" I went down a different path in life that it's so challenging. One running a cannabis nonprofit is the most difficult thing you've ever done, which is fun to me. It's been so enriching because I can share what I know and the resources that I have and help other people live better lives. If I was growing weed and selling weed, I'd have a private jet and do whatever I want, but it's money. At some point in time and I've been at this point. At some point in time, you make so much money, you don't know what to do with it. I couldn't enjoy my life because I was too focused on making money. To answer your question, what jail did for me, was it reset me?

Tim Pickett:
Sounds like it almost just completely reset the paradigm that you were living in and yet it kept you... What's interesting about that is it changed your outlook, your paradigm, but it didn't change your skillset necessarily, right? You knew how to grow cannabis. You knew how to grow a business in that way.

Matt Hoffman:
I understood all the components of business from the branding to the to... Branding like this to the marketing, to customer relations. All of it. All the things that a business needs, I learned. I wasn't too worried because I understood the systems of business and enterprise. I knew that I could make money one way or another. I was angry for quite a while because I was excellent at what I did because I paid my dues and then to be able to... I'm not saying I'm Michael Jordan of weed, but this is the first one I've grad. It would be like Michael Jordan having to sit on the bench and watch others play. It just killed me.

Tim Pickett:
What was the rules that made it so you can't because I think these rules exist in Utah in most states. What were the rules that made it so you couldn't be a license holder in Michigan?

Matt Hoffman:
It was pretty cut and dry. They just said if you've got a conviction of any type, then you're excluded from holding any portion of a license. At the time it was so that I couldn't even be an employee without going before a board and having a board review and then approve or deny my employee status.

Tim Pickett:
Yep. This is very, very similar to the Utah law originally. They wouldn't let anybody be any part of it. Then they modified it I believe last year to allow people to work in the industry, maybe not be an owner. I don't know if that ever changed or if that has changed yet, but, at least now you can work in the space. It's incremental, it is so tragic that you could get in trouble for something that was really a legal gray area at one point or against the law. Literally you want to do the same exact thing legally, and you're good at it, but you can't because you did it before, like literally your experience is what is keeping you from the job.

Matt Hoffman:
My experience qualifies me for the job, but excludes me from having it.

Tim Pickett:
Keeps people in the black market.

Matt Hoffman:
It does. What's interesting is we're starting to see companies, not just mom-and-pops. We're starting to see companies shuttering. Terrapin had a location here in Michigan. They have a few, but they liquidated all of their assets. They employees came in, they said, "Hey, Friday's going to be your last day. Will you work through Friday?" By Friday, they shuttered the store and they completely removed themselves from the Michigan market. We're starting to see the cooling down of the market. It's not because of the demand in weed. The demand in weed is still up there. It's that bills are coming due and runways have run out and yields are not what they meant to be and then price per pound is down.

Matt Hoffman:
All the market factors are starting to come into play. The people that are able operators are doing just fine, but everybody else is suffering. For me, I've got a dozen people right now that were laid off and I'm going, "Oh my God. The companies that are doing well, don't have high turnover because people are happily working there, but they're not hiring either." We've got all these experienced people that we take them from one sunken ship and put them on another burning one. It's a very tumultuous period that we're entering.

Tim Pickett:
You feel like we're entering it just now? We're just coming into it. You feel like we've been in it for a little while?

Matt Hoffman:
We've been in it for about six months.

Tim Pickett:
When you see the Curaleaf stock graph, is just one big slippery slide down. I love those guys and I've got some friends who are great people, but the stock price is getting crushed.

Matt Hoffman:
Yeah, I think it was... I don't know if it's a reckoning.

Tim Pickett:
It kind of is. Investors will look at the tech money, Uber... What did I read the other day? Uber subsidized all the rides. We've been taking for so long now, "Hey, you got to pay for that ride." What used to cost you $15 to get downtown is now 40, because that's what it costs. That's always what it cost. We've been subsidizing it. Now we got to pay the piper a little.

Matt Hoffman:
What's interesting is I was talking to somebody about this earlier today and I said, "Look, what you guys are experiencing in the legal market has been at play in the black market forever." Guys like me... Oh man. Okay, I'm not going to say something crass. Okay. Yep. It's unfortunate what's happening to the staff. That's all I'm going to say. The people that rode into town and thought they were going to just show all the cannabis people, how to do it, they're laughing stock. The problem is that they weren't wise enough to listen and heed the advice to the people that have been around, and it's destroying people's lives. That's not funny to me. A bro losing his money, that's funny to me, without the consequences that's funny. I think what will happen is we'll start to see companies do things that are unique to them. For example, if I was operating, I would only carry what I grew. I would only grow what my people wanted, because that's what I found success doing. I didn't grow everything.

Matt Hoffman:
I grew what my people wanted, several thousand people and my people solicited feedback. We said, "Okay, tick it on the Excel sheet. People liked Night Nurse, so we grew the crap out of Night Nurse. We grew only what our people wanted and we stopped taking on new customers. We only focused on servicing the people that we had and that we focused on servicing them so well that they never even thought about going anywhere else.

Tim Pickett:
Ah, old school business. Instead of trying to take over the world, try to take care of your community, right? The local doc down the street, he doesn't need 14 providers, he just needs to take care of the people that he takes care of and he can still live in a nice house and go on vacation twice a year. That's okay.

Matt Hoffman:
No, if we think about conquest, conquest takes decades. It doesn't happen fast. The ones that try to do it fast, they overextend... I love playing the board game Risk. You get the guy that he get a good roll and he'll run across the board. Okay, cool, he spreads something. I'm going to eat him up. I won't push into his territory, but I'll make him pay for his mistake. It's understanding that keeping the cost of goods grown low, keeping the cost of goods sold low, keeping a consistent and happy customer base builds strength. Then when I want to move on something, when a company is begging an investor to come and buy their $4 million investment for $300,000, okay, here's the cash. Thanks for the assets. Good rent. "Hey, you know what? You're really good at this. Go start another company."

Tim Pickett:
Call me when you needed... Call me when you need another buyout.

Matt Hoffman:
Yeah, so it's been something where-

Tim Pickett:
It the MedMen's story, right. Get too big, too quick and you can't keep up with everything.

Matt Hoffman:
The truth is that growing cannabis is incredibly lucrative. Anybody who's not making money in this is doing it totally wrong. It's totally wrong. Understanding having a growth plan for the business itself because even when times are lame people still buy. Even when the price is low, people still buy. It's having that plan and then running it for years. That gets people to the position that they can start to make bigger moves over time. It's a matter of perspective.

Tim Pickett:
If somebody was going to go out... What do you think is needed in the cannabis space now that you've been on both sides, really before and the nonprofit side. Do you have any advice really for the whole industry now that you've seen both sides? Is there something other than you're growing too fast and here's the reckoning?

Matt Hoffman:
Put your money where your mouth is? We've put year to date. I wish it was year to date. So far to date, the Hoffman family has put in over 350,000 of our dollars into our nonprofit. We put our money where our mouth is. We don't just say, "Hey, we might do good later." We gave when it when it was a pound of flesh for us and we kept giving. I think the people that are new to the culture don't understand that generosity of cannabis. People that are from cannabis are incredibly giving in time and money and in spirit. That's something that is lost on the new age of licensees. They'll say, "Matt, we love what you're doing, but we're just not in a position to give." I have a response for that, and the one that I'm going to say now is not it, every dollar matters. It's the act of giving. It's the act of charities. It's the act of supporting other people who, while one person is struggling... While I may be struggling, there may be somebody who's having a harder go than I am.

Matt Hoffman:
The cannabis community, because of the nature of the war on drugs, we supported each other.

Tim Pickett:
Yep.

Matt Hoffman:
That's something that's lost on this group. They don't understand that we can't give $100,000. We can't give a million dollars. Okay. Can you give $200? Can you give 50 bucks? Can you give a dollar today? What can you do today to help somebody else? They say nothing. Nothing. I say, "Okay. Well, that tells me what I need to know about the culture and how these people understand or don't understand the community of cannabis." It's not about taking. It's about giving. Most of the companies are not into giving.

Tim Pickett:
Interesting. I can totally understand where you're coming from. I have much less experience in the cannabis industry than you. I've much more experience, my background is all medicine and even that industry is very reticent to give back. They know how to make money in medicine.

Matt Hoffman:
Think about the risks that you have taken and the stigma that you have faced doing what you do now, that's a sacrifice for you. You've sacrificed whether you know it or not. You've given whether you know it or not, that to endeavor into this space is a personal risk. That's part of the charity. That's part of the generosity is you say, "Hey, you know what? There may be ramifications for this action, but I'm going to [inaudible 00:46:21].

Tim Pickett:
I'm going to go out there. I'm going to put the flag on top of the hill and say, "Hey, you need good info on cannabis. You can come through me. You need a job in the cannabis space, I'm Matt Hoffman, here you go."

Matt Hoffman:
You need to learn how to smoke joints?

Tim Pickett:
You can call Tim.

Matt Hoffman:
[inaudible 00:46:38] Tim.

Tim Pickett:
Right. Call Tim. I'll show you exactly how to do it. Maybe I'll tweak that a little bit and help you feel better. I like the idea. I think you've definitely made me think about every dollar, right? The charity needs to happen now as you're going, not when you've reached the end. It's now. Any advice for somebody who wants to start a nonprofit in or adjacent to the cannabis space other than good luck.

Matt Hoffman:
Okay. Yeah, good luck. Okay, so couple of things, go and read every... Okay, this advice is for board members or would be founders, okay. You're not going to be able to and if you can, if I'm wrong, I have to eat my words then bully for you. For the most part, you're not going to be able to hire a professional fundraiser for a couple reasons. One is you can't afford them. Two, professional fundraisers, they're like first round sport draft picks. They can go do anything they want to do. They're not going to want to come and work at some plucky startup that's got no money. Ask me how I know.

Matt Hoffman:
My first bit of advice would be, don't spend a dollar until you've done a couple things. One, see if there is a problem to be solved and if you're the person to solve it. If there's somebody else that's already solving that problem, then go and volunteer and help them. Make sure there's a clear demonstrateable problem that you can clearly solve. The next thing is go and build a board. You don't want to board more than 12 to 15 people, but go and talk to a dozen people and say, "Hey, I have this idea of this problem. I'm the guy to solve it. I think you'd be a great contributor to that. Would you consider if I did this coming on and being a board member?" Before you do that, go and read what the role of a board member is. Then lay out a couple expectations.

Matt Hoffman:
The real point of a board is counsel and those passionate debates. Also, they are the people that can introduce you to people who may be open to supporting the cause. Okay. Raising money is the crux of it. If it were... Well, it was me. What I did is I read every single fundraising book there was, and then I hounded as many people as I could and I just annoyed them with page after page after page of questions until, I think they respected me enough to take me seriously and they would engage with me. Then I took classes with a lady named Amy Eisenstein. I took all of her classes, all her podcasts, all of her one-on-ones. It was the best money that I ever spent.

Matt Hoffman:
There are universities, the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Saint Mary's School of Philanthropy at Minnesota. Go and study... Actually spend the time and do the coursework and learn how these function because a nonprofit is a totally... Okay, dolphins and giraffes are mammals, but they have nothing in common, other than they're mammals. That's where the commonalities end for for-profits and nonprofits. Just because I was a beast that my for-profit enterprise did. The things that made me really good at that business were actually hindrances as a nonprofit operator. If you've got the luxury to go and take curriculum at a university, do it. If not, join the association of fundraising professionals and then just read. Go on Amazon and buy literally every book and read it, cover to cover about a dozen times before you spend any money. Then endeavor. Go for it and then strap in for a couple years because you're not going to raise any money right away. If you do, great for you.

Matt Hoffman:
Typically, most nonprofits start with a group of wonderful people that like me said, "Hey, this is a problem. We're going to solve it." The world's going to say, yeah, that's a great thing and they're going to throw money at me. It doesn't work that way.

Tim Pickett:
In the cannabis space, you can't take donations from cannabis companies with 280E.

Matt Hoffman:
I've stopped having that discussion. I've said talk to your tax professional and however you want to support us, we will take the check. That's how I've done it because of the 280E application.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Matt Hoffman:
That's the Godzilla stomping around the field without a doubt.

Tim Pickett:
At the same time, there's always creative ways to donate if you want to get it done, right? You want to contribute, there's ways to do it.

Matt Hoffman:
There is, and it's not about the money. It's not about somebody giving $2 million. It's about the fact that they gave. Okay, so here a bit of statistics about nonprofits and fundraising. One is 8 out of 10, first-time donors only make a gift one time. That's horrible because the largest gifts come from the seventh or eighth gift. Nonprofits spend a lot of time acquiring new donors and they do a terrible job keeping the donors. It's called stewardship. Showing the donors the impact. Here's how many cups of water we fed to dehydrated people. Wells, we dug. Penguins we clean. People we got jobs in cannabis... Cats we neutered. Nonprofits, if you show the impact, then donors have a higher propensity to give again. Then you'll get to that seventh or eight gift where we've seen many times where someone will make a gift of 100 or $200 for a number of years. Then they'll be asked, "We've seen that you really support the mission. Would you consider making a gift to our capital campaign so we can build an extra 20 wells?" They go, "Yeah, absolutely." Then they'll cut a check for $100,000.

Matt Hoffman:
A way to get to that seventh or eighth gift is stewardship and that's show the wells. Show the cats. Show the people working. Show the impact. Then people are 74% more likely to make a second gift if they're thanked within 24 hours. If you sent us a check for 100 bucks. I just texted you and I said, "Hey, Tim, we got your check. You're awesome. Thank you." That would increase your likelihood of making a second gift by 74%. Longstanding statistic and philanthropy and that's the nice thing about nonprofit work is that through the reporting to the IRS, because everything's transparent, you can see the data sets and the data doesn't lie. If somebody makes a gift or does anything for you just in life, if you thank them immediately, they're more likely to do something kind for you again in the future.

Matt Hoffman:
Those are just some things to consider going in that I wish that I knew because I was an eager beaver. I was calling everybody I knew and just bombing because I didn't know what I was doing, so get trained.

Tim Pickett:
Cool. What's your favorite strain? You still have a favorite strain?

Matt Hoffman:
I do. Honestly, I'd have to say Night Nurse. That was the one I grew that I'm smoking right now. I don't even know right now. I had some buddies come up from Florida and they got a bunch of joints and they didn't want to fly with it so they left it. I'm just grabbing one and smoking it. You know what it is?

Tim Pickett:
That's funny, Night Nurse though, huh?

Matt Hoffman:
Night Nurse, anything that's going to be really like a tranquilizer.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Matt Hoffman:
For some reason, cannabis is a bit of like an upper for me, which I don't particularly enjoy because it makes me manic and I don't particularly enjoy that. Something that would be more of a couch lock or a sedative going to bed, hits me where I'm just chill. I can go mow the yard, do whatever and I'm good.

Tim Pickett:
Cool.

Matt Hoffman:
What about you?

Tim Pickett:
Fatso. My favorite strain altogether is Fatso. It's a high THC strain, can be very high. If I use a lot of it can be almost hallucinogenic to me, so it's really creative. I'll almost consult it, right. I'll consult the Fatso, if I've got a problem to solve. When I'm outpacing and I pace and I have a whiteboard to see if my whiteboard behind me, I'll write on the whiteboard. I write out stuff, shitlike, and it's... I always save a little bit.

Tim Pickett:
There's a guy who grows it an hour away for the medical market, and his particularly Sugar House Select is the brand. When he grows it, it's the way, I've become a big fan of that one strain. I am like you, I get pretty paranoid. Sometimes I have to even set a timer on my watch. That's like, "Okay, I didn't have chest pain an hour ago. In two hours if I don't have chest pain, I won't go to the ER, but certainly right now I think I'm having a heart attack." I get that way with sativas, so for me, I'm same way. I like a little more sedative chill type experience.

Tim Pickett:
I hurt my back in February when I was using it. I realized that when you hurt yourself, you've got to use a lot more. If you're really using it for acute pain, you got to lay into it pretty heavy. I learned a lot that period of time. Anyway, where can people go to connect with you to get more information, to get jobs in cannabis?

Matt Hoffman:
Yeah, the best way to reach me directly is honestly on LinkedIn, Matt Hoffman, H-O-F-F M-A-N-N. I think I have an unhealthy obsession with LinkedIn, so I'm on it constantly. The best way to get a hold of the organization is to go to our O-U-R cannabis.org. You can sign up for classes when we're running them. Right now we're doing one-on-ones and we'll walk you through the process. Everything is no cost. At no point in time we say, "Hey, Tim, we need 50 bucks to finish your resume or $200 to do this negotiation training." Everything is no cost because when someone asks for help, you just help. We don't want any barriers, especially one being money to helping people have access to the more often than not transformative opportunities of finding a new job.

Tim Pickett:
Cool.

Matt Hoffman:
That's the best way to get hold of us.

Tim Pickett:
Cool. Well, thanks Matt. It's been a real pleasure and honestly I hope that we are able to continue our conversation and work together. All right, everybody stay safe out there.

The 106th episode of Utah in the Weeds features Lissa Reed, Community Programs Manager for Utah Therapeutic Health Center. Part of Lissa's job is overseeing "Uplift," a Medical Cannabis subsidy program for low-income and terminally-ill patients.

Since its launch last December, Uplift has raised more than $53,000 to subsidize Medical Cannabis evaluations. Thanks to Lissa's hard work, and donations from the community and UTTHC's partners, 194 patients have already benefited from the program.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to Episode 106 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett and I am the host. Here is a great episode describing and interviewing and discussing and conversing with a good friend of mine, Lissa Reed, who is the manager of the Uplift program. Oh, there's the dog in the background. He's howling because he likes the program too. So Uplift is a great program in Utah designed for low income and terminally ill patients who need access to medical cannabis, and it's a subsidy program. We describe how the program works here and get to know Lissa Reed too, who is an amazing part of the team. Somebody with a deep background, as you'll hear, in community development and community program development, frankly.

Tim Pickett:
She's a great individual. I'm very excited to share this with you because when you do good things, good things happen. We've raised a lot of money for people in Utah. It's a program that does nothing but give back to the community. And I think it's kind of designed... I know I'm patting ourselves on the back a little bit because I feel like it's designed and implemented in a way that does nothing but good for the whole system for medical cannabis here in Utah. So I'm excited to share this with you. Lissa Reed a good friend of mine, Utah in the Weeds. Okay, Lissa Reed, Alessandra Reed.

Lissa Reed:
That's me. Hi.

Tim Pickett:
When did you first smoke cannabis?

Lissa Reed:
Oh, it was, it was 4/20 and I was in high school.

Tim Pickett:
In south Florida?

Lissa Reed:
South Florida, yeah. I grew up near Fort Lauderdale in the suburb out there. And I remember that I had been talking to some of my weed smoking friends for a few months about what it's like to smoke weed. And I was like, "That sounds good. I think I'm ready to try it." And then 4/20 hit and everyone was making their 4/20 plans and I was like, "Yeah, I'll come." So it was real shady because we were high schoolers in a state where it's not legal. So we hid behind some kind of tree or something, smoked a bowl, and then I had to go to-

Tim Pickett:
Was it a glass bowl or was it like a... do you remember?

Lissa Reed:
I think it was probably a glass bowl.

Tim Pickett:
Like with a lighter, a Bic lighter?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. Oh yeah, of course.

Tim Pickett:
Okay. And just whatever weed anybody could get.

Lissa Reed:
It was weed that's as much as I knew.

Tim Pickett:
Then you had to go somewhere?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, I had a piano lesson that night, that evening, which was bold of me. But I remember coming home from hanging out with my friends and being like, "Okay, I've got to play piano and make sure I can do this in front of my teacher." And I was like, "Oh my God, I'm amazing at piano."

Tim Pickett:
So you sat down to the piano and you're like just getting into it.

Lissa Reed:
I was like, "Wow, weed made me so good at things." I'm sure it didn't. I was just high. But yeah, I made it through the lesson. Nobody brought it up so I don't think she knew.

Tim Pickett:
Wow, that's pretty good.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, and it was all downhill from there.

Tim Pickett:
Then of course it was like, "Oh yeah, I did that once I can do it again." Did you ever get paranoid though? I always remember in high school just the paranoia of... it was so much fun right up until the moment I inhaled, and then after that it was just like, oh man, I was so worried about everything.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I look back and I'm like, "Why did I keep doing that?" Because I was definitely paranoid all the time.

Tim Pickett:
All the time.

Lissa Reed:
Like was it even fun or was it just fun to be rebellious?

Tim Pickett:
Breaking rules is fun. Yeah, I feel the same way.

Lissa Reed:
It actually has taken me a long time to get over the paranoia, like till recently.

Tim Pickett:
Oh really? What made you get over it? Just like using different strains, different products? Or was it the experience, giving yourself permission to be high?

Lissa Reed:
I think that working in this industry, it definitely has happened since joining the cannabis industry, where occasionally I'll be like, "Oh, everyone's a little bit high today, maybe I'll try it at work." Like I'm in some pain, maybe it's okay for me to take a hit right now and then see if I can still keep my wits about me. And I think I've learned like what works for me when I'm medicated and what doesn't work for me, what kind of tasks, and so I'm less worried all the time like, "Oh, everyone thinks I'm an idiot right now because I'm high and I don't know what to do." I can regulate it more.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, I feel like I can plan it out. Now if I have a three o'clock meeting or I need to record a podcast, I mean, there's a couple of podcasts that I've been a little medicated. Not a lot though because, I don't know, just the way my brain works, I don't love to have conversations where I have to think about questions and where the direction... I guess it's the direction of the conversation. If I feel like I need to guide the conversation in a specific way, I don't like to be high. If I don't need to guide the conversation at all and I just need to be present, that's a totally different scenario.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, that makes sense. I feel like if I'm doing really logistical work, I do not. I will wait to medicate until later. But if it's more conversational, like I work events occasionally, if I'm out talking to the community that's a good time for me to medicate if I need to.

Tim Pickett:
To medicate, yeah. I've found that there are people who... I met somebody who does social media for a company and they found that medicating before they do all their... they pre-plan all their posts, and I guess it's easier to come up with quippy little statements... and to think about yourself like absolutely that's going to work great, post. That's going to work great, schedule that one, and not being so inhibited with worrying about what you're going to say. With things that really, I mean they matter, and you want to say good things, but-

Lissa Reed:
But you don't need to really stress over every single detail and make sure it's going to work. Right?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Okay, so tell us the story. I think I know the story, but tell everybody the story of how you got into cannabis, because I feel like this is... Yeah, okay, I want to know the story. So you're in Florida. You're going to school. You graduate high school, thank goodness, the weed didn't kill you.

Lissa Reed:
I made it.

Tim Pickett:
Thank goodness. Okay, so then did you go to college in Florida first?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, I went to Florida State for my bachelor's. Got it in music theory. Played a bunch of music up there. While I was in my undergrad, I was on The Students for Sensible Drug Policy Club. I don't know if you knew that.

Tim Pickett:
What was that like? I didn't know that.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I guess I've just always been like pro drugs. I think drugs are fun and good if you educate yourself and want to explore what your brain's like. So The Students for Sensible Drug Policy is exactly what it sounds like it is, it's students advocating for drug policy changes.

Tim Pickett:
How much impact do you think those students actually have?

Lissa Reed:
Well, in my time there... I think there's a lot of local impact that can be made. I haven't really kept up with the org on a national scale lately so I don't really know what they're doing now... but in my time there I'm pretty sure that SSDP was really involved in getting good Samaritan laws in Florida, which is if you're with somebody who's doing an illegal drug and you are too, but that person overdoses, you have amnesty if you call for medical help. They can't charge you for the drug use or the paraphernalia charges because you're trying to save someone's life right now. So I think that was an impact we had. And then they've been pretty involved in getting naloxone centers, harm prevention type stuff.

Tim Pickett:
Well, I mean, they're the ones in the thick of it, so to speak. Right? I'm here, I need the naloxone right now, like listen to me.

Lissa Reed:
So I think those groups have a lot of impact that way. And then another thing we did was a lot of education on campus. We would bring in speakers and stuff and just kind of try to move a cultural shift.

Tim Pickett:
Then you went to Ohio next?

Lissa Reed:
Did my master's at Ohio State also in music theory. I didn't do any interesting cannabis related things there other than smoke weed.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, well it's Ohio. But The Ohio State, "The", and it's trademarked now. Did you hear that? The "The" is trade... they own it, they own the "The".

Lissa Reed:
We, we own the "The", as a Buckeye.

Tim Pickett:
Of course you do, of course you do. Why does one study music theory and then go on to get a masters in music theory? I'm sure that's a really pressing question that everybody wants to know the answer to. I'm smiling right now because we're friends, but I love music and I do understand now more talking to you that there is... well, there's theory and there's science kind of behind all things, music is no different. But what made you want to go on and get a master's?

Lissa Reed:
Well, my goal was a PhD, which I will get to, I guess, but I wanted to teach and I got to teach throughout all of grad school. I got to teach undergrad music theory classes. And what really got me into music theory is I was always pretty good at music and I always hated practicing my instruments. And I was like how do I do music in a way that doesn't make me sit alone in a practice room for eight hours a day and drive myself crazy? And so music theory is kind of like, I like to call it like the linguistics of music sometimes, or the math of music. It's kind of just the mechanical ways that notes fit together to create different effects. So scales and chords, how are those things built? Those are kind of the building blocks of music theory. And I always really liked those logic puzzle type things, math things have always just kind of worked for me. So that's why I went into that because I was like, "Oh, I could just do puzzles all day and listen to cool music. That's great."

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, okay, that does make a lot of sense. And I like the logic part of it. So you finish at The Ohio State, then you go to... where'd you go in New York?

Lissa Reed:
The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Tim Pickett:
What does your family think about all this? You started in Florida, you go to Ohio, do you have a lot of siblings?

Lissa Reed:
I have two siblings and we have all moved around several times as an adult. So that's kind of the norm. We all moved out to go to college and then landed in different places from there. I at least stayed in the country. Both my siblings spent decent amounts of time in different countries.

Tim Pickett:
Was that encouraged by your parents?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, totally. They were like, "Yeah, follow your dreams. You're succeeding. You're doing what you want to do. If that brings you to Japan for a summer, if it brings you to South Korea every year, great. Go out and do it."

Tim Pickett:
What did your parents do for work? Did they both work?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. My mom worked in advertising. She worked for a parenting magazine, which actually made for a great childhood for me, very convenient. All kinds of fun kid's events. And then my dad did something in software. I never understood it. He's gone now. So I can't ask clarifying questions.

Tim Pickett:
So a parenting magazine and then and all these events for the magazine, do you feel like that's where you got your... you enjoy events because when you were a kid you used to go to these fun events?

Lissa Reed:
Totally, and it was also my first job. Once I was 14, I think, I started working at those events for her.

Tim Pickett:
What did you do?

Lissa Reed:
Just like manning a table, helping kids do crafts or sitting in a dunk tank. I did a lot of costume characters. I was the Easter bunny a few times at events.

Tim Pickett:
Oh wow. All for this parenting magazine. What kind of booths do these events have? I can't imagine a parenting booth, like a don't hit your kid booth?

Lissa Reed:
I think it's more like advertising for products and locations. The event would be at the museum or at the zoo or something, and it was a place kids wanted to go and then they had all these community partners that would set up booths of tables.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, cool. So you go to New York and you teach because now you're working on your PhD, and this is 2018, 19?

Lissa Reed:
2017 I started my PhD. Yeah, I went to New York, the Eastman School of Music. It was, still is, one of the top schools in music theory in the country. So it was kind of always my dream school. And then I got there and it turned out the dream wasn't wasn't really my dream anymore. There's a lot of emotion in this for me because it was the life path I had set myself on from like age 16. I was just going to get a PhD in music theory and become a professor. And I worked, I was in school for like 10 years working on that, and towards the end of it the academic life started to appeal less and less. It's a really, really overworked space where you're just expected to be working a hundred percent of the time. And also you are your own product.

Lissa Reed:
I had to market myself as an academic and I just found that that really didn't work for me. I love being part of a team, I love having a common goal and I just couldn't get motivated by I have to be the best. I have to show that I deserve one of the few academic jobs that are out there by being better than everyone that I'm friends with.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, because the people you would be working with at all would be the people who are striving for the same goal you are in a really limited field. So during that time, so you worked for the drug policy in Florida, but then you worked, you did more nonprofit work in New York.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I co-founded and for a year I co-ran it, this organization called Project Spectrum and it is an org that is dedicated to diversity and equity and inclusion and access in all music academia, all that kind of like academic music studies world. So not necessarily the performance world, but all these nerds who are getting PhDs and stuck in these really just inequitable spaces that do a lot of harm to marginalize people. I was one of those marginalized people. I am a queer black woman, so there were a lot of ways that the music academic space was just doing harm to me and my communities. And so a few of us kind of started this org to start making some changes in the way that we talk about people in our fields.

Tim Pickett:
Was it mostly just to bring up the conversation and to kind of expose it do you feel like?

Lissa Reed:
That's definitely a big part of it. And we really had a big impact on that conversation.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, you did?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, I imagine if you're not talking about it before and you have people that are academics that have skills of communication, and it's 2017/18, is this the timeframe?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, yep.

Tim Pickett:
Right? So, I mean, you're going to have a pretty big voice pretty quickly in the circles because you already have, I mean, you're already working on your PhD, you're already kind of somebody in this small pond, so you're going to stir the pond.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, and then the other thing is, so our org was entirely run by grad students of color, which was awesome. It was people from different schools that we kind of networked at conferences and then decided to start this thing. And it's fairly common in academia that scholars of color who make it are already at the best schools. So we were all kind of from these elite schools which meant that we had networks that had influence. Like it was me from Eastman and a couple people from Harvard. I think we had a Yale, we had a U Chicago. So yeah, so we had these networks of impact already and that really was useful.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, what did the work look like?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I'll say first, I'm talking about this organization in past tense but they are still alive and well and doing amazing things since I've left academia. If you are happening to listen to Utah in the Weeds podcast and you're in music academia, hi, let's be friends and also go check out Project Spectrum. So we did a bunch of different projects. Our first thing was a conference. It was called Diversifying Music Academia and our theme was strengthening the pipeline. So we had this conference, it was in San Antonio and we planned it so it would be right before the big music conference that happens every year so that people would already be flying in and they could just come out a couple days early and come to our conference on diversity in music academia. And that really worked, we had about 120 people come to our very first conference. We were this new org asking people to fly in early.

Lissa Reed:
And there were just enough people in the field that were hungry for those kinds of conversations so they came out. And we had workshops, we had speakers, we had networking and fellowship events and it was all centered around this idea of strengthening the pipeline for marginalized scholars. So that kind of is looking at all the ways between being an undergrad and becoming a professor, all of these leaky spots that marginalized scholars tend to leave that pipeline, tend to leak out or be pushed out, we were kind of trying to look at all these different stages of a scholars career and where are the holes that we can plug for diverse scholars?

Tim Pickett:
That's cool. I mean, I like this. It really is your you from the beginning to now. And as you get to know people, I don't know if everybody is like this, but certainly it almost is like you enhance yourself. You're like enhancing yourself as you go along your life journey and you totally have done this, at least so far. I mean, it's certainly not over with yet. No, no, definitely haven't arrived to all the things that you want to do. Okay, so then COVID hits.

Lissa Reed:
So COVID hits, I was working... Oh, I did a lot of music psychology research, so at the time I had a grant from the National Science Foundation. I was working on this big multi-site study on music cognition. And our lab got shut down when COVID got shut down, we couldn't keep testing human subjects. So I came out to Utah because my sister had moved out here by then. And I was like, "I don't know how long this COVID thing's going to last, but I don't want to be stuck in my one bedroom apartment by myself not working, so I'll come out and be with my family and help with the childcare of my niece while everyone else is working from home."

Lissa Reed:
So I showed up like March of 2020 and I stayed for about two months at first. And then it was time to go back and I realized I really, really didn't want to. I just decided to move out here so I just went back and got my stuff and came back. And at that point I was still in school, I was doing remote. I was kind of done with my coursework and I was teaching a class still and working on my dissertation. And so I was like, "I can do this from anywhere. I don't need to be in Rochester," which was not my favorite place I've lived already. So yeah, I stuck with it remote in my apartment in Utah. And then over that next year, I was like, "Oh, it wasn't just Rochester that I wanted to leave. It's this whole shebang."

Tim Pickett:
This whole thing. Okay, so that's when you started working for Utah Therapeutic?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And that's when our paths crossed. But there was this other piece that you did with this bail. Remember that bail? Remember that thing two?

Lissa Reed:
So when I first moved out here, I was working a little bit with...

Tim Pickett:
What are they called?

Lissa Reed:
What are they called?

Tim Pickett:
I know what they do, right, so I know what they call...

Lissa Reed:
This is so embarrassing.

Tim Pickett:
They support giving bail to low income... do they focus on minorities or just low income people who cannot afford their own bail?

Lissa Reed:
I think if they don't have bail.

Tim Pickett:
Because if you're rich, if you're rich or you have any money, you can go get... I think you can go get a bond, somebody will post your bail for you. But if you're broke, you stay in jail.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, whether you're convicted or not. You just have to wait there.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, you just wait there. So it's really not-

Lissa Reed:
And that ruins people's lives. You lose your job if you don't show up for three days. And if you're innocent and you're stuck in jail just because you don't have money, now you have even less money when you come out because you lost your job.

Tim Pickett:
I know it's really such a broken system. An acquaintance of mine has been involved in the system for a little while and has money, and at least enough money to pay all the fees. And I mean it's like a siphon. It just siphons money away from people. The parole, the meetings, the testing, the lawyers, the home confinement. I mean everything costs money. You want the ankle thing, you've got to pay for it. Everything just all costs money. And the bail and not being able to get out, that would be pretty rough. When you first told me about this organization, I thought, "Well, this is kind of crazy. They're letting criminals out of," of course my white privileged mind is like, "They're letting criminals out of the jail." But when I started thinking about it like, well, it doesn't make sense.

Lissa Reed:
Criminals are getting out of jail as long as they have money.

Tim Pickett:
That's the only people that have to stay. Yeah, exactly.

Lissa Reed:
So it's the Salt Lake City Bail Fund or Salt Lake Community Bail Fund, and that is kind of affiliated with Decarcerate Utah, that's the org that I was working with for a little bit. The bail fund is just one of their projects in this larger decarceration effort in Utah. But they just will pay, they raise money and they use it to pay the bail of whoever needs it, whoever needs their bail paid.

Tim Pickett:
That's cool. That's a cool little organization.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, it's really cool.

Tim Pickett:
I think, especially when now we get into talking about cannabis and there's so many people that have been incarcerated for cannabis and really just stupid charges. And then if you're broke, you can't get out. That sucks.

Lissa Reed:
It's terrible.

Tim Pickett:
Okay, so you start working in cannabis, but now, what do you do now?

Lissa Reed:
Okay, present day. So I started working for UTTHC-

Tim Pickett:
Fast forward.

Lissa Reed:
Started out doing outreach and events mainly, and as I was doing all this community outreach I just couldn't kind of let go of the fact that a lot of people who need medical cannabis just can't access it because of that same thing, they just can't afford it. And so maybe they're still using cannabis, but without a med card and they're at risk legally there because they just can't afford the med card, or maybe they're just in pain and they don't have access to the kind of medicine that can help them. Or they're on 10 different opiates or whatever. And so doing all this outreach, I was like, "You know what we need to do for outreach is we need to find money to help get our services to the people who can't afford it." So I started the Uplift program and that is what I run now.

Tim Pickett:
Just like that?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I was like, "Hey Tim, is it okay if I start this program and run it and you keep paying me?" And then you were like, "Okay."

Tim Pickett:
It kind of was about that easy.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, it really was.

Tim Pickett:
If I remember it.

Lissa Reed:
It was. Well, you were really invested too.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, I feel like there was... Oh totally, because I mean we're going along with the evaluations and cards and there was a lot of people that were complaining that they couldn't get access and I was seeing it too. The program is literally designed for the most sick. How did we get this program passed in Utah? Well, we bring the most sick, the most traumatized, we bring those people to the capital. Now granted we raise a bunch of signatures, but we literally used the stories that are the most impactful, have the most chance of impacting a legislator, and those are the stories that... a lot of those stories revolve around people who can't afford the product or they can't afford the evaluation or they're not getting the good education because they're asking some... I mean, sorry folks, but they're just asking some doctor who doesn't know shit about cannabis how to use it.

Tim Pickett:
So when you say we need to design this program that gives back to those people that literally helped us pass this, helped us get legal cannabis in Utah, it just seemed to make sense. Now I love the idea because then it's a puzzle that we can solve. I remember trying to figure out well, how are we going to make this create a self-perpetuating machine that can do this?

Lissa Reed:
Keep bringing in the money and keep bringing in the patients, yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Right, I love that part of Uplift because that's my personality, I like to solve those types of problems.

Lissa Reed:
You and I both. And it's always so fun.

Tim Pickett:
Well see, the chords, the music theory, right, you're like putting these puzzles together. How do we do this? So how does Uplift work? We have found, you and I have found, that this is somewhat unique in kind of the US. We don't know of another program that does this. If you're out there and you have a program, love this, like this, we'd love to hear about it.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, comment below.

Tim Pickett:
Comment below and slam the subscribe button.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, okay. So Uplift works... it's kind of similar to the Salt Lake Bail Fund actually, we bring in money and then we use it to get med cards to people who need it. So more complexly, we raise money from individual donations, mostly our own patients have been so generous when we tell them about this program. They're like, "Yes, I want to help somebody else get a med card who needs it." And so a lot of our patients donate. We get a lot of online donations too. And then we have several industry partners that we work with and that we refer patients to, have agreed to match donations alongside UTTHC. So the first thousand dollars that we raise every single month is matched by UTTHC and by each of our industry partners, most of them are dispensaries or pharmacies.

Tim Pickett:
Who's our industry partners now?

Lissa Reed:
Right now?

Tim Pickett:
In Utah?

Lissa Reed:
Right now we've got WholesomeCo Cannabis, we've got Deseret Wellness, we've got Zion Medicinal, we've got Block Pharmacy, and we've got Perfect Earth Modern Apothecary, and UTTHC is also matching donations.

Tim Pickett:
So six times matching.

Lissa Reed:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
And Curaleaf has wants to join the program.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, we've got some folks that are excited to join on and if you're listening to this, we still are always happy to bring in more sponsors.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I mean, I'm mentioning these people because literally if you are listening and you're not one of those groups-

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, what are you doing?

Tim Pickett:
You really should be.

Lissa Reed:
What are you doing?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, what are you doing? The first thousand dollars goes back. It directly funds patients to get their evaluation, get good education, get their med card. And then all of those pharmacies supply a discount to those patients in order to help them on the other side.

Lissa Reed:
That's right. And that's one of my favorite things about the Uplift program is we are really focused on the med card side because that's what we do at UTTHC. We do the evaluations, we do the patient education, we help navigate them through the whole process of state certification and all of that, but we don't touch the product. We don't touch cannabis actually in our business. But of course that's where most cannabis patient's money goes. They get the evaluation, that's done for six months, and then they still have to go out and buy out of pocket their medicine. So I am just so thankful that our Uplift cosponsors have agreed to do this 25% discount for Uplift patients on cannabis products in their pharmacies. I think that's amazing. And I think that really, really helps people every day.

Tim Pickett:
So the patients who we support, who Uplift supports in Utah, are low income plus terminally ill patients, that's the qualifying-

Lissa Reed:
That's right.

Tim Pickett:
... kind of... obviously you have to qualify for a med card and have the conditions that would warrant that, all the normal stuff, the Q and P evaluation and that sort of thing. But we focus on the Medicaid eligible or people who have Medicaid as that being a nice objective measure of income essentially.

Lissa Reed:
Right, and so up to this point we have used Medicaid as the main metric for income verification because we pour a lot of resources into this program already and doing that income verification in-house would take a lot more of our resources. So at this point we kind of have said, "Okay, we can only do so much." And we're doing absolutely as much as we can. But Medicaid is already verifying people's incomes so if they have Medicaid, then they fit our requirements and that's that.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it does simplify it. It would be nice, and hopefully one day, we figure out a way to expand that.

Lissa Reed:
Totally.

Tim Pickett:
But it's really hard. I've found that it is somewhat challenging to navigate a program like this and make sure that it kind of is sustainable, because everybody wants well... and of course the partners want to see that there's people joining the program and that we're doing the work that we said that we're going to do. Do you think that this is something that you can scale in a bigger way?

Lissa Reed:
Yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful that we can. It would take a lot more money and kind of the infrastructure to bring that money in.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, I agree. As we're talking about it there's no doubt in my mind that this is a totally scalable thing. Nonprofit, I had talked to Matt Hoffman and interviewed him about his Our Cannabis nonprofit, and this is something that I think could easily be a big nonprofit. But, it's one thing to run it from inside the clinic, essentially that is doing a lot of the work or doing all of the work to get all of this done, it's another thing to run an organization where now you have to take the money you're getting as donations and matching and then pay clinics-

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, to see those patients.

Tim Pickett:
... to see the patient, that's a whole layer of complexity that we don't have to deal with right now which makes it more efficient.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, we probably will. I mean, I think right now, like right now this is a UTTHC program, right, the only way to get your med card through Uplift is at a UTTHC clinic. And personally, I think that's great because I think we do a really, really good cannabis education and evaluation. I think that patients are really well served when they come into our clinics. And that's what I want to put this money towards is giving our patients a really good experience and getting them off on the right foot on their cannabis health journey. But I think scaling it up, there's just so much more need than we can fulfill right now. I've got a long wait list already. So we're working on developing it into a something with more capacity.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, and I think that now that we're seeing that there's more need and there seems to be enough interest in matching donations and giving back to this community effort, I think that there is a justification to scale it.

Lissa Reed:
Totally.

Tim Pickett:
And get more donors-

Lissa Reed:
Totally.

Tim Pickett:
... who can not only match a thousand dollars, but put a $30,000 or a $300,000 check in there. Wouldn't it be cool to have $300,000 as a donation to say, "Okay, we can hire a couple of people. We can expand the program. We can just do more, we can just help so many more people."

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, I mean, I've got a big wait list already for people we just don't have the funds for yet. And as a principal in Uplift, we see people first come, first served. If you apply and you qualify, we'll bring you in in that order. There's no preference or anything. But, oh shoot, what was I going to say? Oh, just that we haven't really done very much outreach looking for patients who need this because we already have a wait list. I would love to go out into the community and find those vulnerable patients who need medical cannabis and give them this opportunity. But right now it's just kind of like people who need it have to find us because we just can't. The patients on the wait list would be at a disservice if we go out and look for more patients to add to the wait list.

Tim Pickett:
Right, to add to the wait list. So how does this compare with the work you've done before with these organizations? We've never really talked about that because you've always, you've literally grown up... this is really by the way really who you are, I think. This type of thing just does seem to fit. How has this been different from the music theory world for you?

Lissa Reed:
My favorite thing about doing this instead of music theory is that I'm directly impacting, I'm changing somebody's life every day.

Tim Pickett:
Like immediately.

Lissa Reed:
Like immediately. Somebody applies, they get approved, they come in, they get their med card and now they have access to life changing medicine. Before, I felt really passionate about a lot of the diversity and equity work I did in music theory, but it was in such a bubble and it's really a long term project. It doesn't have that immediate gratification of like, "Oh, somebody's life is better now because I came to work today." So that is a big change that I really love is just that direct impact.

Tim Pickett:
Do you feel like that we could expand Uplift into more than medical evaluations? This has always been something we talk about and I'm interested if you're listening to this and you happen to be listening to it on YouTube, and you make a comment of an idea of how you can solve this problem, we are more than happy to entertain it, but there's so much need surrounding cannabis with incarceration and giving back to the communities that were so impacted by the drug war. It's always on my mind of like how... I don't know. I don't know whether or not just stick with this because this is what we're good at, this is what we do, we're in medicine. We do this, just do it well, make it bigger, help more people.

Lissa Reed:
I've got some ideas.

Tim Pickett:
Or do you want to expand?

Lissa Reed:
I want to expand it. I want Uplift to have more kind of subprograms that help get medical cannabis access to people who need it. So like I said, we just do first come, first serve right now, which I would like to keep doing, but I would also love to find maybe a donor wants to donate money for a specific population. Maybe there's a formerly incarcerated fund in Uplift and that will still be first come, first served, but only for those people who meet that demographic. Maybe there's a homeless fund. Maybe there's a cancer patients fund, all these different kind of communities, I guess, that have a different interaction with cannabis. I would love to find donors who want to support specific funds like that.

Tim Pickett:
That's a really good idea.

Lissa Reed:
Thanks.

Tim Pickett:
Because you would imagine that somebody would, like if I had this experience and I had money and I wanted to help my particular community, that this would be a great avenue. Okay, awesome. Yeah, okay, yes, easy.

Lissa Reed:
All right, so hit me up with your donations and your discretions for them and we'll take care of it.

Tim Pickett:
You know the other thing that we haven't talked about is, and I think we're going to toot our own horn here, but I think Uplift affects the ability of the local cannabis industry to affect legislative change, because we're just doing good things. It's hard to say no. It's really hard for the legislature to say no when they're like, "Well, we're supplying this service to people who absolutely need it."

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, how can you just take that away?

Tim Pickett:
Are you going to take that away from us?

Lissa Reed:
Good luck.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, we can't do that? Yeah, you can't do that. So I love that part about, I love the statistics. How much has Uplift raised this year?

Lissa Reed:
Oh, I should have had those numbers. Let me find it.

Tim Pickett:
40 something thousand.

Lissa Reed:
It looks like, yeah, like 45 about, $45,000 this year.

Tim Pickett:
$45,000 this year, so we are literally on track. We're almost on track to raise a $100,000 dollars this year in 2022.

Lissa Reed:
I think we can do it. That's a good goal.

Tim Pickett:
I think we can do it. Yeah. I think we could totally do it. Okay. There it is. So how do you donate to Uplift? Utahmarijuana.org/uplift.

Lissa Reed:
Slash uplift, yep. Utahmarijuana.org/uplift, go there now. Send us money. We will give it to patients who need it.

Tim Pickett:
We don't keep any of the money. Okay? We don't keep any of the money. If you want an accounting of where the money goes it's all very transparent.

Lissa Reed:
And that was a big goal for the program when we started it, we want the patients going through it to be able to trust it.

Tim Pickett:
There's no administrative fee.

Lissa Reed:
And we want the cannabis community to be able to trust it. I mean, I think we're pretty trustworthy with it. So I trust us and I think that's all that matters.

Tim Pickett:
And now that everybody knows your story, I mean, there's no way they cannot trust you.

Lissa Reed:
Good, because it was all a lie.

Tim Pickett:
You were in high school on the responsible drug policy team, you were working for diversity in music theory with a group that was making a really big impact in your specific field, you then came to Utah and were raising money for poor people to get bail. Like, come on.

Lissa Reed:
It's just what I like to do. You called me-

Tim Pickett:
That's pretty awesome.

Lissa Reed:
... Robin Hood once and it was the best compliment I ever got.

Tim Pickett:
You are, you are, you're Robin Hood.

Lissa Reed:
Thank you.

Tim Pickett:
And let these cannabis companies, right, this is a money making industry, let this be something that we give back to the patients. Put your money where your mouth is.

Lissa Reed:
Totally, totally. It's so interesting to be in the cannabis space because everyone's kind of... you enter and you're like, "Oh, this is a space that required a fight." It was unjust. It's still unjust in many ways. But I think a lot of people in the cannabis space are like, "Yeah, we're in this together. We fought for legalization of medical cannabis. We're fighting for recreational legalization," whatever, but it's always been kind of a political thing. And so I think a lot of people kind of have that automatic buy-in to initiatives like this, but some people need to be reminded sometimes. The fact that we're standing in a dispensary is a huge privilege, and a lot of people have been hurt by this industry in the past and we can really make an impact right now to kind of right some of those wrongs.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, I totally agree. Thank you for reminding me. What else do we want to mention, talk about? What else have we missed?

Lissa Reed:
Good question. Oh, I guess we haven't talked about, I mentioned our pharmacy partners, but I didn't talk about our work with our Canna-Therapy program, the kind of cross programming between Uplift and our mental health program over at UTTHC. So Clif Uckerman, who has been on this podcast, hopefully you've heard those episodes, he runs our Canna-Therapy program at UTTHC, and he was really excited about Uplift when he came on and he said, "I want to contribute." And it's been awesome. So he contributes the money to sponsor some of the Canna-Therapy patients who are in financial need and need access to medical cannabis. So patients that go through Canna-Therapy, if they can't afford the med card, he basically just will pay for it out of the Canna-Therapy fund.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, that program pays for the evaluation when they need it.

Lissa Reed:
And that's been really awesome because it's kind of helped move the wait list along too. We can kind of say, "Hey, do you want to try Canna-Therapy? It could be really, really good for you, and also maybe they can help sponsor you to move through this Uplift program a little bit more quickly." And I know that has really impacted several patients who have been on our wait list and had not considered therapy even, and then we were like, "Hey, why don't you try this?" And now they're on a mental health journey too, which is amazing.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it's something they didn't really understand the benefits of until they tried it. And then they had kind of the best of both worlds. There's so much benefit from therapy, behavioral health therapy, especially when you get somebody you can be honest with. If you listen to Clif's interviews, I mean just being able to be honest about your cannabis use with your doctor and your therapist, the person you should be honest about this with, it's a big deal for patients. And again, it speaks to that idea that you're helping people now.

Lissa Reed:
Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
Right? Today, you could save a life. I've interviewed quite a few people where they claim that cannabis really helped save their life. What's your favorite strain?

Lissa Reed:
I'm not good at this. I'm sorry. I buy vape carts mostly and I just go in and I'm like, "I need a daytime one. What have you got?" In my mind I'm like, "Oh, I'll try lots of different strains." Now that I have medical access I can kind of tune in what I want, but then I don't, I just say the same thing every time.

Tim Pickett:
It works, makes it easy.

Lissa Reed:
I love lemon strains. Those ones really work for me.

Tim Pickett:
Ah, the lemon haze, yeah.

Lissa Reed:
It's a good daytime feel.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it's good. Cool. Okay, so Utahmarijuana.org/uplift, or you could even call (801) 851-5554. I always find it funny when I have to say the phone number out loud.

Lissa Reed:
And we've recently expanded Uplift. We've got a new staff member who's on Uplift all the time. So if you call, you'll probably talk to him and he'll help you with whatever you need.

Tim Pickett:
Awesome. Well, thanks Lissa.

Lissa Reed:
Thank you.

Tim Pickett:
I am so happy you're here.

Lissa Reed:
Thanks, me too.

Tim Pickett:
And you really are Robin Hood for 100% sure. And I am also positive that this is really just the next step in a much bigger thing, and I hope... I'm excited to watch what happens.

Lissa Reed:
Well, I'm excited you'll be a part of it.

Tim Pickett:
And be a part of it.

Lissa Reed:
Yeah, thanks.

Tim Pickett:
Cool. All right everybody, Utah in the Weeds, subscribe on any podcast player that you have access to, please. We really love when you download the podcast, share it around, share all the Uplift info you can, and we definitely need more donations to help more people. And stay safe out there.

Lissa Reed:
Stay safe out there.

Your first visit to a Medical Cannabis pharmacy was probably somewhat overwhelming. There were so many choices you knew nothing about. It was all you could do to read every label, let alone try to figure out which product was best for you. Looking back on that experience, do you remember whether the pharmacy rep discussed the difference between cannabis strains and cannabis types?

It is an important distinction. Why? Because growers and processors spend a lot of time talking about strains. Here's the thing: strains are more of a marketing tool than anything else. Not all products of the same strain are identical. Furthermore, there can be differences between two different packages of an identical strain from the same manufacturer.

Medical Cannabis users should focus more on type than strain. Type is a specific and distinct classification that has more to do with how your medicines affect you than the strain you choose.

Three Main Classifications

People who make their living growing, processing, and selling Medical Cannabis rely on three different classifications for their products. All three tell consumers and producers alike something different. Here they are:

It is worth noting that Type I cannabis isn't just the most common type in the medical arena, it is the most common of all cannabis types sold in the U.S. That's primarily due to the plant's status as a Schedule I controlled substance. Cultivators focus on THC because that is where the money is.

Type Influences Effects

Hopefully, understanding the three classifications also helps you understand why cannabis type is more important than strain. Type directly influences the effects you feel from cannabis. If THC is the most appropriate cannabinoid for treating your condition, you would want to focus on Type I products, regardless of strain.

Perhaps your pharmacist discusses different chemovars when you consult with them. If so, they might be aware of certain groups of cannabinoids and terpenes that should help your condition. Heed their advice. Your pharmacist is the most qualified individual to recommend Medical Cannabis types and delivery methods.

Strains Come After Types

None of this is to say that strains do not matter. It is just that they are not as important as types. From a medical standpoint, we think it's best to start by finding the right type for your condition and symptoms. The journey of finding the best type might lead you to layer multiple types or focus on specific chemovars. That's all great.

Once you determine the best type of cannabis for your needs, then you can start focusing on different strains. It is quite possible that you'll find a particular strain from a particular manufacturer especially helpful for your symptoms. It could easily become your favorite. But don't be afraid to experiment with other strains, too.

Just remember that strains are more about marketing than anything else. The main thing to be concerned about is the type of cannabis you use. You need the right cannabinoid and terpene profile to get the most out of cannabis as a medicine.

Utah Qualified Medical Providers (QMPs) get a lot of great questions from patients looking to obtain their Medical Cannabis Cards. One of the more common is whether cannabis has any detrimental effect on contraception. Here is the most important thing you need to know on this topic: we don't know for sure.

That's not a cop-out. It is not an attempt to avoid answering the question. We simply do not know all the possible implications of how cannabis and hormonal contraceptives interact. Obviously, cannabis use would not have any effect on mechanical contraception (condoms, IUD, etc.).

We do know the endocannabinoid system contributes to regulating the female cycle. So there is always a possibility that using cannabis while also using hormonal contraceptives could make contraception less effective. There is also a remote possibility that cannabis could help women struggling with infertility.

Very Little Study Data

As with most things regarding cannabis, there isn't a whole lot of study data we can look at to determine the influence cannabis might have on contraception. Again, we do know that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in influencing the female reproductive cycle. We also know that a study published back in 2013 provides strong evidence suggesting that impairment of the endocannabinoid system can interrupt the normal functioning of the female reproductive system.

It is not clear from the study what exactly qualifies as impairment across the board. Could it be that some people experience endocannabinoid impairment as a result of using cannabis? Is it possible that low cannabis consumption would not impair the endocannabinoid system, but heavy consumption would?

These are things we don't know. What we can say is that consuming cannabis while using hormonal contraception could be problematic. It is possible that cannabis could reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills and other hormonal products. If you are at all concerned about it, there are solutions. You can consume less cannabis, choose another form of contraception, or do both.

Smoking and Hormonal Contraception

We have a bit more data on smoking cannabis while using Hormonal contraception. Studies have shown that any type of smoking – whether tobacco, cannabis, or something else – is not good for your health. Combining smoking with more contraception could increase the likelihood of blood clots, thrombosis, and more.

The Cannigma website does a fantastic job of discussing this particular topic on their website. You might want to take a look. They reference numerous studies as well as highlighting the fact that some of the data is conflicting. You are advised to look at the data with an open mind before making any sort of decision about it.

In the end, smoking always carries risks with it. Your best bet is to avoid it while on contraception. Moreover, smoking cannabis is illegal in Utah. That should answer the question about whether you should do it. Your Medical Cannabis options in that Beehive State include cannabis flower (for dry heating and cooking), vaping, tinctures and oils, and a few other products.

Err On the Side of Caution

We cannot definitively say whether using cannabis and hormonal contraception simultaneously reduces the effectiveness of the contraception. It is possible that it does. Therefore, the best advice we can give is to err on the side of caution. If you are concerned that cannabis could make your contraception less effective, adjust accordingly.

If you are not worried about it, we do not necessarily have data suggesting you should be. Do whatever you are comfortable with. Hopefully, future studies will give us more solid data to look at.

Tim caught up with Chris Holifield, host of "I Am Salt Lake" and a good friend. You may remember Chris as the former co-host of Utah in the Weeds. He graciously offered a copy of their recent conversation for use in this special 105th episode.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to Utah in the Weeds. This is episode 105, and a little different format today for this episode. This is an episode that I recorded as an interview that Chris Holifield did with me for, I am Salt Lake Podcast, and I hope you enjoy it. Rarely I think, do we get an opportunity as podcast hosts to be interviewed ourselves and do something that explains ourselves a little bit about what's happening in the current state of things, right? And no better person to do this than Chris Holifield. He's the host of I am Salt Lake Podcast. Another really great podcast. In fact, he's won the award for the best podcast in Utah through that I am Salt Lake platform, multiple years, he's done 500 plus episodes. And if you want to know anything about Utah and what's happening locally, that's the podcast to listen to.

Tim Pickett:
He actually has a lot of guests that cross over into the cannabis space as well. And he is a big, big reason why Utah in the Weeds even came about and has been so successful. I learned everything that I know about podcasting from him, and it was fun to talk to him and catch up. I hope you enjoy this episode for that reason. Please download the podcast on any podcast player you have access to subscribe. We really appreciate it. I think this podcast has become something that people will go to, to learn about the cannabis space here in Utah, hear patient stories, hear interesting things about cannabis and the cannabis business and medical cannabis throughout the whole program cycle. So I really appreciate all of our listeners. The weather is great outside in Utah right now, summer solstice is going on and that's an event up in Eden other than the worldwide summer solstice happening. Of course, enjoy this episode. I'm Tim Pickett and Chris Holifield here on Utah in the Weeds.

Chris Holifield:
Tim Picket, not only were you on episode 420 of-

Tim Pickett:
That started it out.

Chris Holifield:
... I Am Salt Lake. That's where this all started. But how many episodes of Utah in the Weeds did I do with you, I'm wondering? I should have done some homework.

Tim Pickett:
Oh yeah, I should have looked that up. I mean, I would imagine over 60, 70 episodes we did because I just recorded the intro for episode 102.

Chris Holifield:
Wow.

Tim Pickett:
And I remember when we started, and then we got to 50 and that was a huge deal.

TJ:
Wow.

Tim Pickett:
Because we did the one-year anniversary. So that's in the 48, 50 range. And then another 25 because it was August when I-

Chris Holifield:
Oh yeah, because it's been about a year.

Tim Pickett:
... started doing it myself-

Chris Holifield:
So it had to be 75.

TJ:
How did you guys meet? What did you guys meet through?

Chris Holifield:
It was through the podcast.

TJ:
Gotcha.

Tim Pickett:
So through the podcast episode 420.

Chris Holifield:
Episode, I invite you want to go back.

Tim Pickett:
I want go back and listen to the episode two and see if the story has changed a little bit.

Chris Holifield:
So I reached out to Tim, TJ.

TJ:
Were you planning on having him on 420, or is it just more of a-

Chris Holifield:
No, no, no. It was kind of a fluke how it happened. I mean, I reached out to him on Instagram. I found Tim on Instagram and I was like, this looks like a nice, wholesome marijuana doctor from Bountiful. I mean, you're up in Bountiful.

TJ:
Was marijuana legal?

Chris Holifield:
[inaudible 00:03:42].

TJ:
Was it medically legal here at the time?

Chris Holifield:
It was just starting.

TJ:
Just starting? Cool.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, I don't even-

Tim Pickett:
This was really at the very beginning. So, I think you reached out to me in December, January of 2019, '20. And I had just started blogging about the cannabis program in Utah. This was-

TJ:
Was that your background?

Tim Pickett:
No.

TJ:
Gotcha.

Tim Pickett:
In fact, when I got the Instagram, I remember I was standing on the third floor of Pioneer Valley Hospital, now Jordan Valley West Campus, and I was standing there and you reached out to me on the Instagram message and you were like, "Hey, do you want to come on the podcast?" And I was like, "Yes. Yes, please." Because I was looking for... I mean, anything I could do to expose myself as somebody who was in the space and seeing patients. And so it was what? February, March?

Chris Holifield:
I think it was about February of 2020 is when you came on I am Salt Lake, because in March of 2020 is when I think it started the whole program started, cannabis started.

TJ:
Gotcha.

Chris Holifield:
Well, it didn't start then.

Tim Pickett:
But basically the doors came off in March when dragon fly opened-

Chris Holifield:
Correct.

Tim Pickett:
... downtown.

Chris Holifield:
And that's where we did a podcast and I was like, I kind of like this guy. I think I'm going to ask him to do a podcast with me in a cannabis related podcast.

TJ:
So I didn't realize the doors came off, same time code was happening.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah.

TJ:
So it was like-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Literally

TJ:
... all at once.

Tim Pickett:
It was in fact exactly all at once because we started seeing patients in January, saw more in February, but the word really hadn't gotten out a lot until March. And then when March happened, the phone... I mean, the phone was ringing so bad and so good I guess, that we were something like 30 voicemails deep the first day, had 80 or 90 phone calls a day.

Chris Holifield:
This is your clinic.

Tim Pickett:
This is my clinic.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah, that we were talking about.

Tim Pickett:
I was asking my sisters to help me answer the phone.

TJ:
I was going to say, did you just have to get staffed just for phones?

Tim Pickett:
It was pretty insane.

TJ:
Wow.

Tim Pickett:
But then we started recording the podcast together because this was the other thing, it's the same thing. It comes in waves. Right? So you've had Cole [Foamer 00:05:52] on recently and [Bijan Stocky 00:05:56]. And you get probably here too, because you like... I mean, I know you Chris, you like cannabis, but you get into these waves of where you're interested in talking to these people in the cannabis industry, but not necessarily wanting to do turn, I am Salt Lake into-

Chris Holifield:
Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
... a weed podcast.

Chris Holifield:
And that was why Utah in the Weeds, it made sense to me to start a Utah related weed podcast.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And I being a medical provider here in Utah that was focused on cannabis, I was looking for ways, not only to produce content for people who wanted to learn more about the program and to get to know all these players in the program, the podcast was a perfect avenue for that. Plus, I mean really, I wanted to learn from all these people we talked to. So we'd get people on with Hyper, the payment program at the dispensary. And we would talk to them about like, what are the rules around transactions in the weed industry?

TJ:
[inaudible 00:07:00] crazy.

Tim Pickett:
We talked to Jeremy Sumerix down at Deseret Wellness and he was talking about the tax code and how they can't deduct their anything except for cost of good sold in the dispensaries because of this 280-E tax code. So we were learning and becoming experts, right? Not only in the Utah program, but weed in general. And that has done nothing but helped me grow this, like my company, help people, educate people more. I mean, the podcast has been awesome.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. Let's talk about that actually. Utah therapeutic, what it's turned into. Because I mean, it's huge now and I mean, you had no-

Tim Pickett:
It does seem like [inaudible 00:07:46].

Chris Holifield:
... idea that it was going to turn into what it's... I mean, how many clinics do you have now?

Tim Pickett:
We have six locations. We really are by far the bigger, a lot of patients in the Utah program are under our umbrella and we have 60 part-time providers that-

TJ:
Are you just jumping around from each location? What is-

Tim Pickett:
Oh, me personally?

TJ:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Oh no. Well, because the law restricts the number of patients that we can certify, I don't have the ability to go see new patients in clinic at any time. I'm pretty much full.

TJ:
You're tapped out.

Tim Pickett:
So I have office hours. I see patients who need a little extra help or who have a little trouble with the program and I just see people for free. So my office hours are free to the patients that are involved in our system-

TJ:
Gotcha.

Tim Pickett:
... that need extra assistance. And then we focus on educating the providers, our staff, and really it's become Utah in a bigger way. We have almost 3,000 subscribers to our YouTube channel now.

Chris Holifield:
Which is incredible, if you think about it. If you think about, that's Utah people.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It really is almost all Utah people who've been subscribed and it's just middle aged dudes and well, Kylee Shumway, she's a pharmacist that has helped us.

TJ:
Is it all things marijuana? Is it more so educational like, red tape? Or is it-

Tim Pickett:
Everything.

TJ:
Everything. Cool.

Tim Pickett:
Everything cannabis related. We have episodes with JD Larson. He's the leafy lawyer. And he talks about the legal aspects, like carrying a gun, drug testing. He and I did a presentation for the people who take away your kids in this state.

TJ:
Oh, like DCFS or like that.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, because we want to educate them about drug testing. So I have become, I guess I wanted to become a source of information for people to get good, solid information on cannabis, how it might help their condition, how to use it, how to navigate the system, help the medical community a little bit, understand it, better educate providers. And it seems like we're doing it. There's still a long way to go.

Chris Holifield:
Do you feel like it's bringing you business? Has it brought you clients?

Tim Pickett:
I think in the beginning, it certainly did.

Chris Holifield:
The podcast did.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The podcast does. I think that the YouTube channel does. It's interesting because the growth of the program hasn't been, it's not like the program has really just increased its growth velocity, right? It's not growing faster than it used to. There's about 1,500 net new patients that come in every month. It's stabilized. So I wanted to bring in new people. Sure. But we have a lot of people that we want to keep in the program too. So I think it's become a little bit of both, a way to help keep people in the program. And I know that the work that I'm doing is helping other clinics too. Right? Expose cannabis, expose it. And then they'll go out and find somebody local. Like in St. George, we don't have an office in St. George. So if you're really in the south state and you can't get to us-

Chris Holifield:
Didn't you open one in Cedar City or something?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. We have an office in Cedar City. That's a tough-

Chris Holifield:
Tough market.

Tim Pickett:
Iron County is pretty tough.

Chris Holifield:
What's tough about it?

Tim Pickett:
Frankly, there's not a ton of people down there.

Chris Holifield:
People that want to use cannabis or just people in general?

Tim Pickett:
I think people in general, but it's a conservative community too. It's a little more conservative community. And certainly the college town down there SUU, we thought originally, well, maybe we'll have some college kids who-

Chris Holifield:
Who just want to use weed. Right?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Right. Or who want access to the program. And in Utah, your college kids are either young, they're on missions or they come back and they're conservative. Right? So there's not a huge... Logan is pretty much the same way. There's not a lot of college kids using cannabis in Utah.

Chris Holifield:
How far north do you go now? Do you have a clinic or an office in Ogden?

Tim Pickett:
Ogden. Yeah. Right downtown Ogden.

Chris Holifield:
Okay. That's right. That's right. That's right.

Tim Pickett:
We love Ogden. Yeah. There's some festivals and stuff in the summer. We have a booth at the events, our Utah marijuana booth. And you see our billboards, our Utah marijuana billboards all over.

Chris Holifield:
Dude, every time I drive between Utah county to here to Salt Lake, I mean, every turnaround is just there and I'm like, go Tim.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The difference between us and the other cannabis specialty clinics here is, I don't know of very many others that are run by providers. We, of course think we're the best because of that, because we're really owned and operated by providers. We know how to take care of people. And we want to do more with the patients. We want to prescribe their medication too. It started out as just cannabis, but it is evolving into a bigger project. Right? Utah therapeutic will likely become a company called KindlyMD over the course of the next six months.

Chris Holifield:
Okay. Tell me what's this about, right? This is the first I've heard this. So kindly?

Tim Pickett:
KindlyMD. Yeah.

Chris Holifield:
Okay. Why the name change?

Tim Pickett:
We really haven't talked about it a lot, but Utah Therapeutic Health Center, it's a great name and it's a great company, but we also... I mean, you know me, I've got a big appetite for the business side of things and this healthcare, and I think we can do things in other states.

Chris Holifield:
Okay.

Tim Pickett:
And so I'd like to go try it. I want to go try it in Atlanta or somewhere big.

Chris Holifield:
Okay. So you're thinking-

Tim Pickett:
Where we can take-

Chris Holifield:
That's why you're thinking the name changes, instead of Utah Therapeutic.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Instead of Utah specific, move to something that is a little bit more... can be used in another area, focus on using cannabis to get people off of their opioids, specifically, but manage both, be willing to manage both, prescribe their Percocet while they're tapering off of that, using the cannabis and the education to do both. We think that pain clinics are doing a disservice to their patients in a lot of ways, addicting them to the narcotics and then not offering them a solution to get off of them. And so we're really hoping to develop that program here in Utah, over the next, I would say six months.

Chris Holifield:
Dude. That is awesome. We'll have to bring you back through here when you do it.

Tim Pickett:
I'm just laying the hook, Chris, so that I can come back.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah, no, I love... I mean, then you'll have to change the name of the podcast though.

Tim Pickett:
I don't know. I've thought a lot about it.

Chris Holifield:
Or just in the Weeds, Nevada in the Weeds, California in the Weeds.

Tim Pickett:
I don't know. I love the... And the podcast is still just so fun. We talked to, you were listening to Vanessa [Cairobi 00:15:21]. The patient stories are probably some of the most interesting, they're the most interesting interviews to do. And a lot of them... And you know, I mean, when we were talking to people, we talked to normal people who found that cannabis changed their life.

Chris Holifield:
Well, that's what makes the podcast so incredible in my opinion is these are everyday people that we can all relate with at some level. And we can hear their story. And if we're not using cannabis yet, we can say, "Hey, it's helped this person. I have a very similar ailment that this can help with." One thing I wanted to mention, I thought was pretty cool. So about a, was it a week or two back? I had to go into your office to renew my card.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, nice.

Chris Holifield:
And I was sitting there and Utah in the Weeds was playing. Right? And I didn't realize it was Utah in the Weeds at first. I was like, this is incredible. I mean, I just thought I was listening to some talk show, like on KSL or something. I was like, wait a minute. That's Tim. That's Tim. It was the episode on what 420 means. You had a bunch of different-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I went around, I took the Zoom recorder, just like you use it.

Chris Holifield:
And dude, it came out great.

Tim Pickett:
I'm so glad.

Chris Holifield:
It came out great.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. What does 420 mean to you and all the events? Yeah. I like that episode, that was fun. And we play that stuff in the Discover Marijuana YouTube channel. We play it in our Mill Creek office up on the TV. I never thought I would be somebody who developed content or education.

Chris Holifield:
Like a media company. Right?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And I mean, it's a lot of work. We have a big team of people who help put that thing together.

Chris Holifield:
Doing a podcast is a lot of work.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Chris Holifield:
A lot of work.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And then episode after episode. What are you up to? 500?

Chris Holifield:
This, I think will actually be 550.

Tim Pickett:
550.

Chris Holifield:
If I'm not mistaken.

Tim Pickett:
It's relentless. Right?

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. Well, this is the 10 year anniversary of the podcast. This year.

Tim Pickett:
Holy cow.

Chris Holifield:
This summer actually, August of 2012 was the first episode was launched of I am Salt Lake. So we're almost to the 10 year. That's why-

Tim Pickett:
Congratulations.

Chris Holifield:
... I have to keep going with this thing.

Tim Pickett:
For sure.

Chris Holifield:
Let's run down the list. I know this is going to be a very elementary question, but I want to run down the list on how a listener, how somebody can get their card, how they can come to you. Because I think a lot of people look at it as a complicated thing or something that's unattainable, right?

Tim Pickett:
Still, every day.

Chris Holifield:
And it doesn't... And how do I say this? I mean, of course it's not like we are giving them out like candy, but-

Tim Pickett:
It's a highly regulated-

Chris Holifield:
It is.

Tim Pickett:
... industry. It's a highly regulated thing to do.

Chris Holifield:
But it's not impossible to give.

Tim Pickett:
But it really is straightforward. Right?

Chris Holifield:
So let's run down. How can people get their cards?

Tim Pickett:
The easiest way that people get their card or the most straightforward way. And 80% of patients will qualify in Utah under what they call a chronic pain diagnosis. So that's a definition of pain that is pain lasting longer than two weeks. That's not well controlled with a standard therapy or intervention and the provider and you as the patient can really decide what that means. Right?

Chris Holifield:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
Utah has a very, what we would consider a loose or pretty easy burden to meet for the pain. Other than that, there's nausea, PTSD, and there are 15 qualifying conditions, but by far in a way the most commons pain. So you have something that bothers you. You had a knee replacement and it bothers you. You broke your ankle wrestling when you were in high school and it just, it bothers you. And no matter what you do, it just bothers you. But you don't like taking the ibuprofen because you have an ulcer or you don't want to continue on the narco because for obvious reasons, right? So you go, you come to utahmarijuana.org on the website and you literally can either take a prescreen. We have a little form that you can fill out to determine likely whether you'd qualify or not, takes about 42 seconds, 42.0 seconds.

Chris Holifield:
I love it.

Tim Pickett:
Right? And that's a good way if you want to just do the research on your own, but if you want to talk to somebody, you can call our office. And if you want to schedule an appointment, you can schedule an appointment right there. If you don't qualify for a card, you don't get charged. Right? So it's going to be 20 minutes out of your day, or it's probably going to take you an hour.

Chris Holifield:
But it's worth the shot to see if you can get it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. You fill out the intake forms, you meet with a provider. And we really are good at getting people through the process before, so that you're ready for the appointment. You have all the information you need in your emails. You meet with the provider. This is not something you should be scared of. Although people really are still scared of that.

Chris Holifield:
Scared to meet and chat with you.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, you're really talking about weed with a doctor, right? That's still pretty scary to people.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. I mean, just talking about it in general can be scary to some people because you don't know what could-

Tim Pickett:
You don't know. Go to Google and read the reviews at Utah Marijuana and you'll see that people, they're pleasantly surprised. It's easier than they think to talk about these things with the providers. Our providers are educated in cannabis. Our staff, they want you to get a card, right? Our staff are not the people who make that decision. They're the people who support you in making sure you get your state card issued, know the rules at the dispensary. What are the next steps? You want to coupon to help pay for the visit? Essentially, we have agreements with the local pharmacies, like Wholesome, like Beehive and Bijan, like Block and Deseret Wellness and Provo, where first patients are going to get a discount. So come in to us, get through the process, like I say, takes about an hour total. And then the state will issue your card. It's that simple. And then we'll reach out to you 30 days before your card expires and explain exactly what you'd have to do to keep your card. Like you, you just recently-

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. You get a text, emails.

Tim Pickett:
You probably got a text messages, you get an email and we remind you. We try not to be overly in your face about it, but just enough.

Chris Holifield:
Well, the pharmacies first start reminding. Hey, your cards about ready to expire here.

Tim Pickett:
Exactly.

Chris Holifield:
You better-

Tim Pickett:
Every time you go in, they're like, oh, you got 30 days or whatever.

Chris Holifield:
No, I'm working on that. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And for us, the nice thing about it's super convenient. If you go to Bountiful and your card's going to expire, we're in the same building. If you go to Provo Deseret Wellness-

Chris Holifield:
That's true.

Tim Pickett:
... we're in the same building. You can just come, renew.

Chris Holifield:
Run by-

Tim Pickett:
At Bijan at Beehive-

Chris Holifield:
Beehive. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
... you just come across the street. If you live in Salt Lake, we're on 3900 south. So we're everywhere that... And in Ogden, same thing with Perfect Earth right there in Ogden. We tried to make it easy. We tried to make it accessible. And then we try to help people really use it medically or use it to get a benefit. Look, I don't care if on Saturday afternoon you use it and you enjoy it. Right? That's just part of what we've-

Chris Holifield:
It's part of life, man.

Tim Pickett:
It's part of life. And that's part of cannabis. I think to be successful in this, you have to be able to... You understand that people, some people are not going to want to use it, "recreationally" and some people just are. That's a fine. I don't know. That's fine. Why not learn how to use it a little bit better so you can get better experiences and you don't have the bad experiences?

Chris Holifield:
Do you teach people how to use it?

Tim Pickett:
Oh, yeah.

Chris Holifield:
Because I mean, I was going to say, I'm sure there are people that come in there that are like, I don't know how to use this, Tim. Especially, with these new devices, these new vaporizers, man. They're pretty complicated.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. We have a guy Colin, Colin McCann. So he's our lead educator.

Chris Holifield:
Okay. You have a lead educator. That's awesome.

Tim Pickett:
Because a lot of the providers don't know how to use a DaVinci vaporizer or a PAX 3 vaporizer. Right? So we have somebody who goes around, who literally goes around and trains all the providers how to use these devices so that the providers can teach the patients how to use the devices. And then he usually works in Mill Creek and he'll teach people as they come through. Here's the different cannabinoids, here's the different devices. And about a third of our patients have never used cannabis at all, ever.

Chris Holifield:
Incredible.

Tim Pickett:
So they need hand holding right from all the way through. And of course, we get people who smoke an ounce a week, but we can help them too. We can say, "Hey, why don't you try a device that lowers the temperature and is a little easier on your lungs?" Or, "Why don't you layer, use an edible and a little inhaled, so you don't have to burden your lungs so much with all that smoke?" Right? I'm not going to say, don't smoke, even though it's illegal.

Chris Holifield:
To actually put a flame for people listening in Utah, it's against a lot to put a flame to your cannabis.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. So somebody who comes in, who's just using a bong or joints, we can educate them too and help them find ways to be just a little healthier to consume cannabis, if you're going to be consuming cannabis for 30 years.

Chris Holifield:
Do you think joints are unhealthy though? I mean, honestly?

Tim Pickett:
I mean, I think personally-

Chris Holifield:
I guess to burn carcinogen, so however you say that word.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The carcinogen. So there's no connection between cancer and smoking cannabis at all.

Chris Holifield:
Okay.

Tim Pickett:
So there's no known risk in smoking weed and getting lung cancer. There's no evidence. It's not like tobacco where you're going to get lung cancer if you smoke cigarettes, but you can get chronic bronchitis from smoking because you get the combusted plant material in your lungs. And although my personal opinion, I mean, look, it is one of my preferred methods of consumption. The joint, there's just something about it that-

Chris Holifield:
It's just classic. I mean, you've always got green.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. You're always green. It vaporizes some of the flower that's closer to the butt end of the joint. Right? So you get that whole experience. And there's this experience that people who know how to use cannabis. Right? There's the preparation work for consuming cannabis. That's part of the experience.

Chris Holifield:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
And that part of using a joint is for me, I mean, that's really cool. But if you were smoking five joints a day for 20 years, yeah, that's bad for you, but how many people are doing that?

Chris Holifield:
I know a couple.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Though I think it's terrible, my opinion, I like it. I think the law was a good idea in the beginning-

Chris Holifield:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
... to keep people from starting that way, if they're going to start using cannabis, but we try to help people who are using a lot of flame, even though that's their preferred method to learn other ways to consume, just mix it up.

Chris Holifield:
Well, plus with the vaporizer, the way that Utah, the medical program is now, it makes it medical, in my opinion. It's a very clean... Again, going back to the bongs and the joints and all that, that makes it seem very ecology. Very like, let's just get ripped and stoned.

Tim Pickett:
Very like, we're all in the basement.

Chris Holifield:
Which is great. Again, that's great. I have fun too. But if we're going to really focus on it helping people and medically, I understand. I mean, there's worse programs out there. I'm sure you've seen it. I mean, I know you've helped other states

Tim Pickett:
North Carolina. Yeah. North Carolina. And they were really, they're still, they're fighting about the flower at all. Right?

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. Some states don't even have flower.

Tim Pickett:
They don't even have flower. So all you can use is THC oil and they're limiting, some states are looking at limiting the THC content of the flower, even if they allow it to 10%. Well, there's not a lot of flower you can grow that's 10%.

Chris Holifield:
That's 10%. Wow.

Tim Pickett:
So Utah created a program that was really medical. There's good things about the program, like the pain, like we talked about, setting the bar low so that the doctor and the patient can understand and make those decisions together easily. But also, so that the consumption is appears medical and it is as clean and as healthy as it can be. And that, I really respect the program for. I'm happy that I don't have to walk down the street and there's a lot of people smoking weed because I still... I grew up here. I like our culture of that. I don't know. There's something about it. Well, I'm interested to go to New York and see what it's like now that you can smoke weed anywhere you can smoke cigarettes.

Chris Holifield:
Well, and last I read too, like in New York it might have actually even been in Salt Lake City. They were talking, I guess a doctor in New York can prescribe it for anything.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Anything. And in California, the same thing. You can prescribe it for anything. And hopefully Utah goes that direction. I'd like to see sleep added to the list.

Chris Holifield:
Which is insane that it's not on there.

Tim Pickett:
Opioid use disorder is a good one to add to the list. But if I would rather push for that than push for flame.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. I mean, is there anything in jeopardy right now? I know it's not really capital hill season, but are there any laws on the books right now that we should be concerned about? Is there anything with medical cannabis? I remember when we were even chatting with Utah in the Weeds, they were talking about maybe eliminating PTSD-

Tim Pickett:
PTSD. Yeah.

Chris Holifield:
... and stuff like that. Is there still stuff like that going on?

Tim Pickett:
Doesn't seem like it. And I think the biggest issue right now is the advertising. So if you want coupons from the dispensaries or the pharmacies as they're called here in Utah, then you have to opt in to receiving communication about getting a discount.

Chris Holifield:
So, in a text message or something like that?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. You have to opt in to that now. You'll see that coming around. That was the big thing they were working on this year. And PTSD didn't even really get brought up. I felt it was put out there as a rumor so that the industry had to fight to keep something instead of while they were doing something else over here, like, Hey, look over here while we screw the program in a different way. For me, the biggest issue is patient caps still.

Chris Holifield:
And what is the patient cap now for you?

Tim Pickett:
Patient caps are still at 275 patient recommendations you can put in per provider. And that just really restricts the ability to do continuity of care, to keep patients in the system, to keep patients with the same provider. And it works out fine if you're a family practice doc and you see a few patients, the patient cap isn't a really big deal. But for those of us who really want to specialize in this and want to help people specifically to get off their opioids, for example, I shouldn't necessarily be limited in how many patients I can do that with. So we're working with some of the senators about trying to design legislation that will help the medical community feel comfortable with that, the legislature feel comfortable with that, the industry. There's a lot of people who want to have a say. And there's that limited medical provider program now, so any-

Chris Holifield:
Any doctor can-

Tim Pickett:
Can write up to 15 recommendations. And that program, in my opinion, has been a big failure. It's four or five months into the program, and they have less than 100 of those cards issued in the state of Utah. It's more difficult to do that, to get a card through that program than it is to just come see us.

Chris Holifield:
Well, plus I think it's, in my opinion, go see somebody like yourself, Utah Therapeutic, that EVS system, the backend system for people listening, where they store all your information, where you print your card out at the utah.gov site or whatever.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, the evs.utah.gov.

Chris Holifield:
That thing is complicated. And if you could pay people all day long to get your card, but if you do not know how to get in there and print it off, it is worthless.

Tim Pickett:
It is.

Chris Holifield:
Pay the couple hundred bucks to Utah Therapeutic.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, to just come and then we just walk you through. You don't leave our office before that is all done. Right? We make sure that's all done before you even leave. Because we know if you leave, we've had patients go home, not get their card, and then literally four or five months later, call us and say, "Hey, where's my card?"

Chris Holifield:
Thinking you were going to mail it to them.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, thinking that it was all done and they didn't have to go back in and pay their $15, or not knowing how to pay, or the certification didn't go through at the state, or they can't log in. I mean, it seems to me that is one of the bigger costs of the program and that I think will get, it might get marginally better, but it's not going to be easy. The state has no incentive to make that easy.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. Well, the state's not... They're not rolling in it. They're not getting... I mean, they get $3 of each transaction from the pharmacies. They're not getting tax dollars from this because it's not getting taxed.

Tim Pickett:
Nope.

Chris Holifield:
And they're probably getting the minimal amount of money from you.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. They're not getting any money from us because we don't pay sales tax on the transaction for the service we provide, because it's a service and we don't have to pay any licensing fees on our end. Yeah, you get the $3. That's another reason why the Utah program's really medical. Right? Because they don't charge that sales tax like Nevada where you've got to pay 22%, I think.

Chris Holifield:
22% tax, yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, 22%.

Chris Holifield:
If you were to go over to Wendover or across the border.

Tim Pickett:
Go to Deep Roots and pay 22% plus the gas you got to spend and all the time. I think the costs are still, every time somebody expires, we send them a survey and say, "Hey, why'd you let your cart expire?" And cost is definitely the number one thing. People say they still just can't afford the program.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, it's tested. The weed is tested, so you know you're getting good quality. I mean, I think we talked about that with Bijan when we were in here. I mean, pay a few extra dollars to know you're getting good quality cannabis. It's worth it to me.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. He's a big believer in the medical program too. I remember talking to him a few times about... You're paying, what do you pay? $50 an eighth here or something. But if it goes recreational here, you're looking at $80 because they'll tax it, right? Then the government's going to say, well, if you want to use it recreationally, we're going to tax the crap out of it.

Chris Holifield:
People don't realize that.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. They don't think about that. They think that maybe it'll get cheaper. But he doesn't think so. I don't know. I like the products we have here. I've really enjoyed watching the products evolve. But I still can't use a ton. I mean, they've got these 40 milligram gummies, like the Huga chews, like 40 milligrams. Oh my God. That thing is so [inaudible 00:36:24].

Chris Holifield:
It'll kick you on your butt or what?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, I can't handle that. I got to cut those things in fifths.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, what have you seen that people are... I mean, is there any kind of obstacles or things that pharmacies are running into that you've noticed or any kind of that other QMPs are running into or are things running smooth? I know when we did Utah in the Weeds, I mean, supply was an issue. I mean, it seems like-

Tim Pickett:
Supply doesn't seem like to be an issue. Have you noticed that? Because I'm pretty much-

Chris Holifield:
No. I mean, there's plenty of product.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. There's plenty of product everywhere. I still think the pharmacies don't get along, there's some places like Dragonfly still doesn't carry Zion product. And I think-

Chris Holifield:
Come on, guys.

Tim Pickett:
... there's pharmacies that you can't get certain things. And I think that's just dumb that it affects our ability as QMPs to send everybody to the place that is local. As a patient, I feel like you want to go to your local pharmacy, the one that's closest to you, but when they don't have all the products available, it makes it hard for us to justify sending people to everywhere.

Chris Holifield:
Well, plus I mean, you're just going to find an alternative.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, I'm not going to drive to Bountiful if I live in Provo, just because I like a certain brand. I mean, that's me at least.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And then I think you can find alternatives and the pharmacists have been really good at helping people find the products that they need. And I haven't heard anything about shortages of product. The biggest thing I've heard is it's hard to find the same flower over and over and over. But I found out that typically, they cycle the grow. This is out of my wheelhouse, but typically they cycle the grow so you'll see the same strain, but eventually they'll stop making that or they'll stop growing the strain as much. But I think that's probably everywhere. I think we're doing a pretty good job. I think the program is running pretty smoothly, to be honest. I think that it's got into a little bit of a groove.

Chris Holifield:
50,000 patients is what-

Tim Pickett:
50,000. Yeah, just over 50,000 patients that are active now. So what's that a third or two thirds or double the size of what they thought it would be by now a couple of years in?

Chris Holifield:
It's probably just growing continually every day. You're getting new patients.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. You're getting 3,000 new applicants a month. There's about 1,500 people that leave the program every month and don't renew. The retention rate I think is still pretty bad in Utah. I think they're losing about 25% to 30% of the patients aren't renewing. And again, cost is probably the biggest issue. It's part of the reason why we developed... In fact, since we were recording together, we developed a program called uplift.

Chris Holifield:
What is it?

Tim Pickett:
Uplift is a program inside of Utah Therapeutic Health Centers. So what we do is we ask patients for donations. So you can donate a dollar, you can donate $4.20 or any other amount. We have really generous people who will donate $100. Then that donation that you make as a patient is matched by Utah Therapeutic Health Center, Deseret Wellness, Beehive Pharmacy, Wholesome, Perfect Earth, Zion. So we all match all of those donations. And then we use that pool of money to see patients who are Medicaid, low income or terminally ill.

Chris Holifield:
So wait, hold on. So if I come in and say donate $5.

Tim Pickett:
That's right.

Chris Holifield:
Is that $5 ultimately? I mean, you name it up.

Tim Pickett:
$35.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah. I was going to say you name it up, these places.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. $35, $40.

Chris Holifield:
Boom.

Tim Pickett:
And boom.

Chris Holifield:
Yeah, that's incredible.

Tim Pickett:
So that $5 become $40. If you donated $64 to the program, you would pay for one other person, at least to enter the program, all costs paid. So we pay all of the cost of the visit. We pay all of the cost of the state fees and that patient, that low income patient gets 25% off at all the partner pharmacies, as long as they're in the program.

Chris Holifield:
So is there a waiting list of people that you want to-

Tim Pickett:
The program is pretty popular. And so we do have a backlog of patients.

Chris Holifield:
But that's incredible.

Tim Pickett:
We've helped 120 patients get into the program for free this year. We've created it so that it's going to last a little bit longer. We have a limit on what the partners are matching per month because we don't want to burden all of the pharmacies with, "Hey, everybody needs to put in $4,000 this month." and then not have money next month. So we've tried to work it out to where it's going to last a long time as we grow the program. But for example, in May, we had $3,000 plus in patient donations last month alone. $3,000.

Chris Holifield:
That's incredible.

Tim Pickett:
And so now you matched that seven, eight times. We can get a lot of patients through the program for reduced cost. And people who are in the uplift program as patients, a lot of them will donate $100 to the program as part of the... They're like, "Well, I can't afford $250." Or, "I can't afford $200, but I could pay $100." And then we use that to facilitate more patients coming through the program. And then with the discounts that the pharmacies, we think this is a pretty unique program. I don't know of any other programs in any other states that are doing this. It's certainly unique to Utah and Utah Therapeutic Health Center runs it. We have somebody who, Lissa Reed, who is the person who is managing that program and works full time essentially to do that. And Utah Therapeutic just covers the cost of her as well. So we not only donate to the program, but we donate her time and energy to facilitate the program. It's an awesome program.

Chris Holifield:
Now, can people Venmo money or can they do it online?

Tim Pickett:
That's a good question.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, versus do they have to do it in clinic?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. If you went to utahmarijuana.org/uplift, utahmarijuana.org/uplift, you could donate there online. You could call in, we would take a donation over the phone, certainly, but most of the time patients are donating at their appointments. We're also working with Clifton Uckerman, who is a behavioral health. He's a behavioral health therapist who's a professor at the University of Utah too. So he runs an entire program inside of Utah Therapeutic that is strictly therapy, canna therapy. Oh man, Chris. Man, we've been busy with these programs. That program sees patients and bills insurance.

Chris Holifield:
So wait, this is another program.

Tim Pickett:
That's another program inside of Utah Therapeutic that helps... So the PTSD thing, we were finding there wasn't a lot of therapists who were willing to use and talk about cannabis. But Cliff has been using canna therapy for some years in addictions therapy. And so he brought his whole company inside of Utah Therapeutic to help people in... He's the canna therapist. And we have four or five therapists now-

Chris Holifield:
That's great.

Tim Pickett:
... who are full time, just see patients. And you want to do that. That's billed through insurance. And then we manage your cannabis card for free, as long as you're in that program. We're just trying to get people access that need it in any possible way we can. And if you need therapy, great, you come get therapy. If you don't money and you're on Medicaid or terminally ill, come on, we'll bring you on. If you can pay for it and you want a card tomorrow. Great. And you qualify, great. We'll get you done. We'll get that done. And then of course, everybody who's in the program has essentially unlimited access to the education and to us and to me and whatever you need. That is fun.

Chris Holifield:
Incredible. I mean, you are immersed in this all day, every day from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep. Does your family ever get sick of hearing you talk about it?

Tim Pickett:
Oh, yeah.

Chris Holifield:
I mean-

Tim Pickett:
Because everywhere we go, all I talk about is weed.

Chris Holifield:
And people must know you in the community at this point. You're a bit of a public figure.

Tim Pickett:
Once, once, once in a while, I'll get noticed somewhere out. Certainly if I go to a pharmacy, I guess a lot of people know me. I mean, we were talking about this before, right? The mustaches. It is a giveaway now.

Chris Holifield:
Well, I mean, this even goes back to how you were saying people, they're uncomfortable to talk to you about cannabis. Right? They come into... Because they're so used to having to keep it hush, hush and quiet. I mean, do you get nervous at all that you're dealing with this product, like cannabis that is such a-

Tim Pickett:
Still federally illegal. Right?

Chris Holifield:
... stigmatized. Well, okay. You just said it's federally illegal. I mean, you have a family. You have a life. I mean, you're not worried. I mean, you don't-

Tim Pickett:
Don't worry about the Black suburban showing up.

Chris Holifield:
Cops following you around. Are they-

Tim Pickett:
The joke I make is the, every new office we open, we have to have a microwave big enough to microwave the laptops if the Back suburbans show up. I mean, I don't think of it that way anymore. I think that we started out in a really good way. We've been really careful about banking and about how we've presented the company. Well, I've learned so much by interviewing people, like JD Larson, who was really giving advice about how to navigate this program, that I don't really worry too much about it, at least here in Utah.

Chris Holifield:
Well, you're not doing anything illegal.

Tim Pickett:
Because I'm really not... Yeah. We don't do anything illegal. And to the point of, am I recognized or is that something that I'm getting into? The nice thing about being recognized is that people do feel safe talking to me about cannabis and will get text messages. I'll get text messages from my old friends from years and years ago. My wife will get messages, people that she knows that are like, "Hey, do you think I could talk to your husband?" Or, "Hey, Tim. I have a friend of mine who I'm going to introduce you to who had this accident. And I was talking to them about you." In the beginning, people were more nervous talking to me because for whatever reason, but maybe now after you look up YouTube, Discover Marijuana, you watch a couple of videos and you see me talking about cannabis all the time, then you're more comfortable asking me those questions. And so to that, I'm very happy. If I can be an avenue for people to get exposed to this then that's awesome.

Chris Holifield:
I know when I had you back on episode 420, we ran down the whole gamut, favorite local eating spots and where you take your family. I mean, any new favorite local eating spots that you've been enjoying or no?

Tim Pickett:
Honestly, we opened a new headquarters downtown and I've been eating at Red Rock and their fried pickles are good, the beer is good.

Chris Holifield:
Where's your place downtown?

Tim Pickett:
We just opened a little, a headquarters office on 400 South and 230 West. Mostly just office space, so we could open up a few more clinic rooms and get people out of the cramp spaces that we had. But I've been loving that Red Rock. And I've been really liking, gosh, there was a place on Main Street I went couple of weeks ago and had the best whistlepig rye whiskey that was good too. And I can't even remember it.

Chris Holifield:
That sounds good.

Tim Pickett:
Other than that, Chris, I don't get out much unless I'm with my kids watching soccer or dance.

Chris Holifield:
What would you change about Utah at this point? If you could change something, I mean, would it be something with cannabis or something else? Or if you had that ability, that question I ask always, what would you change?

Tim Pickett:
To me, so I've got a daughter that's growing up in this, what is still a very Mormon culture and I change that.

Chris Holifield:
They change the Mormon culture?

Tim Pickett:
I'd change that. We were hanging out with her friends the other day and her friends wouldn't go across the street. They were nervous because the person across the street, the first thing they said was, "Well, he is not a member."

Chris Holifield:
How do they know that person wasn't a member?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And I'm like, "Oh my God, we still are in that space where our girls are being raised with that type of mentality. And I don't want my daughter to have that. So that's just one thing I'd change. I think that's, maybe my family and my wife will get on me for saying so, but maybe I'm just old enough that I'm just sick of that.

Chris Holifield:
I know. I think it's changing though. I think it does.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, it's certainly better than when we were kids.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, look at the growth here-

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Chris Holifield:
... over the last couple of years, especially. I mean, even over since COVID. I mean, geez.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, yeah.

Chris Holifield:
I mean, drive on I-15. I mean, there's always traffic now and I mean, can't get somewhere in 10 minutes like I used to be able to.

Tim Pickett:
No, absolutely not. The things I wouldn't change. Like I say, I like the cannabis program and I like the culture that we're really healthy compared to other states. Frankly, we have extremely low smoking rates here in Utah. That means my kids are less likely to grow up and learn how to smoke. And those are some really good things. My kids are less likely to get in some trouble than in other places, which I like too. I think I'm just in the phase of life where I've got these, my personal life revolves around my kids.

Chris Holifield:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
And their education and what's happening with them. So other than work, I'm really focused on that.

Chris Holifield:
How can listeners get in touch with, I guess you, or find out more about the program? Just find out more about Utah therapeutic, find out more about cannabis. I mean, as we kind of wind this episode up a little bit, how can we-

Tim Pickett:
Absolutely, utahmarijuana.org, same place. Utah Marijuana. Search Utah Marijuana on Google, we'll come up first and that's a good place to start. That'll link you into the YouTube channel, Discover Marijuana on YouTube. You can certainly subscribe or listen to the podcast, Utah in the Weeds. Usually I send people to the YouTube channel first because that has both the podcast episodes and the videos.

Chris Holifield:
Coming through on the same feed there?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Coming through on the same feed.

Chris Holifield:
That's awesome.

Tim Pickett:
So then you can branch off if you want to listen to some patient stories on the podcast or listen to the history of the program there, you can listen to our episodes there. There's tons of that stuff on there.

Chris Holifield:
Go back to the early days of Utah in the Weeds. And you can hear Tim and I going off there. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And then finally, I think if you want, if you're interested in your questioning medical cannabis and you really feel like you want 20 minutes of one on one, just call our office through utahmarijuana.org and you can set up an appointment with me, no charge, usually on Tuesday mornings. And that's what I'm here for.

Chris Holifield:
That's very kind to you, Tim. Very Kind.

Tim Pickett:
Happy to do it.

Chris Holifield:
Well, hey, you know what? I've enjoyed our chat today and getting you in here and sitting down and chatting. It's been a while since we've talked. I was a little selfish and wanted to bring you through here for my own sake, just to see you a little bit too.

Tim Pickett:
Super great to catch up with you, Chris.

Chris Holifield:
And anything else you want to add before we let you go here? I mean, anything you want to... I mean, I know it's hard to talk about everything in an hour.

Tim Pickett:
Sure. I don't think so. Really grateful to come back on the podcast and huge fan of, I am Salt Lake, as you get into 10 years here. I don't think there's a better podcast in Utah, even compared to Utah in the Weeds. Utah in the Weeds is what it is, is a lot because of you too. I appreciate that.

Chris Holifield:
I appreciate all your support with I am Salt Lake, with utahmarijuana.org support and all the support you've just given all the way around. So thank you, Tim.

Tim Pickett:
Happy to do it.

Chris Holifield:
Awesome.

Tim Pickett:
All right, everybody. Stay safe out there.

Chris Holifield:
Stay safe out there, guys.

What to Expect in This Episode

The 104th episode of Utah in the Weeds features Tyler Hacking, a cannabis consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the industry.

Hacking is also an expert in mycology, the science of mushrooms and other fungi. He uses his expertise to enable cannabis and mushroom farmers to cultivate their crops successfully.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to episode 104 of Utah in Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett, and I am your host here, a podcast about cannabis and cannabis culture with interviews and discussions with patients, scientists like Tyler Hacking, who we have on today to discuss mycology mushroom science, cannabis science, growth of the plant, and what's just some really interesting things that we talked about in this conversation. So enjoying sharing these with you, and learning right along with you about the program here in Utah, and hopefully more about programs nationwide as we expand the podcast for further discussion this summer. I'd like to invite you to download the podcast and subscribe to the podcast. Thank you for doing so anywhere you have access to podcasts. Utah in the weeds. You can also find us on Discover Marijuana on YouTube and at Utahmarijuana.org, Utahmarijuana.org. You can come in for a medical cannabis card evaluation there, and you can get in tomorrow.

Tim Pickett:
If you are interested in events this summer, we have one that is really, really excited we're involved with on Saturday the 25th, the Summer Solstice Revival Celebration. It's a transformational wellness festival with a really unique and immersive art and nature experience. It's Friday the 24th through June 26th, Sunday, next weekend. They sell tickets online. It is located up in the North Fork Park up in Eden, Utah. There's a map online. Tickets are at Eventbrite, and you can go to Summerrevival.org and look up all about this celebration. You don't have to go up there for the whole weekend. You can go up there for the day. I believe all ages are welcome. They sell tickets above 13 years old. There's wristbands for people above 21. Just a place to share our culture, the cannabis and natural medicine culture, and enjoy some of the longest days of the year here in the Utah summer.

Tim Pickett:
Tyler Hacking everybody this episode, great discussion with about some true science and the journey of cannabis, and cannabis medicine, and mushroom medicine. We've had a lot about mushroom medicine lately, and it's a growing and exciting topic. This is an exciting episode. Enjoy this discussion. Are you from Utah?

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, I'm from Utah.

Tim Pickett:
What part of Utah?

Tyler Hacking:
So I was born at the Utah State University in Salt Lake and most of my life I grew up in Provo and Orem, but I moved around to a lot of the West Coast states. So I've done agriculture in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah, and that's my corner of the world.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it's pretty cool. I mean, we met each other. Do you remember way back before the world ended? I think I met you at Max Bar, that club down. They were doing the CBD socials.

Tyler Hacking:
Yep. I remember with Mandi. I still talk to her all the time.

Tim Pickett:
That's where I actually met you.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, with Mandi Kerr. I mean, that was kind of a fun time, because that was back in February, January of 2020. So we didn't have COVID. We didn't have a dispensary. We were just anticipating the dispensary opening, and the programs starting with cannabis. And things like that. How did COVID really affect you?

Tyler Hacking:
Well, I had to finish my science degree, my bachelor's, during COVID, which made it extra challenging. There are some classes we had to take online, which were not designed for online education, and such as laboratory classes, for example, where you have to learn to handle hazardous chemicals. And so that was a really big challenge. I also moved my kids to homeschool and learned that I greatly preferred it to public school, which was also my personal experience when I was a kid. So I kind of liked it. I don't know.

Tim Pickett:
Boy, so you had everybody at home.

Tyler Hacking:
Yep. Yeah. Was a loud house.

Tim Pickett:
Right. You're finishing up a degree, a science degree, and then having to move your kids to that type of school. I remember that time. It was crazy. The kids at home with school, that was probably one of the most crazy things I think I've ever experienced, having kids home all the time, but not in the summer. That was just nuts. How old are your kids?

Tyler Hacking:
The challenge is getting... Eight and 12, and we had a hard time finding ways for them to socialize during social distancing, but my kids excelled with the online at home education. They're doing a lot better than they ever did in public school.

Tim Pickett:
Cool. That's great. That's interesting. What drew you to cannabis?

Tyler Hacking:
Oh, at first it was just a job. I was a teenager about 20 years ago when a friend of mine asked me to join him in California for the summer, and I told my mom we were going to be working on an apple farm. That was not the case. I spent a couple of summers in the Redwoods learning from some of the best cultivators on earth, really amazing techniques that are highly effective for a variety of different ways to grow different cultivars of cannabis. And cannabis is a really good teaching plant. It can teach you all sorts of things about agriculture from cloning to nutrients, to pest management, indoor cultivation, outdoor cultivation, lighting, all sorts of advanced techniques that you might not encounter with other crops.

Tyler Hacking:
And so this got me on a journey in agriculture where I just got hooked, and I was in college at the time, and a couple years after I had gone to California, and I left college again to go work on more farms in Washington and Oregon, and then I moved to Colorado right as they legalized, and stayed there for the first few years of their legalization. And I came back to Utah, and we legalized, so it's been kind of just one amazing adventure after the next, where cannabis has been this constant presence in my life, and it's been amazing because there is a huge spectrum of cannabis from medical cannabis to hemp textiles, to food in the form of seeds, to oils, and things like that. And it's just such a fun plant, and I'm really interested in where we're taking the genetics right now. So I think that's what's got me hooked currently. And in that process, I've had to learn a lot about fungi.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, really? Okay. So talk about why genetics? Why is that kind of something that's got your interest right now?

Tyler Hacking:
Well, initially when human beings first started using cannabis, we were only using it as a food crop and as a fiber source to make things like rope. It wasn't until later after we began artificially selecting specific phenotypes and then reinforcing them through hybridization, and in breeding, and things like that we were able to get it to the point where we could use it medicinally, and concentrate the different phytocannabinoids and terpenes that were present in the plant. And that's a really interesting developmental process. I think it says a lot about human ingenuity, and this plant has been with us throughout our development as a species. It's use predates written history, and I think that's super interesting. It's considered to be a founding crop, one of the crops that's responsible for human beings creating society and transitioning away from hunter gatherers status.

Tim Pickett:
This because it's so good at creating fiber? The cannabis plant in general, we don't talk about this a lot, and in fact, this goes back to Mandi, and her organization, and the Hemp Coalition, and all these things really. Medical cannabis is really only a small portion of the cannabis industry as it will be in the future, because it seems like the thing that cannabis is the best at, or was the best at before, is growing and creating fiber, the hemp [inaudible 00:10:02] essentially.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, and we're just now essentially learning how to take advantage of that. In the past, it's really been for the most part we used males because they have longer internodes for fiber. The females have more branching, and that's not as good for fiber, and so we are just now learning about the different chemical structures of the different kinds of lignin that are found in the heart, and based on the structure of that lignin, you can do different things with it. Some of the amazing innovations I've seen at conferences and conventions over the last couple of years are things like hemp concrete, hemp rebar, hemp plywood, and that's amazing.

Tyler Hacking:
I grew up doing construction and building houses with my dad, and the idea of fabricating those materials at a lower cost than is currently available and preventing at least some deforestation is really exciting. At the Utah Cann I met a gentleman who was working on a prototype to grow two by fours using hemp and inoculating it with fungal mycelium. This mycelium-

Tim Pickett:
Oh, yeah. He...

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, did you see that?

Tim Pickett:
We got to get him on the podcast. I talked to him also.

Tyler Hacking:
Oh, cool.

Tim Pickett:
Fascinating product too.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. I can send you his info. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Right? That mycelium inside the hemp as the glue, essentially.

Tyler Hacking:
Yep.

Tim Pickett:
Is that what that was?

Tyler Hacking:
Well, I'll tell you a little bit. So think of it like creating the infrastructure of a building. Okay? We have steel infrastructure for a lot of the big buildings where we go vertical, and then between that we use wood and other materials that connect together. This provides an overall greater structural strength for the building, and when we're growing mycelium, essentially fungal hyphae, they grow in the most efficient path possible, and so they can create really tight woven connections between the strong microfiber bundles found in the hemp heart, which is super interesting.

Tim Pickett:
So they're trying to grow in between the fibers of the plant and fill in the gaps?

Tyler Hacking:
Yep. Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
So interesting. I grew up doing construction too. And when we did a lot of concrete work, and we incorporated what was called fiber mesh in the concrete, which is a fiberglass, a teeny strand of fiberglass, and they started out it wasn't a great technology in the beginning, because it was like fur on top of the concrete, but then they found out you could make it smaller, and smaller, and smaller. And I can see a really easy application of hemp fiber as that, as a replacement for that, essentially, the fiberglass fiber inside of concrete to increase its tensile strength and make-

Tyler Hacking:
Reduce how brittle it is.

Tim Pickett:
So it's not going to... Yeah, exactly. So you can see how that would work in plywood too, where you would have the fibers, and then you'd need something to glue them together, and if you could use mycelium, I mean, you could really change the world. I mean, granted, that's a pie in the sky idea, right?

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Because there's industry behind this, and you have to have the ability to scale it all, but coming back to what you were talking about before, Tyler, was the genetics of the plant. If you're manipulating the genetics of the plant, you're essentially saying that you could make that easier or make that more productive and produce more, but essentially specify the plant you're growing for the application that it is going to move to after harvest. Am I getting that right?

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. And there's so many different applications. For example, we can use gene editing techniques like CRISPR and other techniques to arrange the DNA in a way where it expresses how we want it to in the order that we want it to. And so let's say, for example, you were trying to clean up a toxic spill, and you wanted to use hemp as a bio accumulator, a bio remediation technique to clean out radiation or other contaminants in the soil. You could genetically engineer and genetically modify the cannabis plant to be more bio accumulative, to pull in more of the negative debris, and to be more tolerant to it, to grow in a way where it accumulates more biomass and less flower, for example. A lot of the farmer breeding techniques that we've been using have really increased the percentage of THC to the point where people are like, "Okay, maybe that's enough."

Tyler Hacking:
And people are starting to take a look at some of these other phytocannabinoids, the other terpenes and alkaloids, and the other compounds that are found in the plant, and the exciting part about this, about doing assays and biochemical analysis, and then comparing that to specific medical treatments is really exciting I think, because when you consume cannabis, you are not just consuming THC or CBD. You're consuming 90 to 140 different potentially bioactive alkaloids. And depending on the concentration and abundance that you find them in, they change in their interactability. The entourage effect is a very real thing. You experience it every single day when you eat any kind of food, essentially.

Tyler Hacking:
The combination of different substances that you ingest from your food have different effects. For example, if you ate just sugar, you'd feel a very specific way. If you ate just carbs all day, you'd feel a different way, and if you ate just protein all day, you'd feel a different way, right? But if you mix them together, you feel pretty good, I think. And cannabis is that way too, and so we can come up with hyper specific medical treatments for very specific medical conditions using this kind of genetic editing. And I think that's really exciting that we can make this medicine more precise through this kind of research.

Tim Pickett:
Are you familiar with where this type of research is happening? Because it seems to happen in Germany a little, in Israel some, in Canada some. I mean, I heard Penn State doing something, but there are few places that have even the capability of doing research like this do you think?

Tyler Hacking:
So it's a platitude of research. There's the agriculture sector that is working really hard to quantify the biosynthesis of these different plants, what their genetics can actually do. And then there's the medical sector. I would say that the medical sector has a lot more red tape because getting institutional review board approval and clinical trial approval to work with human beings is very difficult, and painstaking, and sometimes just straight up illegal. And so we haven't really been allowed to do this research until recently because of the Controlled Substance Act and all of that. And so it's really nice living in a world where we're starting to see legalization spread, because it's creating the opportunity for universities around the world to perform this kind of research, which will give us the data that we need to prove that it's helpful or hurtful.

Tyler Hacking:
And I think that that's really important to talk about as well, because it's not a cure all, and it does help some people, and there are also people who have experienced negative side effects from using cannabis, specifically medical clinical trials are showing that certain types of schizophrenia, bipolar, and mania, people who have experienced psychosis, that they can have negative reactions to the use of cannabis. And I've experienced that personally, where I had a friend who had a rare form of schizophrenia, and when she would use cannabis, she would pretty much just freak out and do scary, dangerous things, but the rest of us didn't experience that same thing. And that's because as human beings at a genetic level we are different, and we have different amounts of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies.

Tyler Hacking:
And sometimes they're are different shapes, enough that the reaction that it has on us can be different from one individual to the next, and I think that that's really important to take into account. Dosage and frequency of dosage, and the individual's genetics are huge variables in how this medicine affects you, and things like tolerance, and even what we would call an overdose. I think there are some people who overuse cannabis, but most users, at least based on the research that I've conducted, I conducted some research on the impacts of cannabis on addiction and drug use, and it was really interesting because what I wanted to investigate was does cannabis lead to other drug use? Is it a gateway drug like people have said for so long?

Tyler Hacking:
And my data showed that in most cases it helped people to get away from what we would consider hardcore drugs, like methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and that it wasn't something that led people towards drugs. In fact, the first drug that almost 70% of people used was alcohol. If anything, alcohol was the gateway drug all along.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That's interesting. Alcohol seems to be working in medicine too. I mean, anecdotally. I didn't do any research on this, but certainly I would see not a lot of people come in with a weed problem, but certainly people come in to die in the hospital with alcohol problems, and alcohol is still something that society allows us to do in public. Right? I mean, there are places where you can go, and socialize, and drink, and certainly nobody would ever think about something like that for cannabis here in Utah, but I mean, it would make sense that in some ways it would be safer if we all went to a cannabis bar, and were using cannabis there instead of alcohol. It would be less harmful for the human body. I mean, I'm sure there's an argument to be made.

Tim Pickett:
So what are you working on? So how does your knowledge, and your expertise, and your science degree, and all your background, how does that help you and help the people that you work with? Do you consult companies? Do you work for somebody?

Tyler Hacking:
I've been a cannabis agriculture consultant for the last decade, and it's been a pretty fun adventure because my main goal is to essentially find the problems, and I approach it very scientifically. I use analytical sensors to collect data. I do soil testing. I do microbial testing. I bust out my microscope, and what I'm trying to do is to establish a low work, high productivity environment using the resources that my clients have. Many of my clients are hemp and medical cannabis cultivators within this state and other states, and also mushroom cultivators. And I like to really focus on problems. I like to remove them from the equation and just make the entire situation as efficient as possible.

Tyler Hacking:
And it's been a blast because the feedback I get from clients is very positive very consistently. I end up talking about compost a lot more than cannabis, especially here in Utah and some of the drier states, because we do not have the habitat that cannabis evolved in, which was a subtropical climate in Southeast Asia, and instead our humidity, our relative atmospheric humidity is about half. The light is really good, but it's too dry, and our soil is not acidic enough. It's too alkaline. It's also salty and full of sand and clay.

Tyler Hacking:
Cannabis really likes a substrate of organic matter or material that's really easy for the roots to grow through. If it can't, they'll just grow sideways instead of downwards and not establish very well. And so a lot of the times I really try to clients about soil transformation, and that involves things like compost, using worms, so vermicomposting, and using the liquid that comes out, which is called leachate shape to make compost tea, which I brew, and then apply to their fields, and the transformation is drastic. I had a client in Blanding who after applying or compost tea mixture for just one season, they had 1400% increase in biomass production on their hemp crops, and it was just night and day.

Tim Pickett:
Wow.

Tyler Hacking:
It holds in more water. It saves money, because you don't have to buy as much fertilizer. And it prevents soil erosion by enabling plants to spread the roots through the soil and hold onto it. And so it's really funny. A lot of the times the first thing I do is just get onto the compost, because it tends to be the solution to many of the obstacles and challenges that these clients are having, especially here in Utah.

Tim Pickett:
So fascinating to talk to people who get into something, and not that you're assuming it's going to be a certain way, not that you're planning on it being a certain way, but you really get into this field where you're an expert in one thing, and you end up... You know the low hanging fruit is compost, for example, right? You find that out through experience, and then you end up having the same conversation, not necessarily using your expertise that you've trained for, but that got you in the door, right? And then you solve their problem using something that was unanticipated.

Tyler Hacking:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
I find that so much in cannabis medicine where somebody comes in, and they have these problems and things like that, and I'll talk about sleep, and I'll be like, "Well, how do you sleep?" "Well, not that great." "Well, if we can get you sleeping better, then we can solve kind of all of these other problems probably, or at least make a big dent in it." And so we end up talking about something that's not really related to cannabis, but it's simple and straightforward. It makes a big difference, and I think it's always fascinating how that works. Experts in a lot of fields, I think, will find that, that it's accounting. Maybe an accountant would say, "Well, I'm this expert in forensic accounting, but really the bottom line is I just teach people how to journal." Right? Or something like that. If they're keeping records, then it doesn't really matter. I don't need my skills.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
This crosses over into mushrooms too and fungi.

Tyler Hacking:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
And is this because it's the same people, right? The people who are interested in cannabis are interested in mushrooms too, or is it because you're in agriculture, and these things kind of fit together? How do they fit together for you?

Tyler Hacking:
There's definitely overlap between the cultures of the mushroom community, the fungi community, and the agriculture community of plants. So I actually went and moderated a panel at the Utah Cann later that day. I went and spoke for a panel at the Fungi Festival, the first Utah Fungi Festival which we had recently, and I was one of the organizers for the festival and also presented at it, and took people on a mushroom hunt, for me in my career when I started learning about plants, what I learned is that essentially there's an equation, and plants are just a part of that equation. The other variables are environmental chemistry, microbiology, and in other cases there are other variables, but for cannabis it's mostly about the chemistry of the environment, and then also the microbes, because plants do not have an immune system. They can only protect themselves chemically and physically, and so they're very dependent on symbiotic relationships that they have with bacteria and fungi to protect them from other bacteria and fungi, which are pathogens, kind of like powdery mildew, for example.

Tyler Hacking:
One of the biggest reasons people call me as a consultant for help is that they have a powdery mildew infestation on their farm. It's one of the most common ways that a healthy farm will go down, and that material has to be destroyed because it's contaminated with powdery mildew, which is a fungi, by the way. And it's really good at just eating the plant, and it takes advantage of plants that are stressed out, and that don't have enough energy to chemically protect themselves, and it just eats them using enzymes. And so I've seen this powdery mildew cause people to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of crops, and it's a very serious thing. Prevention is definitely the key.

Tyler Hacking:
Treatment is possible, but what I learned is that if you maintain a healthy microbiome, just like with your body, for the plant in the soil, that a lot of the times the beneficial symbiotic microbes will protect the plant, not only from pathogens, but from environmental stresses as well, and so the more I learned about plants, the more I learned that I had to learn about plant microbiology, and a really big part of that is fungi. Fungi also helped plants in their root systems to acquire more water and nutrients, and they can make some of those nutrients available to the plant where they might not be available based on the structure. For example, plants can't use N2, atmospheric nitrogen. They can't use ammonia either, and ammonium, but they can use nitrates and nitrites, and all four of those are forms of nitrogen, but only two of them can be used by plants, and they require bacteria and fungi to transform the other versions of nitrogen into bioavailable nitrogen, and so really we're growing a system.

Tyler Hacking:
We're growing ecology, and it's very rare that we're really growing just one organism. That happens almost exclusively in hyper sanitary hydroponics, for example, and it's never, ever found in nature, not ever. And honestly, mushrooms are really fun organisms to study. The one that comes to everybody's mind is psilocybin a lot of the times, but the world of mycology is so much more diverse than that. Next month, I'm flying to Florida to present at Mycological Society of America conference to present some of the research I've conducted on morel mushrooms. Have you ever had one?

Tim Pickett:
No. What are they?

Tyler Hacking:
Okay, so you buy them at-

Tim Pickett:
I want to now.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, you really should. They don't have the same flavor or texture as the other mushrooms you've tried in your life. And in fact, to me, they taste quite beefy like steak, and they have a chewier texture like steak. They're the second most expensive fungi on earth, right behind truffles, and this is because they're highly seasonal. They're very, very difficult to cultivate. Just recently in the New York Times there is an article about the first successful instance of scaled up morel cultivation. And this is likely what I'll focus my PhD on, which I am applying for right now at a few different universities, and it's interesting because it's challenging. It's not very well understood.

Tyler Hacking:
It was only in the very recent past that we even realized that fungi are not plants, which was only really discovered because of genetic analysis. They were actually classified under plants for a really long time scientifically, and imagine them like animals, but instead of bringing things into their body, they digest on the outside of their body, and they grow outwardly instead of inwardly. So they're actually more closely related to the animal kingdom than either are to any other kingdom. So we're very close relatives with fungi, and they play all of the roles.

Tyler Hacking:
They play the predator, and they play the symbio. And so they can have a protective role in your crop, or they can have a devastating pathogenic role in your crop, and I think understanding both is critical to having successful harvests, especially in places like Utah, where we're not perfectly acclimated for cannabis agriculture.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, your research certainly has gone across psilocybin.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
If you're into mushrooms at all, it seems like at some point you're going to run into the psychedelics.

Tyler Hacking:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
Are you familiar with the new appropriations bill that was passed this year to study that type of program here in Utah?

Tyler Hacking:
A little bit. Yeah, I know that it's been on Capitol hill, and a lot of the ketamine clinics are wanting to use it as a medical application as well, because there's some people who react better with psilocybin than they do with ketamine.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I wonder. Those types of grow programs, what does a mushroom grow program look like? I mean, does it look like a basement with no lights and just like a wet, damp, dark room?

Tyler Hacking:
So yes and no. Okay, so we actually use light, because fungi have photoreceptors and that helps them to grow upward. They grow towards light. Okay? And so typically people are growing in totes, like storage totes, and it's hyper sanitary. So we spray isopropyl alcohol on everything. It's usually under a flow hood that we build one of these totes, and then after sterilizing the media, which is different types of grain, and wood, or straw, for example, using intense heat and pressure to kill everything, we allow it to cool, and then inoculate it with fungal mycelium. And once you inoculate it, and the substrate is sanitary, the fungi doesn't have to compete. It won't get contaminated, and you pretty much just let it grow.

Tyler Hacking:
Inside of that tote, yes, you do want it humid, because they grow a lot better when it's humid. The mushroom season here in Utah is typically spring and fall during the more humid times of the year when things aren't frozen or dried to a crisp during the summer. And so a lot of the mushroom cultivation facilities are layered in a way where you can retain the humidity and cycle it back through the system using a dehumidifier that controls the amount of humidity in that system, which is critical to maintain throughout the mushroom cultivation process.

Tim Pickett:
It seems like it would take a lot less room, a lot less space to cultivate a psilocybin farm than it would take to cultivate a cannabis farm, but I'm interested as the legalities go forward how that's going to look in the nation really. I'm as interested in it nationally as I am here in Utah. I think Utah won't necessarily. There's a little bit of momentum behind it now, but I don't think that will last. Personally, I think they'll wait till somebody else develops a program to copy, being that we're-

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, and then modify the crap out of at the last minute.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, at the last minute. Right? But it is. From a medical standpoint, I think this just goes to show that society as a whole is interested in non-pharmaceutical medications and non-pharmaceutical medicine like plant-based medicine, getting serious about it.

Tyler Hacking:
Right. And there is a lot of validity to that. For example, if we're comparing things in pharmacology, typically we're working with an isolate, something that is one chemical that is mixed into a mixture of inert chemicals. So for example, when you take Tylenol, that's what you're taking. You're taking one molecule mixed with things that do nothing to you, and the difference between that natural medicine, a great example is cannabis. You're consuming hundreds of biochemicals simultaneously. Never in nature do you find just one chemical. That's not a thing, and so we didn't evolve to interact with isolates and concentrated chemicals.

Tyler Hacking:
It's just it's not as natural as an actual plant. That being said, there are naturally occurring toxins as well, and so we had to be careful with the natural medicines as well. To touch on the cultivation part of things, you can grow a lot more mushrooms with the same space than you can with cannabis, because you only need a foot or two based on the mushroom that you're growing, and then you can stack things vertically on shelves. So it's really easy to do vertical integration into mushroom cultivation systems compared to cannabis where it's really hard to do multiple levels.

Tim Pickett:
What's next for you? You're applying for your PhD program. When you apply for a PhD program in this type of research, are there a lot of facilities that offer those types of programs?

Tyler Hacking:
No, they're very hyper specific.

Tim Pickett:
Is it hard to study mushrooms and cannabis?

Tyler Hacking:
It is really, really difficult. I would say that it's easier to study cannabis than it is to study mushrooms. Mycologists are rare in the scientific community, even amongst biologists they're very rare. I've been lucky enough to know a few and have them as my research mentors, and I'm hoping to meet quite a few more at this conference next month that I can discuss potential PhD programs with. And that being said, I want to do mycoagriculture. I want to grow mushrooms for my PhD, and I've kind of had my fill with plants for now, and I'm really interested in fungi. I like studying how they interact more than anything, and so what I'm looking for right now is a mentor who will allow me to research morchella, morels. And the reason that that's super interesting to me is because we actually don't understand their full sexual life cycle.

Tyler Hacking:
Part of it is a complete mystery. We don't really know how... It's called the sclerotium. We don't understand how the sclerotium is really impacting the sexual development of the ascocarp carp, which we call the mushroom. And that's why only one business has ever been successful in cultivating them, and that's very recent. I really like to study entheogen psychoactive substances, and how they affect human beings, and how they affect things like addiction, and I think one of the most exciting things about psilocybin and cannabis is that they both have a powerful ability to mitigate the effects of addiction. I've experienced that personally, and I've seen that effect in many other people throughout my life, and if you listen to the testimonies of people who have tried these substances, that's one of the very common things that they say, especially when they were doing other hard drugs at the time. They kind of lost the desire to do so, which I find really interesting. Yeah. Do you want to talk a little bit about the history?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Yeah, let's do it.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah? Okay. All right. So there are at least eight psychoactive alkaloids in psilocybin mushrooms. Most of the psilocybin mushrooms that people eat on earth are called psilocybe cubensis. However, in the psilocybe genus there are 50 to 100 different species based on how you categorize them. Okay? And each of them have their own unique microchemical combination of alkaloids and terpenes just like cannabis and other plants do. The other really interesting thing... Uh-huh?

Tim Pickett:
So there are 50 versions of psilocybin or more that we could use that are of mushrooms? So you would say cultivars, or would it be similar to saying this is a different cultivar of the plant or of the same species?

Tyler Hacking:
It's close. So for example, psilocybe cubensis is a species. There's also psilocybe mexicana, which is another species, and so psilocybe is the genus that they fall under. Cannabis, all varieties of cannabis are the same species, cannabis sativa linnaeus, even indica and ruderalis are taxonomically subsumed under cannabis sativa linneaus. So all cannabis plants can interbreed because they are the same species, and when it comes to psilocybe, not all of them can interbreed, because they're not the same species, but, yes, it is synonymous in that we have 50 to 100 varieties of the same genus of fungi that have similar and overlapping but different chemical combinations in their properties.

Tim Pickett:
Okay. So keep going with this explanation, because I know you're getting to more interesting things about the genus, these different species.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah, this is the history part is really interesting. So we have evidence that psilocybin mushrooms have been used by human beings for as long as 6,000 years in our human history. Okay? But it wasn't known to the rest of the world until 67 years ago when it was shared by a shamanist, who lived in Mexico in a state called Oaxaca, and her name was Maria Sabina, and in 1955, she introduced psilocybin mushrooms to an American anthropologist. His name was Gordon Wasson, and three years later, it was cultivated in Europe, and its primary psychoactive ingredient, psilocybin, was isolated and extracted in a laboratory by the famous chemist, Albert Hoffman, who also conducted the research and development of LSD. LSD is directly relative to fungi because it's produced from a lysergic amino acid that comes from a type of fungi we call ergot, and ergot grows as a pathogen on rye, and so the development of pharmaceutical grade psilocybin and LSD actually happened within a 20 year period of each other from the same scientist.

Tim Pickett:
Wow.

Tyler Hacking:
And in addition... I know that's super Interesting, huh?

Tim Pickett:
It is.

Tyler Hacking:
But it's brand new to the world, yeah. That's less than 70 years.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I mean, 67 years ago you just all of a sudden. So did it just go dark? It was like the dark age for psilocybin for all those years in between, or were people using it indigenous cultures?

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. So it was used that whole time in Mexico, but mostly as a ritualistic shamanic experience that was focused on spirituality and connecting people with nature, or causing them to look inside themselves to get over emotional turmoil. So it was actually used to treat PTSD before most history was written by tribes and tribal people in Mexico. There were five different tribes that used it. So it wasn't just from Maria Sabina's tribe. There was an entire region, but it wasn't studied in Western medicine until very recently, and a lot of that had to do with the technology needing to develop to where we could do chemical and genetic analysis. And so once that happened, there were scientists who were very excited to work with it as a source of pharmaceutical substance, and that led to lots of other research.

Tyler Hacking:
So one big thing is that most of the psychoactivity is actually not from psilocybin. Psilocybin breaks down in your system when you orally ingest it into psilocin. And so psilocin is the primary psychoactive ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
When did it become illegal? Because if we are doing this research, then it has some sense of legality or at least if Hoffman's doing research and developing these things, when was it added to the list of things we can't use?

Tyler Hacking:
So in it depends on the country that we're talking about. In the United States, it became a schedule one drug, which was also pressured by the UN, but that happened during the Controlled Substance Act in 1970.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Okay. So they basically rounded up everything that was fun for anybody, and they thought was causing trouble.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. Yeah. Their argument was that there was not a medical benefit, and at the time there wasn't research to show that there was a medical benefit. That research takes a long time and was stinted by the Controlled Substance Act, making it illegal for scientists to even conduct that research.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Yep. Same type of argument there for cannabis, right? If there's no medical benefit and the anti-government hippies are using it, we need to take it away.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. There's a huge theological debate that it has a lot to do with different religious theologies. There are many religions who are against the use of psychoactive substances, and when discussing this topic in as non-biased a way as possible, the conclusion that many people come to is that when you change the way that somebody thinks, it might cause them to think in a way where they think against that religion.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Tyler Hacking:
And so it's been deemed for a very long time. I won't name any religions, but it's been deemed for a long time that it's evil and bad, however, the use of these substances for medicinal reason predate each of those religions.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. There's some very promising research on PTSD and addiction with psilocybin, these heavy doses of psilocybin. Super cool research that when I talked to Steve Urquhart, the founder of the Divine Assembly here in Utah, the Mushroom Church, he and I had a good conversation about that too, and I do think I would agree with you that there is a fear amongst groups of people with specific beliefs and ideologies that a psychoactive substance or experience would make somebody, "make them," I'm holding my air quotes here, make them think differently about their original beliefs, and that would be bad, right? And that perception, and of course to the scientific community the opposite is probably true, where that perception change represents further understanding, not necessarily disbelief, I guess.

Tyler Hacking:
No, let's talk about that, because this is a really important topic. Let's talk about cognitive liberty and cognitive awareness. Okay? If you have never experienced a substance, then you couldn't possibly have had the experience to have an opinion about it. Right?

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Tyler Hacking:
I think that to people who haven't tried entheogens, that it is unimaginable. You can have an experience that lacks words to describe how you feel from that experience, and many of these substances cause you to look inward. They cause you introspection, and introspection is the key to growth and the goal of most therapeutic applications, to look within one's self and heal on the inside. These substances tend to catalyze that experience and accelerate the process quite a bit by enabling us to drop our baggage, for example, and to have the ability to break out of the patterns of thought that we can get stuck in as human beings.

Tim Pickett:
It's really well said. Okay, tangent just for a second. Do people with allergies to mushrooms or intolerances to mushrooms, can they take some of these substances still? Can you distill it down to where it doesn't have that allergy? I know a couple of people who are super intolerant to fungi in general, right? If they eat mushrooms on a pizza, they end up just throwing up. It's not a true allergy, so to speak. It's more of an intolerance. Can that be affected by the way they're processed?

Tyler Hacking:
Definitely. So the cell membrane of fungi, it's similar to insects. It is composed of a molecule called chitin, and there are some humans who are very sensitive to chitin to where it's toxic to them, and they can have a negative reaction. So through processing, you can extract and concentrate different alkaloids out of the biomass and separate it from the chitin. This removes the allergic reaction, if you do separate out the chitin. There are also other mycotoxic compounds that are present. For example, the button mushroom, the cremini, the Portobello mushroom from your grocery store, it contains a toxin called agaritine, and if you don't properly cook your mushrooms, then you can experience agaritine toxicity. The same is true for any fungi.

Tyler Hacking:
All fungi have mycotoxic compounds, and I would recommend cooking with them for sure. A lot of people when they eat psilocybe, they are doing so raw, which means that it did not break down any of the mycotoxins. It didn't break down the chitin, and so it enhances that toxicity effect. So one thing that people can do is just make a tea, for example. That's a simple technique. It won't remove all of the potentially irritating molecules that could cause a reaction, but it will remove most of them. There are also definitely concentrates and isolates, isolates and extracts of the alkaloids from mushrooms to separate it and concentrate it. Sometimes it's more effective in a concentrate form based on its application.

Tim Pickett:
Hmm. Okay. I learned a lot just then, because it's just been something that's been interesting to me about fungi, and how you could be allergic to it when it's essentially ubiquitous in some ways.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
This has been a fascinating conversation, and what have we missed?

Tyler Hacking:
I think the big takeaway from this topic is that as human beings, we are all different. We have different DNA, and that is the reason that we have varying experiences. The same thing might affect you and I differently at the same exact dosage, and I think it's important to learn for yourself if it's actually going to help you, and to identify when it's not. That's probably the healthiest way that one can go about exploring the world of entheogens.

Tim Pickett:
Well said, Tyler Hacking.

Tyler Hacking:
Thank You.

Tim Pickett:
We're going to have to check in on you as you continue your journey towards your PhD and learning more and more. We'll come back to you as the subject matter expert for sure.

Tyler Hacking:
Thank you, Tim. It's been a pleasure.

Tim Pickett:
If somebody has questions for you, do you have a place where people should go to ask those questions, or to get in to connect with you?

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah. I have a strong presence on Facebook and Instagram, where I advertise my business, Green Dreams Come True. You can also find it under just Green Dreams. And I have pages and groups, and I love sharing scientific information with people to help them to learn about these topics. It's my favorite thing to do. So I love those questions, even if you're just starting out with mushroom cultivation in your basement or hemp cultivation, anything like that, hit me up. It is my favorite thing to talk about, and I love seeing how it helps people, seeing how it changes their lives for the better. That's why I do this. That's why I've continued to do this, and it's exciting. These businesses, Tim, especially in the cannabis industry, they have a 90% fail rate for startups, and I think a lot of that is preventable by the sharing of effective techniques.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Yeah. I think people get caught up in trying to do it themselves and be better than everybody else, and then they end up in trouble, and the better companies tend to be more willing to share and understand that it is kind of a collective, right? Everybody needs a haircut. My mom did hair for years, and my uncle was a barber, and he's like, "Yeah, a barber can open up down the street, and that's probably okay, because everybody needs a haircut." Right? There's enough business to go around. Let's be a good community first and help people first.

Tyler Hacking:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Well I'm glad you came on. This has been awesome. I really appreciate your time and expertise, and for those of you who are not subscribed to this podcast, Utah in the Weeds, we're talking about things that I think are pretty interesting, and who knows? You might learn a thing or two. So thanks, everybody. Stay safe out there.

Tyler Hacking:
Thank you, Tim.

 

What to Expect in This Episode

Episode 103 of Utah in the Weeds features Connor Boyack, who is one of the leading proponents of Medical Cannabis in Utah. Boyack is the president of Libertas Institute, an influential think tank working "to change hearts, minds, and laws to build a freer society by creating and implementing innovative policy reforms and exceptional educational resources." For years, Libertas Institute has been heavily involved in shaping Utah's Medical Cannabis policies.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to episode 103 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett, and I'm the host. This podcast is about cannabis and Utah cannabis culture. Today's guest is none other than Connor Boyack, the president of the Libertas Institute. Here in Utah, Connor was one of the key proponents of the legalization of cannabis. Even back to the CBD push there's talk of... We discuss how he was involved in the initial patient's story and getting all the media involved. And then we hone in on the discussion between the big players, and the church here in Utah, and the advocates, and some of the advocate groups. And Connor gives his side of the story of what actually happened in that compromise.

Tim Pickett:
We talk a lot about the program and how the program has evolved. Really great conversation. I think this is one of the most important interviews and conversations that I've had in this podcast. And just excited to share it with you. From some housekeeping standpoints, the summer is underway here in Utah, and the program is still growing. You can find us at utahmarijuana.org, or right here on Utah in the Weeds podcast. Download it on any podcast player that you have access to and stay up to date with patients' stories and key players and industry leaders right here in Utah and soon to expand outside. Enjoy this conversation with Connor Boyack. Connor Boyack, you're the president of Libertas Institute, right? So this is, you considered a think tank?

Connor Boyack:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
So describe that. What is Libertas?

Connor Boyack:
So we're a nonprofit and a think tank is base... Well, the joke is that we're a mental institution, a think tank and at base. But what it really means is we are a nonprofit focused on building a public case for legal reform. So we work with elected officials and provide them information. We partner with the public. We go out and educate the public, and we are trying to think up ways to make our world a better place from our perspective. And then figure out what are the plans that need to be put into place so that we can make that a reality. Whose minds do we need to change? Who do we need to partner with? What resources do we need? How do we get all this pulled together in a way that will allow us to accomplish our goal?

Connor Boyack:
And then we build the campaigns and go execute and get it all done. So we basically sit around all day trying to figure out how to change the world. And it's an amazing job to be able to do, because really, it's all about serving other people and trying to solve their problems because they often can't solve it for themselves. And so we have the resources, the knowledge, the network, where we can help a lot of these people who can't help themselves. And we can solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

Tim Pickett:
So when it comes to cannabis in Utah, Libertas was involved from the beginning, even before the bill passed or the-

Connor Boyack:
Initiative.

Tim Pickett:
... the referendum-

Connor Boyack:
Oh, yeah.

Tim Pickett:
The initiative?

Connor Boyack:
No. It started... Gosh. 2013, I was in my office watching a documentary that CNN put together by Sanjay Gupta called Weed. He's now since done, I think Weed 2 and Weed 3 or whatever, but this is when Weed came out. And he was profiling the story of Charlotte Figi, who has since passed. She was the girl that had Dravet syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy. And they were talking about how these parents were... They had tried everything. They were sent home with Charlotte to go let her pass in peace and at home. And they're like, "Screw this. We've tried everything else. Let's go to Colorado. People have been talking to us about this CBD stuff. Let's go see what it's about." So they were...

Connor Boyack:
The big focus was on CBD and epilepsy. So I'm watching this and I'm like, "Holy cow, this is amazing. Is there anyone in Utah that falls into that camp that we can talk to?" So we started sniffing around and we met with the Utah Epilepsy Association and all these people. And I'm asking for an interview and trying to... So we finally land with this mom, Jennifer and her son, Stockton like Charlotte had Dravet syndrome. So we did this interview and it was all about her desire for medical cannabis, for at the time was really just CBD focus, but medical cannabis more broadly. And so here's this Mormon mom, who's talking about how pharmaceuticals have failed her child and that she wants the ability to try.

Connor Boyack:
There was zero conversation about this in Utah at the time in 2013. And so we put this interview out there and literally... This is not an embellishment. I had every media outlet calling me within the hour. They all wanted Jennifer's contact information to do this interview. It was a sexy topic in Mormon, Utah, right? Here's this Mormon mom trying to fight for marijuana. Every reporter was salivating. And so we sent them all to Jennifer. She did a ton of media over the next day. And that is what launched the conversation in Utah. We did some polling. Polling was in the tank. We were in the 40% for support for medical cannabis I think at the time. No one was talking about it in Utah or anything.

Connor Boyack:
And so we spent a year, year and a half focused on CBD, and the Epilepsy Association ran point on getting the CBD law passed. And right after that, we started working on the Medical Cannabis Bill, senator Madsen working for two years at the Capital, trying to get it passed. Failed there, went and started The Ballot Initiative, raised a million bucks, got 120 plus thousand signatures. Went into the negotiations that everyone knows something about and now we have a lot. So that's the very crude beginning to end. But that's the early, early story that very few people know about, is how early it started and was it was me watching Weed and calling around and looking for someone to interview. That is precisely what launched the effort here in Utah.

Tim Pickett:
When the ballot initiative got up close to being passed, you were involved in that negotiation. If you were in the room, you got a say in what happened. What happened? Because it looked like from my perspective, this was going to pass. Through the summer I was... At first, I thought, "No way, it's not going to pass." I'm working in trauma and GI surgery down here in West valley and there's no way it's going to pass.

Tim Pickett:
And then over the course of the summer, it looked like, "Wow, this actually might go." But then right towards the end, I think it was in August, when the church finally seemed like they decided to come forward and say, "Nope, we oppose it." And everybody got scared. And then I lost... Then it seemed for me anyway, the drapes were closed and something happened behind the scenes.

Connor Boyack:
So you're wondering what happened behind the scenes.

Tim Pickett:
I want to know what happened behind the scenes.

Connor Boyack:
Well, we heard of that-

Tim Pickett:
I've heard a couple of versions.

Connor Boyack:
Okay. Well I have-

Tim Pickett:
Because-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
But I want to know the truth.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. There's versions out there and then there's what actually happened. So let me pause to give context. It is wrong to believe that Prop 2 was going to pass. It initially was. The polling was quite strong. We were at one point in the low eighties in terms of people supporting Prop 2. But then as you pointed out, the LDS church and their partners, Drug Safe Utah, which was Walter Plumb, and the Utah Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Medical Association and the PTA and the blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
I think the police too.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Law enforcement.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Law enforcement.

Connor Boyack:
Everyone got up on stage together, but it was really the LDS church. They were the ones out there emailing people who joined their coalition and trying to grow this thing. So the church starts coming out. They send an email out to every member of the church in their database in Utah. First time they had ever done that on a political issue saying, "Don't vote for Prop 2. We think it's bad," blah, blah, blah. So they're using all their resources attacking it. They were very effective. They allowed the predominantly conservative Mormon community in Utah to believe two arguments at the same time. That you can be for medical cannabis and opposed Prop 2. That was the divergent point where support for medical cannabis remained in the high seventies to even low eighties at some point.

Connor Boyack:
But the numbers for Prop 2 started tanking. And we were doing a lot of internal polling trying... Internal polling means polling that we didn't release to the public. We're just quietly doing polling. We're trying to figure out how effective is this? How problematic is this? And the numbers were going down. I stand before you today very confident in saying that, had we just gone balls to the wall on the ballot, let the public decide, we would've lost. And that had we lost then what would've been the so-called public will that everyone right now likes, "Oh, they violated the public." No, no, no. Actual public will would've been that we don't want medical cannabis and we would have zero program today because there would be no incentive for the legislature to act.

Connor Boyack:
And so we negotiated specifically because we had access to this data and had strong reasons to believe that our resources were diminishing. We had spent most all of our money. We weren't raising as much anymore because people just thought that things were good. Look at the polling numbers, they're great. This is sailing to the finish line. Meanwhile, here comes the LDS church with its significant resources and Walter Plumb, with his massive resources and others. And we're like, "Okay, crap. If they continue to attack this thing, this doesn't end well for us." And so we decided to negotiate to, for lack of a better word, save Prop 2.

Connor Boyack:
Granted we paired it down to about 85% of what it was, but also what a lot of people don't understand is that we put things in Prop 2 that we knew were a negotiating items. We knew that they would not survive either in negotiating process like this or subsequent legislative sessions. For example, home grow. I have people to this day that send me little snarky, Facebook messages, "Oh, you removed home grow." I'm like, "You're an idiot." We sat around my table when we were concocting this thing. And we knew why, eyes wide open, that home grow was not politically palpable in Utah, but we put it in there so that we could have a bargaining chip to bargain away at some point. To preserve the rest of the program, to let our opponents feel like they had a win. Right?

Connor Boyack:
"Oh, yay. We defeated home grow." Fine. We knew we just never, would've got that passed anyways. So we had things in there impromptu that we knew would not survive and that was intentional on our part. But then also we did par it down in a few other ways in the negotiating process, protected 85% of what we initially mapped out. And then in the years, since we've taken it up to 95% and in the process turned our entire opposition into support. Now none of those institutions are attacking what we're doing. So in retrospect, despite all the naysayers who understandably don't know all the nuance and the strategy and everything, I get it. So they attack from a point of, I'll say political ignorance or whatever.

Connor Boyack:
So there are people out there who have hard feelings about that, but from our vantage point that the folks who started this effort and did all the strategy for it, this went according to plan. It happened great. We're very pleased with how it turned out. Does that mean there aren't problems still? Absolutely not. There are still issues that I'm fired up about, want to fix and change or whatever but we are here where we are only because of what we did.

Connor Boyack:
And for all those people who think that we shouldn't have negotiated, we shouldn't have talked to the LDS church, blah, blah, blah, we would have no program today. And that was not a reality I was willing to accept. So I was more willing to take the arrows and the attacks from everyone and the complaints and the bitching and moaning than I was to live in a world with no program. And then have those people still complain at me. So in retrospect, I think we did exactly what we should have and I'm happy we did.

Tim Pickett:
I think it's a good perspective. And it reiterates the importance of knowing that you know what, you've got to deal with the things in front of you. And with legislation, the more I learn about it, the more I realize, look, you've got to get... Something done is in a lot of ways better than waiting and getting nothing done. And it is a stepwise approach, especially in a conservative state like Utah and medical cannabis.

Tim Pickett:
There are certainly more people, more patients that will talk to me and say, "I'm surprised medical cannabis is legal at all. I thought we were going to be the last state." So I think there's more people on the positive side than on the negative side. But if you can't... And let's talk about it. Some of the problems you see that in the legislation, you were involved in the negotiation and then passing the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. Right? And then each year, well, you were really involved in the modifications the first couple of years, but maybe not so much in 2022.

Connor Boyack:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
Blister packs were... That was a huge thing that... I think everybody knew that one's going to have to change.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
But did you have things that you immediately needed to get changed, that you recall?

Connor Boyack:
Well, and during the negotiation, our intent was to save as much as we could. So if that meant stupid blister packs to say flower when everyone wanted to. The starting point for the negotiation was no flower.

Tim Pickett:
No flower?

Connor Boyack:
And no one wanted it. Everyone hated it. No one loved the open ended nature of it. How close it is to recreational, so-called. So our MO was to do whatever we could to save as much as we can. With the intent, with the knowledge that when implementation happened, we would see... This is really important, right? By getting them to sign on to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, all of our opposition, we got them to say yes to medical cannabis. And because of that, we could hold their feet to the fire in the subsequent legislative sessions. In conversations that were not around, shall we legalize medical cannabis, yes or no? It was about, how do we make this work? Hey guys, we already agreed that we're going to make this program work. But now we're seeing-

Tim Pickett:
We already agreed to flower.

Connor Boyack:
Right. And we said yes to flower, but now we're seeing that, Hey, blister packs have some of these problems. And it was me sitting in a room with some of these people. I'm like, "Okay, so how about we just move to the glass jars? I think that's going to make more sense because we gave it a go. We're seeing these kinks. I think this is probably the right way to go. What do you guys think?" "Yeah. Okay. I suppose we should." Camel's nose in the tent for lack of a better term, right. It's just like get them accustomed to saying yes to flower and okay with the law and so on and so forth and then deal with these things later on. So yeah. Everyone's howling, "Oh, how stupid can you be? Blister packs don't work." I'm like, "Guys, I know they don't work. Just let this play out."

Tim Pickett:
Just let this play out. Yeah. We're still two years... You were still two years really away from the first pharmacy opening at that point.

Connor Boyack:
Right? Yeah. We didn't need to fix it on day one.

Tim Pickett:
There's plenty of time.

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Connor Boyack:
And I think the big thing that remains for me is, I remember sitting in one of the negotiations. At this point we had broadened it to a bunch of the other stakeholders, including the governor's office. And it was the spokes guy. What was his role? He was chief of staff or something, but it was the guy from the governor's office. And he said, "We're talking about which conditions? Yes here, no here." Utah medical association wants to come in with a hatchet and just get rid of half of the conditions. So we're having to figure out creative ways to save pain. What a lot of people don't know is our pain condition is better than it even was in Prop 2.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it is.

Connor Boyack:
And so for all of the nay saying, in some respects, things are even better and broader. But at the time when we were negotiating over all these things, we were talking about the conditions. And the guy from the governor's office, he's like, "Why do we need a condition list at all?" And I'm applauding this guy.

Tim Pickett:
Wow, thank you. Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
And he is like, "Why don't we just let doctors be doctors and they can figure out what the uses are for?" And you have the Utah Medical Association in the room and a couple others and they would not go anywhere near that. But I think that's where we need to get to. In my mind, that is the next major upgrade for the system is to get out of the political picking and choosing and just allow doctors to make the determinations that in their best judgment they know about. I think that's an area where I want to get. The nit pickiness over forms or whatever. Like, "Okay, can we have butter or not?" I'm less interested in that.

Connor Boyack:
Again, to your point, I wasn't really that involved in this legislative session by my own choice, except when there's issues that I can do with behind the scenes and have some conversations with people. But for my vantage point, I've birthed this child and I've adopted away to the industry and Desiree and Utah-

Tim Pickett:
And the doctors [inaudible 00:18:16]-

Connor Boyack:
... Patients Coalition. I'm like, "You guys can squabble about all the little stop or whatever." If there's something big or significant where I need to step in, I will. But a lot of the stuff is not so significant where I felt the need to step in lately. I'm on the board of Utah Patients Coalition. So I work with Desiree there just to guide it from a patient perspective.

Connor Boyack:
But no. The cost is a big one, but again, I think that's a volume play. That the more we can continue to scale and grow the program, I think that will help with that too. I don't know. There's room to grow. There's things to fix but overall, I feel like we got a functional program. And while some people might complain about this or that, we are three X over where the regulators said we were going to be compared to a data...

Connor Boyack:
They did a statistic. Okay, we get the bill passed. We go to implementation and the Department of Agriculture and Food Commissions, a statistician and a researcher over at the U, to say, "Hey, look at all the surrounding states that have medical programs and what their year, one year two was. Base it off a population, do all the corrections and the whatever so this is legit. And then tell us what you think we're going to have in terms of a patient population year one, year, two year three, so that we can figure out how to regulate that cost wise," blah, blah, blah. They come out with that number. I think it was in year... Gosh, I just blogged about this few weeks ago.

Tim Pickett:
I Think in year one, it was-

Connor Boyack:
11,000 for-

Tim Pickett:
It was 11,000 patients for year one.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. With three X.

Tim Pickett:
Then they did licensing and growing and all of those sorts of things were about that amount. And we definitely in the first year doubled that. And now you're at three X where they're-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. So for everyone complaining, like the-

Tim Pickett:
Projections.

Connor Boyack:
... the market is clearly saying that there's strong interest in this. There's a high renewal rate. It's helping a lot of people. I don't disagree that there's issues to be worked out, but from my vantage point, we got it to a point where I accomplished what I was trying to do. And now I can let other people fight their battles and focus on what they want to focus on. And I'm only going to get involved as I think I'm needed because I accomplish what I set out to do, which is to get it this far.

Tim Pickett:
Do you think things like home grow, things like unlimited patient caps, things like unlimited or let doctors be doctors and decide who can use it, are a long ways off in a state like Utah? Many, many years we need federal legislation change in order to get to something like that. Or do you think incrementally, you can get to those steps-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
... alone in Utah?

Connor Boyack:
I doubt we ever get to home grow in Utah. I don't see that happening. Patient caps, I'm 50, 50. We've raised them and then we've expanded the number of people and any nurse under you or whatever. I feel like we've resolved that issue. We've expanded it so doctors now don't even need to be a... Whatever we called it.

Tim Pickett:
Oh yeah. QMP.

Connor Boyack:
Qualified Medical Provider.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The limited medical provider.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. So we-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That's an interesting program in my perspective.

Connor Boyack:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
There's been... It's a good idea. Is a good idea. There's been about 70 people issued medical cards under that program so far in its lifespan. Which is not a long-

Connor Boyack:
Well, its life span is short. It was supposed to launch a year ago and then they never got around to it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It's only four months.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
It's only four months. But still-

Connor Boyack:
But again, the-

Tim Pickett:
Fair enough.

Connor Boyack:
The thinking is like, how can we expand the universe of physicians who are going to feel comfortable writing these things, talking to their patients about it, not feeling like they have to go through all these regulatory hoops just to write a single patient a recommendation? And so we've tried to solve for a lot of these things. I don't remember whether the third one. You asked home grow and raising the cap or the condition list. I think we can get there.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Condition list.

Connor Boyack:
I think we can get there. I think that is on the table. Again, if we've got a generous pain condition and we've got the board that basically approves 95% or more of the requests that go before the compassionate use board. What are the incentives to change the condition list if basically anyone who needs medical cannabis fits somehow? And so, I don't know what we really gain by taking on that fight if there's not a real problem to solve. So I think we could get there. I just don't know that it's a battle worth fighting compared to potentially other things.

Tim Pickett:
I tend to agree. The thing that I like about an expanded condition list is the data you're gathering from the state is more accurate. Currently you have 80% of patients that are qualifying under pain, and yet they're using it for sleep or something else. So you're not quite getting good medical data. You're not reinforcing the legitimacy of cannabis as a medicine from a medical provider standpoint. That I think it causes us trouble down the road that we don't see. It's not a problem now, but if you want to expand research and viability of the data, maybe you should reconsider your condition list. But you're right. If it's not a problem in... If it's not a barrier to access medical cannabis, then in some ways why fight that battle?

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Well, cause any scab that you pick at, right? You're inviting infection. If we try and take this on, then other people are going to come complain and try and push in the other direction and ask for their things. So it's like, if it ain't broke that bad, then maybe just let it lie.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Do you have... I'm assuming that you have people that you know, who've really... And over the course of, from 2013, all the way to now, has your view of medical cannabis changed? Or did your view... This is more of a question on your political views.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Is cannabis a view? Is cannabis something for you because of your political viewpoint? Or is it important for you because you like cannabis as a medicine?

Connor Boyack:
I was very clear with everyone, elected officials and otherwise during all of Prop 2 that I had never used cannabis in my entire life. I have since, but at the time I never had. And I liked that for Utah, for me to be able to say this isn't... It's not about using weed or whatever. This is just me trying to do what I think is the right thing for these people who need it. No, for me was absolutely born out of my political views. I don't think people should be locked in cages because they ingest something you don't like. I think the drug war is hilariously idiotic. It's counterproductive. It's a net negative on our society. And the government response to drugs are oftentimes far worse than the drugs themselves. I remember seeing a meme a couple years ago about...

Connor Boyack:
Wow, there's several of them I have saved. But the one guy that... This is cop busting down a door, he's like, "Are there plants in here? Are there illegally growing plants?" And he's followed by... This SWAT team and they're coming in with guns a blazing. It's like, "What are we doing?" That makes no sense to me. So for me it is political. It's why we're focused on psychedelics right now for mental health. That's the next frontier of what we're working on. And so it is absolutely a political thing. It was very interesting as a libertarian, which is what I consider myself, that this was a coalition of all kinds of people who we were only United based off of our common interest in legalizing this thing. Which is rare. I remember DJ, who headed up the Utah Patients Coalition.

Connor Boyack:
He was my vice president at Libertas and then we moved over to Utah Patients Coalition for all the signature gathering effort. So I was kind of strategy and he was execution. And I remember he said to me once, he's like, "You know how stupid it is to build coalitions around a medicine?" Is like, "Imagine trying to build a coalition of people who've used aspirin." How stupid would that be to say like, "We have that in common. Let's unite." That doesn't make any sense at all.

Connor Boyack:
And so of course, then a coalition built around a medicine is going to have its internal challenges and its conflicts and people who disagree. And so it was very interesting for me, working with all kinds of people from different political perspectives and otherwise. And for my part it was all fine and great, but I know not everyone felt that way on their end of things. But it is what it is. So we got it done. We got some bruises along the way and here we are.

Tim Pickett:
Did you build relationships with people on the opposite side of the aisle that you've fostered and continued?

Connor Boyack:
Totally.

Tim Pickett:
Because when you mentioned psilocybin, it seems like there's going to be some of that same type of, "Hey, we're going to have to work with all kinds of different political viewpoints here to get this done."

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. The reality is, like with cannabis, you don't actually have to work with the Democrats and the liberals because it's presumed that they all support it and they're a super minority in Utah, so that's not actually who you need. So it's like, "We got your vote anyways. Everyone know you supports this and if you guys are the face of this, then maybe it doesn't go anywhere. So let's have a different driver for"-

Tim Pickett:
And they understand that too, right. Escamia would be like, "Yeah, I understand that. Let's let somebody else be the face of it."

Connor Boyack:
I think the politicians understand that more than the activists. The activists don't really get the political savvy or that issue. We all have ego in these things, right? Myself included, but they want to be involved. They want to be active. They want to be part of the movement. I'm like, "Dude, you get like tats up the Wazoo, and drags and everything. Maybe we need to have you play a role in the back end and not the front end." And so it's hard for people who want to be part of an exciting movement to understand those types of cultural things and recognize that there's different roles for different people. And we're all on the same team, team aspirin, team cannabis, team... Whatever your medicine is, but it is.

Connor Boyack:
But to your question, since I'm rambling, yes. No. I try and be as friendly with as many people as I can. Not everyone agrees with the decisions that we made on the negotiation. I get it. I think a lot of them just don't understand how things went. That's fine. I don't expect them to have intimate knowledge of something that was a little bit more tightly held. Some of them don't want to be friends with me, that's fine, but anyone who wants to talk and partner up and whatever, we have a very pro coalition standpoint and certainly will be doing that on psychedelics as well.

Connor Boyack:
And I frankly think that's a good thing. Especially as I look out at our world and there's so much toxic disagreement and tribalism and everything else. I just don't want to live my life that way. I don't think it's healthy for our society or for me as a person. And so I try and be friendly with everyone who wants to partner up.

Tim Pickett:
How is the psilocybin, the psychedelic fight going? My understanding is they got a bill passed to do some studying. Got a little appropriation for, or money to spend on... Basically do a report. My understanding of it is they want to build a report of what the program might look like in Utah if there was one. And that's as far as we've got.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah, we worked on this with representative Brammer. And you're right. It is a task force. It brings together a whole bunch of different smart people to talk over the summer and fall. So that's being set up right now. And yeah, their goal is look at the research from Johns Hopkins and other places that are looking into this. Help us understand what it says, what should we do, is there a path to move forward in Utah? Who can this help? And so they will produce a report in mid October and that is designed to inform the legislature about what that might look like to open that up in Utah. It's a very different issue. With cannabis, tons of states had forged this path already.

Connor Boyack:
It was part of the national conversation. That's not the case with psychedelics at all. The only places to do any type of de-crime stuff are... Like Oregon that decriminalized all drugs basically or Denver is very blue, deep blue places. No red state has taken this on in any significant step forward. There's been... I think maybe Texas did its own little task force that they're looking at. So there's been a little bit of sniffing around, but no one's figured out, okay, what does a red state do when it comes to this stuff?

Connor Boyack:
So our hope is that, "Hey, we created this whole regulated but open model for cannabis." Is there some learning there that we could take and take this other controlled substance and still open a path for people who... because the reality is, it's just like cannabis. If anything, this has been weird for me. This might just be the circles that I run in. But I think I know more people who use psychedelics than cannabis, which was really interesting to me, the more I started talking to people about this, I think it's because I network with a lot of CEOs and entrepreneurs who are always looking for that edge up or whatever. And so maybe they don't want to-

Tim Pickett:
The brain. The brain healing.

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
The brain on fire-

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
... type thing. Yes it is. And the research around psychedelics is very specific and seems to be leapfrogging cannabis in some ways.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. I agree with that.

Tim Pickett:
Cannabis has this... Like it's a problem because it's illegal. It's not legitimate because it's been illegal for so long, but it's been grown in the mountains and we've just... The drug war, for example. And psilocybin doesn't have that. Doesn't have the stigma. It's, you didn't use it in high school.

Connor Boyack:
I think of it like Africa, they have no telephone lines everywhere and all this broadband infrastructure. They basically skipped and all the regulatory problems that come in with right of ways and polls with lines. No, they skipped that and they went to cell phones. But they avoided all those political battles and infrastructure costs and ugly everything from all the wires everywhere.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And the land and the easements.

Connor Boyack:
Right. They skipped it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
So I see psilocybin, psychedelics in some ways skipping all the baggage and the propaganda and the hysteria that we've had with cannabis because it is unfamiliar. Right? We didn't use it in high school. It wasn't really the drug of choice. And so maybe not having all that baggage, we'll be able to have a little bit easier time moving down that path. Maybe, I don't know. This is fresh field where we're starting to cut into and we're going to have to figure out how to forge the path. Certainly there's all the people out there who just love mushrooms and that culture and everything else.

Connor Boyack:
But again, okay, if we're trying to get Utah to do this, we've got to present this in a certain way. We've got to highlight the most receptive arguments with the most receptive people. And it may take us a while, but we're at least getting started and I'm excited by it because I know people whose lives have been... As with cannabis, for me it's about the patients and the story, their stories, and learning from these people who have just had overwhelming trauma and crippling anxiety or treatment resistant depression where no drugs were working for them. And then unlike with cannabis where it's like every day or whatever you're using it, they'll use mushrooms once and then they're good for six months.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. One time. One time.

Connor Boyack:
And it's just amazing. So I'm excited about it.

Tim Pickett:
It is. I interviewed Steve Urquhart with the Divine Assembly Church here in Utah, that's protected. And you even see psilocybin as a protected religious activity where cannabis, you would never think about protecting cannabis use as a religious activity, like a peyote or a psilocybin. So there's differences in the way we view psychedelics, for sure.

Connor Boyack:
Maybe. Maybe. What I'll say to that and I've said it to others is, I'm less convinced that there are religious freedom protections around this stuff. I just think it hasn't really been tested. Like if you tell a cop on the side of the road who sees your bag of mushrooms that, "Hey, this is my religious sacrament." I'm sorry. You're probably getting it confiscated and you're getting charged. And so if you want to fight that you're going to go to court and you can try your religious freedom arguments. But while that case, for my past reading of it, I have to go back and refresh. I think it was just peyote centric. Right?

Connor Boyack:
I don't know that a judge is going to say, "Oh yeah, sure, go ahead. We'll let you off the hook." So I don't want to lead people to think that these are strong tested, validated protections where you are just going to be spared any altercations with the cops or disruptions with your job or anything like that. I just don't think that's the case. It sounds nice in theory, I don't know that we're there in practice. So I would still urge significant caution because I just don't know that those protections are as robust as some might claim they are.

Tim Pickett:
It's a good perspective. What else is Connor Boyack working on, which got you up at night researching and working on projects?

Connor Boyack:
We're still trying to repeal the death penalty in Utah. That's a big one for us that we're working on. We're working on a lot of local government stuff right now, especially in this economy with housing prices, affordable housing and stuff. Trying to figure out things like ADUs and short term rentals and reforming zoning. So you can't have people so restricted in building more high density and things like this. That's a big problem right now. We're doing a lot of tech and innovation stuff. So we got Utah to pass this thing called a Regulatory Sandbox where innovative businesses can basically have certain laws suspended that conflict with their new approach to doing things while they go out and demonstrate how they can do so safely and effectively.

Connor Boyack:
And so that's a brand new thing that we're working with a lot of other states to pass right now. We're doing a lot with what's often called school choice. Making sure that families have options beyond just their local government school and make sure that parents are empowered to figure out what's right for their kids, rather than just what are the options at the school down the road. And so we work a lot in education as well. And then a whole bunch of other... Criminal justice stuff, tons of stuff we're working on there. So we're actually doing some strategic planning right now and figuring out the next big battles.

Connor Boyack:
I think psilocybin and psychedelics are a really big one. That's going to have a lot of our focus moving forward as this task force gets set up, just to make sure this gets guided in the right way. And we're saying the right things to the right people. And so that one, I think is the bigger one for me right now, just because it's got that personal impact so deeply. These are people who are suffering right now. So that's the one that I'm thinking the most about right now.

Tim Pickett:
Do you feel like this is... I look at politics and I look at lobbying and things like this is... Maybe it's a unique way. Maybe it's not. I feel like things like cannabis and psychedelics and psilocybin and we'll move towards as the population ages and people die off. And the young people get a little older and start taking more control in the government offices. Cannabis will become more ubiquitous. It will become more accepted regardless, essentially of what we do. It will just happen. Psilocybin or psychedelics may have that same trajectory. But do you feel like your work at Libertas and your work personally is trying to condense that timeline so you can get change to move just a little bit faster?

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think some of these things are in some respects, not inevitable, but probable based on changing demographics and perspectives. I think that's a fair way to put it. I would just describe it this way. I'm a very impatient person. So I don't want to wait for the FDA to approve some whatever after a 10 year protracted. I got no time for that. People are struggling now. There's something we can do now. So let's just do it. And I think my impatience get me in trouble sometimes cause I am very problem solution oriented.

Connor Boyack:
So it's like, "That's not working, right? Okay. Let's go do that. Let's get it done. Let's jump on it." And so that's I think what drives a lot of this. I do feel like that's where things are headed, quote unquote. But no, I do think it's an accelerant. I also think that some of the people who can be positively benefited right now might not be around in 10 years when we finally get around to it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It's true. 10-

Connor Boyack:
Sorry. Let me let interject a quick story before it escapes out of my head.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
Cause that's what my head does. I lose things quickly. Just to illustrate this exact point. My mom is an estate planning attorney, which means she does trust and wills and things like this. And she had this elderly couple that she had done her wills recently for. And in part because the wife was very sick, she had stage four cancer. Can't remember which kind, might have been pancreatic, but very aggressive cancer. And so my mom does their paperwork and off they go. She gets a call from the husband about, I don't know, four, six months later. And he is in tears talking to my mom and he says, "I want you to send a message to your son," because my mom had shared my role in all this.

Connor Boyack:
He said, "I want you to send a message to your son. I want him to know that in the final days of my wife's life, when the doctors and others wanted to put her on opioids and she was going to be all fuzzy, and out of it, whatever, while pain free, we got a medical cannabis card instead. And my wife was lucid. She was at peace. She could create happy memories and have final conversations with her family member. And that was everything to us, to have her present up to her final moments." And so he's just like with, as you can imagine, very strong emotion trying to convey this to my mom. And my mom's all like,-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Oh yes.

Connor Boyack:
And I was too, I've shared this story enough times where I'm not crying as much as I share it, but it's like, had we waited a decade, right, that little bit of suffering for that one person would not have been able to be alleviated. So yeah. No, I'm very impatient. There are people who want change now. A person in our organization can do something about it and on some of these issues.

Connor Boyack:
And so I feel personally called to use a Mormon term in our culture, put my shoulder to the wheel, to try and push some of these problems away and try and make a difference. Cause sure, some of this might be inevitable, but at some point it's going to be someone getting involved and saying the right things to the right people at the right times and the right way. Why can't that be us now? That's how I look at it.

Tim Pickett:
Push it over the finish line.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Do you think we've missed anything, Connor that you wanted to talk about or that you want people to know?

Connor Boyack:
I'll say this. Prop 2 is a struggle for a lot of people. It's also a struggle for me where my motives were being questioned by a lot of people and again, they didn't have a lot of information and they were claiming things. That's fine. I understand it, I'm past it. I think we all want what's best for those we care about. And other people may disagree with the decisions we made in the past. They may feel that the legislature overturned the will of the people. They may be upset that the LDS Church got involved and had some feelings about this. I get it. But for me, I talk to my kids about this a lot. I tell them, I feel like emotional pain comes when we're unwilling to accept the reality of our situation.

Connor Boyack:
When we pine for what could have been or when we're frustrated over what was, or when we're stressed that we can't have what we want. When you open this gap between what is and what you think ought to be, that's where I think emotional pain and stress and anger and all these things come. And so for me, I guess if I were to just crudely simplify how I think, it's like what is the reality of our situation? I wish the church had not gotten involved. I wish the governor's office wasn't fighting this behind the scenes. I wish Walter Plumb would've stayed out of it with all his stupid antics. I wish that we wouldn't have had some of the fallout that we did with some of the activists who disagreed with our decisions but it is what it is.

Connor Boyack:
And we made the decisions that at the time we thought were the best for the patients that we were doing this for from day one in 2013. I want to focus on what is the reality of our situation. It's a weird reality in Utah. We've got sociocultural things that no one else has to do it. I was just in California last week meeting with CEOs of think tanks from around the country. And a lot of them were asking me this dynamic to have this powerful church in my state that at any time can put its thumb on something. And it was like, "Well, let me tell you a story." And I had stories to share. But we've got different sociocultural stuff here but at the end of the day, it's the reality of our situation. I want to accept it and then figure out how I can influence it.

Connor Boyack:
And for me, I feel like a lot of people looking back in reflection are just angry about wishing that things would've been different or things shouldn't have been done. And I understand it. I know where it comes from, but I hope moving forward that we can just recognize where we're at now. Be grateful, not to me but just to the process, to the outcome, to the movement, the progress.

Tim Pickett:
You have the program.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Just to... Things are great. Let's recognize what we do have and then figure out ways we collaborate to improve it.

Tim Pickett:
Well, Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. I really appreciate you coming on. It's been a long time. We've tried to get you... Get the timing to work out. And I like the stories. I like hearing from the people that were there and have a voice in this space. I think you did good work. And I agree with you, it's not perfect, but it is where we're at and it's helping a lot of people. So I really appreciate it.

Connor Boyack:
Well, thanks for having me on. I'm glad we could finally connect and I think these are important stories to share. I'm glad as you told me before we recorded that so many of the interviews you have on here are the patients themselves.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
I love that because I think it's easy, especially at the Capital or in the press to get focus on these little industry issues or the aggregate program, whatever. But it's that elderly guy who called my mom, right? It's that individual, it's the Jennifer in 2013 whose son had, has still Dravet syndrome. And doing it for these people is what it's really all about. So kudos to you for sharing those stories and clearly we all got more work to do, so let's get to it.

Tim Pickett:
All right, everybody. Stay safe out there.

 

What to Expect in This Episode

Episode 102 of Utah in the Weeds features Thomas Swahn of Swahn Balanced Health, a clinic specializing in ketamine infusion therapy and Medical Cannabis evaluations.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to episode 102 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett, and I'm the host. Here, a podcast about Utah cannabis and cannabis culture, and medical cannabis. And today, another discussion about psychedelics and these psychotropic medications. Ketamine, is the topic, mostly, of our discussion today, with Tom Swahn, of Swahn Balanced Health. They have a clinic in northern Utah, and specialize in major depression treatment with Ketamine infusion therapy. This discussion goes right along the lines of our discussion with Steve Urquhart in a previous podcast, where we talked about psilocybin and The Divine Assembly, with Steve's church, and those developing research and studies regarding all of this psychedelic medications that's coming down the pipeline.

Tim Pickett:
In fact, additionally, my discussion with the president of The Libertas Institute, Connor Boyack, about the psilocybin bill here in Utah that was recently passed, which develops a task force to study the effects of psilocybin, and what the program would look like, if in fact, Utah was able to put a program for these psychedelics and this type of treatment therapy together.

Tim Pickett:
I'm excited to introduce you to Tom Swahn. He's a great guy, and knows a lot about this therapy, has been doing this for quite a while. Just a really interesting new concept of treatment that you go to every couple of weeks. Or you could go to a retreat and find these experiences, and really get in touch with what's happening deep inside the brain, changing perspectives, and associating a different perspective to certain events. It has the potential to be really powerful for people, and I've known a lot of people who have had great success with this.

Tim Pickett:
Make sure you're subscribed on any podcast player that you have access to, Utah in the Weeds. You can also find us on YouTube at Discover Marijuana. We have a lot of videos there for cannabis and cannabis therapy. Keep doing this program with cannabis here in Utah, and just excited it's a beautiful June day here. Welcome. The birds are singing outside. Enjoy the summer and this discussion with Tom Swahn.

Tim Pickett:
Where did this all start? Because it looks like you went to Westminster. Are you from here, Utah?

Thomas Swahn:
Yes, I've always lived in Utah, ranging from cities between Farmington, is the furthest south, and right on the line between Ogden and north Ogden is the furthest north, but always in the little bubble.

Tim Pickett:
You have slightly gauged ears. I don't even think they would've let you live in Farmington.

Thomas Swahn:
It's true, that I was not well received there. And I've always been a little eccentric with my appearance, and so that was one of my first [inaudible 00:03:26] when I was young, growing up in an LDS family, that kind of free-thinking and doing whatever you felt like, wasn't well received. Made you a bad person, accordingly a lot of the church leaders and the neighborhood where I lived.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Thomas Swahn:
So from a young age, I was raised in an LDS family, but around 10 years old, I was telling my mom, "I don't think God is real. I don't think these are good people here. I don't know why would take our advice on how to be good people from people who are like this." And she would tell me, "If you talk bad about God, you're going to get hit by lightning." And I've always just been super logical, and I was like, "Then why do I not get hit by lightning?" That seems ... I just always needed evidence.

Thomas Swahn:
And that's the thing about Ketamine and other psychedelics, is that the experience was a spiritual experience. For me, that was evident. I was from this staunch atheist too, now, I feel like a pretty spiritual person.

Tim Pickett:
How did you get into medicine?

Thomas Swahn:
Frankly, it was just, I didn't really feel when I was younger like I had a sort of a calling. But I knew I really liked science, I wanted to do something where I can help people. So I was like, "Well, maybe I'll go to medical school." So I started to doing premed in college, and within a couple of years realized, "That's not something you can do on a whim." Sure, I felt like I could have the capability to do that, but without the drive to do it, that's so much work. So I was like, "Well, what can I do with all the prereqs I've already done in premed?" So I applied to nursing school, and they were like, "Yeah, you got all this prereq coursework done. You got great grades. Come on in."

Thomas Swahn:
So I did that, and I just practiced as a nurse for a while. I worked in variety of different areas, from long-term care in hospice, and physical therapy rehab, to, I went to the operating room after that, and I left that-

Tim Pickett:
Where? Where were you in the operating room?

Thomas Swahn:
At Davis Hospital.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, cool. That's what I did for six and a half year, is GI surgery and trauma.

Thomas Swahn:
Oh, nice.

Tim Pickett:
Right, for the general surgeons in West Valley. And the OR nurses there, you're way too young for that, right? That's where they go to retire.

Thomas Swahn:
Yes, yeah. But, I mean, there wasn't a whole ton of critical nursing skills you needed. And so the fact that I was smart and could move like the wind, I was perfect there. I excelled at it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Thomas Swahn:
Get everything prepped and good, and move fast. But that was one of the most fun areas to work, but it was not going anywhere from a [inaudible 00:06:22], kind of watching my bills slowly get lost.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
So moved to ICU, I wanted to do something else, but didn't know what. And I went there to just get all the skills that I could. And while I was there and watching people pretty much go through this worst case scenario of almost dying, but then we pull them back from the brink, just enough to survive, but their quality of life is garbage. And then we just send them home like we did a good job, and everybody pats themselves on the back. That was-

Tim Pickett:
I know. It is true, right? They leave, they go home. They've just spent 10 days intubated, 27 days in the ICU, then they ... couple of, five, six days on the floor. And then you just send them home.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And you're like, "Oh, this is cool. Way to go." We operated on a guy who he blew a hole in his small intestine, just by running into a pole. He was playing some football and ran into a pole. And it took him ... I saw him later, six months later after he was discharged from the hospital, and he was skinny, still. Because he'd lost the weight in the hospital, and then he decompensated so much that he never ... it's just so long to recover.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And he was a normal healthy guy, before and after. You would've considered him, after, a really healthy guy. But it just, so long to recover. And there's not a good support system, even still. You have to know how to navigate that after-care system, you feel like, to get the help you need. Home physical therapy, home health. Your insurance will pay for all this stuff, but I never ordered it. And I'm a PA, I discharge people from the hospital. It wasn't my wheelhouse really, so I didn't really manage it.

Thomas Swahn:
I feel like each of these patients needs a social worker just to manage their own case, because our system is so fragmented that there's ... Yeah, how do you keep track of all the things and work your way through it? And the insurance is the one that gets to call the shots at every turn.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
We have the people who stand to lose money if you actually get the care you need, deciding if you need the care.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, that's true. So when did you decide to go into NP school? And you went to Westminster, yeah?

Thomas Swahn:
Yes. When I was in the ICU and seeing us just send all these people home, and not even just physically damaged, but mentally traumatized from the experience, we'd just send them home and say, "Good luck." So I was considering doing CRNA, and that was based on my time in the OR, just because I thought it was a lot of fun. But I decided that a nurse .... that I wanted to help prevent these issues that land people there. So that's why I decided to go to NP school. I also am a very ADD person, and so figured if I got bored, that would afford me the chance to switch specialty every time I felt like I needed to, keep it fresh.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Describe nurse practitioner school. Because the way we heard it in ... Okay, this is not a slam to NPs, but I always think this is funny, that I was told this is NP school. Right? So I'm a PA, a physician assistant. In Utah, we are very, very similar. We used to be a little less similar until there was a bill passed two years ago that independentized PAs, allowed us to be independent, and actually bill people. And we're one of the only states that does that.

Tim Pickett:
But in school, I was told that nurse practitioner school is nurses teaching nurses how to be doctors. That's literally how it was described to me. Of course, this is a doctor who said it that way. But what was it like for you?

Thomas Swahn:
I really had a good experience at Westminster. Through the clinical rotations, I was able to choose pretty much all of my preceptors. The school would provide them, but I had so many connections to doctor who I knew personally. So I would just cast a line out for different specialties. It's like, "Can I come follow you for a few months?" And so that, it was beneficial for me, and a lot of my preceptors were MDs or PAs.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
I guess all my instructors at the school were nurse practitioners as well, so that's literally true. It was nurses-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, nurses teaching nurses how to be doctors.

Thomas Swahn:
Uh-huh.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, it's funny, because your model, the nursing model, the lamplight of learning ... My best friend in the world is a ICU nurse at IMC. Great guy, very, very smart guy. And there's some things about nursing that are really, really great. And then there's these other things that are ... they're traditional nursing care model that is ... I don't know, we don't talk about it a lot. Do they have that at Westminster? At UU, it was like, "The lamplight of learning," or something. And in PA school, we have the same thing. We have these things that were dumb.

Tim Pickett:
Does that taint you? Do you look back and think, "Oh, yeah. That part, I could do without." Or, "I wanted a little more clinical diagnostic skills compared to the nursing skills." Or, alternatively, because you had all the ICU experience and all the nursing experience, it was a lot easier for you to move towards, "Oh, that's the pathophysiology of why that was the way we cared for the patient in the ICU. Now I understand how to diagnose that."

Thomas Swahn:
That was a lot more my experience, was just, "I've seen these things done for years," and I knew already, basically, what we would do. But school was, then, taking it up the ladder to why, why are we doing these things. And so I do feel like that was a major benefit, to have had so much clinical experience. But a little bit of the problem was everybody in my cohort had different backgrounds. And so depending on what you had seen in your clinical practice so far, certain subject would be a breeze. And then for me, I hadn't done anything with children, so I struggled with pediatrics a little bit.

Thomas Swahn:
Almost to an embarrassing level, because between me and my wife, she had five kids and I had three when we got married. So we've got eight kids, but I'm still looking at milestones I could never quite nail down, like, "What is age was that? Why are you looking at ..."

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. "When do you get hair there? You got to be way too early."

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, I thought it was a pretty good education overall. I do feel like we took a lot of the diagnostic information and a lot of the other stuff we learned from medical literature, than just nursing.

Tim Pickett:
Do you feel like there were things in that program that you, right off the bat ... Okay, so you're into Ketamine and alternative therapy, you do some cannabis stuff. But did you feel like even through the program, you were already a little skeptical, or did that come later?

Thomas Swahn:
Skeptical of Ketamine?

Tim Pickett:
No, skeptical of what we were taught. I don't know. I remember our pharmacology and depression section, there were five medication types that we could give as first line. SSRIs, Wellbutrin. And really, it came down to, one of the things they told us in school, was just ask your patient if they know somebody who's taken a medication, what that medication was, and did it work. Because if you diagnose depression in somebody, and they know a friend who took Zoloft, and they had success, they're actually more likely to have success with Zoloft than a different medication. Just by the fact of knowing somebody who took it.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Which made my ears perk up like, "What the ... are you talking about?" You're leaning into the placebo effect.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
And some of these, yeah, that power of subjection is real. And so I started getting a little skeptical right from the beginning in certain aspects of medicine.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. In our covering of depression and stuff, there wasn't really anything like that they told us. It was actually broken down pretty thoroughly. And like, "These ones are energizing anti-depressants. These ones are more calming. In these cases, you want to use this. In these cases, you want to do this." But overall, we didn't hammer on that really all that much. We did a basic amount of [inaudible 00:15:35] and stun testing. But mostly, it was just providing us tons of resources to reference, once we were in practice.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, nice.

Thomas Swahn:
So that was nice. But overall, we didn't do any education on Ketamine. That was something that I became personally interested in. I got really interested in it, because it has this instant anti-suicidal effect, and I had a lot of suicide in my family growing up. I lost my dad to suicide when I was eight years old, I lost my aunt a few years later, and there were a variety of other family members who had attempted or succeeded in their suicide attempts. And this was something that could've changed my whole life.

Thomas Swahn:
So I just became really interested in it personally. And the more people I talked to about it, I was finding this ... We all went through the D.A.R.E. program as kids, and thought, "If you use any of these illegal drugs, they're all scary, and you're going to trade a moment of fun for your brain. You're literal ... destroy your brain just to have fun times." So that was when I was like, "Yeah, I would never be interested in that." I value my intellect. But then, we find out from the evidence, actually, these things are really good for your brain. Psychedelics, Ketamine, they promote all this mental wellness, even in normal people without depression.

Thomas Swahn:
So I became really interested once I saw that safety and efficacy data. And I found that the people I was talking to were consistently like, "Oh, but it makes you hallucinate. I would never do that. I'm not that kind of person." And that was wild to me. I'm like, "What does that even mean? What are you talking about? What kind of person?" The fact that it's a pleasant experience and good for you, to me, that's a win-win. But to them, there was something evil about a substance that makes you high, regardless of its effects.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. So say a patient come into you, and they've ... I would imagine, most, there's a lot of patients who come into you now, and they have never experienced anything like this in the past. Even with cannabis, they may have smoked weed and gotten high and understand what that feeling is. but there are a lot of patients, I bet, that come in with nothing like that, especially in Utah.

Thomas Swahn:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
With no experience of being, "high". How do you explain Ketamine to that person?

Thomas Swahn:
I've written a whole Ketamine preparation guide that I send out to them and tell them a little bit about what to experience, how to get ... the treatment. But when they come in for their treatment, I tell them, "We could talk about this all day long, and you will still have 0% of an idea of what the experience you're about to have is actually like. The only way to know is to go through it." And that why, if you think about what language is, t's based on shared understandings. You can I can use words, because we both understand what that means. But if one of us has an experience that is completely outside of anything the other person could've possibly experienced, then there's no words for that.

Thomas Swahn:
And so I tell them, "It's going to be very bizarre. It's going to feel like an ineffable, strange journey that you're about to go on. But 95% of people feel incredible during it just regardless. It strips away anxiety, it covers you in a blanket of serenity. And your body is totally safe and fine. We've got a good environment. I'm here for you if you need. I'll be checking on you regularly. You got a [inaudible 00:19:28] thing. You're going to do great. But it is strange."

Tim Pickett:
"But just plain and simple, this is going to feel strange. Let it go. Try to enjoy it, or just see where it takes you." The initial treatment, how long is the effect?

Thomas Swahn:
So the IV infusion itself is over 40 minutes that I do here. Usually about 10 to 15 minutes after that, the strongest effects are wearing off, but then there's residual effects for a few hours to the rest of the day, at least as far as the physical effects. The mindset changes. People will usually experience a benefit right away. That first couple of days after, they suddenly are aware of joy again. It's kind of brought awareness to things in their life they can change and it's given them a diff perspective of their problems.

Thomas Swahn:
But for that first one, they usually only last a couple of days, maybe up to a week or two or most, and that's where we start doing the repeat treatments and a series. For most people, especially in more treatment resistant cases, they'll need a full series of six treatments done twice a week. And then after that, we usually are able to achieve a pretty robust and durable response. And I'll see most patients about once a month when their symptoms start to come back, they'll come in for a booster treatment.

Tim Pickett:
About once a month. What's the duration, the lifespan of a typical patient? Are they coming in for kind of a blast of treatment and therapy, and then you do once a month for ... I don't know do people do this for years and years?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, a lot of people, it's going to be ... so basically, we know from depression, your brain wants to build itself a certain way, and we can modify that with drugs. But as soon as you don't have the drugs, it's going to build itself back the only way it knows how. So usually, it tends to be a long-term thing, but I have noticed, I've been doing this for a year, and I've noticed that my longer-term patients, I will start to see them less and less over time.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Thomas Swahn:
And at first, worried that was just they couldn't afford it, or were just dealing with it. But when I came to see them again, they were, "I've just been doing great."

Tim Pickett:
I don't really know a lot of the research behind this, but is there a rebuilding of neuro connections in the brain? With psilocybin, just the fungus, that is affecting something in the brain, where you're creating new neural connections, or you're disassociating some, and then allowing others to, I don't know, develop, or you're finding new connections. Because in PTSD, you have this emotional part of your brain that's connected to the logical part, and it builds these calluses where it's just firing over the same thing, so people get in the thought loop. Every time they go to a certain experience, they experience that trauma again. Where psilocybin is starting to show that these things are changing these neural connections. Is that the same with Ketamine?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, it's a lot of the same stuff. With the classical hallucinogens, like psilocybin, or LSD, or ayahuasca, those are all serotoninergic in nature, they're [inaudible 00:23:04]. This one, is an MDMA receptor, which is works with glutamine, and that's our brain's main excitatory neurotransmitter. And so you get a different feeling with the experience. And psilocybin and other of the classical hallucinogens can be very emotional. They're very mood augmenting. And so whatever you're experiencing is just an amplified version of that.

Thomas Swahn:
But Ketamine works through, they call it a use-dependent blockade, so as soon as those neurons are trying to fire, the most active one for those thick neural tracts of those ruminating negative thoughts are, those neurons will start to get plugged up with Ketamine. And so a lot of patients will, during their experience, try to be telling me what their experiencing, and then suddenly be like, "Lost my thought." And I'm like, "yeah. We know. That's what's supposed to happen."

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Thomas Swahn:
But it interrupts them by blocking them with ketamine, the most used neurons. But at the same time, it has a blockade effect on inhibitory neurons. It keeps our subconscious quiet, so we can think. And so, it's similar to psilocybin, we get widespread brain communication through these back channels, areas that don't normally communicate. They're been able to identify a cascade of effects that results in an increase of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, for, they call it BDNS. And that actually does increase dendritic branching and synaptogenesis, people will have new neural connections forming at an increased rate.

Tim Pickett:
Wow. From an illegal standpoint too, obviously, your clinic can't do psilocybin treatments.

Thomas Swahn:
Not ...

Tim Pickett:
Did you say not yet?

Thomas Swahn:
I said not yet, but one day, we ... I mean, they did pass through the Utah legislation, it was totally done, signed by the governor, house bill 167. I think it's called the psychotherapy mental illness task force, something along those lines.

Tim Pickett:
Yes.

Thomas Swahn:
And so, they've put together this task force to make recommendations for currently illicit substances, like psilocybin or MDMA, and make recommendations on it, if and how, and how much, and who can use these for their therapeutic benefits. And I think that it's good news that we've identified these things definitely are helpful. It's to a point, we can't really deny it anymore, so how do we use them?

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
And their report is due by the end of this October. I'm hoping that we'll get some progress, and at that point, maybe will change the clinical [inaudible 00:25:45] on psychedelics and offer more things.

Tim Pickett:
Nice. Is there a difference between ... you mentioned psilocybin, MDMA, Ketamine, ayahuasca. Is Ketamine closer to MDMA than psilocybin, or is there known differences?

Thomas Swahn:
Well, MDMA is, itself, an interesting middle ground. People will argue whether it's a psychedelic or an empathogenic, or an entheogenic. I mean, it depends on how you're interpreting it. Psychedelic just means mind-manifesting, and so it's these mind-expanding drugs, I think, that encompass all of those. Entheogens are like God-manifesting, or it's a class of these drugs that just increase feelings of love and social connection. And MDMA technically is methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It's a form of methamphetamine that's tweaked in a way that makes it both less harmful, and slightly psychedelic.

Thomas Swahn:
And they're using that, specifically, in people with PTSD, because it promotes self-love and forgiveness and connection to other people in a way that helps people stop feeling like they're worthless, or these traumas were their fault, or that it needs to control their lives. As far as the classical hallucinogens and Ketamine, they work through a much different mechanism. Mostly, they're considered psychedelics together, because of the experience Ketamine creates is a very intense psychedelic-type trip, just like the other ones. But whereas some of those, I think will be better ultimately for depression, because they bring that freshness and joy back to life.

Thomas Swahn:
I think, Ketamine, with its ability to ease anxiety and feeling of fear or shame or guilt, I think that that's ultimately a better tool to face some of these traumatic memories. Although they are finding with psilocybin studies, the benefits in some cases have lasted up to six months, a year. So I think that that will be a better option in a lot of cases.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It will be really nice, to that point, to have multiple options.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Because right now, we have ... Well, I mean, it's nice to have just the options we have, frankly. But it will certainly be better when there's more options. And they're already out there, MDMA, psilocybin, Ketamine, cannabis, even ayahuasca, peyote. They're out there. They've been used for centuries, but we just don't have them in traditional medicine, because we need pharmaceutical companies to sign off on these things. Unfortunately, the way our system works.

Thomas Swahn:
One of the [inaudible 00:28:42] I think will be beneficial going into the future as we get more data on all these things, on their safety and their effects, will be to be able to combine in ways that will amplify effects. I mean, if you read some of these ... what do they call them? Trip reports. Online, people talk about mixing Ketamine and MDMA, or psilocybin and Ketamine, or whatever, cannabis and these other substances. And the synergistic effects could, I think, provide invaluable things that none of them could do alone, but we'll have to wait until we have more safety data.

Tim Pickett:
Right. Yeah, how to blend them together. And then, boy, you're going to have to be monitored. Speaking of monitoring and Ketamine, so you've got a twice a week therapy, you can come downtown and you can get this therapy or go to Clinton and get this therapy. But what about going to retreats? Is there a place where Ketamine therapy can be done in a retreat setting, where you go somewhere? Because for me, it seems like Memorial Day weekend would be a perfect time, to where I could show up Saturday morning, I could meet the provider, I could have a little lunch, I could get a little intro to the system. Then I could have my first Ketamine session that day, see how that feels, do another one Sunday, cleanse on Monday, come home. Or a six-day. Does that work? Or do these ... you can't do them day after day?

Thomas Swahn:
So, I mean, Ketamine, there are plenty of studies that have shown ... have down consecutive day treatment. Or even, you could find some that were like, "Oh, it's 72-hour continuous infusion done in the hospital." And that sounds crazy, because it has a time dilation effect. It would feel like you were there for three infinities.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, wow. So when you're in the K-hole ... this is how we call it in the ... I mean, I use Ketamine in the emergency department for ... the kids cut his tongue open, and I've got to sew up his tongue, so we're going to use Ketamine. We Ketamine for that. I guess off-topic here, what's the dosage difference in what I'm using in the ER to put a person down so that I can do a procedure versus what you're using in clinic?

Thomas Swahn:
So I think the IM dosing for sedation was six to 13 milligrams per kilogram, something like that. At the clinic here, I give it from 0.5 to 2 mg per kilogram. Because with the dosing of Ketamine, there's actually an increase in neural activity up to a certain point, and then that Ketamine blockade of the neurons shifts from blocking certain channels while they're open but just blocked, to totally shutting them down. And that's when we get that total anesthesia sedation. But usually though, for OR sedation, they'll mix it with Benzos or whatever else to promote amnesia of the experience, and to give a little more sedation.

Thomas Swahn:
The funny thing about kids, is they still have a layer of magical thinking. So whereas adults will get the emergence delirium when they have super heavy doses, and that's why they stopped using it as much for anesthesia. Just fine with that. They go on these magical journeys, and they're just cool with it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. We use it more in kids than we do in adults, for that exact reason. The adults tend to not have ... those heavy doses can tend to have like little mini nightmares. And then not only are you dealing with the injury that you have to fix, but you're dealing with a grownup human being who's not having a good time at all. But these doses that you're giving are much, much lower.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, they're much lower. And two milligrams per kilogram gives us a healthy buffer before we would reach any sort of sedation when given over 40 minutes. And even with that dose, the experience is quite intense. I don't give most patients anywhere near that dose.

Tim Pickett:
I see. Do you build up a tolerance, like you do with cannabis and THC?

Thomas Swahn:
It's not real clear, at this point, in the literature. What I've seen here at the clinic is that people will ... are to build up more of a tolerance to the negative effect before they do the positive effect, similar to cannabis. I don't really think that there is that much tolerance. Either that, or it must build quickly and maybe wear off quickly. By the time we get done with the induction series, we'll get month out and do a dose of the same one, and people will report that it feels stronger. So that could be potentially a mild tolerance that was built. Or frankly, I kind of think it's just, you had that gap between a series of these intense experiences, after you take them, a little more intense than you remember.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And you're also, I could see, getting used to, not that you're building up a tolerance, just getting used to the effects and getting used to that journey. Where the mind goes, and being okay with ... we can do that just a little more intensely, because now I'm used to it.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Whereas, same thing with cannabis, right? You use your first time, maybe that causes some anxiety if you use too much. But after you get used to it, and you understand the sensation at that intensity level, then you seek that out in a lot of ways. Right? That's your therapeutic dose.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. I usually will describe to my patients ... dog getting used to riding in a car. At first, that time, it might be this flying metal death box, because they have no idea what's happening.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
[inaudible 00:35:03] stick your head out the window on the freeway on your little space cruise.

Tim Pickett:
Right, and now all of a sudden, you really want to get in the car, all the time.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
That's a good way to put it, because you're right, you wouldn't understand. That's a really good analogy. Have you worked in a place where you're doing daily sessions, like a retreat setting?

Thomas Swahn:
I haven't. I've done daily consecutive sessions for just a few patients, like if they came from out of state, or something like that, where it's not practical for them to stay and do twice a week for three weeks in a row. So in those cases, I've done three treatments in a row. And the first time they do great. Second day, they're like, "Oh, I still feel a little overwhelmed from my first." And then by day three, they're like, "Got a little bit of a hangover, and I don't know if I can do this hero's journey for three days in a row."

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Thomas Swahn:
Because some of the experiences, especially if we're going up in dose, can feel like you've literally spent a lifetime on this journey.

Tim Pickett:
Wow. Does Ketamine therapy work in conjunction with behavioral therapy really well?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Is that part of the decompression of all of these things that are coming up from your patients?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. The optimal way to do it would be to have a therapist, discuss with them that you're going to do Ketamine therapy, go over some grounding techniques, some intention setting to decide what you want to get out of the therapy. And then when you come in, that can kind of act as your GPS for where experience goes. But then, once they start the ... like you said earlier, the best thing, and really the only thing you can do is let go and float downstream. Just go with the experience, fully surrender to it.

Thomas Swahn:
And I'll coach my patients like you might have emotional content or even traumatic memories come up. But if you trust the Ketamine, trust yourself, trust the experience there, lean into it, then you will be able to get a different perspective and process these things in a way that might've been impossible for you. And so, after they go through those experiences, I usually recommend trying to get into your therapist again in the next couple of days, while we have that increased period of synaptogenesis so that new neural connections happening at an increased rate. And that way, they can really capitalize on the fact that they've been knocked out of their rut, their ruminated thoughts, as well as this opportunity to develop new skills, faster.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I can just see how that would be really helpful for people who go through this experience and then want to talk about what it means, and how it can affect them and what to do next. And that change in perspective, for PTSD, we know that being able to see the event from a different perspective, essential, it's one of the key pieces to curing, if you could cure PTSD.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Death, do you have people that come in and do Ketamine treatments who are dealing with cancer diagnoses and facing their own death or the death of a loved one?

Thomas Swahn:
That's something that is a really useful aspect of Ketamine therapy, or other psychedelics. I, personally, have many of those patients. Actually, [inaudible 00:38:53] know people in my personal life dealing with cancer and I'm unable to get them to come in. But it's one of those things, that quite frankly, it makes you feel connected to the ... way that it makes it seem like you won't be gone if you die. You just will return to the ocean that is the universe we're all swimming in.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. What are those barriers? How do we get past that? How do we get past people's resistance to therapy like this? We've been trying. I've been trying with cannabis.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
I almost think it's easier with cannabis than it is with Ketamine.

Thomas Swahn:
It certainly is. And I'm a QNP as well, as you know. I can far more readily convince people to try cannabis than Ketamine. It still has a scary aspect to the journey, because you tell people it's life-changing. But it's very intense, strange. And especially the people I've known who are going through chemotherapy and cancer and the dying process, they seem to be kind of stuck in that fear. And they're, I guess, just afraid of what they'll experience. It seems like if you tell them, "This will make it not seem scary that you're dying, or at least will help change your perspective on it," I think that that just in the moment sounds extra terrifying. I'm not sure how to really go about that, but it is something I think about pretty frequently.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, it seems like society is moving it forward slowly. But I talked to Connor Boyack, he's the president of The Libertas Institute, was really influential in getting the cannabis law passed. And he was influential in the psilocybin bill, the task force that was passed this session. And we talked about how generationally things will change, and we'll probably get to a point where Ketamine is much more normalized, where cannabis is much more normalized throughout the population.

Tim Pickett:
But on the other hand, the person who needs it tomorrow, right? That 62-year-old with major depression, who needs a Ketamine treatment to save their life, to your point about your family, we can't really afford to wait to let society catch up. We really have an obligation, I feel like, as providers, especially to educate people that there's something else out there, in order to push that conversation. When that 62-year-old needs it tomorrow, or else they die on Friday, we need to figure out a way to get that conversation ... speed it up.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, and it's something that, ultimately, I feel like we should even be doing when patients come, but the problem with giving it at that instance is that that's a horrible environment to do it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Thomas Swahn:
You're in there, everything's sterile, people screaming up and down the hallway. That's a recipe for a bad experience. I don't know what the ultimate infrastructure would look like, but I do feel like we need to take this seriously and consider, how do we implement this? Even the ... ultimately, for depression are kind of baffling to me. We're still on this, sort of in this position that Ketamine's new, that it should only be used as a last resort. Why do we reserve these therapies that I feel like could stand to improve almost anyone's quality of life and experience like this. And we reserve it for people who already at rock bottom, and everybody else is just expected to deal with whatever they're dealing with.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That's surprising to me too. Why is this last-line therapy, instead of first or second-line therapy? Why can't we change the mentality of prescribing two or three pills, to, "Okay, maybe, which do you want? Here are the three options. We can do a prescription medication, and you can try that for a month, and that's totally okay. We can give that a shot. Maybe you'll feel more comfortable with that in the beginning. We also have this treatment protocol with Ketamine therapy. Both are in conjunction with behavioral therapy." And you can kind of decide, that here's the evidence on both sides. Let the patient be part of the conversation.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, I know the answer is probably just, "Well, I have 15 minutes with the patient. The easiest thing to do instead of explain this whole thing to them is just to write a prescription and see them in three weeks. Just be done.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, besides that Swahn, they don't take insurance, right?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Sorry.

Thomas Swahn:
Exactly.

Tim Pickett:
But the pill, totally covered, no problem.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. And then that gets us to kind of, frankly, the bullshit around S-Ketamine, of like, "Oh, it's this. We just filtered out the left-handed molecules from Ketamine, called it a new medication." Now it's $800 a dose, instead of $3. And you still need two hours of monitoring, but we've got a patent on it, so we can charge whatever we want.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. What is up with that?

Thomas Swahn:
It's a case where we've let the pharmaceutical company decide, "This is how we make money, so this is how it needs to be done," rather than using these tools we have and know are effective. It's considered off-label and came off patent in 1990, so nobody's interested in trying to push it for FDA approval, because they can't make any money back.

Tim Pickett:
Do you use nasal Ketamine at all?

Thomas Swahn:
I don't, [inaudible 00:44:57]. But you can get racemic Ketamine, which is just the 50/50 mixture, for people that know. You can get that just compounded in a nasal spray. I could easily prescribe that to a patient. And there's no clear evidence whether S-Ketamine or the right-handed molecule, R-Ketamine are any more effective. I'm sure they have minor differences in psychoactive effects and duration and whatever. But when we already know one form is very useful just in its super cheap form, it seems strange to me that we would allow our insurance companies to only cover the super expensive form that's not proven to be any better.

Tim Pickett:
Wow. So how do patients get in touch with you and get associated with this type of therapy, if they have major depression, or if they want to explore it and just come talk to you? What's the process?

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. So what I usually do is just have patient ... there's a self-scheduler on our website. Our website is SwahnBalancedHealth.com. Swahn is S-W-A-H-And, and then balanced with a D, health.com. They can schedule an appointment right on there. They can give us a call, 801 613 8842. And I'm happy to answer calls when I can, anytime. They can even text that number. And we can do a phone consultation. There's very few contraindications to Ketamine therapy that would make it unsafe. Some of them are unstable hypertension, more sever cases of cardiac, kidney or liver disease, active psychosis, elevated pressure in the brain or eyes. We proceed with caution in cases where there's substance abuse issues. But outside of that, there's very few reasons that it's contraindicated.

Thomas Swahn:
So people can even schedule online themselves. As soon as they do that, I will send out intake paperwork. Then they'll fill that out. We'll meet for first appointment and go over everything, make sure that they are an appropriate fit, and then we can get started right ...

Tim Pickett:
And how long does it usually take to get in?

Thomas Swahn:
I mean, right now, the clinic's still young. I've been doing this for a year total, but we moved into this location October 1st, 2021. And so we've only been here seven months.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, so still building up a patient base, still plenty of availability is essential what you're saying.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. Yeah, I should have openings pretty much every day that we're open. It's pretty rare that the entire day is fully booked out. People can get in, right away.

Tim Pickett:
And then you do this, you do cannabis. And what else does the clinic do? Those are the two things.

Thomas Swahn:
So right now, that's all I do. Yeah. Basically, when I started offering Ketamine therapy, the improvement in people's quality of life was phenomenal. I'd never seen that promising in medicine. And so I wanted to build a place that went away from the sterile, clinical feel. And so this clinic that we've opened here, I've got different themes for each patient room. Each room has a different nature-based theme. I've got a forest room with tapestries and different plant stuff. There's an Echo Dot in every room to play music. There's two recliners, so they can bring a guest. And I've got light projectors that actually will reduce a lot of the dizziness some people can feel from visual effects.

Tim Pickett:
Oh, cool.

Thomas Swahn:
So they can wear an eye mask if they want, but the projectors have done a really good job of changing it from these kaleidoscopic visuals to more of just a flow. It feels very incredible. I wanted it to feel more like the spiritual experience that I feel like it is. And like you said with these retreat settings, I think ultimately, that will be a beautiful option.

Thomas Swahn:
And Ketamine was known as the buddy drug when it was first being used. It made its debut in 1970 in the Vietnam war. And they called it the buddy drug, because anybody could grab a syringe and sedate your buddy. It was just that safe. It preserves cardiovascular function, it preserves respiratory function and protective reflexes, so there's no life support needed. Even in here, in the clinic, honestly, I feel like checking vital signs at all is more of a medical formality than anything. There's rare [inaudible 00:49:46] anybody with any issues. And usually, it's if they're stopped taking their blood pressure medication that we'll even see a problem.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Thomas Swahn:
They'll have to postpone treatment until their blood pressure's under control. But in general, yeah, if you were able to establish with a bunch of people at a retreat that they had a good health history, were good candidates, their vitals were stable, I don't even think you would need to check them again for the rest of the weekend. Granted, that's, I guess, sort of a-

Tim Pickett:
Talking from experience, right? You're comfortable with it, you know what to expect, you know what to look for, which is awesome. This is awesome. Have we missed anything that you want to talk about?

Thomas Swahn:
In general, no. I think that that covers most of it. I mean, there's a lot of specifics, and I spend all day talking about this. I'm very passionate. So people are welcome to ask me any personal questions about their case, or what to expect. But yeah, I mean, I think that's a good overview.

Tim Pickett:
This is good. I want to hear ... I think we should get back together down the road, and talk about how the clinic is going, and also, talk about the ... especially with psychedelics, as we expand the access to other psychedelics and we talk more about more psychedelics than just Ketamine. I mean, I'm interested, because you're in this field, you're a subject matter expert, so I think this will be an interesting conversation to have again. I appreciate you coming on.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Tim Pickett:
SwahnBalancedHealth.com, right? You're in Clinton.

Thomas Swahn:
In Clinton, yep. Clinton, Utah.

Tim Pickett:
SwahnBalancedHealth.com, Thomas Swahn. Thanks. Thanks, man. Thanks for coming on.

Thomas Swahn:
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Tim. It was a pleasure.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. All right, everybody. Stay safe out there.

 

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