De­mand could burn through pot sup­ply

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Doug Liv­ingston Akron Bea­con Jour­nal Gate­house Me­dia Ohio

Ohioans are blow­ing up the phone lines at a north­east­ern Ohio call cen­ter where 15 op­er­a­tors work­ing for a pri­vate com­pany aptly called Ohio Mar­i­juana Card are log­ging 500 or more calls a day.

The con­ver­sa­tions at the cen­ter in In­de­pen­dence of­ten lead to a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment as thou­sands of qual­i­fy­ing pa­tients seek per­mis­sion from the state to pur­chase, pos­sess and use cannabis to treat 21 el­i­gi­ble ail­ments.

Ohio Mar­i­juana Card, which charges $340 for the doc­tor’s visit and con­sul­ta­tion (not

in­clud­ing the state’s $50 fil­ing fee), says el­i­gi­ble pa­tients are get­ting med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards within 10 min­utes of leav­ing the of­fice.

The state has is­sued more than 3,500 cards and count­ing. But the sheer vol­ume of the calls and long line of cus­tomers in­di­cate much higher de­mand as cannabis hits the shelves this week at CY+ dis­pen­sary in Win­tersville near Steubenville, the only one of 56 dis­pen­saries with fi­nal state ap­proval and ready to open. More shops plan to open be­fore Fe­bru­ary.

Cul­ti­va­tors had pushed the state to get their prod­uct into test­ing labs, ac­cord­ing to pri­vate work­ers in­volved in the process. With all hands on deck, some fa­cil­i­ties in­stalled so­phis­ti­cated ma­chin­ery and staffed up in less than four months — then waited for state val­i­da­tion to ar­rive a cou­ple weeks ago.

With an­tic­i­pa­tion mount­ing, the work of doc­tors and pa­tient ad­vo­cates shifted gears last month when the state’s on­line reg­istry opened for med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards.

“It was like a freefor-all. We had 4,500 peo­ple to regis­ter in two weeks,” said Brooke Boyd, who man­ages Ohio Mar­i­juana Card’s Akron of­fice, where the com­pany em­ploys its sole records keeper. The com­pany is work­ing with 13 of the 353 doc­tors cer­ti­fied by the state by the end of 2018 to rec­om­mend mar­i­juana.

Pa­tient prep­ping

Ohio Mar­i­juana Card has doc­tors in or near Cincin­nati, Cleve­land, Day­ton and Toledo. The Akron lo­ca­tion is boom­ing. Lo­cated in the base­ment of an in­con­spic­u­ous build­ing on East­land Av­enue, the of­fice con­firmed 42 pa­tient-vis­its sched­uled Fri­day, break­ing the daily record of 26 set in Septem­ber.

Tim lives a semipub­lic life sell­ing used cars on a fam­ily farm, which he tends.

Last week, he was among the pa­tients seek­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards who were in the Akron of­fice’s wait­ing room, which is dec­o­rated with mar­i­juana leaf wall­pa­per.

“I’m not sure (giv­ing my last name) would hurt. But I don’t know that it would help,” he said.

Tim didn’t get ap­proval — yet. Boyd’s staff sent him away with an ap­pli­ca­tion to re­quest prior med­i­cal records doc­u­ment­ing his qual­i­fy­ing chronic pain. He had surgery to straighten his knees as a tod­dler. Last sum­mer, he was ejected from a ve­hi­cle in a 60 mph car crash, shat­ter­ing a heel and an­kle. And he has joint pain from chronic rheuma­toid arthri­tis, which makes for fum­bling fin­gers when he plays pi­ano or gui­tar.

Boyd said pa­tients with ver­i­fi­able and qual­i­fy­ing health is­sues can get a state mar­i­juana card emailed to them within 10 min­utes of leav­ing the of­fice.

Most of the dis­pen­saries won’t be ready this month. As the in­fra­struc­ture for pro­cess­ing, test­ing, grow­ing and sell­ing ma­tures, Boyd said sup­ply should catch up with de­mand as pa­tients could get reg­is­tered and visit a dis­pen­sary within the hour.

Tim is hop­ing to re­turn with his med­i­cal his­tory so he can re­place naproxen and other med­i­ca­tions with some­thing more nat­u­ral. Dr. Melanie Duhamel, the doc­tor on staff in Akron and some­times Day­ton or the new­est lo­ca­tion in Toledo, said about a third of pa­tients are ini­tially turned away be­cause they don’t show up with their med­i­cal records.

“We are not a card mill,” said Dr. Steve Davis, a 20-year emer­gency room physi­cian in Can­ton. Davis, who al­ready is con­sid­er­ing a larger of­fice than the space in North Can­ton, said he’s not mak­ing money on rec­om­mend­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana, and he doesn’t in­tend to for some time. After wit­ness­ing fa­tal opi­oid over­doses and pre­scrib­ing drugs that fail to man­age pain, “it’s one of those things that we feel very pas­sion­ate about help­ing pa­tients get back self-con­trol, self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and re­lief.”

Crit­i­cized by some col­leagues for even con­tem­plat­ing the drug, Davis said he gives an hon­est con­sul­ta­tion about the ben­e­fits and lim­i­ta­tions of cannabis. Too much, he said, and the pa­tient can build up a tol­er­ance or ex­pe­ri­ence ad­verse side ef­fects. His clinic em­pha­sizes small amounts that al­low pa­tients to “sel­f­reg­u­late” their bod­ies’ home­o­static mech­a­nisms with nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring chem­i­cals like CBD and THC, which “work in con­cert with other chem­i­cals” in mar­i­juana.

“You can live in that range for years,” said Davis, adding that at hun­dreds of dol­lars a month, pa­tients may not be able to af­ford more lib­eral amounts of mar­i­juana.

Painful wait­ing

Two mid­dle-age men en­tered as Tim left the Akron wait­ing room. They came to see Duhamel about re­lief for mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. Both de­clined to be iden­ti­fied be­cause they did not want to dis­cuss their med­i­cal con­di­tions in pub­lic.

“It’s like pulling hot barb­wire thor­ough your nerves. I could elim­i­nate four med­i­ca­tions I’m on with med­i­cal mar­i­juana,” one man said of pur­su­ing ed­i­ble cannabi­noids. He said he can’t feel the right side of his body.

Heat ex­ac­er­bates the suf­fer­ing of MS. If it gets too hot, the man said he feels homi­ci­dal.

The other pa­tient said he’s look­ing for “just some­thing to make me feel calmer and sleep bet­ter.” He has a less se­vere case of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, but was re­cently di­ag­nosed with blad­der can­cer. “I don’t take the med­i­ca­tions any­more,” he said. “They just make me feel worse.”

Duhamel said she’s seen more than 300 pa­tients since Septem­ber. She can think of only three turned away for lack of a ver­i­fi­able chronic ill­ness cov­ered by the state’s Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Con­trol Pro­gram. She said she rarely sees would-be pa­tients try­ing to get pot for recre­ational pur­poses or a mar­i­juana card to pro­tect them if po­lice find traces of the drug in their sys­tems.

In the past few months, her pa­tients have “run the gamut,” she said. Chil­dren with seizures, se­niors with age-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions, Tourette syn­drome, back pain, botched surg­eries, can­cer. The list goes on. “I try to be as help­ful as I can,” Duhamel said.

Can­ton Re­pos­i­tory re­porter Kelly Byer con­trib­uted to this re­port.

[KAREN SCHIELY/BEA­CON JOUR­NAL/OHIO.COM]

Holly Robin­son, a man­ager at Ohio Mar­i­juana Card, works at the front desk where mar­i­juana-print wall­pa­per lines the wait­ing room in Akron.

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