Interview: The State of Medicinal Cannabis

With all the recent progress for recreational cannabis, one might overlook the parallel gains for medicinal users. The accessibility of pot as medicine has never been greater. Meanwhile, the healthcare industry continues to develop more-precise prescriptions for ailments, while Canada’s nationwide legalization is a massive win for medicinal research.

To better understand the makeup of medicinal users, and what the future holds for this industry, I recently spoke with Craig Snyder (pictured atop), CEO of Empower Clinics. The company operates a network of physician-staffed medical cannabis healthcare clinics.

Cannabis Regulator: Who is the typical medicinal cannabis patient?

Craig Snyder: The average age of our patients is 45. Most have never been in a dispensary before and don’t really know what one is. They need help about what methods of delivery are most helpful. So they look as these doctors as trusted advisors. They’re asking their doctors for an educational experience.

After all, the educational experience at dispensaries can vary. You might find someone who is exceptionally educated on medicinal cannabis. Or you can run into your local budtender who is more focused on the recreational side. So with that in mind — and the average age of our patients and them not always understanding cannabis — they look at doctors as a jungle guide in this new industry.

CR: What does national legalization in Canada mean for the future of medicinal cannabis?

CS: I think the future for medicinal cannabis is going to be an exponential future, in terms of patents, FDA, and the approval side, along with delivery methods and finding exact dosages. Even right now the industry is evolving nearly every quarter. We’re racing forward and seeing technological breakthroughs, which is obviously a good thing and it will continue that way.

A lot of people break the cannabis market into three tiers. Cannabis 1.0 was about producing cannabis in an actual commercial way. Cannabis 2.0 was about taking the plant and being able to merchandise it at dispensaries in its different forms: flower, oil, infused products, etc. Cannabis 3.0 is now all about tech. How tech can come into play to better target the qualifying conditions, and through non-incendiary ingestion.

Empower Clinics operates a network of physician-staffed medical cannabis healthcare clinics, like this newly opened location in Chicago.

CR: What should patients look for in cannabis doctors?

CR: They should look for doctors with the right experience when it comes to cannabis and efficacy. Do they understand what delivery mechanisms provide relief with the best efficacy? There are multiple delivery methods. Doctors should understand what are the most effective for the qualifying conditions.

Doctors should have experience dealing with a broad range of conditions. Chronic pain, sleep disorders and stress are the most prevalent.

CR: Let’s talk about those conditions. What are you seeing for pain patients?

CS: In the large basket that is pain patients — which represent about 60-70% of our overall patients — a great percentage of those are suffering from opioid side effects. We’re seeing patients who have gone down the path of other pain medication and that hasn’t been the answer for them. So now they’re looking to broaden their path towards pain relief.

I’m not saying that medical cannabis is the panacea for pain. But I am seeing that more people recognize it now as a potential treatment. Especially when they see military veterans and professional athletes saying that they themselves are taking it for their pain.

CR: What about for stress?

CS: There are two main groups here. One is veterans with PTSD. They’re back from deployment and are not getting the relaxation that they need.

The other group is people who have been in a serious accident or incident that caused them trauma. Something like a car crash has caused them a lot of stress.

CR: How important is it that doctors verify these accidents or stress-causes before prescribing cannabis?

CS: Very important. We require medical records before we will even see someone. We want to see evidence that the issues actually exist.

CR: How about sleep disorders?

CS: A lot of these issues get tied together in a common theme of stress and pain. And these patients can also be people who suffer from insomnia and do not like the side effects of taking sleeping pills. With medicinal cannabis they find a nice, restful sleep that doesn’t come with the side effects of a pharmacological product.

CR: What are some of the different delivery methods?

CS: There are ways that cannabis can be absorbed quicker and more effectively. There’s a whole host of products: pens, vapes, needleless injections for the opioid crisis, all of which can all increase bio-availability more quickly, and get down to a very exact dosing.

CR: Why is an exact dosage so important?

CS: Well, for instance, when dealing with cancer or several medical conditions, you can pinpoint the exact dosage that works for you. Patients work with their doctors to figure out what is the right amount that makes them feel healthy, as opposed to how they had felt before.

Choices can be stark for people with terminal cancer. A morphine drip may ease the pain, but you can’t have much of a relationship with your family after that. You basically become a zombie. But with cannabis in high dosages, someone could still have a good relationship with their family while dealing with their pain.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece Interview: The Future of Cannabis After Canadian Legalization.