This Arizona business wants to bring credibility to the medical cannabis industry
Arizona business is ready to sell marijuana as the alternative to traditional medicine.
This Ariz. doctor was hoping to change the way we see medical marijuana when she opened Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center in 2011.
After medical marijuana was legalized in Arizona in 2011, dispensaries popped up all over the Valley ready to sell the alternative to traditional medicine to those deemed qualified.
For Elaine Burns, an Arizona-licensed and board-certified naturopathic medical doctor and strong supporter of medical cannabis, the question wasn’t whether patients had legitimate health concerns that warranted the treatment. It was whether those issuing medical marijuana cards and offering advice were capable and suited to do so.
If the medical cannabis industry were to grow and gain credibility, she knew there needed to be a better method. Burns provided that when she opened the Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center in 2011.
“(For) most patients, it’s not the card. It’s the medicine behind the card to help them get better. How can they get better if there’s no physician to give them input?” Burns said. “Often, it’s a young person at the dispensary who has no clue about medical conditions.”
Dr. Burns will see you now
Burns was the first Arizona physician to pass the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine’s physician certification test, making her the state’s first certified expert in the field. In 2012, she opened her second office in Phoenix and a third in Avondale in 2016. She helms one of the few female-owned and physician-run medical marijuana evaluation centers in Arizona, one of 33 states where the treatment is legal.
Her specialization in naturopathic medicine, she explained, puts her in a better position to evaluate and diagnose those who haven’t found relief in traditional medication. Burns’ reputation has made her a go-to for neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, Alzheimer’s doctors and hospitals like the Barrow Neurological Institute, who refer their patients to Burns, she said.
At least 30 percent of Burns’ patients are physician referrals, she said. Many are elderly and live in Sun City. When Burns opened her first center, she saw 50 patients a week. Today, 200 are treated at the center’s three offices. She has a small team of rotating independently contracted physicians to assist her with patients.
Chronic back pain sufferers are Burns’ largest patient group. Some have epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis. Her youngest patient was a 5-year-old with a severe neurologic condition.
“Physicians are the gatekeepers for patients getting into the medical marijuana program. I knew that mainstream physicians don’t have the medical training and knowledge of plant-based medicines like a naturopathic medical doctor does,” Burns said. “We were able to forge a path where we are a trusted source for the medical community.”
Many patients come to the center because their conditions have stumped a bevy of traditional medical professionals.
For 16 years, Theresa Morris suffered from chronic diarrhea, which emerged in 2003, two years after Morris underwent surgery and completed chemotherapy for colon cancer. Physicians and specialists prescribed her a laundry list of medications that only exacerbated the situation with a variety of painful side effects and no relief for her original issue, which was starting to get worse.
Morris lives in Claymont, Del., and is a friend of Burns. In April, Morris came to Arizona on vacation with her granddaughter. She had been telling Burns about her health problems and for the first time, Morris said she felt that someone was actually getting it.
“She really listens, and that was a big part of it,” Morris said.
Burns prescribed one of her physician-formulated cannabis oils, which is part of a line of oils and ointments she recently launched, that does not have THC, the compound in marijuana responsible for the “high.”
Morris put the oil under her tongue. Within a half-hour after her first dose in May, Morris experienced positive signs of recovery that she hadn’t felt in years. She has since weaned herself completely off of it and has not had any negative symptoms since her last dose four weeks ago.
“It’s a miracle. A thousand thank-yous isn’t enough. This oil has changed my life. It’s the real McCoy,” said Morris, who also uses a Burns-prescribed arthritis cream. “She’s not just selling these products. She knows the history (of medical cannabis), she knows the doses and she takes the time to know your (medical) history.”
A firm believer in cannabis’ abilities to effectively treat and relieve symptoms stemming from a variety of medical conditions from chronic pain to tumors, Burns also addresses patients’ wanting to reduce their intake of opioids and other addictive treatments.
She’s not alone. Overall, 71 percent of medical cannabis consumers reduced or stopped their over-the-counter pain treatment and 60 percent have reduced or stopped their alcohol consumption, according to a survey by Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace and delivery platform. Additionally, CBD consumers doubled in 2018, with Baby Boomers being the most common among the age groups and one of the fastest-growing.
Over the years, medical marijuana has slowly gained credibility as a viable treatment option. Education has helped. But when Burns first opened her practice, times were different and she paid the price.
She talked about a credit card company that pulled its services for her business after finding out what industry she was in. Burns has had her share of red tape with insurance companies and financial institutions. She’s had undercover DEA agents walk in, posing as patients. Burns was called a “pot doctor” in the media and by healthcare and medical professionals, some who are part of the organizations and fields that send patients to her today.
It’s better now, but still a challenge. Making sure every aspect of her business runs above board is key to survival.
“It’s not a walk in the park from a business owner’s standpoint. It’s difficult to run as a business. It was absolutely a 100-percent risk for me to do this,” she said.
‘It’s not about just stamping a document’
Burns is in the process of rebranding her company to Southwest Medical Marijuana Physicians Group, which she said better represents what it does by providing a collaborative and dignified medical experience for patients rather than a business model fueled by what she called a “mill mentality.”
“We provide education and a treatment plan. It’s not about just stamping a document,” Burns said.
Shortly after Burns opened her Scottsdale office, a newspaper advertising representative stopped by. She had been making the rounds to various medical marijuana businesses that had opened upon legalization.
“I remember the look on her face. She said, ‘Oh my gosh, this looks like a doctor’s office.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, because this is a doctor’s office.’ She told me that the others didn’t look like ours,” Burns recalled. “You have to provide a professional medical environment and from day one, that’s what we’ve done.”
Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center
Where: Scottsdale, Phoenix, Avondale
Interesting stat: The global medical cannabis market is projected to reach $37 billion by 2023, according to market research firm Research and Markets.
Details: 480-656-2119, evaluationtoday.com