When small business developer Jennifer Axcell started using cannabis to treat her chronic pain, the lack of easy access to medical advice frustrated her.
It’s illegal for budtenders selling products at dispensaries to provide medical advice, even to medical cannabis patients. But Axcell, who depended on 13 different narcotics and opiates at the time, found that most doctors weren’t willing to talk about weed.
“My prescribing physician that was happy to prescribe all those opiates for me said, ‘I don’t know anything, I don’t want to know anything — and it’s federally illegal, so I want nothing to do with [cannabis],’” Axcell recalls. “And what I found is, the majority of the medical community feels very much the same way.”
Meanwhile, Axcell learned that cannabis clinicians who could provide medical knowledge charged fees that would make their services inaccessible to much of the general public.
As a result, many people don’t know what dosage to start with, which product to choose for their medical condition, or whether cannabis and CBD products can interact with their other medications, Axcell says.
In an effort to bridge that information gap, Axcell and co-founder Katherine Golden created Leaf411, a Colorado-based 501(c)3 nonprofit. Golden, a registered nurse, now serves as Leaf411’s CEO, while Axcell is chief operating officer.
Their concept is similar to nurse hotlines available through some health insurance plans.
By dialing (844) 532-3411, callers interested in using cannabis for medical purposes can receive free, anonymous medical advice from registered nurses with specialized cannabis training.
The hotline currently operates Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., but Axcell expects Leaf411 will extend those hours in the near future. A six-nurse staff is supported by Leaf411’s member businesses, who go through a rigorous vetting process to be listed on the nonprofit’s website and advertise its services to customers who ask for medical advice.
Mike Lempert works as the logistics director of one such business, Denver-based Seed & Smith. He says Leaf411 is playing a much-needed role in the cannabis industry.
“If somebody comes in saying, ‘Hey, I have a tremendous amount of back pain’… rather than our budtender telling them what they should take, they can actually call a registered nurse,” Lempert says.
Customers can “get recommendations from somebody that really understands the situation from their standpoint as a health care provider, rather than a budtender that may partake in cannabis usage at much larger quantities than this person would, you know, be able to handle,” he adds.
Seed & Smith is a vertically integrated business, meaning the company controls every aspect of the cannabis growing, manufacturing and distributing process. But Leaf411’s members include a variety of businesses from all parts of the supply chain.
“We wanted to build something specifically that our industry is doing the majority of the funding,” Axcell explains, “to demonstrate to the voters in Colorado who voted in legal cannabis that they care about safe, legal use in the communities in which we are thriving.”