The Doctor Is In: Dr. Michael Verbora – Part One
Discover the dedication behind one doctor’s mission to help bring cannabis to the forefront of the medical community in part one of our revealing interview.
The newly emerged and fast-growing field of cannabinoid medicine is one filled with plenty of challenges, but even more rewards. We were lucky to interview the very busy cannabinoid therapy expert Dr. Michael Verbora to discover why his focus on medical cannabis is so important to not just him, but to new and future patients worldwide in the coming months and years. With an impressive history focusing on cannabinoid medicine, Dr. Verbora is a member of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, Doctors for Responsible Access and the Canadian Pain Society. He’s also the Medical Director at Canabo Medical Corp, specializing in cannabis research and education.
What is your medical background, and was medical cannabis always your focus?
I was trained as a family doctor at the University of Toronto and prior to that I did a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the Odette School of Business. During my residency training as a family doctor I did an elective at the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, which was the first cannabis clinic to open in Toronto. While I was there I saw a number of cases that were quite intriguing. And so once I graduated I started doing this on a part time basis. So it’s always been a focus.
Why did you begin prescribing medical cannabis?
Prescribing cannabis provides me with a unique opportunity to see a huge spectrum of patients, from a variety of ages and a variety of medical conditions, especially extremely rare diseases that I’d probably never see otherwise. I find that many patients have run out of options and they come to me looking for hope. And I can be there to provide that optimism. I find that to be quite rewarding. Some patients have traveled the world for care and then they come to my office looking for help. I’m that last hope.
As I began to see more and more patients, I started to notice that using cannabis allowed me to get patients off a lot of medications, particularly ones I considered to be harmful or highly addictive. I found patients were reporting that their quality of life was better. And I felt that the traditional medications at my disposal, that I was trained to use, just couldn’t produce the same results as cannabis. And at the end of the day I want to make a profound difference and I felt that this was the right fit for me. I was making dramatic differences in people’s lives.
Working in cannabinoid medicine has been tremendously rewarding for me. It can be difficult at times, but when patients have transformative outcomes all of the hard work is well rewarded. That’s what makes me continue to do more and more of this on a daily basis.
Why are so many doctors changing their mind about cannabis and beginning to prescribe it to their patients?
There are a number of variables and factors contributing to a more positive image around cannabinoid therapy. First, cannabis is now regulated, it’s controlled and it’s being tested, which provides physicians with a lot of reassurance that they can prescribe something and their patient can get an exact, scientifically delivered dosage, which is important for physicians. Another reason is that I think many patients are sharing their success stories with their doctors. As the stigma toward cannabis continues to diminish, there’s a lot less fear about being honest about how cannabis is affecting many patients.
I also think cannabis is going through a renaissance moment and globally countries are looking at better drug policies, they’re endorsing harm reduction strategies and they’re coming up with regulations on cannabis. So it’s in the spotlight now and that’s contributing to a bit of an aura around the plant. Lastly, opiate painkillers are addictive and it’s really created an epidemic, particularly in North America. I believe patients and physicians are looking for alternative options, such as cannabinoid medicine.
Does research play a role in convincing people that cannabis is a safe, effective and natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals?
I think a majority of patients rely on personal experiences to guide their treatments. But on the other hand physicians rely on medical evidence to guide their treatment. There’s still a gap—mind you a closing gap—between patients and physicians and their interpretation of cannabinoid science or experience. So I’m actually excited to be part of a large observational study with Canabo Medical Corp and we’re looking at the reduction of opiate and benzodiazepine use in about 7500 patients.
So, there are a lot of doctors out there who are trying to contribute to the growing medical evidence of cannabis as a medicine. There are a lot of challenges still. For example, the endocannabinoid system is still not being taught at medical school, despite this being a necessary biological system to sustain life. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on many fronts. But as the research continues to be positive, I think you’ll see many more physicians prescribing cannabis.
What does being Medical Director at Canabo Corp involve? What makes the job so rewarding?
Being the Medical Director really gives me an opportunity to take my clinical experience, research and my commitment and passion for cannabinoid medicine to a larger audience. My role is to focus on patient care and physician education. I’m in the process of reviewing about 30 doctors at Canabo Medical Corp.
What we’re trying to do is synthesize all our experiences into protocols and produce standardization. Our goal is to maximize our patients’ outcomes as early as possible in the treatment plan, based on our clinical experiences. So, the Medical Director role really allows me to set standards for our company across Canada. I want our standards to be the ones that medical colleges across Canada publish so that they can better guide other physicians who are prescribing. One of my main goals is to take the field of cannabinoid medicine to a much more academic level.
Look for more insights on medical cannabis with the second part of our interview with Dr. Verbora coming soon.