Sarah Brandon is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Executive Director at Canna Companion, a company that produces cannabis supplements designed to treat a range of conditions in dogs and cats. We talked to Dr. Brandon about how she got into the cannabis industry, and how her company is different than others in this space.
What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?
Canna Companion is a science-oriented company backed by a living database started nearly 20 years ago and containing over 12,000 patients. The searchable database provides details on the following parameters: species, age, sex, health, status, current therapies (if any), cannabis product administered, response, adverse effects, laboratory results, and more. While the primary species profiles are of dogs and cats, the patient population includes horses, goats, pigs (standard and pot-bellied), guinea pigs, parrots, and skunks. Because the veterinary field cannot rely on double blinded research studies - none exist - the burden of efficacy and safety falls to anecdotal evidence. Canna Companion’s database provides a wealth of well-documented anecdotal evidence which helps us maintain safety and efficacy for our intended species. We use the information gained during professional consultations with pet parents and veterinarians, to adjust our formulations, develop new products, and educate others about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and how supporting it improves patient quality of life.
How did you get into the cannabis space?
[chuckling] I blame my husband. Dr. Greg Copas, my husband and Canna Companion’s CSO, started researching cannabis and the ECS two decades ago. Participating in many sporting events when younger wasn’t easy on his joints, and to make things more difficult, he is allergic to NSAIDs and opioids. Studies out of Israel were the first to catch his attention and he was pleasantly surprised to learn the rest of the world offered a lot regarding the ECS and historical usage. We were in veterinary school at the time and immediately wanted to apply his findings to our patient population. Like any good scientist, we started on ourselves and our pets, keeping meticulous records. We let others’ in vitro research serve as the cornerstone and our in vivo studies fine tune our understanding of the cannabis plant and how beneficial it can be.
Walk us through a normal day.
For whom and what day of the week? Every member of our team wears multiple hats that nicely interweave strengths in one with weaknesses of another. This allows us to both never and always have a normal day. Some have actual badges they wear designating which position they currently fill, alerting the rest of us they can help only within the parameters of that position. My personal day starts with a giant cup of coffee, yoga, four mile walk with the dogs, then a check-in to our primary production or production-related departments: manufacturing, shipping, and customer service. Next is to quickly triage the email tangle: client-centric vs. business, those requiring immediate attention vs. can wait 24-48 hours. After that, it’s whatever my calendar says is next on the list.
What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?
Roll with the punches, ‘cuz there will be a lot of them, at one time, from multiple directions, all unexpected. Realize that “rolling with the punches” often means knowing exactly what you want and need, and perhaps more importantly, knowing exactly when and where to take a stand. This applies to businesses in general, but I think it’s even more applicable in the cannabis industry. We’re coming out of prohibition into an era where people have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it. They see the science behind cannabis and understand the potential consequences of unbalanced health care. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about humans, dogs, cats, horses, whatever. Along with this is the misunderstanding of years of prohibition and inaccurate information. That means the political pendulum is going to swing wildly for a time before it settles, and the trick is how to swing at the same pace. We think education and science are how to accomplish such a feat.
What are the biggest challenges that are specific to the pet segment of the cannabis space?
See previous response and add in things like professional licensures which require both client-patient confidentiality and adherence to state and federal laws. Veterinarians, pet store owners, and bud tenders, are routinely asked about cannabis administration for dogs and cats. If it helps humans, can it help dog and cats as well? There is fear and frustration around the topic and veterinarians are often left to find their own way. Some veterinary boards let fear win and bar the subject from discussion which leaves the doctor knowing their client is going to administer it anyway and they have no way to document anything without risking their license. From a federal aspect, cannabis law is actively changing as politics catch up with state movements and regulators gain a firmer foothold within the industry.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
See the most ‘frustrating aspect’ answer. Helping people understand how the ECS functions naturally is our greatest opportunity and one of our largest hurdles. The rewards are great for ourselves and our pets.
What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?
Our focus is first and foremost our patients, and the only way to help them is to educate pet parents and professionals alike regarding the ECS, its normal function and how supporting it leads to improved quality of life. In order for us to do that we have to make sure our products are grounded in science and structure our company as service-oriented. We lean on regulatory agencies to help us provide information in a manner which highlights supporting the ECS rather than a drug-oriented, disease-associated approach. How does this make us a leader? No one else offers such service, providing free consultations simply to help out and gain more insight into how veterinary patients respond to low dose hemp supplementation. We don’t stop with just cannabis recommendations, and provide other recommendations specific for that patient’s needs. Through our actions we intend to lead the veterinary community to a more inclusive approach to patient care that includes hemp as its foundation and builds upon an integrative medical philosophy.
What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?
The misconception: more is better. The ECS prefers balance in all things; that’s how its receptor actually functions - balance between CBD and THC. Because of that balance, it doesn’t take much to support a system whose sole function is to listen to and correct stress chemicals within the body. When too much is administered or the system becomes unbalanced for too long, increases in adverse events are observed. This is not a system which wants to be shoved and instead will happily comply with gentle nudging. Making that common knowledge is frustrating as it goes against popular opinion.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?
Take the time to learn about the industry. It’s grown to encompass aspects from agriculture, chemistry, politics, marketing, investment, medical, on and on. Find which aspect fits your desires best and run with it.
What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?
Let the product speak for itself and remain honest to your company’s goals.
Do you see any big changes coming in the future of cannabis?
Regulation is here. The industry rightfully wanted to be recognized as the business it is, and regulation is part of that. That’s a massive change for interstate commerce particularly when dealing with federally legal hemp products. What works for state marijuana laws, each state having their own version, does not work well for commerce of non-marijuana cannabis-based products. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 shows promise and I am hopeful it will clearly define what cannabis lies under CSA regulation.
Do you consume cannabis? And if so, what's your favorite way to consume?
Of course I consume cannabis, every day both hemp and marijuana. I prefer to ingest hemp and either ingest it or smoke flower for marijuana use. Ingestion can be oil, capsules, food. I love to add crushed cannabis leaves to pizza!