Having a pharmacy in the world of medical cannabis is a big step for patients, doctors, and health professionals. The biggest step is in destroying the stigma around cannabis as a treatment.
There are hundreds, thousands of medical clinics, compassion clubs, and recreational stores, growers and scientists along every step and stage of the process. But a medical cannabis clinic that understands the compounds and the complex dangerous combinations of medications is rare. Believe it or not, this is the pharmacy of the future. It’s important for pharmacies to start and to serve patients with an understanding what cannabis is and can do — and that’s where Hybrid Pharm comes in.
Angelo Muscari is the clinic manager with more than five years in the medical cannabis industry, a former nurses aide, is here to talk about what’s going on in the industry. We sat down with Angelo to discuss how the medical cannabis sector is shaping up in Ontario.
Angelo Muscari: Pretty busy, we do our clinics once a week. So Wednesdays are always steady for us. We do a lot of outreach, doing one on ones and workshops and classes. We actually sponsored a fantastic Mau Thai event last week here at the Canadian War Museum called ‘Art of War Three’. So it was put on by the Ottawa Muaythai Association and Ottawa Fight and Fitness. It was a good opportunity to go and talk about CBD for pre and post workout. And also to watch the fight with fighter jets and tanks in the background. So it was a pretty cool experience.
Host: Welcome to the Cannabis Business Podcast. I’m your host Milton. As a cannabis entrepreneurs, how do you become better at what you do? I ask questions to cannabis business leaders. I welcome Angela Muscari from Hybrid Pharm. He has worked in the marijuana industry for more than five years, educating patients about symptoms and treatments. Has a passion for cannabis and I’d like to welcome him to the show. How did you get started with cannabis? It’s not something that everybody gets into.
Angelo: I’m a former nurse’s aide and physician’s assistant. I was already in the medical field for many years working with various clinics and doctors here in Ottawa. I actually stumbled across a referral form from National Access Cannabis one day. I realized it was just a few blocks away from where I was. So I literally got out of my seat and walked over there in my scrubs and had a conversation with the staff there. Not much long after that I was managing the clinic and then kind of expanded from there. So I kind of just fell into it. I have a passion for cannabis. I’ve been a bit of an advocate.
Besides that, when I’m not at work, I’m a bit of a connoisseur. I’ve been using cannabis my whole life. It’s a unique opportunity that could bring two of my passions together. So it was a kind of meant to be, in my opinion. And it’s been going great ever since.
I knew I was self-medicating at a young age for various reasons. It’s just something that I kind of appreciate more than other medications that were offered to me at the time. I was also young father and I had kids again with 18 years old. I was just dealing with a lot of stress. The reality of life. It was my way of coping, as opposed to other addictions or crutches, whatever you want to call them at that age. Alcohol or other drugs of choice.
For the most part, at a young age too, there’s a social aspect we don’t want to admit it at the time in high school where there are cliques. So you have you know your typical group of stoners or cannabis users at your school that you can always remember.
That you did or didn’t so stay with. There is the jocks. There’s the people who are more into boozing and drinking. That does kind of stick with you a certain path with who you associate with, how you socialize at a party. Are you somebody who’s capable of holding their alcohol so it’s not really impairing you? Are you someone who’s known to slur your words and be sloppy at parties because you over drink? Are you someone is known to be kind of always very close eyed because you’re very high?
It’s interesting to see how it’s really come full circle from recreational to me being involved in this medicinal, and all then to recreational. Becoming legal to now dealing with the medicinal again. It’s been like a scales that’s been going this this way constantly.
The goal for everyone, I think on both sides of the fence, is to find balance. Across the country, whether you are recreational or medical, to now to find balance. To define how we all fit into the same puzzle using different pieces.
Host: To hear that you’re from Ottawa or that you are in Ottawa took me by surprise. Let’s just say it is no Toronto.
Angelo: As far as the cannabis scene goes, Ottawa does get overlooked a lot. It’s not Toronto. It’s not British Columbia. That being said, it is a government town. There’s still lots of fun to be had here if you ever come down. People can shoot me a message and I’ll send you some cool places to go and some fun things to do. But as far as a really aggressive cannabis scene, there is one, yeah, it’s not too big. It’s not as large as the other major metropolis cities. At this point in time right now, zero dispensaries. They’ve all been kind of shut down a 100 percent. I do believe is a few sprinkles threat to the GTA still. You know, I could be wrong.
I was recently just in Vancouver for a LIFT expo. I was able to visit the first official legal dispensaries that was in the news at that time. I got to meet some really great individuals there from again both sides. It was again like a whole different kind of scene and scenario so.
Ottawa is definitely very on the political side. It’s interesting because we still have a lot of license producers in Ontario. From where I am right now at my location, Hydropetecry is not too far. In 20 five minutes, we have Tweeds not too far at all. And again, we have Peace Naturals close by, WeedMD, and Green Leaf. It’s here, but it’s definitely the opposite side of the culture. It’s very medical basis, very government heavy. Yet working in Ottawa, you’ve definitely seen both sides of the story a little bit more times I think with Toronto.
I feel like Toronto has a lot of little more representation on both sides that doing more work, who have more say in how things move forward. For the most part, Ottawa is more one sided on the government level, which helps and hinders at times.
Host: I did want to ask you about your other half.
Angelo: Dr. Rahim Dhalla is my colleague. I do work for him. He’s the brains and owner of Hybrid Pharm. He’s also a pharmacist. We met a year ago, this month, last March. He was a cannabis users while growing up and quite fond of the plants. Even more so to study at from a pharmaceutical point of view. He also had a personal engagement with his father before his passing with cancer, where he used some cannabis to help his dad’s symptoms. It just very much clicked and it’s been a great partnership. Being able to learn from each other, grow Hybrid Pharm together and see how we can really affect individual people day by day.
Host: On that note, Hybrid Pharm, one of the first times I got more familiar with your name, I stood next to someone talking about cannabis and pointed to your expo booth at the Ottawa hemp expo. He shuttered. There’s this kind of stigma sometimes – not related to you or your business but – on the pharmaceutical industry in general.
Angelo: It’s something that we knew would be battling from day one. The thing is Dr. Dhalla is able to crush that stigma very easily and quickly. Not only with his knowledge but with his personality and attitude to cannabis but also to all other medications. We’re not here to change anyone’s mind or to say this is for you. It’s just offering somebody again another tool and every disciple toolbox.
We give them actual proper guidance, unlike other clinics or licensing avenues inside Canada. I’m not gonna name names, it’s just that been in that situation. In my past experiences, I’m confident we did good work. We’ve learned from the past and brought it together as a unit here Hybrid Pharm.
That’s how we can become Canada’s first and only compounding pharmacy specializing in medical cannabis. Again, another benefit of Hybrid Pharm is that we have a pharmacist. I can do a full check with you. I can give you guidance if there’s any red alerts that something might not go well with cannabis.
You have the guidance of someone like myself who can help you with your strain selection, terpene selection, to really break down your individualized medications, how you buy, when you medicate. You know this is alternative medicine. Some people have exhausted all other options. Or some people are not confident in having their medications raised.
It’s not healthy to have a silver bullet method for every issue with every person. That’s where cannabis differs. As an individual, it’s not always going to work but a lot of people are here because they want to try the ready to jump in with both feet, with proper guidance.
We offer people first access and information to give to their healthcare practitioner, so we give them medical documents which are blank or blank referral form. So if you were to see your doctor and had a stroke, your issue normally would be referred to an ear nose and throat specialist. So we give them the opportunity to refer to us the cannabis buyers list, if they’re not comfortable with the first option of prescribing.
Another option is for people to come in and fill out the paperwork and build some kind of clinic profile. Perhaps our nurse practitioner offer another option for people to receive the license. We also offer tele-medicine to anyone who qualifies throughout the province of Ontario. To help people from the comfort of their own home, who have mobility issues or are in assisted living situations.
Host: I’m kind of curious about Ottawa. Every city or every region seems to have its own story. You may not know the answer to this question but was it difficult to start the business?
Angelo: I think in this business particular wasn’t. As much of a culture shock as it was a few years ago, for example when I started. I work at National Access Cannabis. It’s not too far from here, just a few city blocks away. Yeah, that was a bit of a culture shock to some people, not really knowing what that system was while being a medical cannabis clinic access education center.
But because of the way that we approach it, being open and having a kind of comfort level and a comforting setting the people at ease and kind of allowed us to ask questions that maybe they didn’t feel comfortable asking. And with that being said, now with April around the corner with the coming of recreational sales, I honestly think it’ll bode well for us because people will have more questions and concerns. You will have people who will start coming out of the cannabis closet.
Because it’s now legal, people do you have questions they want to experiment. Nothing wrong with that but the staff at a lot of these locations are limited to what they can do with medical advice. So that’s the big separation. You know people who will want to treat it as a Friday night kind of. One thing they have – and anyone who does want to treat it more like about this and get more serious – the opportunity to come to someone like us here how to farm it’ll start with medical this this whole fight started with medical.
Angelo: You know veterans played a big part in this. You know great market associates played a big part this is. The history of cannabis is a wild and colorful story you know. I’ll do a plug for a book that I think fantastic by Joe Dolce, it’s called ‘Brave New Weed.’ It’s just an exciting read about how a lot of the wackiness ensues in the United States with cannabis. There’s a fun fact in there the first person in the states who was ever charged with possession happened in the 1800s. It’s wild to see this history of hemp and cannabis.
The LP MedReleaf had a fantastic looking poster. It was like kind of like a time line history. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Smiths Falls to Tweed, where they have a fantastic visitor center. It’s almost a cannabis museum. The film that they have there that you can sit down on a huge screen really does an A to Z of the history of cannabis. Really hitting up points that people should be aware of in the history. The fact that it was a major part of trade throughout history. The fact that you know hemp was demanded to be ground in certain states. That’s now coming full circle as we see the CBD and hemp regulated in different fashions.
Another thing that I actually posted via my other social account Smoke the Stigmas was a video by MedMen, directed by Spike Jones that was released this week. And again about the history of cannabis, it really hits home in regards to how we wrongfully and unlawfully put so many people behind bars these past 20, 30, 40 years for possession of a plant. And now it’s legal and now people are making – tons of money off it.
That’s where a lot of the separation of things right between medical recreation. You know, the 15-year-old me who really had high hopes for certain things. Recreation came but my honest response is that it’s not handled as well could be. And from a medical point of view, because that’s my 9 to 5 and I’m dealing at the end of the day with patients and their lack of supply, they are not being able to afford the medication. We all know that there’s a lot of negative things involved. Our goal here is to
Once the D.I.N. number happens, once a drug identification number happens of cannabis, unfortunately it’s going to be kind of sickening to see how many people’s attitudes which like that because it’s now simply covered. You can get a note from a doctor. A lot of people won’t even want to think about it.
At the end of the day, I tell the people if you want to treat it like a medicine, ask a medical professional. I see on Facebook a lot of these groups of people asking questions. It’s great that there are support communities out there. With some of the serious questions, I see basket responses to which they should be talking to a doctor. You know I consider myself quite knowledgeable. But not even I would even touch the question. For example, let’s say you are on blood thinner or blood medications.
There’s great resources out there. So it’s the never ending daily kind of battle. The one that I’m always excited to wake up and take on because it’s exciting to be part of this ever changing industry that my kids. Being a father of four, we’ll have something we can look back on it a bit. To see that we did make a difference one way or other.
Host: One of the reasons I separate medical and recreational was because I wanted to highlight something that makes you different. You are a pharmacy, which is very different than some other medical clinics. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about that piece.
Angelo: Because we are a compounding pharmacy, we can compound medications. That means we could remove things from medications. This truly gives our compound or pharmacist utility to create something for an individual.
If you need to decarb or put into a capsulized form with a certain exact amount of THC and CBD, that’s something that we can do. Maybe you want to create a certain topical for localized pain relief. Certain herbs stick together to help alleviate certain symptoms.
And again, not having to be the only option. But it’s another tool in the toolbox. So we do hope that people look at this as the pharmacy of the future. A way to incorporate all aspects of healing. That’s also why we do things like workshops, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, cooking with cannabis. How to grow cannabis really. Making sure patients get the most out of the medication. It’s really important for someone who has a green thumb to know they could grow their own medication. Or someone who’s comfortable in the kitchen to know that they can cook with the medication to really have more control of how to use cannabis.