Goldleaf, a science-forward printing company designed for cannabis growers, patients and enthusiasts, was originally founded by cannabis advocate and entrepreneur Charles McElroy. Goldleaf empowers people by helping them better understand their interactions with the cannabis plant, and makes the subject more approachable to new audiences. As a former volunteer with the Marijuana Policy Project, and a supporter of veteran education and access to medical cannabis, McElroy created Goldleaf to benefit the evolving recreational and medical cannabis communities. CULTURE spoke to McElroy about his company, his vision and his love of cannabis.
How did you get started in the cannabis world? What drew you to it?
I’ve been an advocate for responsible cannabis legislation since I was 19. I didn’t consume much then, but the misinformation and oppression of the plant and people around it struck a real chord with me. It all seemed so illogical and immoral, and those feelings of frustration served as a motivator to align myself with social action.
Since then, I’ve been an ally of progressive changes to cannabis legislation. I’ve continuously tried to do my part to normalize the topic and de-program some of the wild misinformation among my communities. That interest, mixed with my general insatiable curiosity and desire to continue my education on things I like, caused me to learn with cannabis cultivators, volunteer with nonprofits and local politicians, join activist groups and eventually start Goldleaf.
Goldleaf is intentionally an ancillary business that keeps one foot in, and one foot out of the cannabis industry, since we specialize in information and printed materials. I felt that by straddling the worlds, I’d be able to more clearly point out the hypocrisy of so many of the rules and regulations that cannabis companies face. Furthermore, I could work to show a mature and clinical aesthetic to cannabis to mainstream groups that don’t normally feature or talk about cannabis companies.
What was the inspiration behind the Patient Journal, and why do you think it’s necessary?
The inspiration for the Patient Journal went hand-in-hand with the inspiration to create Goldleaf. I wanted to make something that would help patients and users better understand their body and individual reactions to cannabis. I was well aware of the disparity that exists between medical cannabis and information on the best ways to utilize it.
The industry as a whole relies on self-medication, patients proactively finding answers and treatment. Due to wild inconsistencies, let alone the scattered availability of certain cultivars or products, patients are forced to essentially “guess and check” to find the right treatment for themselves. Those of us who live in fully legal states have fewer roadblocks, but the same challenges remain.
I wanted to make something that could ease the anxiety for medical patients who are new to cannabis or those who are looking to dial-in their treatment. During my research, I found that many medical practices and prescribing physicians would ask their patients to document their reaction to cannabis therapy, but there are many data points that are not always obvious that can greatly affect the outcome. What other medication are you using? Have you eaten? Are you hydrated? What is your delivery method, etc?
Creating an intuitive, templated entry page enabling people to quickly and easily enter these points was something that really interested me. It’s a perfect example of the intersection between creative design and analytical thought. I wanted the Patient Journal to be a bridge between patient and caregiver, and to afford people with actionable evidence of what therapy works and what needs to be improved. I know there are plenty of higher tech solutions out there for this purpose, but personally, I prefer the tactile approach and I know others do as well—especially those older than 35. There are also other health and wellness benefits to keeping a journal in general, so it made sense to pair the two ideas.
What specific challenges do you think cannabis patients face when obtaining a recommendation, and how do you help?
I think a challenge at the core of any doctor-patient relationship when cannabis is involved is consistency and predictability. There are an amazing amount of variables out there for medical cannabis, many of which are not easily overcome. There isn’t any true regulation of cannabis genetics or standardization of potency, and anything that is out there is unregulated on a national scale. That means if a patient goes to the internet to find answers or direction—for example, which cultivar is good for nausea?—the information will undoubtedly be flawed, at least at first glance.
At this time, any cultivar named on a website is generally different from grower to grower, batch to batch and certainly state to state. Terpene profiles and general potency depend greatly on the growing method, drying and curing processes, making it nearly impossible to tell what you are getting from many purveyors unless they are consciously trying to stay on the bleeding edge of transparency.
There is a great deal of interest in offering patients this more granular approach to cannabis information—and many labs, growers and dispensaries are adopting it. However, it’s not law and there will always be outliers. Educating adults and patients on what to look for, the collective vocabulary and what has changed about cannabis in the past 10 years is one of the missions at Goldleaf.
All of our wares have an educational and research-driven foundation. We want to find new ways to communicate complex ideas and knowledge in an approachable and pleasing way. I think we accomplish this in our infographics and the general layout of our journals. Someone who tries a Patient Journal, reads the information and sticks with it for just a few entries will undoubtedly be more aware and knowledgeable about medical cannabis.
What do you think that the medical landscape should look like in five years?
It is hard to say, but I can imagine how it would shake out from a business and community side; the federal legislation is the wildcard. From a cannabis industry side, I see an urge and urgency to push for a standardization of measurements and unified vocabulary.
Terms like “indica,” “sativa” and any cultivar name are generally inexact. For starters, nearly all modern cultivars have endured hybridization and contain at least some lineage that is both indica and sativa—even ones that boast “pure” in the title. I understand why the industry has used these terms, to illustrate the type of effects to patients and customers—correlating indica with body and sedation, sativa with head, mind and stimulant—but these effects are definitely not assured by the genetics or morphological structure alone. Effects derive more from the chemical makeup of a given cannabis plant as a result of its genetics, influenced by its environment and its unique growth cycle leading to harvest, its curing and handling for transfer to the patient or customer and that person’s unique physiological response to consuming it.
For that reason, I see the industry adopting more lab reports and focusing more on the chemical profile, or chemotype, rather than the name or anachronistic classification. This will help patients better identify what they need and what they are purchasing. Labs will become increasingly important, as will high-tech grow sites that can coax specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles, thus creating cannabis with a very honed chemical makeup. I think this would all happen much faster if the federal government could get on board, allowing ease in research and the sharing of resources, but after the 2016 election, who knows.
How does cannabis help you, personally, in life and in business?
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I was in my early 20s. I tried some prescription medication, but found that cannabis was a better fit for controlling the symptoms. This was before much information or research was available about any correlation. I just found that it helped, and at the time, I didn’t look too far into why.
My roommate at the time had also been diagnosed with epilepsy and was on a stiff diet of prescription pills to control his episodes. He also found relief in cannabis and was able to phase off of his pills, entirely. Again, this was in the early 2000s, so there wasn’t much information out there about cannabinoids and their medical potential. All we knew was that both of us felt better when cannabis was involved.
As time went on, I began honing my treatment, experimenting with microdosing and ways to perform to my greatest abilities without feeling fried all the time. I became very interested in the science behind cannabis—from the growing process to the lab testing and its medical potential. I moved to Colorado for a time to intern with a legal grow outfit, came back to Ohio to do my part for a potential ballot initiative and have generally carried an interest in cannabis with me until I had the spark to start Goldleaf.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would just add that we’re very excited to release our latest version of the Patient Journal this March. It’s a collaborative edition edited by Habu Health. They are an amazing non-profit organization on the bleeding edge of cannabis research and result-based science. They helped us refine our recommendation sections in the journal, as well as subtle improvements throughout. I think it will be that much more useful and helpful for medical patients looking for honed treatment, and certainly those new to medical cannabis.