It started with a dare.
Nicole Smith was chatting with friends who owned a grow operation about the exploding medical cannabis industry in Colorado. Everyone getting into the business was focusing on growing bud. Why, Smith asked, had nobody introduced a transdermal patch, so patients could control their dose more accurately without having to smoke?
And why, asked Smith, an accomplished businesswoman, couldn’t she be the one to do it?
“They called bullsh*t on that,” recalled Smith. “They were like, ‘No way.’”
“I said, ‘I can do this.’ And obviously we did.”
Two years later, Mary’s Medicinals—for “Mary Jane”—is the industry leader in transdermal delivery of cannabis, with patches and gels. And while most cannabis companies tend to focus on products rich in THC, the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, 80 percent of what Mary’s Medicinals sells won’t even get you high.
This is because this wondrous plant can provide so much more than just a buzz. “The main benefit of cannabis, at least in most of the products we create, is they’re not mind-altering. They’re for people who want relief from pain and don’t want to be altered all the time.”
Smith didn’t come from a cannabis background. Her specialty was business development and helping companies with branding and marketing. By applying these principles to her new endeavor, not to mention having the capital to buy expensive equipment and to fund research, Smith had prototype patches within four-and-a-half months, which unveiled at the 2013 High Times Cannabis Cup. Here was something new, perhaps the most incognito way to enjoy cannabis, a tiny patch that takes effect within 15 minutes and can produce sustained effects for 12 hours. And if the patient doesn’t like how it feels or has had enough, just take the patch off. Such was demand that sales grew 30 percent a month for an astonishing 18 months. When Colorado experienced a cannabis shortage as recreational sales began in early 2014, Smith had no trouble because a little cannabis goes a long way in patch production.
There’s a stereotype of the cannabis user in popular culture. It’s fair to say most who use Mary’s Medicinals don’t match that image.
“The one thing we’re seeing here in Colorado and Washington is the stereotype is really changing. There really isn’t as much an average cannabis user. There are some stereotypes with a specific type of consumption, but not so much with the overall cannabis user,” Smith said.
Medical-cannabis patients using the patch range from young children with seizures to grandmothers suffering from arthritis. The commonality is the desire for a pharmaceutical way to take the medicine without getting stoned.
With this customer base in mind, Smith expanded to patches and gels featuring other compounds of cannabis. For muscle spasms, sleep disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder, there’s cannabinol (CBN), in which the sedative effects of cannabis are highlighted without the “stoned” feeling.
There’s THC-A, used as an anti-inflammatory. It’s also good for menstrual cramps. There’s cannabidiol (CBD), which has helped children as young as two to get a reduction in seizures. There’s a topical compound high in cannabichromene (CBC), with sedative, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Of course, for the recreational user there are also sativa and indica patches in 20mg doses for those who want a subtle way to enjoy the high over a long period.
And for those who might get too “high” or experience anxiety while under the influence, Mary’s Medicinals in April of 2015 released a new product, Mary’s Rescue Tonic. Packaged like an energy-drink shot, it contains natural ingredients to reduce paranoia and a “proprietary blend of ingredients” to wash THC from the body.
Having no cannabis in it, it could be sold legally anywhere, and Smith dreams of seeing it on sale at convenience stores.
“I was even skeptical myself introducing it to the marketplace but I was really surprised at the number of folks, even regular or heavy users, who thought that was a great idea, who knew a time or place or somebody they’d be with to have that product on hand,” said Smith. She said some judges at the recent Cannabis Cup tried some to help get through a long day of sampling.
Currently available in Colorado, Washington, California and Vermont, Mary’s Medicinals has plans for expansion into four more states.
The company recently launched online sales across the country of CBD compounds made from industrial hemp. Smith acknowledged that is a grey area legally, but with advice from attorneys she decided “somebody really needs to push the envelope in domestic CBDs.”
In a world where recreational cannabis is all the rage, Smith and her 20 employees are happy to go against the grain. Only 20 percent of customers are interested in getting high.
“We have an absolutely amazing team of people who work for Mary’s and are dedicated to getting the medicine out the door, because they realize that patch or that package is going out to help somebody. It’s not necessarily heading out the door to get someone high. It’s going to alleviate seizures or help someone’s pain.”