Digital healthcare platform HelloMD caters to a global network of patients and cannabis consumers. Since its inception in 2014, the cannabis-meets-tech venture has quickly become the largest online platform for online medical consultations, educational content and advice geared towards helping patients make informed decisions about medical marijuana.
Tech entrepreneur Pamela Hadfield co-founded HelloMD with her husband Mark after she discovered the benefits of medical cannabis, recognizing the need for education, accessibility, and ending the stigmatization of cannabis use. “You’ll find me out and about enthusiastically evangelizing HelloMD and therapeutic consumption of cannabis,” her LinkedIn bio declares.
Hadfield is forthright about her own medical cannabis use, how it’s changed her life, and how she believes HelloMD will create true cannabis reform through education in the U.S. and around the globe. “We have the largest question and answer platform in cannabis,” Hadfield says. “We’ve been called the Quora of cannabis.”
DOPE caught up with Hadfield on a recent weekday morning as she was wrangling her kids, readying herself for a three-week hike on the John Muir Trail, and preparing for the next phase of HelloMD: a new app, live stream and game show called Hello Trivia, where people all over the world will be able to play for cash prizes while learning about cannabis and wellness. Hadfield shared her thoughts on cannabis and parenting, her hopes for 2020 and beyond, and why HelloMD sits in the perfect educational sweet spot to help people along on their cannabis journey.
DOPE Magazine: You changed your thinking about cannabis when you were introduced to medical marijuana, is that right?
Pamela Hadfield: I’ve been around cannabis for pretty much my whole life. Whenever the joint was passed, I smoked the whole joint, so I never felt great. At a certain point, I said, “You know what? This just isn’t really working for me,” so I hadn’t partaken in it for years and years. Then stereotype and stigma, at some point, sort of got baked into my head, no pun intended.
I was suffering from migraines that had been ongoing for 25 years. I’d tried every traditional pharmaceutical. I had gone to every doctor. If you know anyone with migraines, or you have them yourself, you know that pharmaceuticals don’t really work. They just treat the symptoms, and they often make you feel like a zombie. I ended up on Vicodin, and that was the only thing that was allowing me to be functional. I had three kids under the age of four. I was working full-time supporting the family. Then somebody said, “You should try medical marijuana.” And I just rolled my eyes.
But at that point … I called it my medication of last resort when it should have been my medication of first resort. I ended up getting my medical recommendation, which was a disaster in my mind.
DM: How so?
PH: I walked into a cannabis clinic feeling like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. Marijuana doesn’t work for me. Why am I here?” It was a waiting room in a chiropractor’s office that was taken over probably one day a week. There were literally 10 people in there, cheek to jowl. The woman behind the desk was calling for people’s licenses: “Pamela Hadfield, are you here?” There was nothing about it that felt private or discreet. It didn’t feel professional. It didn’t feel real. It felt like every sort of stereotype that you would think of getting your medical marijuana recommendation — that it was a joke.
When the doctor came out … I really do laugh every time I think about it. He’s in Tommy Bahama, hair in a ponytail, and he’s got a big crystal on his neck. And the first thing he says to me is, “Congratulations for getting your medical marijuana recommendation.” I thought, “it’s stranger than fiction. This is exactly what you’d think it would be, but even more so.”
I will say, he did give me a thorough consultation, and some good advice. I said, “I’ve never felt comfortable being high. What can I do?” He said, “You don’t have to get high. You can have CBD.”
As soon as I started to feel that I was getting on top of the pain management, I said, “What’s going on here?” I’d never been able to get ahead of the pain. All I’d been able to do was numb the pain as it started. That’s what led me to thinking: I was so wrong. How could my thinking, and my assumptions and my perception be so inaccurate? And, if I’m having this experience, there must be a lot of other people that could potentially have this experience. That’s when I started the process of educating myself.
DM: That would have been in 2013? What a wild six years you’ve had.
PH: It’s been really amazing to evolve and to develop with the industry. Through that, we’ve also understood that when people come to cannabis, they’re coming at different points within a journey. We really wanted to home in on how to help people, wherever they are.
DM: When you created HelloMD, you were already in the process of making a telemedicine platform?
PH: Correct. We had a telemedicine platform. We were curating the best of the best: the best cardiologist, the best neurosurgeon, doing videos to allow people to do direct consultations with physicians. We were also at a point where we realized we needed to scale with serious VC funding. That’s when we ran into this opportunity and realized: not only does our platform work perfectly for this, but this is something we can transition into. We saw that there was nobody else active in the space. And I felt so passionate about it.
DM: You were new to cannabis; you weren’t really connected to the industry in any way. It seems like quite a leap, so what was your process?
PH: I mean, naiveté, right? I was thinking about my own personal struggle and journey and dependency on Vicodin. When cannabis not only cured my migraines, but I had decreased anxiety, I was sleeping better, and I went from a state of disease to a state of health. That put me in a position of power over my own life, and also my work life, and where I wanted to take that.
If you find yourself incredibly passionate about something, and you feel like you can transition your work life and how you spend most of your days to encompass that, it’s almost like nothing will stop you.
To get back to your question, absolute naiveté, because if you know what I know now about the cannabis industry, I would have definitely thought more than twice about it. I think my biggest concern at that time was wow, this seems like this might be a steeper learning curve than I thought.
It still felt like there was this edgy gray area. I think it took HelloMD getting into the position of being successful as a business for me to realize I’m not alone here. I’m hearing the same thing back from thousands of people.
DM: How did you pull your team together?
PH: Due to our history as entrepreneurs in the tech industry, the tech platform was, more or less, the easy part. The harder part was finding an executive team at that time — in 2014, it wasn’t easy to recruit high-quality players within the cannabis industry who understood a tech play. We were one of the first pure technology plays in the cannabis industry at that time; we were more or less a Silicon Valley startup.
The team grew organically, but the interesting part is, most of the team that we brought on at that time wouldn’t list on LinkedIn that they worked for us. It’s like being the old broken toy at the bottom of the toy box. And then suddenly in 2018, we’re like the shiny new toy. It’s a very weird experience.
DM: Now that several states, including California, have shifted into legal cannabis marketplaces for anyone over 21, how do you speak to people about the difference between medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis?
PH: I think of California as one of the most progressive anomalies in the world. Now that we are more or less a global company moving into emerging medical markets, I would say that California, and even Canada, are anomalies that we may not see repeated for quite some time.
Most of the emerging markets, I believe, are going to be maintaining a position more heavily on the medical side on a global level. But in terms of the difference between adult use and medical, I think that the way that we have labeled this plant is erroneous because it’s not that black and white.
It’s not that it’s just medical use or just adult use. It’s sort of a fluid spectrum. A lot of people who start out on the medical side realize that it relaxes them, and once they become comfortable with consumption, they might use cannabis on a Friday night to relax. Does that make them adult use, or are they medical? Maybe they’re somewhere in between.
We’ve been pushed into labels. What I love about cannabis is that it’s taught me about the way I perceive things in life. The labeling has been put on us by regulators, and people who don’t necessarily understand the use of the plant. That’s not to blame, but we’ve adopted the terminology as if that’s the way it is — and I don’t think it is the way it is.
DM: Obviously, you’re focused on the business. Is there any time left for advocacy work on cannabis reform?
PH: The goal has always been to have HelloMD to be the number-one resource for cannabis health questions and concerns. We’ve expanded into Canada, we’re opening up in South Africa, we’ve got our sights set on the U.K. and others. And we obviously still care about the United States, because that’s where we live, but we think about it more on a global level.
Our biggest mission is to onboard millions of new patients and consumers onto our platform for the purpose of education. If we create digestible cannabis education, we’re going to be able to change people’s perceptions who aren’t necessarily cannabis-friendly, and we’re going to educate people who are coming towards cannabis. I think it’s only through education that we’ll be able to create true reform.
DM: What’s surprised you most about the cannabis space?
PH: The thing that I find most surprising is how quickly things have changed, but also my perspective has changed from being focused on the California market. All of a sudden, you realize what a global movement is occurring right now; it’s unfolding in front of us.
France just announced that they’re going to have a two-year medical marijuana program. If you had said that a year ago, people would’ve said absolutely no way, France is way too conservative. And it’s going to be moving into Asia next.
I find what’s going on in Canada absolutely fascinating, and how the licensed producers are moving around the globe with such enormous amounts of money. This is an enormous, big industry that’s exploding.
DM: One of the things that is happening is the push towards CBD being touted as a sort of cure-all. How do you see the role of HelloMD as an educator on the CBD boom?
PH: CBD transformed my life, but I’m always very cautious when I talk about CBD or cannabis in general to say that [CBD is a cure-all]. I’m always cautious to say that I don’t stand behind the notion that cannabis is a silver bullet.
Cannabis is a very complex plant, and CBD in and of itself is complex. There are so many potential therapeutic benefits that it may hold. One of the things about CBD that I find remarkable is that you have to take it for some time to actually feel the benefits. It builds up in your system.
I’ve learned since I started this business, that most people are not willing to do that. People want to be given something that’s going to solve all of their problems — but you really do have to come to the table and be willing to try, to experiment, and fail and try again. Like with so many other things in life. Cannabis to me is a tool within your wellness toolkit to be used towards general health that can really propel you forward, but it’s not necessarily the one thing that’s going to change your life.
DM: On the note of integrative medicine: much of the conversation is shifting towards therapeutic psychedelics at the moment. Would you be willing to include them on the HelloMD platform someday?
PH: I think therapeutic psychedelics are the next frontier. They’re extraordinarily powerful. In terms of HelloMD’s involvement with psychedelics, we have our hands full with cannabis. I’m a huge supporter of MAPS and Rick Doblin, and where psychedelics are going, and I believe in 2020 that there will be expanded access clinics throughout the United States for MDMA and possibly psilocybin — that’s what I’ve been told. I think that it’s going to be another sort of cataclysmic shift in people’s perceptions and assumptions.
DM: The need for education about not only cannabis but therapeutic psychedelics, is growing.
PH: There’s a tipping point, as with everything in life, and I think that we’re not at the tipping point with psychedelics — we’re at the point where awareness is coming to the fore. I think the tipping point with cannabis has happened. Are you familiar with Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm?”
DM: I am not.
PH: It’s a book that came out in the ’90s. The point with “Crossing the Chasm” is, with every new technology there’s a point of early adoption, and then you have this chasm of problems that need to be solved. And until those problems are solved, you’re not going to have mainstream adoption.
I think cannabis is at that point [of early adoption], and for us to cross the chasm and get to the point where we have everyone adopting it, we have to solve the problem of education, which is where HelloMD squarely sits: right in that educational sweet spot, being able to help people along on that journey.
DM: One of the things that people worry about is the fear of incarceration, or losing their children, when it comes to using cannabis, even legally. Could you address breaking the stigma around cannabis use and parenting?
PH: I can speak from the first person in terms of cannabis and being a parent. I had to make a decision whether I was going to have both feet in the cannabis industry and be “out.”
At that time, there were so many people that were being made an example of, that I was incredibly concerned. Over time, it becomes a part of who you are. Cannabis has allowed me to accept who I am as a person and be much more forward and empowered about my ideas and opinions, and not hide behind anything — because I can’t, really.
That’s translated into me having a very honest conversation with my children about cannabis, and drug use in general. I can’t say that my kids are any different than any other person’s kids. I can only say that we are very clear about what we do for work and why we do it, but also that it’s not appropriate for kids at their age to be consuming.
In terms of incarceration and social justice, there are still many people serving life sentences and behind bars today. It’s disgusting. If we are going to move forward as a nation and have cannabis legalization continuing to move forward state-by-state, the records of those people that are incarcerated should be expunged.
DM: Could you tell us more about your routine with CBD and THC consumption, and why microdosing is especially important to you?
PH: Larger doses of THC have never worked for me. I learned early on in terms of managing my medical condition that higher doses of CBD sublingually with a tincture worked well. So, I take a 20:1 tincture, 20 parts CBD to one part THC, twice a day, usually between 20 and 30 milligrams. My tincture of choice is Rosette, which I think is really great. It provides a noticeable effect for me. Everyone’s different, of course. At night I’ll typically take 2.5 milligrams of THC because I feel like it really helps me get a good night’s sleep.
I’m about to go hike the John Muir Trail, which takes 21 days, and my routine will change a little bit based on my physical activity. I plan to microdose THC throughout the day, maybe one milligram of THC every hour, if that. When I microdose, it helps to manage muscular pain that I might be feeling or lower back pain. I’ll be taking my regular amounts of CBD, and I’ll microdose the Atlas Edibles beverage powdered drink through my Camelbak. That contains 10 milligrams of CBD and four milligrams of THC.
DM: Can you leave us with any news about what’s coming up for HelloMD?
PH: We’re super excited. We started a new series called “Ask A Doctor,” where our chief medical officer does a series on epilepsy, or migraines, or chronic pain. This led to the development of an app that we’re about to release, which will also have a live stream, which is a game show called Hello Trivia. It’s going to be released in mid-August.
It’s essentially what we call incidental learning. We want people to come to the app, play the game, and learn about cannabis and wellness. Through that, they’ll be able to win cash prizes, and a portion of every game will go towards a charitable organization.
We’ve picked out amazing hosts who are well-versed in cannabis. Each show will last about 10 minutes and will allow people to have fun while also learning. And I like the fact that it’s transitioning us into a different type of learning. We’re going to be hitting a much more millennial crowd — 21-plus obviously, but a younger crowd.
DM: What are your hopes for 2020?
PH: I’d like to continue to see us grow and thrive on a global level. It’s important to continue to touch people’s lives in educating them on the power of cannabis. I feel like it can save lives. There’s so much misinformation out there and so many people who, whether they’re on opiates like I was, or other drugs — if they can transition to something more benign — can really improve their quality of life.
From a personal perspective, doing the John Muir Trail is a big step for me living my life. I just got my motorcycle license. So, personally, wanting to enjoy life, live it moment-to-moment and enjoy the journey — not be so goal-oriented.
DM: Good luck with the hike.
PH: Thank you. I have such a California moment coming up on Friday. My friend is a Kundalini teacher, and she’s told me, “You need to come to my house because we have to do a visualization about your happy journey.” I said, “okay, anything that helps, I’m there.”
DM: Every little bit.
PH: Yep, every little bit.