Helping Texans access the benefits of medical cannabis is an important goal for Surterra Texas, one of the state’s vertically integrated medical cannabis licensees, and the company has made strides lately with its efforts to bring telehealth services and cannabis-infused lozenges to the state’s patient base.
Texas’ massive size, as well as its requirement that doctors in the medical cannabis program be board-certified specialists, make it challenging for patients to find and visit a physician who can prescribe medical cannabis, according to Surterra Texas President Marcus Ruark.
This led the company to partner with Heally to bring telehealth services to patients across the state to help them see a doctor and potentially get a prescription for medical cannabis from the comfort of their own homes.
“Obviously, that’s very helpful in a large state like Texas, but it’s also helpful in these COVID times,” Ruark tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “Anything we can do to make things easier for patients is a win for Texas.”
The telehealth services have been well-received by both patients and doctors, he adds, and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which regulates the state’s medical cannabis program, has been very supportive of telemedicine.
Surterra Texas’ efforts to expand patient access don’t stop there—the company recently launched a new product line of cannabis-infused lozenges, the first non-tincture form of medical cannabis in the state.
The lozenges, part of Surterra’s Relief product line, also represent the company’s first THC-dominant medical cannabis products, Ruark adds, featuring a 1:9 ratio of CBD to THC.
The typical concentrations of tinctures in the state have been high in CBD, he says, such as a 19:1 CBD to THC product, as well as more balanced ratios of 4:1 CBD to THC or equal ratios of 1:1 CBD to THC.
“Access to THC-dominant medication can be very helpful for certain patient groups—patients with cancer or patients who are experiencing pain from some of their approved and treatable conditions,” Ruark says. “This is a very helpful ratio for them.”
To support the production of the lozenges, Surterra Texas has expanded its production space and equipment, and has also hired additional staff.
“We’re fortunate that the program is expanding, the patient base is increasing, and we are able to grow and hire,” Ruark says.
One of the company’s goals is to provide patients with a diverse set of product offerings, he adds, so patients can find a formula and delivery method that works for them.
“One of the things about medical cannabis is it can be fairly personalized, and each person, each patient, can find a different ratio or a different way to consume medical cannabis than someone else,” Ruark says.
Evolving with an Expanding Market
Texas launched its medical cannabis program in 2015, with the first sales taking place in 2018. At first, the only treatable condition was intractable epilepsy, but in 2019, the legislature significantly expanded the list of qualifying conditions. Ruark estimates that roughly 2 million Texans are now eligible for medical cannabis under the current set of treatable conditions.
The Texas Legislature meets every two years and kicks off its new legislative session in 2021, and Ruark says additional expansion of the medical cannabis program is possible next year.
Earlier this month, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said he would like to see the program expand, as reported by KXAN.
“I would certainly expand medical marijuana,” he said, according to the news outlet. “If it’ll help somebody, I’m for it. Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care. If it’s a cure, if it [alleviates] pain, we should be able to use that.”
Surterra Texas, as well as other medical cannabis licensees in the state, have conducted polling to gauge public perspectives on the medical cannabis program, Ruark says, and those results have also shown support for expansion.
“I think Texans are wanting this and the state is doing a great job of expanding the program every two years, learning from what other states are doing, and providing a state-regulated and state-licensed program that’s bringing medical cannabis across the state,” he says.
As the program continues to expand, Surterra Texas is focusing on cannabis education and awareness for both patients and doctors to educate them not only on the company’s specific product offerings, but also medical cannabis in general.
“One of the really great things about this industry is … the degree to which we’re always learning, and the science and the benefits are always improving,” Ruark says.
Looking ahead, Surterra Texas plans to continue bringing new product categories to the market as it focuses on the overall expansion of both the company and the program.
“In terms of our future, I do think it’s all about expansion,” Ruark says. “It’s about providing more patients with access, providing more education to patients and doctors, and working with the state and legislators to increase the number of patients who can access the medicine across the state."