Fighting For Patients: Dr. Barry Gordon
The Chron’s Charity Service Foundation of Naples launched a new patient-centric magazine specifically focused on cannabis called Indo Wellness. The following in-depth profile of Dr. Gordon was written by Victor Espinosa and is reprinted with permission.
Dr. Barry Gordon of Venice, Florida is blessed with both knowledge and experience when it comes to emergency medicine. He is a dedicated physician with an unequaled passion for the Hippocratic oath and a desire to help those in need. As one of the founding members of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Gordon, who prefers his patients call him Dr. Barry, has been at the forefront of medical advancement and served his share of patients over many years. After retiring and moving down to Florida, Dr. Barry decided to speak up in support of Amendment 2 and eventually opened his own practice to see patients and prescribe medical cannabis based on their specific conditions. When speaking with Dr. Barry we were blown away by his extensive knowledge in all areas of medicine and marijuana. For each of our questions we received a lengthy answer full of pertinent information, which we are happy to pass on to our readers.
Doctor and Student Together
One of the first things we wanted to find out was when Dr. Barry first learned of the endocannabinoid system and what motivated his research into it. “That’s a great place to start,” he told us. “I think I came into cannabis medicine probably a little differently than most other physicians. What I’ve found is that most doctors will go into [cannabis] after a career in holistic medicine, or more of a naturalistic type of stand point. I have more of a classical background in medicine; I studied American medicine in a very classical way and worked for thirty-two years in emergency rooms and American hospitals of course, and I never learned about the endocannabinoid system. I started practicing emergency medicine in 1981, and it wasn’t until well into the 2000s that I even heard the words ‘endocannabinoid system.’ Then, later in my practice, I started to see more research that came out. I think it’s fascinating that the research which has been done shows we have the neuromuscular system, the neurovascular system, and now the endocannabinoid system. I think it was my career in emergency medicine that drove me to find an alternative for my patients which led me to research cannabis more.”
“I like to think of my background as a bit of a social scientist. You know, I’ve seen the dangers of alcohol and tobacco. I like to tell my patients that you can’t even compare the intoxication effects of alcohol to cannabis.”
Dr. Barry is far from the leading source of knowledge concerning cannabis, and he’ll be the first one to tell you. “Up at Eckerd college there’s an expert on the endocannabinoid system, he’s actually a biology professor, and I’m in personal contact with him.” Dr. Barry takes some of his staff with him to regular panels and informative sessions hosted not just by Eckerd but other colleges across the country which teach on the subject. “I really try to glean as much information as I can for my patients about the pathophysiology of what cannabis can do for certain conditions. Even though sometimes [the panels] talk more about the legal aspect, I still meet with the doctors and continue our interaction. And I’ll be honest with you, my philosophy about medicine has always been that doctors should learn something every day of their career until the last day they practice. Now that I’ve entered a new field of specialization, I’m a student again and each and every evening I get to go home and research more about cannabis.”
The Importance of Political Advocacy
For the past several months the Florida house and senate have been considering several bills that could either make or break the medical marijuana industry in Florida, and most of the support has been in favor of breaking it. Throughout the state, however, there are lawyers, patients, veterans and doctors who have some choice words for the lawmakers up in Tallahassee, and Dr. Barry is one of them. “I’m enraged, quite frankly,” Dr. Barry told us without a hint of a smile on his face. “Clearly, the legislatures are not following the will of the 71% of our population who wanted increased access to medicine.” And he’s not alone in this opinion. From all corners of our state there are groups of lawyers representing patients and doctors who have declared they are ready to sue the Department of Health and the state for not implementing Amendment 2 in a legal way. Dr. Barry agrees with that course of action.
We were candid with Dr. Barry on the subject of the numerous bills up for consideration in the House of Representatives and Senate and about how only one of those bills is in support of medical cannabis, while the others seek to keep it as regulated and criminalized as possible. We, as patients ourselves, were able to vent our frustrations, and Dr. Barry was able to give voice to his anger as well. “As you know we went up to Tallahassee and met with some people to discuss this. And it’s interesting to see that there’s lots of proponents of medical marijuana who are doing nothing but butt heads with the legislatures up there. And unfortunately, the legislatures are being influenced by [Pharmaceutical company names], all of whom hold to an old, outdated view of medicine. . I’ve had a fantastic past three months with my cannabis practice, but my worst day by far was the day the Rodriguez bill was introduced,” Dr. Barry said about the most inhibiting bill proposed thus far. The Rodriguez bill is the most damaging bill introduced, and the most favored by politicians. “Rodriguez’s bill… is complete idiocy. It scares doctors so much from being an advocate for their patients–for speaking up for their patients–that I guarantee you we’ll see doctors and patients both pull back from medical cannabis if this bill passes. The restrictions are so tight, the penalties too strict, that I know I’d have to pull back from some of the patients I advocate for. .” There was a quiet moment before Dr. Barry informed us, “The bill is literally being fashioned by the people who voted against it.” Though the news coming from Tallahassee about more restrictions on medical cannabis is downright depressing, it’s good to see a doctor as upset as patients are about this subject.
Change for Better Starts Now
One of the few issues involving cannabis that both sides of the fence seem to agree on is that more lab testing, more peer-reviewed studies, and more research in general should be a priority. While there is a vast amount of studies out there already, and no end to well documented, peer reviewed, scientific research from around the world, America specifically is currently doing almost no research on medical cannabis. Thanks to its schedule 1 listing, marijuana is labeled by our government as having no medical value, placing it below cocaine and ecstasy. “I think we really have to thank the Israelis,” Dr. Barry said. “And all the other countries who have actually put the time in and done the research. .” Israel is one nation leading the world in cannabis studies and are responsible for most of the groundbreaking research involving cannabis over the past ten years. “You know, one of the things that drives me forward is the lack of research that’s been done in this country over the past 120 years on cannabinoids versus the opioids. It’s a little frustrating.” But, Dr. Barry shared with us that even anecdotal evidence brought in by patients who use surreptitious, black market cannabis is worthy of note. “Those patients,” Dr. Barry said, “have found something that works for them, and that’s a fact which shouldn’t be ignored.”
Our conversation went further as we asked just how Dr. Barry would begin research on medical cannabis if he happened to be in charge, and we were rewarded with a thought out, multi-faceted plan. “Well, the first thing you have to keep in mind is to ‘do no harm.’ The good thing is with something like cannabis, even if a patient is on a list of medications a mile long, the drug to drug interactions, even with something like immunologics or steroids or other anti-inflammatories, is relatively low, if there is even a drug to drug interaction at all. So, from a ‘do no harm’ aspect, I think we’re already there.” Dr. Barry tried to explain, similar to when he spoke on anecdotal evidence, that people who use cannabis now and report to their doctor as usual are the cutting edge of research. They are unofficial study subjects. “I tell my patients that any benefits will far outweigh the negatives. So, if you ask me where I think the [official] research should start, I think like with most studies it should start at the specialty level. Just talking about crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in particular, I think you need your gastroenterologists who are willing to work with the sickest of people and use this kind of medicine. And it would be important for the doctors to help the patients with any apprehension on the federal government side of things. I don’t think much research will be done in the general, medical practice side of things. I think it’s important to get the specialists happy and comfortable with prescribing to their patients, and just keep lots of records on the patients while treating and monitoring them.”
Since opening his practice earlier this year, Dr. Barry has seen hundreds of patients come through his office doors. From people suffering with chronic injuries, to patients on chemotherapy, Dr. Barry and his award-winning staff make sure they can meet the needs of each and every patient they take on. Despite seeing a growing number of active patients, Dr. Barry doesn’t partner with any dispensaries in the state.
“The two local dispensaries around here are doing home delivery and we’ve been happy to send our patients there. But we don’t partner or do exclusive business with either one. I’ve spoken with medical directors from all around the state from all the dispensaries. My goal is to make sure that I have the broadest knowledge of what all the dispensaries are up to. And I want them to know who we are too, because it’s a collaborative effort. I tell my patients that I’m making my recommendations as broad as I can, so they can discuss with each individual dispensary what products are best for them. I tend to recommend two products to each patient, one in the vaporization range, and then one of the oral forms.”
Since Dr. Barry is one of the founding members of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine and served with them for several decades, we wanted to know if he could tell us their official stance on medical marijuana, if they even had one. Dr. Barry responded with a chuckle and said, “I don’t know if there’s a specific stance by the Academy, but I think in general every emergency physician feels the same: let’s go ahead and start focusing on the things that are really killing and harming people. It’s actually one of my favorite jokes to tell, really; the only cannabis related problem we have in the ER is while we’re taking care of the kid who is drunk, the other four kids are stealing all the candy bars out of my vending machine so that when it’s three in the morning there’s not a Snickers left for me. In general, cannabis related problems don’t come into the Emergency Room. You just don’t see it.” With Dr. Barry’s many years spent working in Emergency Rooms in America, we wanted to know how something like medicinal cannabis could be used to treat patients from an emergency medicine point of view.
Dr. Barry jumped right into an explanation of cannabis use for addiction recovery. “I think to a certain extent we’re seeing it used in the recovery side of things. Personally, if I ever had a family member coming out of a heroin recovery or a methamphetamine, or even an alcohol recovery, surely the option of having a medical cannabis card rather than Suboxone or Methadone or something of that nature, I know I would chose to have my family member on a medical cannabis card every time. I think surely in the recovery and addiction side of things medical cannabis can be used in emergency medicine. I think we’ll never really get to an aspect of emergency medicine where they use cannabis for acute pain, for example, or things of that nature. But perhaps someday there will be a balanced, one-to-one type of product that you can use in the ER environment instead of a Xanax or something like that.”
Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding
Before we wrapped up the interview, Dr. Barry regaled us with more unique knowledge from a medical point of view on cannabis.
“It’s very interesting that one of the things which kept cannabis out of the traditional medical world was that fact that because it was oil based it couldn’t be distilled for injection through the hypodermic needle. Before that, cannabis had always been used arm in arm with opioids through the ages. You know, the Mayans, the Aztecs, Washington and Jefferson, and on to the colonial farms.” Dr. Barry explained that when the hypodermic needle was invented several of the budding pharmaceutical companies discovered there wasn’t much money to be made in marketing cannabis to their patients anymore.
“It’s right in the state of Florida’s class. It’s actually the very first thing I learned in the [licensing class]. Chapter one was all about the fallout after the hypodermic needle was invented.”
It’s always troubling when you learn conspiracy-like stories, like this one, are all too true. Dr. Barry then went into a conversation about every factor that went into criminalizing cannabis and its subsequent downfall in America over the past 100 years. It gave further evidence to how informed and educated Dr. Barry was to the cannabis plant as a whole. As our interview came to a close, we thanked Dr. Barry for his time and for the education, and Dr. Barry was genuinely pleased he could help.
“You know, that’s really what we base our entire practice upon. Well, there’s three tenets. One is patient care, of course, that should always be number one. But second is education, of patients and physicians and the general public. And the third is advocacy. When my patients walk through the door I tell them that we’re going to be the best at patient care, that we’ll educate everybody, and that we’ll be up in Tallahassee advocating for everyone. We’re comfortable that we’ve fulfilled all three missions since we opened up on January 3rd. We want to be known as the ones who are doing things properly out there.”
Though Dr. Barry has seen hundreds of patients since opening his doors in January, he still takes new patients each week and shows no signs of stopping. Florida is a large state and we at Indo Wellness Magazine are hoping to provide specific recommendations for our readers in each area of the state. That said, if you are looking for a doctor who is a specialist in medical cannabis and you live in central Florida or on the west side of the state, then we highly recommend Dr. Barry Gordon. You could certainly see someone worse, but you might not find anyone better.