Q&A: Peninsula Wellness offering new treatments

Anthony Darby, CEO of Peninsula Wellness, inside his new wellness center on Mount Hermon Road in Salisbury.

Anthony Darby began his medical cannabis career in 2015 when he and four friends set out to introduce medical cannabis to the Salisbury community.

As the first and largest dispensary on the Eastern Shore, Darby and his team aimed to change the face of the industry and provide alternative medicine to patients who could benefit from safe access to quality cannabis.

As the CEO of Peninsula Alternative Health, Darby helped lead the launch of the dispensary, and now currently oversees all facets of the business including daily operations, vendor and community relations, and managing the dispensary team.

In 2017, the Peninsula Alternative Health team launched Peninsula Holistics. Established to fill a product gap in the emerging market of hemp-based cannabinoid medicine, Darby worked to bring quality-controlled, lab-tested Full Spectrum Hemp Extract Tincture to market.

In his role, Darby leads product innovation, wholesaler relationships and consumer-facing education.

Bringing the businesses of Peninsula Alternative Health and Peninsula Holistics together, Darby now leads the Peninsula Wellness campus, which opened over the summer and focuses on deploying holistic practices to improve vitality throughout the community.

Darby earned a bachelor’s degree at Salisbury University, is a member of the Greater Salisbury Committee and has served on the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

He is the father of three daughters — each of whom is named after a U.S. president — and lives in Salisbury.

Q. Peninsula Wellness has been an obvious success. You’ve expanded and you’ve taught a lot of us in the community about the products you sell and what they can do for people.

A. It was in our DNA to have a medical focus and to do this the right way. I think that a lot of our success has been that we were able to really keep to that and I think a lot of people, like yourself, who were naysayers — or at least skeptical of what this may be — have seen other states and how they’ve done it.

There was a lot of ambiguity around what this was going to look like, but I’m really happy with the product we put out there.

I think the fact that our patient base is continually growing to where we now we have a new facility that better reflects this atmosphere that we were trying to create for our patients.

In a lot of ways I do feel validated that the model that we put out there is here to stay, and you know people could use a benefit that we are here as an asset to the community.

Q. How is your business structured?

A. There’s kind of two businesses. Medical cannabis is still fairly legal and that means we’re able to operate legally within the state of Maryland, but we’re not allowed to do any interstate commerce — and banks and other institutions really aren’t able to work with us.

So, we still have Peninsula Alternative Health, which just dispenses medical cannabis.

In this model of improving quality health outcomes and looking at what we needed to do in community-based medicine, we couldn’t just do it with THC — which is the main chemical component in medical marijuana and medical cannabis — so we realized after about 12 months of surveying our patients and collecting the data and taking it back and saying “OK, these guys need mental health professionals, these guys need dietary professionals and nutritional professionals, they need to be exercising more, they need a lot more than just what we can provide them in this little building on Snow Hill Road, and that really was the beginning of Peninsula Wellness out of Peninsula Alternative Health.

That’s not an easy feat.

Because we still are a medical cannabis dispensary, there were a lot of places that did not want to be home to us. They didn’t want to allow us to be either their neighbors or co-tenants in their building.

Bridgett Perry, left, and Andi Whiteford, product consultants at Peninsula Wellness, wait on a client inside the new wellness center on Mount Hermon Road in Salisbury.

We had a lot of folks come together to help us make this work, but we were able to locate a building that would allow us to bring this campus model to life.

So I looked at things like Mayo Clinic or Cancer Treatment Centers of America, where they said — just in a similar fashion — our patients need more than what we can give them and it’s a burden to send these folks to 10 different places, so it would be great if we can bring everything to one central location.

In medicine, a lot of times the right hand doesn’t talk to the left and a lot of concerns that physicians have and both patients are “how is what I’m doing at your facility going to interact with my overall health care; I want to be open and honest with my doctor.”

Some doctors don’t want to hear it, some doctors are more than open to hear it, but what we can do now is provide health care providers that are all here for it.

They’re all open to hear it and they’re open to work with us and physical therapist and maybe a counselor and a dietitian, so that we can reduce the weight, lower the inflammation, get them active, and give them cannabis to help them sleep better at night and be pain free, like that’s a win for us.

Just taking care of the one pain part and then having them come in with more and more pain, and giving them more and more cannabis — that’s not what we were set out to do and that’s not going to be effective for any patients.

Q. We hear a lot about people becoming addicted to pain killers because of simple events.

A. I graduated high school in 2000. Oxys came out right around then.

My life is going to Facebook and once every two months seeing that someone from high school has died of an overdose.

That’s just the reality that I live in.

We have a partner who’s a pharmacist who worked (in Salisbury) when a local doctor was just handing out opioids. It’s still happening.

This is anecdotal, but it’s my truthful story: I had a kidney stone and went to the hospital. I was in pain, but the very first option was fentanyl. That can’t be the tool in our arsenal that we’re using as a first try.

What I’m trying to explain to the patients who come to us is: “Look, this is just a tool.” Medical cannabis is just a tool. Therapy is a tool. Exercise is a tool.

These are all tools in your arsenal that you can use to fight what’s ailing you.

We have folks who come to us with 13 prescriptions, who have high blood pressure and are taking three different blood pressure prescriptions.

Typically, they’re either dizzy or they have a side effect. So much of what we do (at Peninsula Wellness) is prescription review. I don’t think there’s any malice out there, but back to the cardiologist not talking to the primary care physician, who’s not talking to the insurance company, who didn’t approve the one but approved the other.

Some of the cannabis products available at Peninsula Wellness on Mount Hermon Road in Salisbury. From left, vape cartridge, troches THC (gummies), elixir Dixie (drinks) and white cream flower (bud).

We live in a subsidized medicine world where a lot of our patients who are in the lower socioeconomic bracket, quite frankly, don’t pay a lot for their prescriptions. In my mind, what that has led to is a lack of questioning of “what prescriptions am I taking?”

If they were charged $100 per prescription, they may ask “Do I really need three blood pressure medications?”

But when you’re paying $3 to $5 a month, the questions don’t get asked as much.

You have high blood pressure, so you take these three pills and your blood pressure goes down, and the doctor shakes your hand and says “great job” — but every morning you still wake up dizzy. You feel lethargic and the side effects aren’t necessarily getting measured.

So, for us, it’s really more about a holistic approach of really measuring everything and understanding goal-based outcomes.

You can picture this: Patients come in and someone’s got a prescription list of 13 (medicines).

And maybe they have like a 2-liter Pepsi with them and a bag of Doritos. They ask, “Which strain is going to make me feel better? I want all my problems to go away and, by the way, I’ve been to every doctor on the Eastern Shore, I’ve talked to every medical professional out there — no one can help me feel any better in my life. I want to know which strain is going to work here.”

And I’m just like, “That is not how this works.” We have to do some expectation setting.

Q. What about people who think they know all about cannabis, but maybe don’t?

A. You know, there are patients who come to us who have a long history of (using) medical cannabis — or a long history of cannabis use.

It wasn’t medical cannabis, it was just illegal cannabis. And those folks a lot of times are not seeking a ton of direction, and I don’t want to discredit those patients. They’re very important to us but we don’t need to cater to them. They’re seasoned veterans.

It’s like a nurse coming to the pharmacy, she knows the prescriptions better, she’s very familiar with the product.

The folks who come in, the first admission they make is “I feel so bad I took my son’s weed when he was a kid and made him flush it down the toilet …. and now I’m in your dispensary and I feel horrible about myself.”

I’m like. “Alright, just stop there — this is a different environment. This isn’t your son’s bag of weed that he got from some guy off the street.”

We’re probably not going to offer you flower. You’re probably going to walk out of here with a tablet or something to be put under your tongue or something to add to a drink.

No one that comes into our dispensary who is not asking for flower or isn’t looking to go to the rawest form of marijuana, is going to get that.

We’re past that. This is 2020 now. I have 12-to-1 ratios of different cannabinoids and 16-to-1 ratios of different cannabinoids, and a lot more tools in our arsenal to address problems.

I use the fancy word “cannabinoid-based medicine,” but like that’s where we’re at. We’re into the science at this point.

I’m not just like throwing old hippie nomenclature and trying to do that. We’re using terpenes, we’re using cannabinoids, flavonoids, all these different chemical compounds and how we can manipulate them in a safe way to create more products that are in line with what a physician would feel comfortable recommending.

And that’s where I find myself, my biggest challenge — and what I’m still setting out to do and why I’m investing everything we have into this campus — is because I want the TidalHealths of the world.

I want the hospitals to recognize that we are a medical specialty, just like a chiropractor, just like these other modalities and providers that provide a service — like that’s us.

Q. I actually thought this was like a giant, pretend Broadway play with the only intention was to get legal marijuana to people.

A. Sometimes the optics of what we do — for instance the lines (of patients coming to the building) and stuff, I mean it’s not always preventable .

Other types of medical providers out there who have lines out the door get bad reputations, but you know with Covid-19 and things like that social distancing, some of those things are unpreventable — and it isn’t always the best look.

We’re trying to take a lot of measures in our new building to try to improve the optics to make it so it doesn’t seem like some kind of a clinic, where people are lined up out the door to just get their fix for the day.

I need to build a medical model and a sustainable model where I actually have a patient base, and that I’m changing these health outcomes so that they come back.

If all I do is give people a new habit, and all they do is spend more money at my dispensary than they spend on cigarettes or booze somewhere else, that’s not a sustainable business model to me.

We really have to do these health outcomes and that’s why I needed to provide these services.

A common scenario is that someone comes to us and they have muscle and back pain and that muscle and back pain is causing them pain all day and stress, because they can’t do what they need to do and then that pain and stress is not allowing them to sleep.

We mask the pain in the evening with THCs and they get a good night sleep and they wake up well-rested and then they’re less stressed.

Then they finally have more time and then they finally can go for a walk and go to that physical therapy appointment.

And then they have the success story — and all the cannabis did really in that play was allow them to get the sleep that they needed and a lot of them feel a little bit more rested.

I mean, it’s amazing how many people who come to us and they just need to sleep. They just need rest like they just need something for stress. It’s a better tool than what they’re using.

Maybe using nothing at all in their mind was the best tool for them, but it wasn’t handling their stress like they needed.

I just think allowing them to understand that there’s other avenues out there, it doesn’t necessarily have to be like either alcohol wasn’t a good tool for you for one reason or another you can’t anything else ever again. I don’t necessarily know that’s the best philosophy.

Or you can only use these white little pills because they were given to you by somebody in a white coat, but we know that those white pills are oftentimes chemically modified substances that you’re arresting people on the street for.

I mean, Adderall is meth, Oxys are heroin — these are chemically factual things that we as a society need to understand.

If we’re micro-dosing — which is a fancy way of saying small doses — methamphetamines to our children, then how are we not willing to look at how we can micro-dose this cannabis to stop that child from having seizures.

I can’t imagine living in a state that didn’t have access to a medicine that my child could benefit from.

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