In a renovated building on the hipster fringes of LA's Skid Row, the pot doctor is open for consultation.
At ten in the morning an alarm is chime chime chiming from a laptop in one of two soundproofed cubicles built into the center section of this rectangular thousand-square-foot loft, which also includes a kitchen, a living room area, and the curtained-off bedroom where the pot doctor sleeps. The queue of patients is already full, a virtual line running out the door, into the distressed white marble hallway—a forty-three-year-old mom with panic disorder; a fifty-nine-year-old man with back pain; a thirty-three-year-old clerk with chronic knee pain; a college kid who has trouble getting to sleep at night.
Most of the patients are referrals from an online marijuana delivery service, Eaze, that operates in ninety-some locations around the Golden State. Check the website, order up. Your weed, hash oil, or edibles will be delivered to your door, usually within a half-hour.
But first—at least until pot is legalized in California for recreational use—you need a Medical Marijuana Identification card (MMID).
That's where the pot doc comes in.
Chime chime chime
Don Davidson flicks a key on his laptop and the face of his first patient appears large on his screen.
"Nice to meet you!" he says into built-in microphone, upbeat and professional, a little bit amped, moving through his practiced patter at a fair clip.
A graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmon, Davidson is thirty-one. He would rather be known by something more dignified than pot doc, something like cannabis doctor, or marijuana MD, but generally, that's what people say: I need to see the pot doc. Someday, he hopes, he'll be serving people's medicard needs in every state in the nation—and selling him his complete line of Dr. D Products.
At the moment, Davidson is the lead physician for EazeMD, a California-based on-demand telemedicine service that pairs licensed physicians with California patients seeking access to medical marijuana. Eaze makes no money from the referral, but approved patients gain immediate access to delivery. By the end of the usual twelve-hour workday, the pot doc and his rotating crew of part-time MDs—working from their own private offices across the state—have recommended cannabis to dozens of patients, who pay the doctors $40 each for their one-year certification, recognized at all dispensaries across the state ($30 for the consultation, $10 for the actual certificate, which is mailed to the patient's home).
As recently as three years ago, a California MMID required a visit to a brick-and-mortar doctor's office. The settings tended to be a bit tawdry; you got the feeling the physicians were on their last hurrah. In some offices, there wasn't even an actual doctor. You sat down at a computer screen in an empty room and waited for one to appear. A medicard was likely to cost $150 or more. And of course you had to go in person.
EazeMD is now in its second year; it is reportedly the largest telemedicine service for pot referrals operating at the moment in California. The queue is busy seven days a week, 10 am until 10 pm. Sixty patients by 3 pm is standard, Davidson says. After 4 pm, happy hour begins and the number of patients ramps up; it usually stays busy until closing time.
At six foot two and two hundred pounds, the young doctor more than fills his cubicle, which feels a little more expansive thanks to the wall of grimy windows that looks out into the windows of the other lofts around the center courtyard.
A former Division I college tennis player, Davidson is dressed in a skinny Hugo Boss tie and a Hugo Boss dress shirt that shows off a CrossFit-carved physique. His paleo breakfast—hard-boiled egg and avocado—is half-eaten on a paper plate atop the glass desk. Once in a great while, if he's running late, he will forgo the dress pants and Varvatos lace-ups and work in boxer shorts and flip-flops. To his patients he's just a smiling image on a computer screen or smartphone, on a secure version of Skype—a friendly thumbnail with blue eyes and a blondish faux-hawk.
"My name is Dr. Davidson," he says, "and this is a laidback visit, nothing to worry about. Let me run through your chart."
Don Davidson, MD, is one of a new generation of physicians who see therapeutic value in pot. He is equally an entrepreneur who sees the economic muscle his medical license brings to the biggest growth industry in the nation—valued in 2016, according to an article in Forbes, at $7.1 billion, a 26 percent rise over the previous year. Davidson, who declined to reveal his current income, has recently struck a deal with a group of investors that will bring him closer to one of his future goals—a brand of marijuana products of his own.
The son of an orthopedist and a successful catalog model named Kathy Loghry, Davidson grew up on the west side of Richmond, Virginia. While attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia—a pre-med student with a modest record of victories as a member of the varsity tennis team—he got his first taste of business success when he helped his older brother start a fresh-baked cookie company on campus. It has since grown into a franchise.
Like many of the munched-out students who were ordering up Campus Cookies, Davidson did, indeed, inhale during his college years and beyond. "I didn't go out and party that much," he says. "I had a 3.9. I studied, worked hard, played sports. And then I smoked some pot on the side. A little cannabis didn't hurt. And it didn't turn me into a leprechaun. It was healthier than drinking, that's for sure."
The summer after his first year of medical school, Davidson started an outfit that led kayaking trips on the Chesapeake Bay. Later, while doing research at the University of Arizona, he opened a web-based date-coaching and lifestyle design service, Dr. D Lifestyle.
"It was just like Hitch," he says, referencing the Will Smith movie about a professional date doctor. "We did everything from self-confidence building to fashion help to programs for working out—all men's lifestyle stuff. How to cook better, what to wear, what to say, where to go. I even had one client fly me to Malaysia. It was going really well."
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Meanwhile, Davidson says, while studying ventilator-associated pneumonia prevention in the emergency room, he began reading with interest about the sweeping changes that have been remaking the medical and recreational marijuana industries.
"I just saw the writing on the wall, dude," Davidson says with a sly laugh.
"The peer-reviewed papers are fascinating. The science behind this stuff is crazy exciting in a lot of different ways. You've got people using pot instead of taking ibuprofen every day. Or instead of using sleeping pills. Some people are using a high-dose regimen of CBD-rich oils (also called cannabidiol, the pain-relieving ingredient in marijuana) as an adjuvant when battling cancer (as an agent that helps to make their primary treatment work better). Or they're using high CBD oil for seizures. Or they're using it to help suppress Crohn's disease.
"What it comes down to is this: Would you rather have them try a cannabis tincture, three or four drops under their tongue every few hours for pain, appetite or sleep? Or would you rather give them Celebrex, Wellbutrin or Xanax?"
At ten in the evening Davidson closes his laptop; the chime chime chiming comes to an end. While his tie is still straight, his dress shirt has wilted in the late September heat; his faux-hawk has devolved into a more wind-tossed look. On his desk there is an empty yogurt container, a healthy energy drink, and a few last uneaten chicken nuggets he'd baked for himself in between calls—he hasn't been outside his loft since last night.
All of the consultations with patients are protected by the usual doctor/patient privilege—Davidson can tell me only in general terms who he treated for what. Typically, he spends five to ten minutes with each, discussing general health, specific symptoms, and the advantages of one type of marijuana-based therapy over another. In some cases, Davidson will follow up with links or informational PDFs. Often, he encourages a patient to contact him at a later date with further questions or results.
Over the course of the day, some patients logged in from laptops in dorms, or from desktops in kitchens or offices. Others were on smartphones—one was even driving his car; Davidson insisted he pulled over before continuing. Among the patients, who ranged in age from about nineteen to seventy-eight on this day, a majority complained of migraines, anxiety, pain, inability to sleep. There was a cancer patient; the marijuana helped with her appetite. Complaints of body dysmorphia, lower back pain, and post-traumatic stress were also listed.
In his time in front of the laptop camera, Davidson says, what has struck him most about his patients is their general "distrust of Western medicine, of Big Pharma. They will do anything they can first before they take any sorts of pills. It's not just the people who believe in the healing powers of crystals. These are people who have seen what medicinal drugs can do. They've seen friends get addicted to opiates after a surgery. They've seen people like Prince, like Rush Limbaugh—there's an opioid epidemic ripping through America. If we could have a little cannabis in everyone's cabinet instead of a bunch of pills, I think we would be better off."
When he first dipped into cannabis, Davidson says, he didn't anticipate running an entire operation, or working twelve hours a day. For the last year, since he took over, he's been going seven days a week. The track lights shining down from the high ceiling make deep hollows of his eyes. He hasn't been exercising enough lately. He doesn't get out as much as he should.
But he knows a bonanza when he sees it. He's willing to put in the time. "After doing a surgical residency, I know how to sleep on the floor, eat shit, and get yelled at," he muses. "At least now I'm working for myself."
Drifting away from his cubicle, Davidson heads toward the living room side of the space, two big sofas and a TV. His part-time admin staff—a USC-trained registered nurse with experience running dispensaries, and an IT guy who sometimes sleeps on the couch after a long day—have left for the evening.
The loft is quiet and still. The sounds of weeknight domesticity swirl around the courtyard and drift in through the open windows—music and laughter, the clatter of plates, the yapping of a small dog. On one shelf is a display of pot paraphernalia used for instructional video posts—a large vaporizer, a bong, an assortment of vape pens for hash oil. On another is a collection of health supplements—vitamins and protein powders and energy boosts.
Everywhere around the room are partially packed boxes. Things have been going well. The lease on the loft expires soon. He's planning to move his operation to a house in Malibu with a view of the ocean. Like he said: If he's going to spend all day, every day in a cubicle seeing patients via the Internet, "it might as well be one at the beach with a big window."
Davidson lowers himself onto the sofa and uncoils, loosens his tie. He looks at his watch and sighs. In barely twelve hours, it will begin again.
Chime. Chime. Chime.
He reaches for the bong.
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