Pennsylvania is not often considered a progressive state, but the medical cannabis program is regarded as one of the best state programs in the country by many industry insiders. Patient and physician friendly, it may be the best example of a major holistic wave moving through Western Medicine.

Defining Medicine

Since the 1960s, there has been a growing movement towards more natural, holistic, and integrative ways of health and healing. The focus has been on nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle changes with lots of Eastern philosophies included. The movement tried on a variety of names in its evolution. Basically, this was the “everything but traditional medicine” crowd and some groups hardened into an “everything but pharmaceuticals” movement.

In the 1990s, “alternative medicine” was a popular term until “complementary medicine” became vogue. Traditional medicine and new evolving beliefs and therapies could coexist. According to advocates, they were not mutually exclusive. But “complementary” connoted that traditional medicine was still in charge. “Integrative medicine” became popular in the 2000s and perhaps is the most accurate term, as the traditional and nontraditional coexist with equal importance. “Functional medicine” has become a popular term, as it incorporates nutrition, lifestyle, and the hard science of traditional medicine and seeks to treat the cause of illness rather than only the symptoms.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll include all these definitions under the term “holistic medicine”, which is defined as “regarding the whole.” Whatever is the most practical, is the most natural, has the least side effects, and seeks to treat the cause, not just symptoms can be defined as “holistic.”

Since 1994, I have interviewed the top professionals in this holistic movement, and there is mutual agreement among both sides that a clear dividing line can be drawn between traditional and holistic medicine. That dividing line is simply this: Traditional medical professionals give the orders that the patient is expected to obey. These doctors are given special training in “compliance” which means “how to get your patients to obey.”

Holistic healers, on the other hand, believe each person is the captain of one’s own ship. They understand that it is usually wise to listen to a doctor’s advice, and, if it seems reasonable, go along with it. But if any part of one’s being disagrees, that person should cuss, fuss, object, question, get second or more opinions, do research, and, in all ways, be a major pain in the ass to his physicians.

These people are the captains of their own ship, and they dislike anyone questioning their authority.

Many people, especially many traditional medical professionals, find this attitude … well, um, challenging. Those involved in the growing medical cannabis industry find this attitude refreshing and key to the success and sustainability of the entire industry.

The Solevo Wellness Way

Consider what Solevo Wellness Pharmacy Director Richard Greer said during a recent podcast. “People are always fascinated whenever I explain to them and try to make it very clear and very transparent that they are the ones in control of this therapy. We don’t operate on a true prescription basis. We don’t say, ‘Hey take this 5 mg capsule twice a day. We’ll see you in a month. Don’t ask any questions.’”

The policy at Solevo Wellness is that every first-time visitor sits down with a pharmacist to ensure the patient fully understands the process. “I’m a pharmacist, and I’m not here to trash traditional medicine, but at the same time, my role here at Solevo is to rework that thought process. It’s a lot about patient engagement. We can give you the information, we can make certain suggestions, we can even make certain predictions of how things will work for you, but the bottom line is that the patient is very much the one driving their ship. It’s their responsibility to pay attention to what they are trying from us from a medical marijuana standpoint, what relief it is bringing them, and I typically tell people it is 100 percent about relief.”

Greer believes that cannabis patients are more open, in general, to other alternative or holistic modalities and practices. While he may talk about diet or other lifestyle issues with clients in the course of their conversation, he emphasized, “Sometimes it’s a struggle because we are a medical marijuana dispensary. We are not a nutritionist. We are not a health club. So it’s almost like we are just part of the equation.”

That attitude of being just part of the equation, a partner or helper, is very much a component of the holistic way. This is the attitude Greer seeks to inspire in his patients. “We are on this journey with them. It’s not like a one and done. You don’t get one consultation and then ‘Just go figure it out on your own.’ A big part of our job is to help you figure things out, not just with marijuana, but with overall health.”

Healing Holistically

Mike Butler, Pharmacy Director for The Healing Center (THC), a medical cannabis dispensary with locations in Washington and Monroeville, PA, expressed much the same sentiment during a panel discussion for the Mind Body Spirit Healing Expo. The topic of the discussion was “Integrating Medical Cannabis and Holistic Medicine.”

“One of the fundamental topics that we talk about is helping patients take control of their own health,” said Butler. The policy of THC is that every first-time patient sit down with one of the medical professionals—a pharmacist, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. “One of the things that we stress,” said Butler, “is that unlike traditional medicine where generally we would say, ‘Take this drug, take this many milligrams, this many times a day for this many days, and this is what’s going to happen.’ As the patient, you don’t have to worry about that. You don’t have to go home and look it up. You don’t have to talk to your friends and family about what their experience was with that medicine. The doctor said to take it, so you go home and take it.”

“That is not the approach that we like to take,” said Butler. “We tell everyone that this is very different and that you are the one who is in control of your dosage. The doctor did not write you a prescription for this. We give them guidance on how to start at a very low dose and very slowly come up into what we call the therapeutic range, where we see a response. At that point, it’s their responsibility to evaluate that as a positive or negative response.”

Butler emphasized the point. “The number one thing that we do is we try to enforce that idea, that you are taking a big step towards overseeing your own healthcare. That really is one of the fundamentals of the holistic approach to medicine.”

Integration Statewide

This holistic attitude seems to permeate the industry in Pennsylvania. With 25 grower/processor permits and 50 dispensary permits now awarded, (with each dispensary able to open three locations), a pace is being set for success and sustainability. To date, over 100,000 patients and 1,000 physicians have signed up for the program. Most importantly, the supply of medical cannabis is expected to keep pace with demand despite some early hiccups.

Happily, the movement toward a holistic approach is strong across the state. Many dispensaries have even included the word “integrative,” “holistic,” “organic,” “healing,” or “wellness” in their company name. Many make it the foundation of how they operate. In future issues, we’ll talk with them to discover which of the fundamentals of holistic medicine form the core of their medical philosophies.

To hear the complete interview with Richard Greer of Solevo Wellness, visit

The complete interview with Mike Butler of The Healing Center starts about 31:30 of the podcast at