Max Simon was a closeted cannabis user since he was a teenager. It wasn’t until years later, when he got into the cannabis education business, that he understood the reason he had been so drawn to it all those years was because it was helping his ADHD.
“It’s an interesting thing to realize that you’ve tried and experimented with all the ‘accepted therapies’ and they’ve been damaging,” Simon said on The Cannabis Enigma podcast, “and the one that’s been most effective and supportive has been the most demonized.”
Simon discusses how that process played out, how he found the dose and regimen that works for him, and what exactly cannabis does for him as someone with ADHD.
Today, Max Simon is the founder and CEO of Green Flower, a cannabis education company that offers training programs for employees for some of the biggest companies in the industry, online courses for people who want to work in cannabis, and programs in partnerships with 10 colleges and universities across the United States.
In this episode, Simon and host Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man discuss how to ensure that medical and adult-use patients have access to the best and latest information out there, how to get them that information in dispensaries, and the role that companies like Green Flower can play.
The Cannabis Enigma is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access. Executive producer, Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Music by Desca.
Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man: Max Simon, thank you so much for being with us.
Max Simon: Happy to be here.
MSO: Let’s start with you. I’ve heard you say in other interviews that you first experienced cannabis as a teenager at the age of 14 or 15, is that correct?
MSO: You, what I read is that you said that while you didn’t understand it at the time that you in retrospect believed that you were self-medicating your ADD. At what point did you begin to understand or start to think that cannabis was helping your ADD?
MS: Not until I started Green Flower did it really become clear to me that I’ve been self-medicating this whole time actually. I’ve been a closet cannabis consumer since my teen years and have struggled immensely with ADD my entire life and I was really never using it consistently enough and methodically enough and well-dosed enough to say it was my medicine and yet, at the same time simultaneously, I was using it consistently enough to know that it was something I was extremely drawn to and always felt like it was beneficial to me.
It really wasn’t until I started Green Flower and was doing so much research into the science and the medical efficacy and the research and everything that was happening to understand that this was not just a medicine for the world but had been my medicine all along and so I became a more methodical user, a more well-dosed user and have really continued to feel like as a result of the knowledge I’ve gained, it’s become my medicine.
MSO: We had a neurologist and cannabis researcher on the program last year who did one of the few studies on cannabis and ADD in Germany. Kirsten Muller-Vahl I believe is her name. She said something that has stuck with me ever since, which is that every psychiatrist in the world knows that there’s a comorbidity between ADD and cannabis use disorders but that she decided to take a different approach to that equation and say, “Well, maybe people who have ADD have just found that cannabis helps them.”
Were you receiving treatment of any kind for your ADD at the time or before you came to this realization? If so, what did your physician or psychiatrist think of your cannabis use if you even told them?
MS: Yeah, I mean, I’ve gone through every traditional ADD treatment that exists, I’ve gone down to the Amen’s Clinic and did three days of brain scans and I continue still to this day to be a meditator and a yoga practitioner and a spiritual practitioner and so I’ve tried everything and furthermore, as I’ve ever brought up cannabis in any of these circles, it doesn’t matter whether it was my spiritual circles or my medical circles or my ADD circles, everybody basically told me that this was detrimental and something I should stay away from and so I have gone through the route of trying all the traditional therapeutic routes of administration for ADD, which never not only didn’t help but didn’t feel good either.
I have also been warned against cannabis by all the same people and so it’s an interesting thing to realize that you’ve tried and experimented with all the “accepted therapies” and they’ve been damaging and the one that’s been most effective and supportive has been the most demonized. I find that’s why there’s such an interesting opportunity with cannabis because in so many ways, it’s not just that it’s so effective, it’s also that you have to overcome a tremendous amount of stigma and misinformation that’s still carried alongside it.
MSO: What exactly does it do for you if you can describe?
MS: Yeah, the way I describe my ADD is that from the moment I wake up, until the moment I go to bed, which is usually after a full day, 11:00 at night, it kind of feels like I’ve got five shots of espresso in my veins. It never goes away. It’s unrelenting is a way to say it and so sitting still is really difficult, doing anything that requires patience is very difficult, if you’ve ever had too much caffeine, you feel very jumpy all the time and it makes focusing on certain things really difficult. The flipside of that is that it makes focusing on things that you care about, like all encompassing.
It gives me the ability to just – I get so super focused, which can be good in some senses but then can be really challenging socially or can be really challenging from a family standpoint. For me, cannabis does a number of layers of things. It allows me to settle down, that’s one thing is it just kind of settles my system down to what I would imagine is more what normal people feel like on a day-to-day basis.
It allows me to kind of open up my consciousness in a way that makes it a lot more friendly and a lot more compassionate and a lot more connected I would say. Kind of almost a more human level or relationship and it helps me sleep, which is a big thing for ADD brain because it’s very easy to just be wired all the time.
It has this kind of trifecta of slowing the system down, socially making me more connected, helping me sleep a little deeper and feel better as a result of all those things, be able to engage in relationships in a healthier way and be able to engage in life in a healthier way.
MSO: What’s your regimen today? What kind of products, what kind of delivery methods, dosing?
MS: Yeah, I’m on a very low dose THC tincture. I take about two and a half milligrams of THC, right now as my current regimen is two and a half milligrams of THC twice a day and that’s it. On occasion, I’ll smoke a joint or something because I love that experience.
I’m mostly – I’m very therapeutic and very low dose and just THC, that’s the other thing that’s been fascinating is I think because of my brain chemistry, CBD doesn’t work for me at all. I tend to get quite agitated with CBD in my system, whether it’s with THC or not and so I have a very strange response to CBD that doesn’t seem to be very common but yeah, CBD agitates me. I just do very low dose THC tincture products twice a day.
MSO: Wow, how long did it take you to get to that regimen that works for you? How much experimenting and trial and error did you have to do?
MS: Great question, a lot. I’ve been experimenting with all the delivery methods, I’ve gone through a smoking phase, I’ve gone through a vaporization phase and I’ve gone through an edibles phase and I’ve gone through topical phase and a tincture phase and a sub-lingual phase and concentrates phase, I’ve kind of tried everything that’s been something I’ve been really intent on doing both personally and professionally, I wanted to understand all these different modalities.
It took me I would say a good year or so of experimentation to realize an oil-based whole-plant THC tincture at very low dose was the right strategy for me from a medicinal standpoint. There’s plenty of other things I loved doing just socially or recreationally or for fun that I would just say is more fun and more enjoyable but from a medicinal standpoint, which is the primary way I use cannabis, that low dose THC tincture, took me about a year of trial and error to just get to a place of recognizing, this was the best method for me.
MSO: I’m glad you found that, it’s one of the things that we hear, I hear a lot from people when I ask, what do you think people are doing wrong with cannabis and almost always, from a treatment perspective, it’s using too high of a dose. So powerful at low doses and even with like a biphasic response that it’s really interesting to hear that you’re using such a low dose.
MS: Yeah, I think it’s really – it’s a funny paradox and I think this is also where the medical adult use kind of paradigm is difficult because there’s not a lot of medicines that people love, right? It’s not like I love my medicine. In cannabis, people, myself included, you love it, you love cannabis, you love the influence of cannabis and I think there’s tremendous benefits personally, spiritually, professionally in the psychoactive components of cannabis. Yet, at the same exact time, there is a challenge that can happen when you lean too heavily on cannabis and you become kind of too connected to that psych activity at all times.
This real process of self-modulation and kind of self-awareness to make sure you’re being very intentional with how you’re using it and I’ve done better at that at times and I’ve done worse at that at times. I do feel like my current strategy of very low dose THC tincture is the most sustainable way while also recognizing that – I’ll be the first to tell you, I love to smoke a joint with my wife or enjoy some delicious hash or something like that as something to just really enjoy and appreciate but not necessarily something that I should be doing multiple times a day as a medicine.
MSO: You mentioned all the different delivery methods and doses that you went through in order to find this, how long have you been on this and do you feel confident that it will be sort of a long-term regimen for you?
MS: I’ve been on this primary strategy for a few years now. I think so, yeah, I think so. I can say that cannabis does have different levels of influence based upon your tolerance as well as your environment, as well as your life’s circumstances.
I have found that I actually am using cannabis less and less as I get older, only because I kind of have developed a better and better relationship with my ADHD whereas, I would say, before I was just kind of taken over by it and now, I’m at a place where I can see the kind of the buzziness happening at all times and I can be aware of the impulses to move as quickly as I do but also not necessarily be controlled by that.
I say that because I’ve leaned less and less and less on cannabis as I’ve gotten older to manage the thing I’m using it for primarily but still use it with consistency obviously. I would love to get to a place where I’m not having to use anything because I think that’s the ideal, your body is in a state of homeostasis without any supplements.
MSO: Of course.
MS: I’m definitely not there yet, you know? I’m not there yet. Until I’m there, I’m going to keep very gratefully using this plant that I find is an amazing experience.
MSO: Let’s jump over to Green Flower. You’ve, I believe worked in the wellness space for quite some time even before Green Flower, how did you make the decision to jump over to cannabis and why cannabis education?
MS: Yeah, before cannabis, I’ve done a number of different things but the thing that was most relatable to this was when I was with Deepak Chopra where I was with him and the Chopra center and in particular very early on in the early 2000s, right as that organization in particular was kind of hitting its stride with bringing meditation and yoga and mind-body medicine out into the world in a really big way.
Through the work that we did, I was there for about eight years, we reached hundreds of millions of people, we’ve built a really successful thriving business, we made a profound impact in the world and it was amazingly satisfying and fulfilling and I stand back today looking at how accepted meditation and yoga and mind body medicine is in the world.
It’s so common now but back then, you know, nobody knows this but it was not only not common, it was utterly rejected in most places. It was so tremendously stigmatized, it was so seen as something for just hippies out in the woods who are sitting barefooted, meditating in full lotus. It was like, all of these stereotypes existed there and I watched what happened through good education and good training and good leadership and good platform and good technology and good marketing and good products.
Could not just shift humanity but also could build really exciting businesses around and so, when I was looking for a kind of a new thing to do, the business I was in was quite frankly just too easy for me at that point and I was just kind of bored.
I mean, I was bored at what I was doing so I was really opened up to looking for what was next for me that would really challenge me. It was probably not the right motivation because cannabis has really challenged me but I got kind of a consulting gig with one of the first vape pen companies in California in 2014 and it was a consulting gig, that’s all it was but it was through that vehicle that I started looking really deeply at cannabis and just the analog between what I had done already with Chopra and what this was, was so palpable to me.
It was so real to me but the difference was that because I’ve had this long-standing relationship with cannabis, it was even more personal to me and so it was a very easy decision actually. It didn’t take me long after getting this consulting job to research cannabis, look at the state of where things were look at what I believe was going to be the development of this industry and decide that I wanted to play a really major role as an educator, as somebody that would be able to kind of bring credibility and trust into the space and so yeah, I just jumped in with kind of both feet very quickly.
I had a lot of pushback in some of my circles for sure, there were lots of people that were very confused by my move but I just felt based upon my background and my experience that this was just the perfect place for me to go next in my career.
MSO: Maybe it can just give a very short description of what Green Flower is. We’ll put a link of the show notes to anybody who wants to read more and check it out but just an overview to give context to the rest of the conversation.
MS: Yeah, Green Flower has gone through a lot of iterations in the last six plus years but where we have landed is really a leader in professional education and training in the cannabis space and so we have kind of four different lines of business that we use to further this mission of educating the world about how to succeed in cannabis. We have our Green Flower certificate programs, which exists online at our website, green-flower.com, and we have those in a number of different areas from medical to fundamentals to cultivation and are about to actually launch a whole new series of industry adopted trade certifications in cultivation manufacturing and retail.
We have that line of business, which basically helps individual people gain credentials and training in the cannabis space. We have a line of business that partners with colleges and universities and powers the curriculum that they offer through the university and so we just recently signed our 10th university partnership with Syracuse University out in New York but we’ve got nine other schools around the country from UC Riverside to St. Joseph’s University to Northern Michigan University and Northwest Missouri State University and those programs are in cannabis medicine, in the business of cannabis and cannabis agriculture and cannabis law and policy.
We kind of run the curriculum and the instructors and the training for those university programs. We have a third line of business that is now the training provider for cannabis companies and so we have a fairly large library of cannabis courses in health and safety, in compliance, in good manufacturing practices and onboarding and skills-based training and so cannabis companies basically partner with us to build out a full suite of training, onboarding, compliance based programs inside their organization and that’s really been an exciting part of the business where we’re getting increasing levels of adoption and partnership with some of the larger groups.
Then we have this fourth business that is called Ganjier, which is essentially a trade certification akin to a cannabis sommelier program and so we’re creating a new class of cannabis professional that really is truly a cannabis expert. They understand everything that goes into creating cannabis products and quality cannabis products. They’re trained in assessment methodologies that we’ve developed and then they’re trained in service protocols to make sure that they are delivering the highest level of quality service and care when interacting with patients and customers and that program just launched basically at the end of 2020.
MSO: That dovetails into my next question, which is that obviously, there are many problems in the cannabis industry but one of the ones that strikes me again and again is broadly speaking the lack of education among bud tenders who are the most forward-facing people in the industry, the people with whom patients and consumers come into contact with, with the most basic questions and I turnover and low painting that there is really not a lot of incentive for either employees or employers to educate themselves very – or to educate bud tenders very thoroughly. How does the industry tackle that? How does your company help tackle that? What can be done?
MS: I think that it comes from a number of sides and it’s a tricky issue because the truth is, at a lot of the smaller retail dispensaries and retail companies, there’s a lot more care than people give them credit for, meaning the owners of those companies, they really do. They care about cannabis and they care about their teams and they care about their customers and there’s more care given to that ecosystem than most people realize.
It’s just that the headlines and the vast majority of the kind of negative talk happens at the bigger companies, which are often times run by bankers or MNA professionals that are certainly trying to do their best to do the right thing but they’re having to balance that with all of the shareholders and being a public company and all of that other stuff and again, even in those circles I think I am seeing from my standpoint increasingly they’re realizing that everybody’s been running so fast and so hard that they are needing to now up their level of standards of how they run the company.
I think that it’s a little bit of patience, you know the answer is a little bit of patience. I think it’s creating a business case for training people better, for hiring people that are more well-trained and more skilled and I think that it’s pressure also from the industry and the customers to keep sounding the alarm about what’s not working. Change doesn’t always happen nearly as quickly as people want and one of the things I’ve learned after being in cannabis all this time is that no matter how big or small of a company it is, everybody is running around like a chicken with their heads cut off because there’s so much to do and it’s so difficult and you’re trying to balance growth versus sustaining and maintaining.
It’s a very, very new space and so in that, I think it just requires a little bit of patience and it requires better and better people to come forward and this is ultimately why we’re introducing what we would call standardized credentials in the industry, which are being adopted and accepted by some of these larger companies because they realize that they need to do a better job at providing more standardized training to make sure that they’re delivering that service.
I’m very aware of the negative complaints that happen especially at some of these bigger companies and they are sometimes warranted for sure but the thing that makes cannabis so difficult is that each store is basically like its own startup. For every three stores that people are doing a great job at, there is going to be another one or two stores where they’re not because they don’t have the right managers in place or they don’t have the right people in place and they’re just doing their best to correct those things.
I feel like patience and consistency and creating the business cases, how everybody ultimately will kind of come to the table and be able to do things the best way that they can.
MSO: Let’s hope so. You mentioned 10 universities or colleges that you have programs with, how many of those are feeding into accredited programs versus the certificate programs?
MS: Yeah, they’re all certificate programs and they are all offered through the continuing education departments, which is not necessarily part of the four year degrees, which is where accreditation kind of comes from. UC Riverside was the one school that decided they just wanted to take it a step further and go through the accreditation process and so they did and the programs passed and they became an accredited part of the continuing education department.
Accreditation though is really something that often again plays more into undergrad or graduate degrees because that’s where also title for funding takes place and so in the certificate programs, which is an area of education that has over the last – particularly in the last five years has grown exponentially in interest is because they’re really kind of vocational base training, you know? It’s where the tech industry focuses, most of its energy.
It is where a lot of the service industry focuses a lot of their energy and so they’re not accredited in terms of undergrad or graduate programs but all programs that go through the schools whether they’re in the continuing education department or not, go through a curriculum review board, go through the process of getting sign-off from the board of directors and go through that. It’s really technically quite frankly, it falls under the accreditation of the university but are not given credit for undergrad or graduate to be programs.
MSO: It makes sense, I mean there’s a lot of critique about the university system and the amount of debt that people come out of those systems with but at the same time, there’s also a lot of skepticism out there right now toward for profit educational institutions. You know, there has been a number of predatory schools in the past decade that have been shut down and highly publicized in a not great way. What’s different about what you’re doing? What does a certificate from Green Flower really worth in the job market? How do you ensure that it has that value?
MS: Yeah, well I think a big part of that comes back to the leadership behind the programs and what’s really happening behind the scenes and so I always answer that question about the validity of Green Flower programs in a number of ways. The first way is just that we really care about this industry and we really care about people being successful in this industry and so it is something that only you will learn once you see Green Flower operate through direct experience that the programs are extremely high quality.
They require substantial investment and development time to create. They are curated with not only the top experts from the space and delivered from the top experts in the space but also backed and validated by recruiters in the space and hiring managers in the space and people that are inside the industry giving us their feedback and input and then on top of that, we’ve had a lot into the programs to make them as valuable as possible.
From the investment we’ve made and the learning technology so that people can really enjoy the process of learning and get through the programs we have an extremely high completion rate of these programs and high satisfaction rates. We have an employer network where we partner with some of the larger companies to give our graduates first access into getting hired into these companies. We have alumni groups where we continue to broadcast opportunities and we’re always basically working within the cannabis ecosystem to make sure that people have as much access to opportunities they can.
My first answer is again, that we go through tremendous care to make sure that the programs are quality, the programs are valuable, the ecosystem is giving people a leg up and we’re kind of hand-feeding people into the cannabis industry to get those opportunities. On top of that because we have this division that works with the cannabis companies themselves, we also know what people are hiring for and the skills that they need and the training that they need and what those people look for.
We are always again, kind of coaching and mentoring people on how to be participating in this industry in a meaningful way. That’s part of it as well and then I think the last part of it is that in contrast to what an analogist piece of education cost in any other industry, we’re also way below market value. You know, our equivalent tech programs in other industries are eight, 10, $12,000 and ours are $3,000, oftentimes $2,400 for the certificates through the universities.
We’re also quite frankly undercharging but that’s because where the industry’s at and because this whole thing is a new developing field. Between the price itself being kind of an overwhelming value ad and all of these other things we do, it means something to people and we find again, not only having incredibly high completion rates of our programs but our students are rating the programs extremely high and many of them are going on to getting jobs and starting their own businesses and becoming success stories, which were also then broadcasting out into the world as this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
These things are not easy to do right but that’s the point of good leadership is that you know, you intend to really actually do them the right way and overtime that reputation precedes you and that’s why we continue to get schools like Syracuse, where they talked to all the other universities in our network and universities themselves were singing our praises and so that gave us the ability to get higher and higher level partnerships.
MSO: Let’s finish off on the industry itself and the place that cannabis is right now, which is extremely exciting. After New York legalized last month, according to my calculations over 40% of Americans lived in adult-use states and it’s no longer even remotely bold to make a prediction that federal legalization is just a matter of time. Beyond what it would mean for your company, what’s the most exciting aspect of that kind of eventuality for you and secondly, what do you think is the consequence of legalization that you think doesn’t get anywhere near enough attention that people look over?
MS: Yeah, I mean the reason I got into cannabis is still my own personal driving motivation today, which is that I think cannabis is a game changing wellness, health and wellness tool. I think that it has the ability to have an enormous profoundly life changing impact on such a huge, almost hard to believe myriad of different issues that we face in our world and for me personally, legalization is in all of this. It’s just stepping forward in terms of first, the acceptance of that but then the distribution of it.
You know, my incredible mother lives in North Carolina where it’s still very illegal and she needs cannabis for pain and for sleep and it sucks that she doesn’t have any access to it and so for me personally, legalization and the prospect of what’s coming all still just feeds into what my greater desire as for being here, which is safe access to cannabis because I believe that has a profound positive impact in the world and that speaks also to your second question, which is what am I excited about.
I’m excited about more people getting access to quality information and quality guidance on cannabis and then quality products on cannabis because I just genuinely and sincerely believe that this plant has such enormous potential and it’s not even anywhere close to being actualized yet. You know, I kind of looked at my world of the Chopra days where back then, it was very strange to have yoga studious out there in the world and it’s a funny thing to say today, right?
Back then a yoga studio is this big deal that it existed and now, there is literally yoga studios on every corner and so that’s the same thing I see with cannabis is I’d love to live in a world where you can have the access to cannabis in as convenient of ways as you have access to everything else that we accept in our world today and that would be a great vision to manifest because I believe that that will inherently further the health and wellness and happiness of the world in which we live in.
MSO: Thank you for your time Max.
MS: Good to be with you. Thanks for asking me very thoughtful questions.