10 or more questions with… Debra Ahsbahs, Health and Life Missouri
Debra Ahsbahs is the woman behind Health and Life Missouri, a telehealth cannabis clinic.
This interview is part of Greenway Magazine’s October/November 2019 print issue, as well as November Military Appreciation Month content.
Where are you from? I live in Park Hills, MO. I grew up in Iowa.
How did you wind up in Missouri? I moved to Missouri with my family after retiring from the Army in 2013. I have family here and always found the state a relaxing retreat when I visited. I decided this was where I wanted to heal myself and find my next purpose in life.
What does your company do? Health and Life Missouri connects Missouri residents seeking physician certifications with state-licensed Doctors who want to help patients get access to, and information about, medical cannabis and how it may help them! What makes your company special? I think what makes this company special is the people working here. I have somehow managed to bring some of the most compassionate and patient people on this journey with me!
What plans does your company have for Missouri? We would like to get involved in fighting to end prohibition. There are many people in Missouri fighting the good fight, and when we are strong enough, we would like to play a bigger role alongside them.
How did you get connected with or start your company? It was shortly before patients were able to submit their applications to the state that I started looking for a Dr. in my area that was going to offer certifications. I was very disappointed to find out how few and far between they were!
There were many reasons given as to why doctors wouldn’t do them, even though a lot of them knew there were benefits, but the fact was, they didn’t have to, and they weren’t.
I decided out of that frustration and disappointment that I was going to create a cannabis certification clinic so people would have a safe and easily accessible way to see a Doctor that was willing to help them through the process!
I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew that too many gatekeepers to the medical marijuana program weren’t going to open the gate to allow patient access, so, I was going to build a bridge to the ones that did!
There were a lot of sharp learning curves, lots of legalities, and lots of regulations to comply with, but with the help of some very good people, and a lot of long hours, I think we made good time!
What is the structure of your company, i.e. where do the physicians come from? Our Doctors come from all over Missouri, and ONLY Missouri. We invite Doctors to join us, vet them, and put them through an interview process that ensures they are on board with our mission. We have some fantastic Doctors who take their time getting to know their patients and the medical problems they have.
What is your company’s mission? To provide safe, reliable access to Missouri patients seeking Physician Certifications and information on the Missouri Medical Marijuana Program.
How did you get into cannabis? Since Health and Life Missouri is a certification clinic, I wouldn’t say the company is “into” cannabis in the way some other companies are. So, I’ll tell you why I am so passionate about cannabis and how I got into it.
This is a bit personal and maybe too long, but you did ask. I’m a dog trainer by trade, a logistician by training, and my formal education is in business. When I retired from the Army, I started training service dogs for other Veterans with PTSD and Mobility issues. One of the Veterans I was working with brought me a couple plants when he came to pick up his dog from training. He explained that it had really helped him and he wanted to share. That I could do what I wanted with the plants, he just wanted to give me the option. I was a little nervous, because of its legal status, and don’t hate me, but I let the plants die.
I then started talking to other Veterans more openly about it, asking if they self-medicated this way. Not surprisingly, a lot of them did, or would, if it was legal. Their reasons were varied, it helped with hypervigilance, helped them sleep, eased anxiety and pain. It was helping them with a lot of issues I had.
I didn’t dive into it, again, because of its legal status, but I did dabble. I saw the benefits talked about almost immediately.
CBD is where I really fell in love! High CBD, low THC has literally changed my life. No more nightmares when I medicate, none. I don’t think I can ever express how deeply this affected me. Every time I slept, I had nightmares. Every.Time. It has helped with my anxiety and stabilized my moods. Those aches and pains, sometimes debilitating, are almost unnoticeable most days.
This is what I want for everyone! Just the opportunity to access this medicine and see if it will help them!
Why cannabis? I believe in the positive health, social, and economic impacts cannabis has!
What is it like being a woman as a veteran, an entrepreneur, and in the cannabis field? This seemed like a really big question when I first read it.
The truth is, I don’t usually see myself as all those things. It’s not that I don’t recognize myself as a female veteran and entrepreneur, I do, besides the obvious, how do those things affect me? Is who we are a reflection of the choices we’ve made, or are the choices we’ve made a reflection of who we are? You can sort that out.
I joined the Army to belong to something bigger than me. To do my part as an American. The Army trained me how to work hard and look after my people. To make sure they had what they needed. It taught me to pay attention to detail, accept and seek responsibility, and to sacrifice.
Being an entrepreneur is an amazing experience! It allows me to be passionate and creative. To guide my own education and success. It has taught me that failure is always an option, but it does not need to be anything more than a learning experience. The best part is being able to do what makes me happy every single day, help people.
The cannabis field is ever-growing and changing. It has been legal in other states for a long time, but Missouri and its people are not like other states. I’m proud to be here, with many others, to see what we can do with it!
I like to think I am bringing those lessons, values, and passion to work with me every day.
What are some challenges you’ve faced? Oh my… Most of the challenges I faced were people-oriented. In the beginning, I was very naïve. I was slow to learn that not everyone involved had the same values or vision for the clinic that I had. While I was working on building a reputable business that offers a safe, easily accessible platform, I had partners that wanted to use the company to mass certify patients, regardless of their individual needs, and others that wanted to cash grab, to include other states to make as much money as fast as possible.
I had to break ties with people I respected, because that’s not what I wanted for myself, or the people served by the clinic. It was painful, but it also helped me realize what I did not want this clinic to become, and made room for the very valuable, like-minded people that took their place!
What are you most excited about with medicinal marijuana legal in Missouri? I’m very excited about the level of empowerment and control it gives patients over their own health care. Cannabis is really an amazing plant on so many levels. Medical legalization allows patients to explore what works for them specifically and brings with it access to knowledgeable professionals who can guide them on their journey. It really is an amazing community!