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The Good Doctor

June 20, 2018

Dr. Scott Martin hasn’t written a prescription in more than a year. He says that makes him an anomaly among the roughly 60 pain doctors in Las Vegas.

“As I learned how narcotic manufacturers were manipulating data to sell drugs, it didn’t settle well with me,” he says. “Shortly after I moved to Las Vegas, I made a pretty large practice decision to stop writing narcotics altogether.”

A board-certified interventional pain medicine specialist, Martin’s views and perspective have evolved dramatically since he first started practicing in Flint, Michigan 13 years ago. Over the years, he’s treated most of his patients for cancer and trauma as well as refractory pain that’s resistant to treatment. Before moving to Las Vegas, he spent nine years in Southern California, where his eyes were opened to new alternatives.

“You’re steeped in holistic medicine,” Martin says of his time in the Golden State. “If you want to be busy, you need a well-balanced practice. You have to understand holistic and herbal medicine, and be able to weave through the 20 or 30 supplements that patients are taking in addition to their prescription medications.”

As I learned how narcotic manufacturers were manipulating data to sell drugs, it didn't settle well with me.
Dr. Scott Martin

Taking a seat in his southwest valley Las Vegas office, Martin is casual, sporting a polo shirt and slight facial scruff. He speaks in detail—in measured tones, but without hesitation—like a man with nothing to hide. Martin doesn’t speculate or grasp for answers. He’s exactly the kind of person you’d want as your doctor.

The 45-year-old physician knows narcotics aren’t just products in an industry driven by profit and marketing—they’re also deadly. The latest CDC numbers reveal more than 42,000 Americans die a year from accidental opioid overdoses. Sounds bad, but the stats are even more alarming when looking at pain medications not often viewed as dangerous by the general public. Based on available data and research, Martin says an additional 200,000 deaths a year are connected to the use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

“It isn’t that people take Motrin and die,” he explains. “Motrin causes intimal damage and elevation in blood pressure. People end up dying from a heart attack, stroke, or GI bleed, but the primary cause was actually the NSAID… It can increase your risk for a cardiovascular event by 50%. Most people don’t know that.”

Martin’s perspective is unique. He’s not only an expert in pain, he’s a victim of it. The doctor has a rare condition connected called spondyloarthropathy. “It’s a fancy term for my-body-attacks-my-own-joints,” he says. “I had it for a long time. I just didn’t know it”

The effects were felt hard back in 2013, when the doctor was training for a marathon. Martin took large amounts of ibuprofen and suffered a massive gastrointestinal (GI) bleed. “About two or three liters of blood,” he remembers.

An additional 200,000 deaths a year are connected to the use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs.

Martin declined a risky blood transfusion, which left him tired and drained for months. Knowing he was done with any and all NSAID medication, the doctor spent more than a year trying out a variety of holistic products but didn’t feel much better. He had those products independently tested in a lab and as it turned out, some contained far less active ingredients than advertised on the label—or had none at all. An expensive supplement sold in a popular grocery chain was nothing but capsules made from rice flour.

So Martin decided to create his own supplement—one that accurately reflected the exact ingredients listed on the label, was produced in an FDA-certified facility, and held up to the scrutiny of third-party lab testing. He also wanted something that actually worked.

His product was called Preleve, an herbal blend that included curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric and a natural anti-inflammatory. The key factor was making sure the herb was pure and water-soluble, so it could be efficiently absorbed by humans.

“You can take curcumin all day long,” says Martin. “But unless you have a good water-soluble source, the curcumin doesn’t work.”

Martin was also interested in making an extra-strength version of Preleve that contained cannabidiol (CBD). Through his research, the doctor learned the human body has double the amount of receptors for cannabis than it does for narcotics, making CBD a compelling alternative for pain relief. However, just like curcumin, cannabidiol isn’t water-soluble.

“If you take cannabinoid extract in the form of an oil and drop it into a glass of water, you’re going to see it just sits on top of the water,” says Jesse Lopez, CEO of SourceOne Global Partners. “The body has to try and break that down into a form where it can be efficiently utilized.”

Lopez and his Chicago-based company proved to be an ideal partner for Martin, mastering a pure and potent version of cannabidiol delivered in an innovative water-soluble form.

“Our technology allows us to pre-digest these cannabinoids,” says Lopez. “So once consumed, they’ve already been optimized for​ absorption and bioavailability.”

The final product was also guaranteed 100-percent free of THC, which unlike CBD, can build up a tolerance in users. “Some people do well with THC,” says Martin. “But I’m a doctor. I wanted a medical solution.”

By combining the all-natural anti-inflammatory formula of Preleve with Jesse Lopez’ HempCHOICE, the partners had all the bases covered to treat pain in a safe, affordable and effective way that was non-addictive and free of side effects. “We made what I thought was a narcotic killer,” says Martin.

Preleve HempCHOICE, was sold online and private-labeled for local physicians and businesses. It was stocked on the shelves of specialty pharmacies, primary care offices and dispensaries, earning positive feedback and strong reviews from customers.

“We took a lot of people off narcotics in the state of Nevada using this product,” says Martin. “These were people who didn’t want to taper off, didn’t want to go on Suboxone or methadone. They wanted something clean. It was fantastic.”

Then Martin got a phone call from an attorney representing Bayer.

(Martin Meissner/AP)

“He said, ‘I’m letting you know I’m suing you.'”

The attorney said the name Preleve was too similar to Bayer’s Aleve, generating potential confusion in the marketplace since both products treated inflammation. It didn’t matter that the labels looked nothing alike or one was a holistic herbal supplement and the other a brand name for naproxen, a chemical produced in a lab.

“He said, ‘Let me make it simple for you, Dr. Martin. You don’t have enough money to defend yourself.’ And he was right.”

Martin had no choice. No matter how much money he made as a doctor or entrepreneur, he couldn’t afford to battle an international conglomerate whose revenue was nearly $41 billion last year. Martin signed an agreement in late 2017 surrendering the trademark, copyright, website address and marketing materials connected to his supplement. Preleve was no longer allowed to exist.

But could Martin repackage his formula under a different brand? Bayer didn’t make it easy. After sorting through a list of options, the company finally allowed Martin to market his blend as NiHerbals, a clunky name that didn’t resonate with customers in the same way Preleve did.

Martin still hasn’t given up, however. A new version of the product, Hope-Filled Hemp, is being produced in coordination with breast cancer advocates. The doctor is also eager and willing to lease out the patent for just $1 a year. His team handles production and packaging to ensure quality. The reason is simple—getting his product into the hands of people who need it is more important than making money off it.

Does he feel guilty?

(Ronda Churchill for Leafly)

“It’s almost atonement,” says Martin. “I wrote narcotics for a long time. I dealt with very sick cancer patients that nobody else wanted to see. And some of those patients did very upsetting things with meds accidentally. I didn’t sleep for a long, long time.”

“It isn’t guilt,” he responds. “But when you stand beside a bed where a patient is dying—and I did that a lot—it’s more about frustration. I didn’t have options.”

In some ways, Martin’s hands were tied. “When I was in practice early in my career, pain was (considered) the fifth vital sign,” he says. “In the state of California, I could get sued if I didn’t treat your pain.”

Everything changed in March, 2016 when the CDC responded to the growing opioid crisis by revising its stance on prescriptions, dramatically shifting away from the use of lab-made drugs for treating pain. “The new guidelines basically said narcotics were the worst thing in the world,” says Martin.

There was a time when he’d lecture on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, but now Martin prefers to work with pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) teams like Ascend. Together, they’re promoting hemp-based painkillers as step therapy; meaning they would be covered by insurance as a cost-effective alternative for a set period of weeks or months before opioids are given shot. While the idea might be seen as a threat to pharmaceutical producers like Bayer, it could also be eagerly welcomed by insurance companies whose top expenses involve the treatment of cardiovascular conditions.

Martin says if the concept takes hold, it would revolutionize the industry. “We need some metrics and numbers, but I believe we could potentially reduce the cost of healthcare.”

The next step is for American doctors to come around to the benefits of CBD. The biggest obstacle is a lack of literature and difficulty in securing clinical trials approved by the federal government.

“I have a colleague in Arizona who wants to use CBD in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries,” says Martin. “She spent seven years getting an IRB (Institutional Review Board) and after those seven years, the government forced her to use one of the worst CBD products on the market for the clinical trial. Because the product was so bad, she knew the results would be terrible.”

Jesse Lopez knows the problem all too well. “A top priority for this emerging industry is real science backed by solid clinical evidence,” he says regarding his company’s trials. “We had to move into the international market (Germany and Australia) where there’s a clear picture about the legal status of these cannabinoids.”

Dr. Martin has faced fewer roadblocks in marketing HemPep, an energy supplement in which the stimulating effects of natural caffeine are balanced by SourceOne’s water-soluble phytocannabinoid-enriched hemp. While those elements may initially appear to conflict with each other, there’s actually a synergistic benefit. The CBD takes the edge off the caffeine, which is sourced from coffee beans and tea leaves, reducing energy spikes and crashes.

(Ronda Churchill for Leafly)

Martin was inspired to create HemPep after hearing about a 21-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack from chugging energy drinks at a nightclub. “Most people don’t know it, but about 18 people die every year from cardiac toxicity due to energy drinks,” he says.

The HemPep formula is rounded out by yerba mate for mood elevation, the cognitive sharpening effects of B12, the performance enhancing effects of teacrine and the anti-inflammatory effects of the same curcumin and ginger originally found in Preleve.

“He’s quite a genius in regards to formulation,” says Lopez of Martin.

Through it all, Martin remains a full-time doctor, working five to six days a week. He understands there’s a balance between commerce and care, so his office visits are all about education. He remains ahead of the curve in an industry that’s changing by the day—and wants his patients to fully grasp the difference between supplements and medications in life-and-death circumstances.

As opioid-related deaths continue in record numbers, those who make, market and prescribe narcotics face a growing backlash that may affect the health industry at a quicker pace. And the repercussions could be huge.

“I don’t think there will be a single narcotic sold on the market by brand five years from now,” Martin says with confidence.

He leans forward in his chair and goes further: “I anticipate that five years from now, no narcotics will be on the market for anything other than the use of oncology.”

It’s an intriguing vision, if an optimistic one. Between pain relief and energy supplements, Martin follows a simple paradigm: Make sure the public is in good hands, and save a life whenever possible.

“I invested quite a lot of my own money,” he says. “Half a million dollars over the last three years. I just wanted to make the most holistic alternative to the drugs that kill people.”

(Ronda Churchill for Leafly)

Robert Kachelriess's Bio Image

Robert Kachelriess

Rob Kachelriess is a Las Vegas-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Thrillist, Travel + Leisure, Modern Luxury, Supercall and other publications. When not in front of a laptop, he stays busy hanging out with wife Mary and chihuahua Zoey.

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  • BKristopher

    I don’t know about the making some super CBD or other cannabis mixtures – its look for me as a next bullshit.
    I never used drugs until being 64 years old.
    I start using now CBD oil for over a year – and my blood pressure problems are gone, don;t need anymore aspirin or other drugs, I just take CBD if I feel something like headache or sour throat it work fine for me.
    Whats regarding physical pain…it’s a different story – do not help at all tried CBD and THC,maybe it help for very specific pain related to nerve system but for regular pain nope.
    THC is very tricky – you have to try to know how it work for you…if properly used it can give you a boost to go the extra mile with the smile on your face.
    And I don’t smoke, so I take only oil…2.5 – 5 mg and remember sometimes it take a 2 hours to feel the effect and consuming food accelerate the effects

    • Glad you’ve found relief for your discomfort. Wish you the best.

  • Dr. Martin is a good guy doing good things, but….
    A few points:
    1) Opiates are not some spawn of the devil he makes them out to be. He does that to sell his products. I understand that.
    2) Narcotics don’t kill. People kill themselves with narcotics. Self medication requires responsibility and intelligence.
    3) Weed-based pain relief is good for arthritis, inflammatory issues etc. Fracture your skull, break your neck, get stabbed in the gut….Weed-based pain remedies won’t do shit. You’ll scream for Morphine or an OC80.

    Don’t be misled by people marketing for profit. They’re not that much different from “big pharma”. They are, but not much.

    • Sara Taylor

      1. How dare you judge addicts? Addiction has nothing to do with “responsibility and intelligence” and everything to do with genetic predisposition, mental illness and unfortunate circumstances. Plenty of successful, intelligent people have ruined their lives because they were in constant pain or severely mentally ill and their tolerance just kept going up, nothing they could do to stop it except… I dunno… maybe use something less damaging like CBD.
      2. You shouldn’t equate life-threatening but temporary injuries with chronic conditions that require years of care. Taking painkillers for a little while is a lot less damaging than taking them for years on end as a permanent solution.

      • Well, I didn’t say one word in judgement of addicts so I guess you’re either an addict, and therefore hyper-sensitive on the issue, or just whack.
        I taught Geneology in prison, so I think you should step back and read what I wrote again.
        I spoke of self medication, not addiction. Try and calm down a little and make sure you understand what you read before you fly off the handle.

      • Removed by OP