Garden Remedies

Dispensing Compassionate Relief in Massachusetts

They’ve served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve survived cancer. They’ve experienced the worst kinds of injuries and addictions. They’ve tried every conventional treatment for chronic pain and found nothing that can alleviate it.

They are the hundreds of thousands of men and women in Massachusetts who may be in need of medical cannabis. And they’re the clients that Garden Remedies, an up-and-coming dispensary emphasizing “compassionate relief,” aims to help.

This is a transformative time for cannabis treatment, in more ways than one. The last twelve months have seen major legalization victories at the state level. They’ve also seen new denunciations of the pharmaceutical industry for its role in America’s opioid epidemic, a crisis disguised as a way of eliminating chronic pain without the dangers of addiction. According to an article published in New York Magazine earlier this year, habit-forming narcotic pills, many of them originally prescribed by doctors to treat cancer and injury, will kill more than 50,000 Americans before the start of 2019.

All of which suggests that Americans are embracing the reparative powers of medical cannabis. At the Fourth Annual New England Cannabis Convention in March 2018, a record number of medical dispensaries gathered in Boston to network and advertise their goods. It’s no coincidence that many of these companies’ founders and employees have personal experience dealing with serious injuries. They’ve seen what Big Pharma has to offer in the way of alleviating pain, and they’re not impressed.

Dr. Karen Munkacy, the president and CEO of Garden Remedies, is no exception. A certified anesthesiologist with 30 years of experience, her involvement with medical cannabis began after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and forced to undergo more than a year of intense chemotherapy. It didn’t take Munkacy long to reach the conclusion that cannabis was by far the most effective substance to treat her pain and nausea. But because of the laws on the books in Massachusetts at the time, she had to make the —literally— agonizing decision to stick with conventional, comparatively ineffective treatments.

This was before 2012, the year 63 percent of Massachusetts voters threw their support behind the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, which permitted the use of cannabis for patients with cancer, glaucoma, and other serious conditions.

Indeed, Dr. Munkacy was instrumental in achieving this key victory for cannabis. She gave her support to the initiative, using her experiences as a breast cancer survivor to communicate a powerful point: cannabis use isn’t irresponsible, but denying it to patients is, at best, pointless and, at worst, cruel.

Dr. Munkacy was an especially important figure in the fight to pass the initiative because of her connections within the medical community. In the end, more than 1,000 doctors and physicians signed a statement supporting the legalization of medical cannabis in the state of Massachusetts. Their professional opinions made it clear that cannabis was a legitimate painkiller, one that had the potential to be far more effective than common prescription drugs since it lacked any serious withdrawal risks. This two-pronged approach — compassion for patients combined with expert knowledge of treatment strategy — proved successful in 2012, and it’s been equally successful in grassroots movements across the country.

It also continues to inform business operations at Garden Remedies, which opened its doors in November of 2016. Since that time, the company has offered significant discounts to veterans, recognizing that they’re often in desperate need of safe, effective treatments for pain and anxiety. (Jeff Herold, the company’s Chief Operations Officer, is a veteran himself, having served in the Navy.)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is still required to follow the federal government’s lead — in other words, it considers medical cannabis an illegal drug. By offering affordable healthcare to men and women who’ve served bravely in other countries but remain prisoners to their own pain, Garden Remedies does the job the federal government should be doing already.

When asked what differentiates Garden Remedies from other dispensaries in the state, Gene Ray, an associate formulation scientist with the company, points to his colleagues’ humility and emphasis on controlled research. While it’s true that cannabis has been the subject of thousands of peer-reviewed studies in medical journals, the fact remains that doctors’ knowledge of the product is set back by decades of prejudice. The cannabis industry needs more research, not just more customers. With this in mind, Ray continues to pay close attention to new developments in the field. In the meantime, the dispensary’s staff works closely with its patients to determine proper dosage and consumption methods, avoiding the shoddy, one-size-fits-all approach that’s become disturbingly common in opioid-based pain treatment.

The company also aims to provide the most convenient service to the greatest number of people, recognizing that, for some, simply walking to and from the dispensary can be a painful undertaking. Since October of last year, when it earned the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Garden Remedies has offered home delivery services. Now, with the legalization of recreational cannabis in the state of Massachusetts, it’s poised to open two more locations by the end of the summer, expanding its scope and cutting down on waiting time.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis in Massachusetts last year, the landscape is changing fast. At least two dozen retail stores are slated to open in Boston this July, at which time demand is expected to skyrocket along with price. Garden Remedies, and any medical dispensary in Massachusetts, faces a big question: how to respond to these developments?

Doctor Munkacy’s answer would seem to be doing what Garden Remedies already does, only better. The legalization of recreational cannabis doesn’t change the fact that a huge number of Massachusetts residents suffer from chronic pain, for which cannabis is a safe, sensible, affordable treatment. There were more than 40,000 people like this in 2017, judging from the number of registered medical patients, and there must be tens of thousands more who have yet to register. Garden Remedies aims to help them, with a degree of success and sensitivity that few can match.

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Emerald contributor since March 2012


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