As successful owners of the medical cannabis dispensary Greenhouse Wellness, Gina Dubbé and OBGYN Dr. Leslie Apgar share their history and future plans.
One look at suburban moms, Gina Dubbé and OBGYN Dr. Leslie Apgar, wouldn’t give you the impression that they were involved in the cannabis industry or that they were successful owners of the medical cannabis dispensary Greenhouse Wellness. These two innovative women have dug their way through the male-dominated cannabis industry with the goal of assisting patients seeking relief of their various health ailments through cannabis. They help patients suffering from a variety of conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, inflammatory diseases, sleep disorders, and many other issues. Here, they share their history and plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Dr. Leslie Apgar: We first met about 20 years ago as back door neighbors. Gina is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and engineer by training, and I am a board-certified OBGYN who also owns a successful medical spa.
How did you get started in the cannabis industry?
Dr. Apgar: We were approached by someone in the industry who was interested in bidding my credentials and looking for capital investment, which is why Gina was brought in. Unfortunately, the interactions were short as it was clear we weren’t going to be taken seriously. So, Gina got irritated after being mansplained to, and looked up the requirements to bid then called me to announce we were just going to bid by ourselves. Much to our surprise and delight, we not only won one of the coveted licenses, but we got our first choice of district.
What made the medical cannabis sector your main focus?
Dr. Apgar: It is so rewarding to see patients from all walks of life improving before our eyes. They are getting off their pharmaceuticals and living their best lives. Some are returning to the work force or continuing in the work force whereas they may have had to stop due to their chronic conditions. We are grateful every single day, and humbled.
As two suburban moms, did you face more criticism for getting involved in the medical cannabis industry?
Dr. Apgar: Absolutely, we did. In fact, Gina lost a friend of more than 30 years over it. I was heavily criticized by my medical colleagues, but today they are happily referring patients and seeing me or participating in the program themselves or sending their loved ones.
Do you experience any stigma surrounding cannabis? If so, how do you handle it?
Dr. Apgar: Education is the key to changing the stigma. Yes, it’s still there, but it is so much less than it was four years ago. When patients, friends, and the community are armed with information, attitudes start changing. I give free lectures to the community and medical field, as well as daily consultations with patients who are interested in entering the cannabis program, or who would like guidance once they are accepted into the program. We also distribute informative emails and participate in podcasts and educational programs all over the country.
The cannabis industry has been known as a male-dominated field, what has it been like to enter the industry as women?
Dr. Apgar: As with most industries, cannabis is dominated from the male attitude and perspective. This was challenging in the beginning as we were not afforded the same deals as others within the boys’ club. Once we gained attention for our best business practices and sound results, we gained a more level playing field, which has been nice, but the problem is a never ending one. We constantly have to fight for a seat at the table, and a voice that is recognized because we are female. When we entered the space, we saw an obvious void of products directed at women and we sought to change that with our female cannabis line, Blissiva. It has been incredibly well-received and we are delighted that so many women (and men) are seeing its benefits!
What are some of the health conditions you treat (for example, cancer, chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, etc.)? Are there some ailments that are more popular than others that patients come in to treat?
Dr. Apgar: We treat all inflammatory ailments, and that includes almost anything you can imagine. Chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, and sleep disorders are very popular complaints, just to name a few. We have a lot of patients who are treating side effects from their traditional cancer therapies as well as treating their cancers directly. Some patients are on low dose maintenance therapies for their chronic conditions, including cancer.
What are some of the benefits you have seen from medical cannabis with your patients? Are there any stories you can share with us?
Dr. Apgar: We have seen cannabis prolong meaningful and quality of life for those struggling with advanced metastatic cancers. We have seen folks get out of their wheelchairs and lose their canes. We have seen patients return to the work force (or stay when they thought they’d have to leave). We have seen patients declare that they would have committed suicide had it not been for cannabis. Patients have declared that we gave them their lives back, saved their marriages, or their sex lives, etc. The list goes on and on...
Why do you believe cannabis is a viable and validated option to be used as medicine?
Dr. Apgar: Science is proving it every single day, and more importantly, we are seeing it live, in action. I have seen things in the cannabis space that exceed my scientific brain’s ability to explain using traditional medications and methods. The endocannabinoid system is probably one of the greatest medical discoveries of all times, and its implications in creating new treatments based on plant or synthetic cannabinoids and on their receptors in the body will result in a change in the way we practice medicine forever.
How do you think cannabis can be used to fight the opioid epidemic?
Dr. Apgar: It’s already fighting the opioid epidemic. We have published case reports of cannabis getting people off of opioids, and we are in the process of publishing another one involving a patient who is now off her suboxone for over a year with the help of cannabis. There are studies showing the benefit of both THC and CBD and their ability to potentiate the effects of opioids and decrease the withdrawal and cravings that go along with an opioid taper or wean.
Can you tell us about Blissiva and also Greenhouse Wellness (2,3)? Where are they located?
Dr. Apgar: Greenhouse is located in Ellicott City, Maryland, in a wellness facility that includes a full-service imaging center, an apothecary, and compounding pharmacy, and integrative health care practitioners. Blissiva is the female-focused line that Gina and I started. The first line, Balance, is a 1:1 CBD:THC low potency disposable vape pen designed to treat anxiety and difficulty falling asleep. It comes in two flavors—cucumber-lime and vanilla—and is discreet, and able to be used any time of the day or night. The second line, Soothe, is a 1:3 CBD:THC medium potency disposable vape pen that is lemon flavored and designed for daytime pain relief, while keeping patients focused on their daily activities.
What are some of the products you offer?
Dr. Apgar: We have flower, pre-roll joints, oil cartridges, disposable vapes, a myriad of edibles, pills, capsules, concentrates, topicals, and even bath salts.
Are there any requirements to come to your facility?
Dr. Apgar: In Maryland, the cannabis program is solely medical at this time and there are requirements as listed on the MMCC.maryland.gov website
How do you research the medical cannabis you sell at Greenhouse Wellness?
Dr. Apgar: Happily, Maryland has done a great job of doing seed to sale tracking and implementation of a robust testing program by third party vendors. There is a certificate of analysis available for review on every single product available for Greenhouse Wellness to purchase and these are available for patients to view as well. We have more than 300 products on our menu, so there is definitely something for everyone. Our buyers do a fantastic job scouting what’s available and buying in quantity to pass savings on to our patients.
Can you tell us about your book, High Heals: How Two Women Found Their Footing in the Medical Cannabis Industry? Where can readers obtain copies (3,4)?
Dr. Apgar: High Heals was a response to the questions asked and answered above. Everyone wants to know how we got started, what hurdles we surmounted, and what’s next? It was written as a love letter or a cheer to other women who are considering starting their own businesses and to inspire women of all ages to be more, be better, and achieve their dreams wherever possible. High Heals is available on Amazon and other booksellers and on audiobook as read by Gina and myself.
Are there any educational resources that you recommend for those looking to use medical cannabis as a treatment?
Dr. Apgar: High Heals contains a brief primer on medical cannabis at the end, but there are a myriad of books available on the internet. Start with something pretty basic, and know that you are going to have to learn a new language, so be patient with yourself. The learning curve is steep and soon, you will know much more than your collective group does and you will be teaching them!
What would you like to see change in the cannabis industry in the future? Are there any regulations or legislations that affect your work currently?
Dr. Apgar: Cannabis needs to be descheduled so we can finally start the long overdue process of establishing robust randomized controlled trials involving cannabis so we can get the data to prove what we are seeing anecdotally. There is much to learn about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, and we are excited to move into a more holistic approach to wellness and healing using cannabis as one of our tools. Because of its schedule 1 status, we are working in a federally illegal enterprise. Even though it is legal in Maryland, we are penalized by the taxes we pay, we can’t work with banks, write checks, or accept credit cards. In fact, banks have tried to “fire” each of us from their personal banking institutions because they know we are involved in cannabis. Everything in business is harder because of the laws surrounding cannabis. We hope the safe banking law will pass the Senate and we sincerely hope the feds will come to their senses and legalize cannabis finally.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
Dr. Apgar: We went to a strictly curb-side model and got all of our employees vaccinated. We installed cough guards and put out loads of hand sanitizer. We stopped doing in-person consultations which were limited to 30 minutes, and instituted telephone and Zoom consults which are not time limited, but by appointment with staff and myself. Our business grew exponentially during Covid, which is quite sad as it speaks to the ridiculous uptick in anxiety and depression that we now see. Also, with more time on their hands to reflect on their medical conditions, and overall quality of life, many more patients joined the cannabis program, and are continuing to join every day as they seek better treatment solutions than traditional medicine can offer.
What is next for your Greenhouse Wellness dispensary, Blissiva brand, and also for yourselves?
Dr. Apgar: We are preparing for Greenhouse Wellness to grow when recreational is passed here in Maryland. We are looking at increasing our footprint and expanding into educational opportunities all over the world. We are currently looking for a partner who can make Blissiva in multiple other states. Because cannabis cannot cross state lines, we cannot make Blissiva here in Maryland and send it to others across the country, despite the patients who plead for it daily. Gina loves starting businesses and helping them thrive so she looks forward to continuing her consulting side of things. My true passion is education, so you will see me branching out into opportunities that have a bigger reach. Together, we are passionate about lifting women up, and that continues to be our overarching goal.