Thu, Jul 2, 2020
∙ READING TIME: 4 MINUTES ∙

The owner of Herbiculture Reveals how cannabis helped her recovery after a brutal canine attack left her searching for relief and answers. Venus Hemachandra – Maryland Patient of the Month

In Season Four of the iconic television series “Breaking Bad,” one half of the show’s beloved stars, pusherman Jesse Pinkman, reveals a hidden agenda in attending a Narcotics Anonymous support group. “You’re nothing to me but customers!” Pinkman says, lashing out at an astonished group of onlookers.

Herbiculture’s co-owner Venus Hemachandra is familiar with Pinkman and his Golden Globe winning performance, having watched all five seasons of its glory. There was a time when the 30-year-old related to Pinkman’s mindset, seeing Cannabis as a means to an ends: money.

“I was a businesswoman,” said Venus, who alongside her sister, Pam, broke ground on the Burtonsville-based dispensary in 2015.

As licensing and permits were completed, the Montgomery County medicinal shop was on pace for a 2018 March rollout. But five months prior, those plans were put on hold.

On a midday afternoon in October, Venus and her husband, Shreemal, kindly offered to provide emotional support to a neighbor who was putting their aging dog down. A friend of the neighbor’s also arrived, showing solidarity with his dog – a large, energetic Rottweiler.

A canine lover, Venus asked if she could pet the dog and whether he had any restrictions. Given the OK, she leaned down and got more than she asked for – a vicious attack.

In the time it takes to flick a lighter, she was left frantically trying to hold her jaw in place and stem the tide of blood flowing from her face.

“I don’t remember much about it,” she said. “I freaked out.”

Sixty stitches and multiple plastic surgeries later, Venus was left with a slew of scars. She was missing pieces of her face, including her bottom lip, impairing the neuromuscular control that helps stop the mouth from drooling. The resulting nerve damage was extensive, forcing her to use painkillers to try to minimize the pain. A heavy dose of Xanax was also prescribed to help her sleep and rid her of ongoing nightmares.

“Every time I closed my eyes at night, I would see that dog,” she said. “It was terrifying.”

The ensuing months featured a steady diet of painkillers, benzodiazepines and copious amounts of restoration. Family and friends stopped by often, while Neelo, her small Aussiepoodle, stayed by her side daily.

Days turned to weeks, weeks into months, as a long drawn out recovery unraveled. During this time, Venus made sure not to cross paths with a mirror.

“I didn’t want to look,” she said, estimating it took nearly two months to gather the courage. “I knew I had to get over it. I had to get through it – step by step, day by day. Two years later, I’m better. But it’s still something that every time I look in the mirror, I have to get over.”

One month prior to opening, Venus, a newfound medical Cannabis patient, received her first taste of medical marijuana – a 1:1 CBD vape. With just one hit, she says, her mindset went from a Pinkman-like pusherman to a patient overwhelmed by its magical benefits.

“I was sitting on my couch, and I just started bawling my eyes out,” she said. “My family came running over, asking if I was OK. I told them yes – these were tears of joy. My nerve pain – something the (over-the-counter) painkillers hadn’t completely been able to reliev – was gone.”

Venus quickly began trying different strains of Cannabis to try to break hold of the painkillers that often placed her brain in a fog, and the Xanax she had become dependent upon for sleep.

“Being able to try all these products and reap the medical benefits, it changed me. It changed my personal perspective,” she said. “When you’re on the outside of it, you’re ignorant to it. Most of them just think the patients are potheads looking to get high. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. At one point, I shared that mentality. My eyes have been opened.”

With her empathy enhanced, Venus was determined to help every patient that walked through the Herbiculture doors. Whatever was needed, she filled the role: receptionist, budtender, manager, and of course, owner. She wanted to be there to help patients ease the pain they were going through.

“This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” she said.

Herbiculture is currently pursuing a license to grow their own brand of Cannabis. As one of the few Maryland dispensaries run by minority women owners, Venus hopes to be the first to grow Cannabis – if they are lucky enough to receive a license when the MMCC awards five this Fall. Like Pinkman, she’d begin cooking. If and when she does, Venus will lean on her personal experiences, as well as the interactions she’s had for the past two years with patients.

“Maryland has a really good Cannabis program,” she said. “Our patients are informed and they often tell us what they are looking for. Thankfully, I’ve been there to listen. I really think if we get a grow, with our experience, we can give the patients what they want.”

Life broke bad for Venus Hemachandra, but that hasn’t stopped her from being one who knocks down doors for minority women in the Maryland Cannabis industry. And with her continued passion and a little luck, we just may find her planting seeds this Fall.

“Every time I closed my eyes at night, I would see that dog,” she said. “It was terrifying.”

Story & photos by Baxsen Paine @baxsenpaine for maryland leaf