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Treatwell: Food as Medicine

A close up of Treatwell's founder, Alison Ettel, cut almonds in preparation of making medicated edibles.


Treatwell: Food as Medicine

Photos by Paula Poortinga

Treatwell: Food as Medicine

While she had never tried cannabis prior and hasn’t since, using marijuana as a medicine during her recovery changed Alison Ettel’s life.

Alison Ettel can attest to the healing powers of cannabis. You’d never know it by sight, but the bright, bubbly young woman behind TreatWell had a near-death experience a few years ago.

“I don’t use it recreationally, I used it coming out of a coma, that was the first and only time I’ve used it,” Ettel says while introducing the story of her San Francisco-based edibles, extracts and tinctures company. “I basically was walking down the street in Vancouver, I didn’t know I had meningitis, I thought I had somebody following me. It was this weird feeling of cloak and dagger. So I asked a stranger on the street, ‘Please take me to the hospital. Something’s wrong with my brain.’”

Ettel lapsed into a coma in the waiting room and when she awoke, had lost all sense of herself.

“I didn’t have a memory. I didn’t know who I was,” she says.

While Ettel recovered in the hospital, her friends got word of her situation and brought her some cannabis to try in a vaporizer.

A clock and kitchen tools adorn Alison Ettel's, the founder of Treatwell (an edibles company based in San Franscisco's,) peg board in her kitchen.

“I didn’t know what it was, like I said, I didn’t know who I was,” Ettel says as her face lights up while she recalls trying cannabis for the first time. “I got an appetite. I had mental clarity, the pain went away and the depression lifted. I was extremely depressed because I didn’t know what was happening.”

Ettel, who had never tried marijuana before and hasn’t since, was inspired enough by the plant’s healing powers to change the direction of her life.

“It was just the most incredible thing I’d ever experienced, so I didn’t forget it,” she says. “I researched it, so when I got better I just kept looking into it.”

Ettel has undergraduate degrees in economics, finance, international business and French and has master’s degrees in urban planning and real estate development. She has also worked as a trader on Wall Street as well as a researcher at D.C.-based think tank the Brookings Institution. With her background, it comes as no surprise that when she decided to start a cannabis business last year, she went all in, taking classes at Oaksterdam, reading medical reports and speaking with doctors and friends.

“I talked to anybody that I could that would talk to me about cannabis,” she said.

“I originally thought it was just recreational, I thought it was for fun and maybe pain relief, maybe nausea control or something, but then I started realizing that there’s just so much more to this plant.”

When she started TreatWell, Ettel — who has always had a passion for food — saw edibles as one of the biggest holes in the market where she could make an impact. All along she knew her company would be focused on making products to be used as medicine and help others heal.

“It was hard for me because I had no ties,” she says of her beginnings in the cannabis industry.

Through her research, she found extracts would work the best for crafting edibles and worked with a consultant to teach her the basic extraction process.

“I started getting more into extracts because I wanted to make sure that my products were as pure and natural as possible,” she says. “I wanted to learn it from the ground up, I didn’t want to just throw kief in there. I didn’t want to just throw weed in there. I wanted it to be consistent, reliable and repeatable.”

TreatWell edibles are created with only the flower of premium organic cannabis. Lab results on TreatWells Cherry Pie strain show an extremely high concentration of myrcene, a terpene that acts as a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic. The buds of this strain smell incredibly dank — myrcene is used heavily in the perfume industry and is also found in other plants such as mangoes and verbena — and are incredibly sticky to the touch. Cherry Pie is just one of the selections TreatWell starts with when crafting strain-specific edibles that feature items such as blueberry almond granola and medicated caramels.

Alison Ettel wears a blue and red apron as she chops up almonds to go into her edibles and sold as Treatwell products.

“They’re all different, people are going to have different reactions to each strain,” Ettel says of her products. “I wanted to make sure they could have a customized experience, that they wouldn’t have a bad experience on edibles.”

TreatWell has also expanded to feature tinctures and extracts that test high in CBD – one of many compounds found in cannabis that is demonstrating a growing range of medicinal applications.

“It’s a whole system,” Ettel says. “I know people that are using all three, for different reasons, at different times throughout the day or throughout their process because I wanted it to be full circle. I didn’t want it to be just one piece of the puzzle.”

Published in issue 14 of Cannabis Now.

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