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Joe: [00:00] alright Cured Collective listeners welcome back to another podcast. Super stoked for our podcast today. I’m here with Mike Hennessy from one of the brands, the new VP of product innovation just got a promotion recently. Congratulations, Mike, thank you so much for joining us. For those of you that are listening to this podcast, in Colorado, the state of Colorado, you will have for sure known or heard of Wana Brands and now I think you guys are in eight or 10, or maybe 15 states. So across the nation right now and super excited to dive into everything you guys do but thanks for joining me, Mike.
Mike: [00:43] absolutely, Joe, thanks so much for having me today. Looking forward to talking with you.
Joe: [00:46] so I guess just to start things off, I’m curious to know a little bit about your background, like, what brought you into this industry? I know you’ve been with Wana for I think six years now or is it maybe seven what drove you into this, this endeavor in your life?
Mike: [01:05] it’s been a really interesting ride. So Wana is now one of the top infused edibles companies in the country. We’re in nine states currently still expanding. We’ve got Canada coming on board and it’s been just such a treat but it all started back in college. I definitely was a consumer of cannabis. I started consuming in college, kind of, you know, got through the jadedness of the drug war and bare programs and realized cannabis really was actually a pretty, pretty safe thing to consume, especially in the days of college but I don’t think that I really understood the medical aspects of it until I had a roommate with epilepsy and that gave me really clear insight that this was a medicine that could be used to treat certain things and just seeing how he can be so debilitated from epilepsy yet just smoking a little bit of cannabis would prevent a seizure. Prevent, prevent his epilepsy from flaring up, and when he didn’t have it, how it could drastically affect his life. So now not only did I understand that it wasn’t something we should have a drug war against, but this was also something that truly helped people and could enhance people’s lives and that kind of changed my entire viewpoint and real direction in what I wanted to do with my life. I graduated in 2012 that November, Colorado had voted to legalize. So I got myself out to Colorado about as quickly as I could. Got started right in the industry at working as a career. So I was able to meet with grows dispensary’s producers and product labs. They gave me a really broad understanding of what this cannabis industry was even at that very nascent period of the industry and I got to meet some of the really top producers and best in class companies such as Wana and was really excited when they brought me into work for their sales team. My background in college was environmental science. So not like a hard science individual, I did definitely have the background in chemistry and biology to understand as we started seeing that cannabinoids, there is there’s a lot of science behind it, the bioavailability of them, how they’re absorbed by the body and we started to put more resources, time, energy and actually developed this role for me to dive into the science behind cannabis but, you know, back in the day, we were producing all kinds of products in the early days, wasn’t really sure what consumers were looking for. We just made this wide variety but Wana was really fortunate to come across gummies as a delivery system for cannabis, and which to this day becomes the most popular way to consume an edible and so we really devoted our time, energy, and strategy to creating vegan pectin based gummies, in fact, trying 30 different kinds of pectin. You know, most people don’t even realize there’s more than one kind but we tested them all out to come up with the perfect texture and consistency for our gummies which is what partly what makes them just so delicious and great to eat.
Joe: [04:20] they really are. It’s, it’s funny, like it’s, it’s been wild to watch the evolution of edibles since the legalization and recreation and of course, the control and quality has actually, like improved so much but in the beginning years, it was like, whoa, like, you’re not really sure what you’re getting and now it’s we’re at this place right now, where even as you said, like innovation, like if you’re not innovating in this space, you’re, the company is not going to succeed, right? We’ve seen this massive explosion, quality control started coming in, brands started coming in the barrier to entry started getting lower and lower and, of course, the only way to continue to be on the forefront to beat leaders is through product innovation. So I want to I’m just adding this in. I didn’t add this in our original flow, but I think this would be a good time to start with this and then we can go back and really do a little bit education piece but when you talk about like, product innovation, product development life cycle, like r&d, what does that like what does that flow look like and how do you and Wana approach that?
Mike: [05:44] that’s a great question. So the early days of the cannabis industry, people were just trying to figure out how to put cannabis into products and he saw brownies and cookies, edibles, gummies that, we’re basically just taking extracts and putting them right into a product and people have asked me well, how do you innovate beyond that? Once you’ve got a great-tasting gummy what’s the next step? You know, haven’t you figured it out? It’s a great product but I’d say we’re just scratching the surface of innovating products and the reason is that we’re not using cannabis as just another ingredient. It’s not like a sugar-free alternative. Cannabis in its own right is, is a psychoactive drug that’s able to affect our endocannabinoid system in so many ways and it all starts with a plant. So when you’re thinking about innovation, you don’t just say, well, I’m an edibles producer how can you know, put cannabis in an edible? You think how can I source the right genetics work with the right growers who are going to grow cannabis in the right way? It’s going to affect what cannabinoids and terpenes in the expression of those actually exist and there are many kinds of ways to extract a plant and so good innovators thinking about their extraction process, and actually their distillation and processing. How are you removing some of the unwanted pieces of cannabis like chlorophyll and such? And then there’s this next step of infusing it, whether it’s through technologies to increase bioavailability or reintroducing terpenes but each of these steps throughout the process is helping you land on a well thought out blend of cannabinoids to deliver effects, you know, people are looking for something when they consume cannabis and product innovators need to be dialing in on what that is and how to achieve that. So it a lot of it is actually outside of the kitchen because all the way back down to the soil, the light, the growing technique, it’s all built-in together and that’s what goes into an edible.
Joe: [07:47] yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s top-down or bottom-up, really approach the whole system really matters is what you’re bringing to market and I think that that’s something that that education needs to be out there more and more, you know specifically like for cured in the rise of the CBD industry over the last several years, like from a consumer standpoint, if you’re not educated on that understanding of what really goes into the entire product, then there’s a potential that you could get a very poor quality product and then also, that products not going to work for you. So then your idea of what cannabis or cannabinoids can be for you could actually be wrong and I think that that’s an extreme disservice if you’re just out there for the dollar rather than the quality and the whole understanding of what the flow is to bring a product to market starting with the genetics, as you said, without understanding that you might not actually be getting the quality product that really can help people and people deserve so much. So you briefly touched on it and you said the endocannabinoid system; let’s educate the listeners on what the endocannabinoid system is. Why is it important and how do you cannabinoids are exogamous phytocannabinoids affect the system?
Mike: [09:09] yes, so the endocannabinoid system or the ECS system, if anyone’s not familiar without about it out there, you know, don’t feel bad because this is a system of the body that’s still being taught in 10% or less of our medical schools in the country.
Joe: [09:24] wow. That’s an interesting data point.
Mike: [09:25] yes, and more and more are starting to teach this and it’s becoming clear that this is not just a small system of the body. This is a large regulatory network within our bodies. So basically, what it is, is a cell signaling system, and it does something that’s called retrograde signaling. All retrograde signaling means that the receiving neuron of a message or the postsynaptic neuron sends a message back to the sending neuron or the presynaptic neuron. So you know, our brain sending all kinds of messages all day long and as those messages are coming, the neurons can actually send a message back and saying, upregulate or downregulate that message. This means the ECS system is a master regulator of all the other neurological systems of the body, it can say send more of that send signal, it can say send less of that signal and in that way, this system actually controls many other systems of the body such as the immune system and gut responses and overall what it’s doing is it’s helping our bodies maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis simply means balance, and a lot of conditions, pains, aches, issues, they can all arise actually just from our bodies being out of balance and there’s a lot of ways we can help get ourselves in balance through exercise and diet but another important piece of it is the endocannabinoid system, this master regulator that we’re just now starting to bring into our medical literature. So it’s an incredibly important system that helps with things like the immune system, sleep, mood, appetite, memory, and overall, this can help with things like inflammation and anxiety, even things like energy and focus. So overall, this is a very important system in the body that has far-reaching effects that we’re really still starting to understand. I don’t believe that there’s a great understanding of all the intricacies of how this works, but it’s something we’re understanding every day. I would say that you know, from a product formulation standpoint, it’s really key to focus in on what science is being published, and utilizing what we’re learning every day to help build your products better.
Joe: [11:53] yeah, that’s amazing. And I mean, when you think about it, what you just described as several components or effects from the endocannabinoid system, it’s like normal bodily functions and like normal human functions, sleep-wake cycle, appetite mood, like all humans need to understand that those systems need to be in those processes need to be in balance for you to feel your best and to be your best and to do your best every single day. So it’s a really beautiful thing and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see over, you know, the next 5-10-15 years, the science that really comes out of actually the in-depth study that will actually get to do because, as you said, like, we truly have just scratched the surface and, you know, for the longest time, it was just THC and then, you know, over the last probably five years, six years, CBD was really, really heavily in the conversation and so, when we think about those two, and we’ve done a decent amount of educating on this podcast before and describing how many known cannabinoids there are in the cannabis plant and we just talked about two of those that are highly available in cannabis and marijuana and hemp. I’m curious as to your thoughts and kind of just education around all other cannabinoids what you find as interesting for the future of minor cannabinoids, if there’s anything that we’re seeing, that’s kind of holding back the progression of those minor cannabinoids? I know this is like a three-part question but I guess just to start, can you once again share with our community like the idea of cannabinoids, how many are in the plant, and then kind of dive into, you know, where you see this progressing and potentially any roadblocks?
Mike: [13:55] yeah, so if we start with understanding that we have this endocannabinoid system and that there’s these internal signals, what Phytocannabinoids are just meaning cannabinoids from the plant. It means they’re able to bind with our endocannabinoid system receptors. That means a cannabis can affect all the same systems of the body with the ECS can regulate. That’s what makes it so important and allows us to, you know, want us tagline is enhance your life and there’s many ways that these Phytocannabinoids can help enhance your life through better sleep, better mood, better appetite but really, the cannabis plant is producing right now it’s believed to be over 150 cannabinoids, as well as hundreds and hundreds 400 plus terpenes which also can play into what’s described as an entourage effect. So there’s lots and lots of compounds that are being produced in this plant that can have beneficial effects on us. We’re just now starting to understand what each of these can do. I mean, we’re still understanding the THC and CBD can do but you brought up CBG and CBN these are just starting to come into products we’re seeing on the market now that can help with things like anxiety and asleep. There are other ones coming down such as the CDC, which has shown a lot of antibacterial and other benefits that it can have. There are even some really interesting ones that we haven’t seen in commercial quantities yet. Such as delta eight THCV; THCV is very interesting because there is some early research that shows it could be an appetite suppressant kind of counter-intuitive about cannabis.
Joe: [15:53] it’s true. That’s so interesting like for our community, our consumer base is heavily health, fitness, wellness THCV as an appetite suppressant and think about wow, a natural component of a plant that’s now could be used to help somebody in maybe potentially going into diet phase or working on their nutrition like, it seems like the potentials truly are endless and Taylor, my business partner and I, who you met and who we connected through, we joke about it at times, but there’s never been a time in which somebody asks you like, who is this for? And in your response, you could go for you say, well, everybody and their dog-like ever likes it’s like there’s no actual limit to it right now. It’s really wild to say that because some people be like, well, that’s not true. How is that possible? But the initial findings and potentials that we’re seeing really are showing that and when you think about what we discussed about the ECS normal human bodily functions like are you a human then yes, this could be beneficial for you. So that’s, that’s extremely interesting. So you mentioned commercially available quantities. So when we talk about minor cannabinoids, such as CBG and CBN, of course, you know, we’ve seen over the last year we’re seeing these more available but I think that this is something that you touched on earlier is, you know, how do we how are these other cannabinoids going to become more and more available and I think that your discussion around understanding the whole life cycle and going back to the beginning is probably a key component of that, but I’ll allow you to kind of share what you’re seeing there and any, like roadblocks or I, guess areas for innovation really.
Mike: [17:52] yeah, I guess I would say that cannabis is kind of like going through a Renaissance. It uh, it went through kind of a dark age, the drug war pushed everything underground and these breeders were producing plants in basements and closets just under the radar and they were going for THC. It’s, it was the best way to sell cannabis in an underground market and so they continue to hybridize these plants to just produce very high levels of THC and so our genetics got skewed, our growing patterns got skewed auto produces very high THC plants and what’s interesting about cannabis is that the biosynthetic pathway, which simply means the way that cannabis produces these compounds, it’s very similar. So if you’re producing lots of THC, the plants not able to produce these other compounds such as CBG and CBN and so, a lot of our genetics have been hijacked, but we’re now having this Renaissance you know, the 2018 farm bill that allowed hemp growers to go back and refocus on older genetics and growing patterns. I’ve seen a resurgence in plants very low in THC to no THC but they’re a lot higher in these minor cannabinoids, we’re seeing minors now in excess of 15% of the plant. So it’s making something that initially was just in such small quantities, you could never produce enough of it to make a good product from it but we’re now seeing new genetics, new growing patterns that allow for these to be grown in significant quantities and we’re seeing these brand new health benefits that are coming from it and that’s what’s really exciting is what else are we going to be able to produce in this plant? In the next three years? What haven’t we been able to see an expression that’s going to come next?
Joe: [19:53] right, right. So when we even say the term, minor cannabinoids is that kind of just because of the way the plant was bred over the course of time; do we have any information on if what we’re calling minor canal cannabis, cannabinoids were actually more present in older genetics and strains? I mean, I don’t know how much history it is for us to study but it kind of seems like we bred it into these into creating minor cannabinoids.
Mike: [20:24] yeah, that’s hard to say just because analytical chemistry is much newer. So understanding what compounds work in, ancient landrace cannabis. It’s hard to say but what we are seeing is evidence that would suggest that so there’s certain new breeds or strains cultivars of hemp that are high in CBG, where that is actually the dominant cannabinoid. So you wouldn’t describe that plant as CBD being a minor cannabinoid because it’s primarily what it’s expressing. I think what you’re hitting on is exactly right that the genetic information is there, we just have to breed it in the right ways and give it the right growing conditions to express these different compounds.
Joe: [21:09] is there any initial data on like, like climate and anything that’s driving this?
Mike: [21:20] yeah, yes. So as with most things in genetics, it’s both nature and nurture in cannabis. It’s not one or the other. So you need to have the genetic blueprint, but the growing conditions so the soil, the light, and the atmosphere that cannabis is grown in, will alter the way that it expresses different cannabinoids. So climates that are higher in UV light, you know, if you’re they’ll you’ll actually see higher production of cannabinoids, which might actually give us an insight as to why the plant produces these it could be protections for the plant from harmful UV rays and so the climate in which it’s grown, the temperature in which it’s grown, how much light it receives, at what time of year will change the expression of the cannabinoids, as well as the terpenes which are these aromatic compounds that give it the smell and flavor and also have their own beneficial effects.
Joe: [22:23] yeah, it’s so interesting. I’m curious, when you when you’re discussing terpenes, as to understand, like the well, I guess, actually, I’ll take a step back, can you describe terpenes as far as I mean, you have said the aromatic parts, but these are unique to strains, how would you describe them?
Mike: [22:48] terpenes are a wide class of compounds produced by all plants, even some funguses, and bacteria, but really what they are is a very small, fatty compounds or their small little bits that are so small that they can float around in the air and it’s what gives them smell and you can actually smell a strain and have an idea of what terpenes are in there but you know, the same can be said when you walk through a pine forest. It has a unique scent, it has you know, it oftentimes can give us a feeling of being more relaxed or focused just by being outside in a pine forest and a lot of that is actually the terpenes such as alpha-terpineol and beta-terpineol that are present in those tree oils and so the cannabis plant is unique that it doesn’t just produce 5 or 10 but it has the capability of producing hundreds; there have been about 400 identified terpenes at the cannabis plant can produce and this allows it to have such a wide-ranging smell. One can smell like oranges and then another can smell completely different like a skunk and they’re all being produced by the same plant and these terpenes, it’s believed, have interactions with our endocannabinoid system. So they can kind of tailor the cannabis experience, both for CBD and for THC they can help modulate the way that it affects you and help give effects like relaxation or uplifting, uplifting it comes from something like citrus, which you’ll find in a lot of cleaners that have a very uplifting set.
Joe: [24:35] right, right, right. I’m curious as to the idea of bioavailability and so when we think about all the different forms of cannabinoids that are out there, or I should say extracts or ways of ingesting them, you know, very frequently we talk about when people are asking about CBD, we always say you know, there are these ways to take it. Kind of give us a little bit of information on understanding bioavailability, increasing bioavailability, and if it has to do with the form of ingestion or if it has to do with something that you’re doing even before that?
Mike: [25:15] yeah, so this is really important because bioavailability is simply a measurement of how much of a compound gets into our bloodstream and can be used by our body. So we need to get cannabis into our body and when you inhale cannabis, it’s actually able to go into our lungs and directly enter the bloodstream right there so it has a very high level of bioavailability so smoking cannabis, vaping cannabis is such a popular and effective way of using the product. When you’re looking at something like an orally ingested product, you extract the cannabis cannabinoids and they’re an oily product, same with terpenes, and the simple way to describe this is our bodies are 60 to 70% water We’re trying to add oil to it and as everyone’s seen, oil sits on top of water doesn’t want to mix readily. This means that orally digested cannabinoids have a bioavailability of 6-12% it is very, very low. In addition to that, they get metabolized by the liver, enzymes work on them and actually break them down. So the bioavailability ends up being very low for orally ingested cannabis. So that’s really the mode of ingestion that has an effect on it. Now what we’re seeing is a movement towards increasing oral bioavailability through certain technologies, really using science to build a better edible. What you can do with that is put cannabinoids into very small droplets kind of encapsulate them like little miniature Trojan horses that your body doesn’t recognize is oil instead it sees it as a water-soluble compound, something that can dissolve in the body and enter our bloodstream quickly and so this eliminates that low bioavailability and it also lets an oral digest can hit you quickly is one of the big issues with edibles, right, it can take an hour or more to take effect. When you bypass this you’re able to have a bullet takes effect in five to 15 minutes. A lot easier to dose, a lot easier to use more bioavailable products.
Joe: [27:30] so am I understanding this correctly and that you would say that, you know somebody says I ate a 10 milligram edible. So if you say 6% of that is only bioavailable, you’re saying that you would get the effect of 0.6 milligrams
Mike: [27:58] yeah, 0.6 milligrams.
Joe: [27:59] wow. That’s wild. So the true effect is like no, it’s actually like one milligram actually does a lot more to you than you think because we’re used to taking a 10 milligram edible and saying that 10 milligrams causes this but it’s truly only a lot less than that. Wow. That’s wild.
Mike: [28:20] I think that’s the future of a lot of cannabis edibles development. You know, if you’ve got a hemp tincture, that’s 1000 milligrams, well, you didn’t actually need to pay for that thousand milligrams, you just need, you know, a 200-milligram product that’s highly bioavailable, more CBD in the body than that thousand-milligram bottle and so that’s actually something that our Wana wellness CBD brand has recently launched this year. The line of light zonal tinctures and these liposomes increase the bioavailability they’re like little oil spheres that help our bodies digest and absorb the cannabinoids much more quickly. So they can take effect more quickly, and they’re going to have a greater effect than a similarly much higher dose product. It save you money. These cannabinoids, it’s, it’s really I think the future of where we’re going.
Joe: [29:17] yeah, yeah. So for anybody, anybody in our communities familiar with liposomal, vitamin D, or vitamin C, it just like that’s this is another example of the reason why we would do that. That’s really cool. I’m curious so I know that you are at the Maryland School of Pharmacy and tell us what you’re studying there because I think it’s really cool to see that this is actually offered in has this track been offered for some time is it new? I’m really curious because this is amazing.
Mike: [29:47] I believe in everyone’s knowledge. This master’s program is the very first of its kind offered at a master’s level and so it is the master’s program in cannabis science and therapeutics offered through that school. University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and UMP was my alma mater. So it’s very exciting to be back.
Joe: [30:06] that’s so cool.
Mike: [30:08] they announced this last summer, and I immediately knew this was for me and it’s, it’s great that they’ve taken a more pharmacological point of view as opposed to agricultural, not to discredit or say agriculture is not important but I think for my interests and how I hope to continue to affect and work in the industry, knowing how cannabinoids affect our bodies and act as a drug and creating great therapeutic products is just very important and so that’s what this program has been focused on.
Joe: [30:40] that’s really cool. I when I saw that I was looking at your LinkedIn profiles like wow, I’m so excited to hear about this and it’s really cool to see that this is actually being offered and I like what you’re saying about the pharmacological approach because it like when we think about it, the reason that pharmaceutical companies exist is that there is a science, there’s science backing it, and we see how it truly works. Of course, anecdotal evidence, like, we always should look at that and we can listen to that but when it comes down to it like we truly need to understand the data and so it’s cool to understand that this is now available. Thank you, Mike. This has been awesome. So I’m curious as far as you know, if anybody listening to this podcast is, I guess in a state that Wana is not in yet or is in or just wants to know more about Wana yourself, let everybody know where they can go and yeah, I just really appreciate you sharing all this.
Mike: [31:40] absolutely. You know, so Wana is currently we have Wana brands which are our THC touching business that produces products for THC CBD ratios and we also have Wana wellness which is available nationwide, except for just a few states that haven’t legalized CBD but you know, in our new states we’re working on bringing out these quick-acting guys that are going to utilize the increased bioavailability for faster-acting experience more bioavailable and the same for the tinctures on the Wana wellness side and so you can go to wanabrands.com or wanawellness.com to learn more about our products, we have a lot of education. So if anything in this podcast has been interesting to you, you can dive into our website to learn a lot more about the endocannabinoid system, about cannabinoids, terpenes, and bioavailability. As well as use a store locator and if you’re in a legal state, we do have some online ordering.
Joe: [32:39] awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mike. I think that from sitting here, I would love to talk to you again in the future if it’s not around for the podcast. I just appreciate your connection and sharing this knowledge and the Cured Collective listeners appreciate it as well. So thank you for your time and we wish you the best.
Mike: [32:58] Thanks so much, Joe. Same to you and you know if you and Taylor some time want to grab lunch or a drink in Denver somewhere halfway it would be lovely to meet in person.
Joe: [33:08] yeah, we should definitely do that.