Two Seattle-based entrepreneurs expect to receive approval this spring on a patent for a product that the cannabis industry has been lacking for years: powdered THC. And though cyclodextrins were originally thought to be the most promising means of achieving this dream, these two twenty-somethings have figured out a different way to do it.
When asked how long he’s been working to make powdered THC a reality, Oleo co-founder and CEO Russell Stebbins laughed. “Should I tell you about the first time I tried to freeze smoke in my parents’ freezer?” he asked in return. “I’ve been looking for the patent on this [for years]. I just wanted to know how to do it…and I couldn’t believe that process wasn’t out there.”
“[Russell is] the yes guy. I’m the no guy,” added co-founder and COO Derick Anderson. “I tried to say no, we shouldn’t file a patent, it’s too expensive.” But Stebbins was adamant, and his confidence led the pair to file in March of 2014.
It was Anderson who determined how to bind THC particulates to a carbohydrate base that dissolves in cold water – something chemists and would-be entrepreneurs had failed to do for years. Anderson, an aspiring neuropharmacologist, said that once discovered, the process is simple to follow, but getting there took a mental leap – he borrowed a basic idea from a very different industry, and couldn’t believe it when the process worked. The co-founders plan to work with producers in each cannabis market they enter, allowing these businesses to license their process, create the powdered THC and use the Oleo brand, which will be sold in turn to distributors and retailers.
Why was it so hard to create a seemingly simple product? THC itself is not water-soluble, so it needs to be “trapped” in something with dual polarity – that is, a compound that reconciles the fact that water is polar and THC is not. Once trapped in this compound, the THC has new de facto properties, like the ability to dissolve in cold water, distribute itself evenly, and stay suspended in the solution. It also displays increased bioavailability: while the same amount of THC in an edible can take up to two hours to reach the bloodstream, the effects of powdered THC dissolved in water can be felt more acutely, in as little as 10 minutes.
With flavor and color added, Oleo’s powdered THC is packaged into measured plastic tubes that can be opened and eaten plain (much like Pixy Stix) or added to any beverage or food. What’s in the name? “Oleo comes from oleoresin…which is derived from the Latin root word oleum, which means oil. Also, it’s the kind of thing you can just yell,” Stebbins laughed. “We want people to share Oleo,” added Anderson, explaining that each Oleo pack of six 10-milligram servings will include three flavors they guarantee purchasers will love (lime, mango and watermelon are particularly popular), and three more eccentric flavors (think blueberry, grape or blackberry) that people might like to give away to friends.
Both Anderson and Stebbins have been working full-time on Oleo since September 2015, and though the brand has found its way into six Seattle-area medical dispensaries in recent months, the team is currently focused on refining its process and readying its product for the Washington recreational market. The duo say that moving slowly has allowed them to create a better final product, and they already have a long list of people interested in being processors. Currently, the build-out of the first processing facility (at Western Cultured in Arlington, Wash.) is scheduled to be completed in the next two months. Meanwhile, Anderson and Stebbins continue to manage everything, from branding and marketing to proprietary packaging design, in-house.
As they wait for their patent, Stebbins and Anderson are already working on several new products using Oleo, which they prefer to keep secret for the time being. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Oleo in Washington state rec stores as early as this summer.
Image Source: Sara Dilley