PSFK 2017 Speaker Interview: Reframing The Conversation Around Cannabis And Wellness
We shot the breeze PSFK 2017 speaker and hmbldt Head of Marketing Derek McCarty on changing the conversation around cannabis and wellness
With vape pens becoming an increasingly common sight (and scent) in public places, it’s getting harder to know just what people are smoking these days. In California, where voters chose last year to legalize cannabis consumption, a “green rush” is sweeping in a new wave of companies hoping to take advantage of the newly-opened market. One of these green startups is hmbldt, named after Northern California’s Humboldt County, where a mountainous microclimate provides fertile ground for cannabis growth.
hmbldt sets itself apart by taking a scientific stance on cannabis-based therapy, reframing what plant-based medicine is and how cannabis can play a therapeutic role in people’s lives. The company produces six different “dose pens,” including strains that can help patients sleep better and alleviate pain. The company’s formulas are free of filler ingredients and additives, focusing solely on the cannabinoid extract and terpenes. We recently had the chance to shoot the breeze with PSFK 2017 speaker and hmbldt Head of Marketing Derek McCarty, who told us how the company is changing the conversation around cannabis and wellness.
How are you hoping to change people’s attitudes around marijuana?
It’s interesting. On one hand, I feel like we’re actually not trying to. On the other, I think we are, aggressively. We’re trying to help people think about natural, safe, plant-based tools they can use to help themselves live a healthier and happier life. Cannabis has been used since the beginning of time, just for that. A lot of what we’re trying to do is bypass that stigma around marijuana, around cannabis. Even that word, marijuana, has such heavy baggage surrounding it, not just because of the plant, but because of how that word has been used in culture. Our goal is actually to bring [the conversation around cannabis] back down to basics, because before people decided this was bad, it was really good and a really important therapeutic tool. I’d rather that the end user not have to think about that issue around cannabis, and really think of this as a tool to live a healthier and happier life.
It’s interesting how many people feel safer or more comfortable taking medicine that’s full of chemicals they can’t pronounce, but when it comes to a natural substance like cannabis, they’re dubious.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that there’s a bigger and more ambitious narrative here, which is that each one of our formulas is trying to give people a safe alternative to what is a fairly toxic space. Somewhere along the line, health became this thing that you did when you were sick. Whereas now people are going, “What I put in my body on a daily basis is either going to have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on my everyday health.” I think the other thing that’s started to happen is there’s a little bit of mistrust in what the system has been telling us is healthy. The opioid epidemic is a huge sign of that. When you think about Ambien, I don’t know if you’ve been around someone that’s taken Ambien? It’s kind of terrifying. We get patient stories all the time like, “I’ve been able to decrease my dependency on this toxic drug, because of this plant-based medicine.” So to your point of, “How are we handling the re-coding of cannabis?” For us, it’s about re-coding health.
How much research and development went into each product?
It all starts with the historical use of cannabis. The anthropological story that surrounds cannabis is deep, and it’s played a critical role in our lives since really the beginning of time. It was one of the first large-scale therapeutic tools that popped up across ancient cultures. Despite not having federally-backed studies, there’s a lot of desk research available [on cannabis]. There’s been thousands and thousands of studies that have been focused on how cannabis can be used as a therapeutic tool.
What people don’t realize is there’s a network of receptors in your body producing natural cannabinoids all the time. Similar to how morphine led to the discovery of the endorphin system, the same thing happened with cannabis. It’s why THC and CBD can have such a great impact, because it interacts with your body in the same way that naturally occurring cannabinoids within you already do. The other reason why cannabis can be so effective for such a myriad of health benefits is because the endocannabinoid system is directly responsible for managing homeostasis in your body. There’s been a lot of research around that.
The other thing that happens with cannabis is that there are so many different compounds within the plant that work together, called the entourage effect. If you just take THC on its own, you’re going to have a very different effect than if you take a plant-derived product. Right now, they primarily exist in strains. The strains are, in effect, different chemical makeups. The challenge is that a plant-based product is really susceptible to the environment around it. Our goal was to create a repeatable experience, blending those ingredients in a way that represents what you would find in nature, but it’s consistent. Then we went through research to make sure that we’re designing those formulas in a way to deliver the desired benefits.
Any thoughts on Canada moving to legalize marijuana?
Yeah, there’s a federal bill, and the Prime Minister is supportive of it. People are looking at Canada as a progressive nation overall. They’ve got a young, dynamic leader that’s really focused on representing the will of the people. When you start to see countries like that, such as Germany, looking at the therapeutic benefits of the plant, that’s going to change a lot about the conversation around cannabis. We’re looking at those as steps forward towards a significant cultural tipping point, where people really start to accept cannabis as a therapeutic tool. I still think, despite shifts like that, there’s a cultural dogma that needs to catch up as well.
The crazy thing is that if you took away the labels of alcohol and cannabis, and you said, “Look, on this one hand, you can take this thing, you can ingest this thing that is essentially a poison, and if you consume too much of it, you run the risk of life.” Or, I have this natural plant-derived substance that, yes, you can impair your ability to operate in a normal way if you consume too much of it, but no one’s ever died from a cannabis overdose. If you talk about [those substances] in that abstract space, you immediately—10 times out of 10—you would choose the latter. So a lot of it is re-education, and the government saying, “Look, we’re going to stop this negative campaign against cannabis.”
The theme of this year’s conference is “Innovation with Purpose.” How do you find purpose in your work every day and how do you stay passionate about it?
That’s a really good question. I think what we’re doing in terms of helping people find safe alternatives, it’s a big mission. Yes, we’re helping re-contextualize and recode what cannabis means, but that’s just a stop on the journey. I think the journey is to be able to help people use plant-based therapy to live a healthier and happier life and to find natural solutions to some of the most common issues that we all face day-to-day. I get to go in every day, and my job is to literally spread the message on finding safe, plant-based alternatives to live a healthier and happier life. I couldn’t think of a more rewarding and more inspiring mission to have to go in and face every single day and recruit people to achieve.
Derek McCarty is Head of Marketing at hmbldt, a health and wellness company providing innovative cannabis-based therapies via proprietary dosage technology and targeted formulas. hmbldt has been recognized as a disruptive force in health and wellness and was named by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2016. Before hmbldt, Derek worked in advertising at top agencies including Anomaly, 72andSunny and BBH.