“It feels very much like we’re still scraping the surface of what cannabis can contribute to people’s health and well-being.”
— Katie Stem, Peak Extracts
Meet Katie Stem of Peak Extracts on
Wednesday, June 3rd.
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How would you describe yourself and what you do?
Since 2014, I have been co-founder and CEO of Peak Extracts, a Portland based extraction and cannabis products manufacturing company. I’m also a Chinese herbalist, acupuncturist, gardener, painter and mad-scientist/nerd. Although I am very busy, driven and focused, I’m also extremely social, and much of my identity is rooted in helping people and being of use to my community.
When did you get started working with cannabis? What is your vision and mission for your professional cannabis endeavors?
In 2005, I received my medical card in Oregon and began growing a few cultivars for dealing with my struggle with Crohn’s disease. Somewhere around 2008, I started making strain-specific chocolates because I found that different strains had a very different impact on my symptoms. Over the years, I’ve begun to explore all the myriad ways different cultivars and preparations of cannabis can affect physiology. My mission is to continue to create products that cater to as many different conditions and experiences as possible, in order to give our consumers control over their exploration with cannabis. Even our three topicals work very differently from one another, and when you add the psychotropic element of our ingestible products, there’s literally a rainbow of effects we can offer to our customers.
What is your personal cannabis origin journey?
My life was very planned out and regimented as a teen— I was going to get an M.D., and either become a surgeon or physiology researcher. My senior year in college, as I was wrapping up Pre-Med, I got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and began the typical treatments. Unfortunately, none of the medications I was on allowed me any relief or increase in function, and I spent most of my 20s extremely ill. I began to explore alternatives, including cannabis, Chinese herbs, and acupuncture. What started as a “pause” in my journey to getting an M.D. became my passion and career. I started my medical practice in 2010, and as Oregon became more hospitable to cannabis, I found myself in a unique position to start an edibles and topicals company, making the same products I’d been creating for myself and the other patients in my community for years.
What is your Superpower?
My last name is Stem, and it suits me quite well. I have an affinity for plants, and their chemical constituents. My super power might be growing, extracting, and prescribing plants and herbs. In my Chinese medical practice, I am trained on about 500 different herbs. The pharmacopeia has anti-virals, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and countless other useful substances. And obviously when it comes to Peak Extracts, I adore working with each preparation and cultivar and figuring out what unique properties they have and what they can offer. Lately, I’ve been focused on the minor cannabinoids, and how we can extract those for use in more potent applications. It feels very much like we’re still scraping the surface of what cannabis can contribute to people’s health and well-being.
What has been your greatest obstacle in business to date – and how have you overcome it – or are you still working on tackling it?
In 2017 we were robbed— three masked men cut the power and internet and spent three hours ransacking our facility (our security company decided it was a blackout and failed to notify the police). They took a mind-boggling amount of product, extract, etc., and trashed our facility. Recovering financially was a significant struggle, but something else persists to this day from that experience: the knowledge, which I realize is largely philosophical at this point, that at any moment the thing we’ve worked so hard on, and dedicated our whole lives to, really isn’t in our control, and could be taken away. The regulators, financial pressures, the government— there are always threats to deal with and it’s quite the mental exercise not to either panic or ignore it entirely. There’s the anxiety of wanting to do your best, and then there’s the anxiety of catastrophic what-ifs. I’ve reached a decent place with the balance, but there are still moments where the panic can well up unexpectedly.
What would you like women to know about entering the Cannabis industry or exploring Cannabis?
I would love to see more women in positions of authority in this industry. As companies consolidate, they almost always replace female leaders with (white, older) men. And as people look for financing to expand, 97% of the money goes to male-led companies. It is, unfortunately, a very hostile industry to women in many ways, especially on the processing side.
My best advice is to find mentors in the industry and mentors outside the industry (such as engineers, CEOs, attorneys, etc.) who are either female or who will act as an ally to assist you in navigating the male-dominated atmosphere.
Men tend to mentor other men, and when we go to hire women in higher positions, there are astoundingly fewer of them. In my opinion, it’s because of lack of mentorship and opportunities earlier in their cannabis careers. Fight for those internal promotions, and know that there are lots of people who’d be thrilled to work with you.