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From Patient To CEO: Katie Stem Of Peak Extracts Talks Optimizing Cannabis

CEO of Peak Extracts, Katie Stem, talks about her journey to cannabis, strain-specific chocolates, Terp-LockTM technology, and her new line of hemp-infused salves.

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Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, brings a depth of personal experience and scientific prowess to the highly-competitive Oregon cannabis market.

Peak Extracts
Katie Stem and Katie Black, co-founders of Oregon-based Peak Extracts.

As a nationally certified licensed herbalist and acupuncturist, Stem’s skills are invaluable to Peak in the formulation and research and design (R&D) of all of its products, from the company’s delectable line of artisanal, strain-specific chocolates, CO2 vape cartridges, and topical salves.

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A medical patient since 2004, Stem was motivated by her battle with Crohn’s disease to explore cannabis and other plant medicine to effectively manage it. Because of her therapeutic success with cannabis, Stem founded Peak Extracts with her partner Kate Black in 2014. Woman-owned and operated, Peak Extracts was the first adult-use edibles producer licensed in Oregon. It is the second most popular cannabis chocolate manufacturer in the state.

Green Entrepreneur spoke with Stem about cannabis science, strain-specific chocolates, methodology, and Peak’s newest offering, a line of hemp-infused topicals. 

What was your life before Peak? How did that influence your decision to start the company, and how does your experience play into your production process?

Katie Stem: Most of my career prior to cannabis, I spent working in medical research or running my acupuncture and herbal practice here in Portland. When I moved here in 2004 to work in the neurology department at OHSU, I had already spent many years working on pharmacology and neuroscience research, formulating drugs, and performing extractions. 

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001, and I got progressively sicker until I started learning more about strain-specific cannabis and Chinese herbal medicine. I have been making strain-specific chocolates for my own medical use for about 13 years now, and it seemed natural to try to bring them to market. Especially given my unique skill set with laboratory science and herbal medicine. 

Katie Stem and Kate Black, co-founders of Peak Extracts.Katie Stem, left, and Kate Black, right, are partners as well as the co-founders of Peak Extracts.

My girlfriend filled in the missing pieces, with experience in branding, design, and cuisine. We work very well together, and she’s passionate about the business because she saw what an amazing effect cannabis had on my health. 

To this day, what keeps us going, and excited, is the positive impact we are having on people’s lives. It’s a constant inspiration to read testimonials and talk with patients in Oregon about how our products have improved their well being. 

What sets Peak apart from other edibles on the market?

KS: We are one of the only edibles companies that make our own extracts, giving us a unique ability to control every step of the process. In addition, our focus is on strain-specificity, allowing people to tailor their experience based on the varied effects of each different cannabis cultivar. 

Our proprietary Terp-LockTM extraction process we developed enables us to retain the natural terpenes and flavonoids from our source material, which is, generally, an award-winning flower. These aspects provide a much more nuanced experience than edibles made from distillate or isolate—which also tend to originate from lower grade bulk flower. In addition, our artisanal chocolates are vegan and gluten-free and made from 70 percent dark gourmet couverture.  

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Why do you color-code your chocolates? 

KS: There are myriad cannabis strains out there, and we can’t expect everyone to be familiar with the effects of each. Our color-coding system is designed to guide users to the experience they want. 

We have a list of characteristics and an archetypical strain for each color, and we choose what flower to process based on how they fit into our categories. Of course, some people have different chemistries—for instance, our Red (Heavy Sativa) for most people is euphoric, energizing, and has a very heavy body buzz. But, we recognize certain outliers may find it sedating. 

Through research, development, terpene and cannabinoid analysis, and then performing product testing to provide a reliable, customizable experience, the aim is that if you’ve had a particular effect from a color before, it will be reproducible even though the strain has changed. Inherent to strain-specific cannabis and part of the benefit is that varied strains do in fact have distinct properties.

We strive to provide as much accuracy and guidance as possible. 

What is your favorite Peak Extracts product?

KS: The product that I use the most is our India/CBD-dominant chocolate. I’ve found it enormously helpful to manage my Crohn’s disease-related pain and inflammation, as well as anxiety. For fun, however, I love the Blueberry Cookies chocolate. I find it to be very social, lucid, and giggly. It’s like the cannabis version of a nice glass of champagne.

"I would love to see Oregon be the nation’s source for premium craft cannabis like we are with incredible pinot noir."

- Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts

What do you look for in production partners?

KS: Our primary interest is in sustainability, both fiscal and environmental. We look for people who want to be in the industry here for the long haul, and do things like care for their land and soil properly, pay their employees well, and sell their product at prices that are sustainable for them.

We want to have long-term relationships with the growers because, at its heart, this industry has a great capacity for community building and positive impact. 

We also look for a diverse strain offering and interesting minor cannabinoid profiles. It probably goes without saying that we look for fantastic, pesticide-free, high testing flower since that is in ready supply here in Oregon. 

What would you like to see in the future of the Oregon cannabis industry?

KS: Tying into my last comment, I would love to see Oregon be the nation’s source for premium craft cannabis like we are with incredible pinot noir. Not only is the climate and soil a great fit, but Oregonians have been farming cannabis here for decades and it’s embedded in our culture. Soon, I hope interstate commerce will open and we can share our bounty with the rest of the U.S. And then, the world.

Peak Extract Rescue Rub

What’s your brand new hemp-infused Rescue Rub line all about?

KS: Since 2014, we've been making Rescue Rub for the Oregon market. However, the formula’s base was developed in 2010, in my Chinese Herbal practice as a salve for blunt force trauma, inflammation, and arthritis. Rescue Rub has been a top-selling topical since Oregon went legal in 2016, and we've received hundreds of requests to make it for a national audience. So, we listened.

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For our Rescue Rub hemp line, we kept all the Chinese Herbs the same throughout but altered the cannabinoid composition to create three unique products. The THC-free formula is extra potent and designed to be compliant even in states with over-zealous law enforcement, or for shipping internationally. The original formula is made with our full-spectrum CO2 extracted oil, which through our proprietary Terp-Lock process, preserves the naturally occurring flavonoids, terpenes, and phytochemicals that make hemp such a medicinally powerful plant. 

Our third, brand-new product, is a CBDa topical. Made with Hawaiian-grown hemp, it is extracted using an ultra-cold process that leaves the cannabinoids in their raw state. CBDa has shown great promise in laboratory studies for its anti-inflammatory effects. It has a completely different method of action than CBD and other cannabinoids.