Getting In On the Ground Floor with Lead Extractor Sean Strickland

Just a few short years ago, a career in legal cannabis wasn’t an option. Now, people can jump in with both feet. Such was the case for Sean Strickland, the Buyer and Lead Extraction Technician at our Washington facility. Sean has been with Avitas since the beginning, pitching in on our very first harvest back in August of 2014. He’d been on track to go into computer networking, but once he discovered cannabis, there was no going back.

Getting Into Cannabis

Sean was invited to see what Avitas was all about by his uncle, Jason Smit, our Master Grower in Washington. Sean was intrigued and decided to dive in as a processing assistant. He worked in processing for a year before transferring over to work in the lab and to explore R&D. Sean shifted his focus away from computer science and began to study chemistry and plant biology in earnest as he helped define and implement lab best practices back in the earliest days of Avitas. Being at Avitas from the start has had a significant impact on Sean’s trajectory, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He says, “It was amazing to be involved with cannabis from the very beginning. I’ve seen the company move from a friends and family operation to a multi-state movement.”

Making a Way

Being pioneers in the cannabis industry hasn’t been without its challenges. “We grew a lot more quickly than even we expected,” He laughs. “All of the sudden our facilities couldn’t keep up with demand, and we had to move fast to be able to fill all of the orders that came flowing our way.” It may have caused a few headaches at the time, but even Sean admits that rapid growth was a great problem to have.

Living the Dream

Today, Sean works with our Science Director, Dr. Amber Wise, and continues to streamline lab efficiencies to create the best cannabis oil cartridges on the market. “Working with weed and at the forefront of a brand new industry is awesome. It’s very rare that something like this pops up and I’m so glad that I was able to hop onboard.”

Avitas Celebrates Pride By Supporting Two Great Organizations

Pride Month is here, and we’re thrilled to celebrate it with a brand new strain! Our Pride strain this year is Unicorn Glitter, and it’s an exceptional blend full of double rainbows, unicorn laughs, glitter hearts, and of course, love, because #LoveisLove, and we love to give back to those who love. This month, we’re donating a portion of the proceeds of Unicorn Glitter to two fantastic organizations in Washington and Oregon working hard to promote the well-being of the LGBTQ community in the Pacific Northwest. Joe Bergen, our General Manager in Oregon, says, “We’re excited to kick off Pride by supporting and highlighting both the LGBTQ community and two amazing organizations that fight for equality and inclusivity in the states that we live in and love.”

We Love Equal Rights Washington!

The first organization we’re partnering with is Equal Rights Washington (ERW). ERW works to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for all LGBTQ Washingtonians. Their work began with the fight for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in 2006, domestic partnerships in 2009, marriage equality in 2012, trans healthcare in 2015, and a statewide ban on conversion therapy for minors in 2018. This year they also celebrated the passage of the Uniform Parentage Act to support parents as they begin and grow their families, and De-Escalate Washington’s Initiative 940 to provide all law enforcement officers with additional tools and skills to better keep all communities safe. To learn more about Equal Rights Washington and the extraordinary work that they do visit their website and discover more ways you can help support this incredible organization.

Basic Rights Oregon is Goals

The second tremendous organization we’re looking to support and shine a light on is Basic Rights Oregon. Basic Rights works to ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Oregonians experience equality by building a broad and inclusive politically powerful movement, shifting public opinion and achieving policy victories. In 2007, the organization helped pass, the Oregon Equality Act, providing comprehensive non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. In the ensuing years, Basic Rights moved policy to expand health care access for transgender Oregonians, protect LGBTQ youth from bullying in schools, ban youth conversion therapy and win the freedom to marry. Today, more than 150,000 volunteers and donors support Basic Rights’ LGBTQ pro-equality efforts. To support Basic Rights Oregon’s movement and to learn more about their current goals visit their website.

From the Avitas family to yours, we hope everyone has a fun and safe Pride! And remember, if you’re looking for something to help elevate the festivities, keep an eye out for Unicorn Glitter! It’s truly a magical ride.

Meet Erika Our Washington GM with a Taste for Adventure

Erika Smith isn’t afraid of a challenge. She once hiked eight miles to find someone to help her fish her car out of a stream and another time got paid a hundred bucks to embark on a daring midnight rescue mission to save a patch of prime cannabis trapped in the path of a tropical storm. So back in 2014, after helping her brother, Adam, plan Avitas’ path from the beginning, she was more than ready to hop on board with the company. Armed with meticulous attention to detail and a passion for making things work, she started off as Avitas’ Director of Human Resources and now has moved into the management of day-to-day operations at Avitas’ Washington farm as the state’s General Manager.

Making the Leap

From the beginning, Erika was in conversation with Adam as he worked to get Avitas off the ground, but her job was in a wildly different industry. She began her career in the public sector, eventually becoming a Program Director for the Employment Security Department, a worker re-education and job training program in Bellingham, WA. She didn’t realize it at the time, but sixteen years in the public sector set her up quite well for her role as General Manager.

Where others may have been overwhelmed, soon after starting her role, Erika found herself completely at home in the complex regulatory environment of I-502. She laughs looking back on it, “I came from a background that was very strict in terms of compliance, and we got audited every year. We had to dot the i’s and cross every t. So I-502 made a bizarre sort of sense to me. I immediately knew I could help.” There’s always a new mystery or puzzle to overcome every week and Erika wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everyone who works at Avitas is super passionate about our product. It’s the perfect environment to do great work because we’re all so invested.”

Keeping the Oil Flowing

That’s not to say that those first few months were easy. Avitas, like so many other producer/processors in Washington, was breaking new ground in the industry in 2014. “We were pioneers. No one knew exactly what we were doing or how the industry was going to change. We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get things done.”

Today, Erika and the Avitas Washington team are facing new challenges as Avitas grows and changes. However even though her work now spans two states as she works closely with the Oregon operation, Erika is determined to keep her focus on the day-to-day aspects of her role. “It’s both exciting and daunting to see where the future is taking us. But, we’re focusing on keeping our heads down and bringing a high-quality product to Washington state customers. As we continue to grow, we need to keep doing what we’re doing just more and better.”

Why We Take Pesticide Testing So Seriously

At Avitas, we cultivate a lot of our own flower and take great care to grow it using organic methods, but our grow is small, and we make a lot of oil, so we also work with local farms to source terrific starting material. Every so often we get a shipment of gorgeous flower that looks and smells great, but we have to send it back because it tests positive for pesticide. This breaks our hearts. However, we’re committed to bringing you the cleanest, most extraordinary extract possible and sometimes that means making some tough choices.

The Process

Before we place an order for a new shipment, we have farms sign an affidavit stating that they don’t use banned pesticides and if their crop tests positive, we return the flower and get refunded. Once we receive a shipment, we immediately send a sample out for testing, and nothing goes in our equipment until we get a clean result back. We’ve returned many shipments, and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but we still check every lot.

It’s Complicated

Sometimes a farm’s flower fails the test even after they’ve used every possible precaution and grown their flower using only the best of organic methods. This is where it gets complicated. Sometimes when growing outdoors, farmers are affected by what’s been planted in their fields in prior years. Pesticide doesn’t just go away once a harvest comes in. They can stay in the soil and can continue to affect what’s grown for many years to come. Sometimes, even when a farm is on clean soil, a nearby farm might spray their crops with conventional pesticides.  In agricultural regions like Washington and Oregon, crops like hops, apples, and wheat have much looser rules about what pesticides can be used, and natural factors like wind could mean that even with the best intentions, sometimes they fail the tests.

Why It Matters

One reason even a tiny amount of pesticide on the plant might be a more significant problem in finished oil is that the extraction process concentrates all the good stuff AND the bad stuff too. But a bigger worry is the complete lack of any scientific knowledge regarding the safety of inhaling smoked or vaped pesticides. Toxicity tests for pesticides only look at what might happen if you eat trace amounts in your food, and sometimes they look at skin contact or inhalation of vapors for worker safety. Many pesticides are by their very nature highly toxic and can convert to new molecules when heated at high temperatures. One particularly problematic pesticide that is used illegally on cannabis is myclobutanil. This molecule degrades into cyanide gas when it’s heated, so we want to make very sure that doesn’t end up in our oil!

Sure, our process is rigorous, but we care about what we put into our bodies, and we think you do too. We always test for pesticide, and never add any flavors, additives, or fillers to our pure golden goodness. After all, that’s the Avitas promise.

All Aboard the Terpene Train

At Avitas we think about terpenes a lot. They’re a crucial part of how we make the best cannabis oil cartridges in the industry. You may have read about our oil production techniques and how we remove cannabis plant terpenes at the beginning of each batch and then hand blend those same terpenes back in before that batch of oil is complete. But do you know why? Today, we wanted to dive in and explore just what terpenes are and why cannabis terpenes are a vital part of great cannabis extract.

Talking Terps

Herb defines terpenes as “...oils that give cannabis plants and flowers their unique smell.” However, terpenes are not just found in cannabis plants. You know those essential oils that that one person in your life won’t stop raving about? They’re packed with-- you guessed it--terpenes. Terpenes interact with our bodies in some amazing ways. For instance, tea tree oil is filled with terpinen-4-ol, γ-terpinene, and limonene all of which work together to bring you the antibacterial punch of tea tree oil. Lavender oil is similarly stuffed with terpenes including linalool, which gives lavender its unique scent and flavor. Lavender oil is thought to be soothing and may help people sleep or aid anxiety.

Cannabis Terpenes

In cannabis plants, the terpenes appear mainly in the same place we find the cannabinoids: the flower’s sticky resin glands. There are over a hundred terpenes found in cannabis plants, but the six most common are myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, limonene, humulene, and pinene. They each have unique characteristics and when combined in different ways, give each strain its unique features and aroma. This is why we think it’s so important to preserve all of them, so our finished oil tastes and feels like the flower from which it was made. However, there’s also another, a less well-understood reason for the preservation of terpenes in cannabis oil cartridges.

The Entourage Effect

You may know about the main cannabinoids like THC and CBD and their role in cannabis. However, it’s clear that it’s not just the cannabinoids that work such wonders in our bodies: terpenes and other phytocompounds work in concert with the cannabinoids to impart medicinal and psychoactive effects. This phenomenon is what’s known as the “entourage effect.” Essentially, it’s the combination of everything working together that’s important—not just isolating a single active ingredient which is typical for modern pharmaceutical formulations. For more information on the entourage effect and its possible ramifications, check out this great article from Leafly. Since there are so many different terpenes that appear in different amounts, and many other compounds also present, there’s still a lot to learn about how they interact with each other and in our bodies.

From aroma to effectiveness, cannabis terpenes turbocharge our experience. That’s why we believe it’s so important to preserve and reintegrate them into our world-class cannabis oils and extracts. We never use terpenes from other plants or lab-synthesized terpenes the way other brands may because we believe that the whole plant is essential and we want you to have the best vaping experience possible. That’s just the Avitas way.

Beyond THC: Taking a Deeper Dive into Cannabinoids

The depth and breadth of cannabis are still being plumbed. Believe it or not, there are over 113 cannabinoids in this wonder plant and scientists are still trying to understand how they all work both by themselves and together. These compounds interact with our endocannabinoid system (bet you didn't know you had one of those, huh?) which consists of a constellation of cell receptors and molecules scattered throughout our bodies. This complex system is involved in many aspects of our wellbeing: memory, stress and pain response, sleep, appetite, energy balance and metabolism, and immune function to name a few. This system interacts with both the endocannabinoids that naturally occur in our systems and the cannabinoids that are found in cannabis. So just what are these compounds and why do our bodies love them so much? Let's dive in, shall we?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is what most people think of and reach for when buying cannabis. We've all heard that this is the compound that gets people high and keeps them there, but there's more to this chemical than meets the high. Even though CBD (more on that later) is usually the cannabinoid that's most associated with therapeutic benefits, THC may also have a positive impact on things like insomnia, inflammation and more. THC is a psychoactive compound that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and brain. However, too much THC is not necessarily a great thing. Always go low and start slow when first trying a high THC product. Everyone's body chemistry is unique and can react in negative ways to different strains.

THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

This is the form the plant makes, which is then converted to THC during the aging process or when smoked or vaped. Even though these molecules are very similar, THCA is non-psychoactive and plays a very different role than THC in the body. This compound exists in both fresh and dried cannabis flower buds mainly but also leaves. THCA potentially has a whole host of benefits and is still being studied to more fully understand its role in the human body.

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)

THCV is a fairly rare psychoactive cannabinoid that may affect how THC interacts with the body. Some studies have shown that THCV may be good for aiding glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and might even have a more euphoric effect than THC, but further research is needed before we can draw any solid conclusions about this elusive cannabinoid. It occurs in small amounts in some varieties--growers are definitely working on selecting for strains that have higher levels of this so it can be studied further!

CBD (cannabidiol)

Other than THC, CBD is probably the most well-known cannabinoid on the block. It can be found in "CBD-rich strains" which typically contain varying amounts of THC--these are regulated within the legal state's cannabis markets and medical patients typically seek out specific ratios that work for their conditions. Another common source for pure CBD is industrial hemp, which contains essentially zero THC. Similar to THC, it is the degradation product of CBDA, which is the form the plant makes. However, it's quite different from THC in many ways, one main one being that it's non-psychoactive. It may also have multiple therapeutic benefits and is used in many formulations like oral tinctures. CBD may work best when paired with some THC (even very tiny amounts of THC present have been shown to allow CBD to work better). It's also good to know that this compound counteracts some of the "high" of THC when they're consumed together.

There are many more cannabinoids to explore and this brief summary of four compounds has barely scratched the surface of this amazing plant. More research and study is required to uncover all of the benefits of our pure golden goodness and we're looking forward to learning more about the intricacies of our beautiful plants.

Overcoming Obstacles to Take the Long View on Cannabis with Craig Levin

A born and bred Washingtonian, Avitas C.O.O., Craig Levin didn’t see cannabis coming. In college and grad school, Craig steered toward degrees in business and finance and spent the beginning of his career guiding giants like Verizon in well-established industries. However, a few years ago, he decided he needed a new challenge.

History in the Making

In his search for that new mountain to climb, he discovered himself in cannabis. He still thinks it’s one of his best decisions to date. “Legal cannabis is a history-making opportunity. I realized I wanted to be involved in shaping this industry. Cannabis is about so much more than making money. It’s also about social justice and making sure that patients can legally get a medication that truly helps them.”

Overcoming Obstacles

On top of these broader concerns, the truth is that working in the legal cannabis space provided Craig with some fairly unique challenges. “In general, running a small business in this industry is ten times as hard as running a business in a conventional industry. There are so many additional hurdles that we face in cannabis, including really fundamental things like access to banking and credit.” He continues, “The product changes, the legislation around how we’re able to make the product changes. There’s some new obstacle that heads our way on a regular basis. It’s a lot of risk-taking behavior, and it can be expensive.” But, he thinks, ultimately worth it. “It’s an industry worth fighting for, and I love that Avitas is all about making sure we’re thinking through how to help the cannabis space in the long run.”

It’s All About Our Customers

That overarching view of the industry not only covers legislation and the ability to navigate the intricacies of regulation, it’s also completely focused on customer satisfaction. “We love our customers!” Craig explains, “They’re into connecting with the community and conservation. They want a feel-good experience. Not just what they’re consuming but the companies and brands they’re supporting as well. We always want to live up to and exceed their already high expectations.”

The hours can be long and challenging, but one thing’s for sure, Craig’s no longer bored. He’s helping our entire team be ready and willing to scale new heights in quality and customer satisfaction in both Washington and Oregon, and perhaps, eventually, beyond.

Meet Merlynn Lindgren: Making Magic in Our Oregon Lab

Life, as most of us know, can take some pretty crazy twists and turns. Someone who knows this truth especially well is Merlynn Lindgren. Merlynn has had a long and winding road toward Avitas. She's been a vet tech, worked in mills, taken on phlebotomy, and did research in a grass seed genetics lab all of which has prepared her for her new role as our Lead Extraction Technician/Lab Manager at our Oregon lab. "I found the position in, of all places Craigslist! It was just one of those right place, right time kind of things. I saw the ad, sent in my resume, and a half hour later, Joe gave me a call. It was a huge 'aha' sort of moment; I laughed because everything I'd done up to this point made me perfect for the role."

Getting Her Science On

In the lab, Merlynn does everything from grinding flower and extracting the oil, to delicately extricating the terpenes from the mix and drawing off waxes and lipids in our purification process. After all of that, she hand mixes the terpenes back into the finished oil to preserve and showcase the flavor and aroma of the specific strains, and gets the oil to the team that puts it into the actual cartridges. From harvested flower to final product, she's there nearly every step of the way. "It's been such a great experience. I love learning about the plants. Honestly, I can't believe they let me run around giant buckets of weed all day. It's great!"

Customer Focus

Avitas works hard to make sure that we're doing everything we can for our customers, and that's something Merlynn experiences first hand, even in the lab. "We have salespeople dropping in a lot, giving us customer feedback and letting us know which strains are making people happy. It's great to have that kind of touchstone." Having that level of feedback might be stressful somewhere else, but at Avitas that's not an issue. "We have such a conscientious group at our lab. We're proud of the quality of oil we create, and we're such a tight-knit group that even putting in a lot of long hours isn't a chore. We just want to make sure our product is first class."

Women in Cannabis

The irony is that Merlynn hadn't ever really thought of trying cannabis before Avitas and quite honestly; she still doesn't routinely partake. It's just not something that fits her lifestyle at the moment, but she still feels cannabis is a great industry to work in. She's excited about the direction cannabis is headed and enthusiastic about the role of women in cannabis. "In my position, I'm responsible not only for the chemistry but also repairing and maintaining the equipment and managing the day to day operation of the lab. Our science director based in Washington is also female. There are so many opportunities in this industry that women should jump into it." Merlynn continues, "If you have women involved in cannabis, it makes other women feel like they can take on the space too. It's so important because it humanizes this growing industry." She laughs, saying, "Honestly, I think you need the balance. Women bring so much to the table."

Limonene & the Wonderful World of Terpenes

Cannabis is so much more than a single cannabinoid. Believe it or not, there are over 113 cannabinoids in this wonder plant. Science hasn’t yet been able to plumb the depths of cannabis entirely, and there’s still a lot we don’t understand. According to the book Brave New Weed, we now know that “ isn’t simply THC in cannabis that causes the high and delivers therapeutic effectiveness. Hundreds of other compounds—CBD, terpenes, phytochemicals, flavonoids, and other so-called minor cannabinoids—all work together to create an ensemble, or entourage effect.”

When we create our full spectrum oil, we bend over backward to make sure that we preserve that effect. At the beginning of our process, we painstakingly remove the terpenes and other compounds so that we can add them back into the purified oil, whole and hearty and ready to do their jobs. So just what are terpenes and why are they so important to preserve?

To help answer, let’s take a closer look at one terpene. A powerhouse of a chemical called limonene. If you’ve ever smoked a strain that reminds you of oranges or lemons, it’s likely that you’ve tasted this citrusy delight. In fact, two of our own oils, Lemon OG and Dragon OG, have very high concentrations of limonene. Cannabists everywhere love this terpene for its refreshing, uplifting, and creative effects. Not to mention, who doesn’t crave that citrus smell?

Above and beyond the effects mentioned above, limonene is also known to relieve stress and help soothe heartburn and gastric reflux. It’s also shown to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and to improve absorption of other terpenes and chemicals by way of the skin, mucous membranes, and digestive tract (a major piece of that whole entourage effect thing we’ve been talking about).

So, this explains why we make such a big deal about using our unique whole plant extraction technique and preserving our terpenes. It’s not just the THC or the CBD; the whole plant is key in bringing you the most holistic cannabis oil experience possible. We think it’s important to pack our golden goodness with the full wallop of this amazing plant and after you try it, we think you will too.

Crafting Avitas Culture

The idea for Avitas may have started at a kitchen table while discussing legalization with family and friends. But, to move beyond a single state operation, we had to expand our leadership team outside of Washington.  As we began to assemble our team, we knew we wanted to take a long-term approach and build a company that kept the big picture in mind, working to lift the stigma and misinformation that still bedevils cannabis as a whole. We also wanted to create a company that consumers could trust, a company that operated with integrity and transparency, and that had a progressive social mission.  For our expansion to Oregon, one name was at the top of our list, Joe.

At first glance, Joe might not seem like an obvious candidate for a new hire at a cannabis company. He spent most of his career in the nonprofit world, working at organizations that matched at-risk youth with transformational mentors. However, his unique set of skills and perspective transferred to Avitas without a hitch. Joe worked at nonprofit startups, so he was no stranger to the hard work of scaling, replication, and business development needed to feed a new company.

It was about more than making the businesses pieces fit though. Joe says, “Part of what I wanted when I came to Avitas was a company that made me proud. I have a lot invested in how we run the company, not just the products we’re putting out into the world but also our employees and how we treat them.”

Joe shapes Avitas’ culture with four guiding principles: be happy, be productive, be yourself, and be together. This approach makes the care and feeding of cannabis go faster. (Despite what you might have heard, trimming weed isn’t the most exciting thing in the world). The Avitas farm and lab teams make each day their own by having fun, being themselves, and supporting each other as a community. This environment (hopefully) leaves little room for boredom and ensures sure that every task is knocked out on time and with excellence.

On top of regular working days, teams embark on various activities including BBQs (Joe does most of the cooking for Oregon get-togethers), bowling, holiday parties, an employee of the month contest, and a mountain of inside and practical jokes. It’s all part of the culture and part of what makes working at Avitas unique. Joe says, “We’ve built something special as a group no one person owns the responsibility. It’s a collaborative effort. Our staff shares in creating a great working environment that’s fun and supportive.”