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."

What to Look for in a Cannabis Oil Cartridge

Not all cannabis products are created equal. At Avitas, we’re striving to create that better world, we put our heart and soul into our cannabis oil and work with world-class manufacturers to bring you the purest cartridges possible. But what if you can't find your tried and true Avitas friend? We got you. Here are a few ways to help figure out what may be worth a try.

Why Many Added Flavors Are Not Your Friend

You’ve probably seen them. Cotton candy, raspberry, mint, and rose, there are flavors on flavors available in all sorts of cartridges, and they may sound pretty tasty. However, you might want to do your research and think twice before picking up a flavored vape pen. Many manufacturers add any number of ingredients back into the oil at the end to achieve those flavors. This dilutes the cannabis oil and potentially dampens the entourage effect of vaping. These added ingredients can include synthetic terpenes, natural terpenes, cannabis-derived terpenes, artificial aldehydes/fruity flavors, or other artificial flavors. Most of these elements are fine on their own, but when heated, some can become carcinogenic and ultimately dangerous to your health. Read more about this phenomenon here.

That’s why we use a handcrafted, full spectrum, proprietary method that extracts the cannabis terpenes from each batch of flower at the very beginning of the oil-making procedure. At the end of the process, we remove the things that don’t taste good like chlorophyll and plant waxes and carefully hand-blend the full spectrum of terpenes back into the oil batch. The result is a pure, finished oil that smells, tastes, and feels like the actual flower it came from without any nasty or surprising additives.

Cut Out Cutting Agents

When you’re looking for a good cartridge, double check the ingredients, and ask about the extraction methods. Remember that extracts and distillates are not the same (if a distillate is in liquid form, most likely there’s a cutting agent involved). Common cutting agents include propylene glycol (PG), polyethylene glycol (PEG), vegetable glycerin (VG), and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Cutting agents aren’t necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but again, the trouble comes when these cutting agents are heated. Recent studies have shown that many cutting agents convert into toxic compounds when heated at vaping temperatures. (finish with: something like - ask your budtender for more information about the...something...about the oils to try or the available oils, something- sorry, not much help on this line)

That Pure Golden Goodness

At Avitas we use CO2 extraction methods and only use six ingredients in our oil. Six! They include pure carbon dioxide (delivered and stored in pressurized tanks), food-grade ethanol (another term for highly pure Everclear), purified reverse-osmosis water, solid CO2 (carbon dioxide), and, of course, organically grown cannabis. That’s it. We don’t use cutting agents, we never add anything to increase vapor plume or increase THC uptake, and we never use any flavors other than the full spectrum of terpenes extracted from the cannabis plant.

So when you’re on the hunt for a new product, do your research beforehand, steer away from flavors, and ask your budtender specific questions about cutting agents, ingredients, and extraction processes. They’re there to help and are usually really excited to share their knowledge. And remember, if your local store doesn’t carry our cartridges, you can always ask them to start stocking Avitas. We’re proud of our oil and love helping people discover new ways to feel good.  If you have any more questions, drop us a comment or contact us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Serendipity & the Science Director: Amber Wise's Avitas Journey

At Avitas, we think it’s incredibly important that people understand the chemistry behind the cannabis. That’s why we’re transparent about our methods and are committed to integrity in everything we do from testing for pesticides to our full-spectrum extraction process in our oils. That’s why we try to go above and beyond in our scientific approach to cannabis, which brings us to our talented Science Director, Dr. Amber Wise.

An Unlikely Journey

A few years ago, if you’d told Amber she’d be the Science Director for one of the leading cannabis producer/processors in the Pacific Northwest, she wouldn’t have believed you, but now she laughs, “Nineteen-year-old Amber is really excited about what’s happening right now!” A little over a year ago, Amber, burnt out on academia and looking for a change, met our co-founder, Adam, at the Cannabis Science Conference in Portland. Adam was immediately impressed by Amber saying, “We’d been on the hunt for a Science Director for a while, and I was thrilled to run into Amber at the conference. I thought she’d be a great fit for Avitas.”

Amber brings a vast field of knowledge to our team. She has her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She finished off her studies with postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco studying chemical exposure risk and toxicology and a stint as a science policy research intern chemical exposure, risk and toxicology with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Her command of chemistry is far-reaching and much-needed in our growing industry.

Cannabis + Chemistry = The Perfect Match

There are quite a few Ph.D.s in analytical labs, but it’s relatively unique to have a Ph.D. in this position at a producer/processor. Amber believes that as the industry continues to grow, having Ph.D.s in this area will become an industry standard. She explains, “There’s a real need for scientists--and good ones--in this industry. There’s so much basic research that needs to be done on everything from extractions, to profiles of strains, and genetics.”

She continues, “Most typical commodities have had tons and tons of scientific research done on its different properties, but cannabis is lagging way behind for a variety of different reasons.” She reveals that this has to do with the fact that cannabis research is still illegal at the Federal level and that though there are interesting studies ongoing abroad, most of the research that’s being done is within private industry, so very few people are particularly interested in sharing information because it’s proprietary. The secretive nature of cannabis research needs to change. Some of Amber’s focus is on networking. Reaching out both on a peer level, through educational seminars for budtenders, and giving talks at cannatech meetups. And, to be honest, it’s a lot of hard work.

Work Hard, Play Hard, Work Harder

That’s something nineteen-year-old Amber might not have counted on, but Dr. Amber Wise takes the challenge on with a smile. “There’s a lot of misconceptions from outsiders about the cannabis industry. We start early, have a very strict work schedule, punch in punch out. It’s not like we don’t have a good time. It’s just very professional.”

The cannabis industry still has a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the wonders of the cannabis plant. A great deal of research is still needed to help guide processes and procedures across the board, but we’re sure glad to have Amber onboard to help lead the way in chemistry as we continue on our journey.

If you ever have a science-related question about our process or products, Amber is happy to answer them--just send her an email!

Grow your knowledge about our grow!

In addition to making high-quality CO2 extract cartridges, we started our company as a flower / bud producer.  We wanted to share a few of things we’ve developed over our years of experience that go into making our amazing flower.  We have our original facility in Washington and have our full, larger Oregon greenhouse up and running at full capacity now.

The tl;dr version is the following points – if you want to know more about any of them, keep reading!

  • We focus on great soil: that’s where it all begins!
  • Use organic, living and biodynamic pest control
  • Reproducible, consistent indoor conditions optimized for our strains
  • Invested a lot of time and energy perfecting our drying, trimming and curing process–not as simple as it sounds.
  • We’re our own harshest critic and only the best strains and finished bud make it to the shelves
  • Have years of experience

Photo Credit: April Reynolds

Great plants start with great soil:

We carefully mix every batch of soil with several amendments to enhance our plant’s natural immune systems and terpene profiles. Happy soil makes happy plants and consequently happy people!

  • Earth worm castings: these contain a highly active biological mixture of bacteria, enzymes, remnants of plant matter and animal manure, as well as earthworm cocoons. The castings are rich in water-soluble plant nutrients, and contain more than 50% more humus (organic matter) than what is normally found in topsoil.
  • Locally sourced organic compost: this energizes the soil food web, which is made up of microscopic bacteria and fungi, along with earthworms and many other life forms. Many fungi form mutually beneficial partnerships with plant roots, making it possible for plants to take up nutrients more efficiently. Research shows that compost enhances the ability of plants to defend against common diseases and may improve their flavor and nutrition, too. Compost provides nutrients and structure for many other living things in the soil, too.  We consider this “black gold” in our greenhouse!
  • Alfalfa meal:  an all natural fertilizer made from alfalfa plants. It feeds both the microorganisms that live in the soil and the plants that grow in it. It can also be used as an accelerant in compost piles due to its high biological activity.  It’s also a natural source of triacontanol, a plant growth stimulant.
  • Crab meal: an organic amendment loaded with critical nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium nutrients for the plants.  It is slow release which is healthier for plants and  can also prevent pest eggs from maturing in the soil through an interesting mechanism:  The crab meal is made of chitin (the material shells are made from), so having it in the soil causes the natural microorganisms to release enzymes that break it down.  The pest’s eggs also have chitin in them, so the enzymes also weaken the eggs, causing them to not form/hatch properly.
  • Neem Cake:  a byproduct of the neem tree and leaf extraction process. It is an organic fertilizer, but neem cake also contains salannin, nimbin, azadirachtin and azadiradione as the major components which have natural pest repellent, insecticide, and insect growth disruptor properties.
  • Biochar: is made from plant and organic material waste and has been used as a soil amendment for thousands of years.  It’s proven to improve soil health, and plant health but the mechanisms aren’t exactly clear -it’s not a nutrient itself.  More recently as we understand the soil food web more, it’s been suggested that the high-surface area of biochar may provide “homes” in their microscopic nooks and crannies for soil microbes to live and thrive.
  • Mycorrhizal root powder: Our mixture contains thirty species of beneficial soil organisms that colonize plant roots and expand into the soil to greatly increase the absorptive surface area of root systems. Mycorrhizal fungi, Trichoderma and a diverse mix of bacterial species work symbiotically to promote improved soil structure and enhanced root growth.

Natural Pesticides

Most consumers know in general that chemical pesticides are “bad for you”, but many of these compounds convert into even more dangerous chemicals when smoked/combusted/vaped.  One of our founding principles is to be committed to all-natural, organic growing practices to ensure the safety of consumers and patients. Avitas only uses natural oils, beneficial fungus, and living beneficial, predatory pests to fight the damage from harmful pests.

Employing a natural integrated pest management strategy with cannabis plants is not easy, partly because there are very few, if none established protocols or research data to help growers in this newly-emerging market. We have been utilizing beneficial mites and insects for some time and recently attended a Washington State University / USDA  workshop on this topic to further our knowledge.

Here’s an introduction  to our three main helpers:

Stratiolaelaps (formerly Hypoaspis)a beneficial mite (not an insect–they have 8 legs) that lives in the soil and feeds on other harmful mites, root mealybugs, spider mites and springtails.  A good example of how you don’t have to be beautiful to be useful! (image:

Rove beetle (Dalotia coriaria) : Larger and easier to see in our greenhouse (it’s the black insect on the left), we use this to keep lots of small insects and mites away.  They live in the soil and are aggressive predators. (image:

Amblyseius swirskii : the larger, round creature that can be seen eating a thrips larvae below.  The swirskii are a great predatory mite that eats lots of soft-bodied pests: thrips, other pest mites, and the larvae of these species.  A perfect friend to have around to “maintain” the bad guys! (Image: Steven Arthurs, Univ. of Florida)

We will be expanding our use of beneficial insects very soon with two more and adding in these cute guys soon:

Cucumeris image:
image: North Carolina State Extension

Are you noticing how many of them look very similar?  We have regular checks of our plants and soil with a microscope to monitor the health of our system.  We also need to be knowledgeable enough to tell the difference between a “good” mite and a “bad” mite.

Someone asked me once if these “good bugs” ever end up in the buds–Not to worry!  They all live in or on the surface of the soil and don’t really venture out into the light much!

Indoor Farming

Growing indoors ensures a year-round, steady supply of “grade A” connoisseur level cannabis. Years of experience has allowed us to perfect our growing conditions (temperature, humidity, light/dark cycles, CO2 levels, nutrient levels, pH levels all contribute to overall plant health) and optimize our strains which reduces variability from crop to crop.  The terpene profiles and consistent bud formation cannot be matched, and our customers know exactly what they are getting every time.

Drying and Curing

Our plants are dried to perfection beginning with the harvesting of the plants. We start by stripping the fan leaves immediately from the plants to help with the airflow around the buds as they dry. Once dried and trimmed from the stems, the buds undergo a final hand manicuring prior to being placed into a climate-controlled room in our glass curing jars with special humidity adjustment for a minimum of two weeks. Like a wine aging, the final curing cycle brings out the nuanced aromas and flavors of our product.

Critical Connoisseurs

At Avitas, we only want to grow strains that we would like to smoke ourselves – in fact, our final decision to include a new strain or not is if we all agree on its flavor, aroma, and experience.  We have over 30 years of cannabis experience so we know how to tell when the genetics start to drift, and we keep up on what’s new to always offer high-quality strains for our customers.  We are always experimenting with our strain genetics and growing conditions and occasionally offer new varieties when we think we can improve on our already great harvests.

Photo credit: April Reynolds

What’s the deal with flavored vape cartridges?

You may have seen or even sampled some flavored oils – things like pineapple or bubble gum or fruit punch.  There’s a chance some of those flavorings might be terpenes, but most likely many of them are not.

Many of the fruit flavors like banana, strawberry, mint, peach, raspberry are due to the presence of chemical compounds called aldehydes or ketones.  While natural fruits/plants do make these flavors, many of the individual molecules are very easy to synthesize in a chemistry lab – in fact, if you took any organic chemistry lab, you probably did a lab experiment where you made one of these fruity smelling compounds.

So what’s the difference between what you synthesize in the lab and what you find in a real raspberry?  The aldehyde molecule is the same, giving a “raspberry-specific” flavor, but in a real berry, there are also lots of other various molecules that add taste, aroma and experience.  The aldehyde molecule that is used for synthetic raspberry flavor is only present at very low concentrations in a real berry, which is why we don’t extract or concentrate these flavors from real berries – it’s just too expensive.  This is similar to the various terpenes and other compunds in a natural cannabis flower bud that lead to the “entourage effect” of each strain’s specific flavor, aroma and “high”.

There are two reasons this relates to cannabis vape pens: taste and viscosity.

Most of the yummy terpenes “disappear” during normal COoil processing and concentrating: those molecules are smaller and more likely to evaporate than the cannabinoids.  A few do remain in the end, but often user’s complaint about CO2oils is that the high doesn’t feel the same as smoking the flower– this makes sense because what’s left in the oil is mostly THC (that’s the potency people look for) and only a very small amount of the original terpenes.

Secondly, another interesting chemistry aspect about these types of concentrates (and particularly distillates, which we’ll discuss in another post) is that when you get to very high THC concentrations–above 90% or so–the oil get very thick.  To the point of almost being a brittle solid and stops functioning in a normal oil cartridge.  These can still be dabbed, but the convenience of a vape cartridge is lost along with all the flavors.

Processors overcome these 2 chemistry facts in a couple of ways.  To address the loss of flavor, other substances can be added: things like synthetic terpenes (fairly common), natural terpenes (fairly common) or cannabis-derived terpenes (much more rare), artificial aldehydes/fruity flavors, or other artificial flavors.  Additionally, the thick/solid nature of highly-concentrated extracts can be “thinned” with a solvent.  This can be as simple as leaving a small amount of extra ethanol in after the cleanup step, or by adding a cutting agent of some kind.  Common cutting agents include PG, PEG, VG, MCT, among others. (Propylene glycol, Polyethylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and medium-chain triglycerides).  The MCT might appear on the label as “derived from coconut oil”–which is scientifically true.

This usually leads to the question: “why should I care if it’s natural or artificial if it’s all the same molecule?”

We can probably agree that eating lots of raspberries with some aldehydes isn’t that bad for you….However, there is very little known about the safety of smokingthese compounds, and in fact, recent scientific studies [1,2] suggest many of the artificial fruit and cream flavors and cutting agents convert to toxic compounds when heated to vape temperatures.

So how to know what you’re getting?  Reading the label very carefully and knowing your terminology can help, as well as asking very specific questions of the budtender:

What type of extraction process was used for this?  If it’s a distillate and in a liquid form, something was needed to thin it down. (COconcentrate is more correctly referred to as an extract).

Is it 100% cannabis-only or might there be other flavors or additives?  How do they know for sure?

Sometimes it can be hard or impossible to tell – I hate to say I’ve heard some less-than-honest stories about formulations and use of language on packaging.  Avitas never uses any cutting agents in our extracts and only 100% cannabis-derived terpenes that we carefully preserve for each batch.

References: [1] Allen, et al, 2016, Environmental Health Perspectives, 124, 6. “Flavoring Chemicals in E-Cigarettes: Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin in a Sample of 51 Products, Including Fruit-, Candy-, and Cocktail-Flavored E-Cigarettes”

[2] Troutt & DiDonato, 2017, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine “Carbonyl Compounds Produced by Vaporizing Cannabis Oil Thinning Agents”

Six behind-the-scenes things Avitas customers should know about

There are lots of topics I want to write about on this blog, but it will take a little time to cover all of them individually.  In the meantime, I put together an overview of some of the things we do behind the scenes that other extractors either aren’t doing at all, or are not devoting nearly the amount of energy or resources that we are.  The sentences with an *asterisk* I definitely plan to write more in-depth entries.  As always, if there are questions you have, leave them in the comments!

  1. We’re fanatics about testing everything for pesticides as it comes into our facility
    1. many people claim to have 100% organic products, but analytical labs report finding banned pesticides in many products on the shelf (between 40-80% in WA and 20-30% in OR have some sort of detected banned pesticide!*)
    2. this comes at considerable cost to us, as each test is over $300. When I discuss results with the scientists at the analytical labs, they tell me they don’t have other extract labs testing their trim material.
  2. The only chemicals in our extract and process labs (aside from organic cannabis) are:
    • pure COcarbon dioxide (comes in pressurized tanks)
    • Food-grade ethanol (fancy talk for highly pure EverclearTM)
    • Purified reverse-osmosis water
    • Solid CO2 (carbon dioxide) + rubbing alcohol (for our cold traps, does not contact product)

–we don’t use cutting agents like PG, VG, artificial flavors* or other fillers.

3. We carefully keep each harvested strain as a separate batch*

  • Sometimes we get a large batch, sometimes we get a small batch – that’s part of being reliant on a perishable/seasonal feedstock! To ensure the finished oil smells, tastes and experiences as close to the actual flower as possible, we don’t mix strains in our extractors.  That means our finished batch sizes are variable and it’s not always possible to find the exact same product month after month in your favorite retailer.

4. We enhance our finished oil with the full spectrum of terpenes collected in-house from each batch

  • previous blog post was written about terpenes, but the summary is: most companies who claim to have “terpene-enhanced” product are not getting them from cannabis and most folks have no idea where the source of these additives might be coming from*…..

5.  We spend more than most companies in research and development (R&D) of our procedure, tracking the cannabinoids and terpenes, fine-tuning our processing steps to optimize and improve the overall product.

  • We have a full-time PhD chemist leading our scientific team
  • We don’t currently have the expensive in-house analytical equipment, so it’s necessary to partner with outside analytical labs, which comes at no small cost to us, but it’s important to us that we feel confident we’re offering a clean and safe product*.

6.  Multi-point quality control checkpoints integrated along the process line*

  • I already discussed the additional pesticide screening before extraction above. We also check each batch for:
    • viscosity (how “thick” the oil is – for example, honey is very viscous, while water is much less)
    • color/clarity on visual standard scale
  • cartridge performance and reliability*: we have personal relationships with the overseas manufacturers of the cartridges and have been testing out many different iterations to ensure they have a smooth product delivery each time.

As you can see, we utilize top-level science and clean, organic processes to create a premium product for our customers and patients.