Ian Van Veen Shaughnessy likes to talk more than most people in the cannabis field. A trained chemist and CEO of Oregon’s Rare Industries, Shaughnessy is devoted to making the best low dosage products on the market.
“We’re not trying to put anyone in outer space,” he says. “Our products are like the wine of weed.” Along with his business partner and good friend, Christopher Schiel, Shaughnessy dreamed up the idea for their joint venture back when they were two punks living in Olympia, Washington. After moving to Chicago (where Shaughnessy eventually ended up working with alcoholic spirits) Schiel would create little vignettes entitled, "Rare Visions". “Those became the moniker for all our projects.” “Our vision is huge,” says Shaughnessy. “We are trying to make cannabis as normalized and egalitarian as coffee. Fashionable, even. It's a plant that makes you feel different, like coffee, but it has none of the poisonous side-effects of alcohol. It's natural, safe, and tends to make people happy, empathetic, and friendly. Side effects include bad jokes. It can make some people anxious, just like coffee, but it is absolutely safe. Cannabis needs to be legal, accessible, and most importantly, understandable.”
MERRY JANE sat down with Ian Van Veen Shaughnessy to discuss his latest inventions, the science behind cannabis and we will finally learn why it's so difficult to make a water-based, cannabis lubricant.
MERRY JANE: When was the first time you got stoned, like really stoned? It was at a concert, of course. It was 1996 and I was 14 and at the Roseland in Portland. I'm pretty sure it was a Quannum show, probably Blackalicious. I got passed a joint. I'd smoked before with friends in the woods, but I'd never been passed a joint like this. It was huge. Smoldering. It grabbed me right by the booboo. I had to call my mom. I was 14, on a pay phone with my mom, explaining to her that I was stoned out of my goddamned mind and would she please come pick me up before the walls fell down?
MJ: How and why did you invent the Quill and how does it differ from other competing products?
It's a completely custom design. I spent months taking apart and reverse-engineering vape pens and e-cigs, and then went to Hong Kong to work directly with a factory. In the process I made many friends, learned about doing business in China, and I can now say with total confidence that we have the best vape pen on the market. Our factory is incredible; it's like German levels of attention to detail. At Rare, we all have been starving artists at one point, and we understand the value of actual commissioned, paid work. I mean, it's damn near impossible to make a living wage as a professional musician, even if you're internationally acclaimed. Not only is the Quill different because it's the best engineered, highest quality vape pen, but it's also different because we pay our creators. Monica Ramos is just the beginning; we have rotating artists featured on the inside sleeve, we host events, and we sponsor bands. This is where we put our profits, because furthering culture, experience, and dialog is our goal.
MJ: Your signature product the Quill, a low-dose cannabis vaporizer pen. Why does Rare focus on low dosage products? Because you can always consume more, but never less. The fundamental chemistry of low dose is no different from high dose; we just math it out for lower dosages. We're not trying to put anyone in outer space. [Rare products] is more like the wine of weed. If you want outer space, that's what dabs are for.
MJ: Can you explain the science and chemistry that goes into creating your products like low dosage pills, the Quill and topical products? Everything starts from the extract and then we refine it. We de-wax it (I dislike the term winterize, it's obfuscatory language), we carbon filter it, we take it down to .45 micron filtration. We rotovap it and we create a remarkably pure, beautiful, light-colored extract. Then we test it: for potency, for residual solvents, for pesticides. When the extract is finally ready it's gone through a 10 day, 37 step process, with independent verification from testing labs. After that, the chemistry of individual products is easy. It's just math. I have what is essentially a blank canvas upon which to create a product, be it powderized-extract capsules, Quills or lotions.
MJ: You are working on a water-based cannabis lube. Why is that so tough to do? Cannabinoids are non-polar molecules, and water is a polar molecule. That's the technical answer. The better answer is: THC actually an oil. Water and oil don't mix. The only way make water molecules and oil molecules mix is to use an intermediate molecule, called a surfactant, which is basically soap. But we can't use a foamy, soapy, surfactant. So the goal behind a water based cannabis lube is to make something that blends oil and water, but with safe, food grade, non-foaming surfactants. And it has to be a thermodynamically stable emulsion. This is... not easy. I've talked with some of the top chemists in this field, and they've all wished me the best of luck. It is solveable, however. I won't go into details, because this is patent territory, but I've almost solved it.
MJ: How has science changed the way we enjoy cannabis today compared to the eighties or nineties? It's funny, science hasn't changed it. Society and legalization sure has though. THC was first isolated in 1964 by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam. It was being commonly extracted in the 70s. It was well understood, and being studied. And then the War On Drugs came along. We are still rediscovering much of what used to be known, but was lost during this idiotic War on Drugs. It made everything extreme. Punishments, especially. For example: when farmers were faced with life-in-prison for their crop, they started growing extreme, more profitable varieties. You know how our parents talk about how potent modern weed is? that is true. And it's a direct result of this stupid war on drugs, which made everything extreme.
In the 80s and 90s cannabis was expensive, filled with pesticides, and more potent with each harvest. Today, science and society have given us a better understanding of this drug, and we can get back to a custom tailored, low dose, understandable experience.
This is the beauty of modern cannabis. It's safer than ever, it's regulated, and it's available in a granular dosage. We all know what a pint of beer does to us, how a single cup of coffee affects us. Now, we can get back to treating cannabis like anything else, and have a regular, normal experience with it.