Meet the Trailblazers

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The role of creativity in any business is paramount to ensure growth and sustainability. In California, the cannabis market especially has seen an exponential increase in craftsmanship and an abundance of new ideas. National Geographic photographer Lynn Johnson was sent on assignment to profile the innovators who are blazing new trails. From Dr. Sue Sisley who is using the cannabis flower to combat PTSD in veterans to Chris Sayegh who uses THC and CBD to immerse his consumers in a unique cultural experience, these individuals are helping to unleash and connect cannabis and creativity across multiple industries.

In the craft beer world, hops and cannabis have long been connected. The two plants are genetically related, belonging to the Cannabinaceae family and they even share an ingredient — terpenes. These terpenes tie hops and cannabis close in flavor and aroma, proving a concrete commonality.

Hops and cannabis are genetically related, belonging to the Cannabinaceae family.PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The cannabis cultural roots run deep at Lagunitas Brewing Company. From its weed-smoking founder Tony Magee to its herbaceous Waldos’ “420” celebration ale, the bohemian brewer always has infused cannabis culture into its craft. Now that marijuana is going mainstream, free-spirited Lagunitas can finally use THC from sun-grown cannabis in new ground-breaking projects such as their IPA-inspired sparkling beverage, Hi-Fi Hops.

“It is no secret that we have always been big fans of cannabis,” says Lagunitas brewmaster Jeremy Marshall, adding that most brewers are aware of the genetic relationship between cannabis and hops. “California voters’ desire to legalize adult [marijuana] use really opened the door, and we have been serious about it [cannabis-infused products] for about two years.”

Jeremy Marshall, Head Brewmaster of Lagunitas, is an expert in craft brew and cannabis.PHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN JOHNSON

Lagunitas’ first foray into legal cannabis-extract brews was the limited edition hoppy SuperCritical Ale, premiering in 2017. In July 2018, Lagunitas ventured into unchartered waters with the launch of cannabis-infused Hi-Fi Hops. The non-alcoholic, sparkling water comes in two varieties — one with an even mix of 5 milligrams of buzzy THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and 5 milligrams of medicinal CBD (Cannabidiol), and the other with 10 milligrams of THC.

“It’s the CBD,” says Marshall, “which makes now an especially electrifying time to be exploring cannabis possibilities across all sorts of industries.” He adds, “CBD has become a phenomenon that has helped sway public opinion. People regard cannabis as medicine, and many who were adverse before have switched sides.”

Tapping Unlimited Potential

Promoting awareness of the endocannabinoid system and the therapeutic potential of cannabis is the passion of CBD-advocate Patrick Anderson. Based in Northern California’s Mendocino County, Anderson is BudMaster at CannaCraft, a seed-to-shelf cannabis producer. CannaCraft partnered with Lagunitas to create SuperCritical Ale and Hi-Fi Hops, collaborations Anderson dubs an “everlasting plant reunion” since hops and cannabis stem from the same plant family.

Patrick is a believer in plants and is an educator at Emerald Pharms in Hopland, Ca. He is in the garden of the Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone, Ca an…Read MorePHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN JOHNSON

“When it comes to cannabis chemovars [strains], terpenes play a crucial role in what a person will feel physically, psychologically, and even spiritually,” Anderson says. “Within the advent of combined intelligence of the plants and of plant people unlocking the full potential of healing and fun, hops now can be viewed through a similar lens.”

Each hop strain has its own unique sensory and therapeutic effects. When cannabinoids are added to the mix, Anderson says, “the door to the unlimited potential down the hallways of always is blown off the hinges.”

Lagunitas’ Hi-Fi Hops launch caused an uptick in interest from other alcohol producers, says Anderson, who is hopeful that more industries will follow Lagunitas’ lead. “It is certainly a mission from my standpoint to have our collaboration inspire any and all to pursue similar paths.”

Crafting Cannabis Cuisine

Like Anderson, health benefits are what motivated Los Angeles-based chef Chris Sayegh to build a cannabis-based career. A self-proclaimed “scientist at heart” Sayegh realized in college that he wanted to become a healer. Instead of sticking to his original pre-med plan, however, Sayegh pioneered cannabis-infused fine dining by founding The Herbal Chef. The name is a not-so-subtle nod to THC, 15 milligrams of which Sayegh infuses into each meal over several courses.

Chris has created The Herbal Chef, based in Los Angeles, Ca. His goal is to de-stigmatize cannabis in homes across the country.PHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN JOHNSON

“The Herbal Chef has become a platform beyond serving incredible meals,” says Sayegh, whose repertoire of cannabis-infused recipes includes wild mushroom pasta and braised short rib. “We love fine dining, but we also see the value in using dining as a tool to de-stigmatize the plant so that we can make cannabis a more acceptable topic around the globe.”

Sayegh caters everything from intimate dinners to large corporate events, and hosts educational seminars. Dinner guests typically experience a pleasant, gradual high and walk away with cannabis-infused treats concocted by Sayegh and THC Culinary Director Gary Nguyen.

“The dinners are fun because it brings such a wide variety of humans to the table to experience food together,” adds Sayegh whose plans include opening a cannabis-infusion restaurant named Herb. “You can literally feel the shift in energy between the first course and the last. Our hope is that they take away that the mission of The Herbal Chef is to help put health back into the hands of the individual.”

Empowering Women Pioneers

Health also is at the heart of Dr. Sue Sisley’s tireless efforts to determine if cannabis flower could help combat veterans with treatment-resistant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Based at Phoenix’s Scottsdale Research Institute, Sisley is the principal investigator for the world’s only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial testing the safety and efficacy of natural cannabis as a PTSD medication. As a scientist, Sisley’s primary goal is collecting objective data on a plant that quite possibly could provide relief to countless veterans.

Dr. Sue Sisley has been working for 7 years to test cannabis as a form of relief for veterans suffering with PTSD. She and her team have interview…Read MorePHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN JOHNSON

Sisley is one of the few women pioneers in the budding cannabis industry. Another, Autumn Karcey, is a former small-time cannabis grower who now leads a growing Northern California design and engineering firm. Karcey’s company, Cultivo, Inc, specializes in indoor cultivation facilities and greenhouses and has projects in Canada and several U.S. states.

The legalization of cannabis truly was a life changer for Karcey. No longer in the shadows, she freely collaborates with experts, such as clean room specialists, plant scientists, engineers, and tradesmen, on innovative, large-scale sustainable farming projects. Her latest collaborative effort is with two former NASA scientists. Their shared mission? Creating a Palm Desert, California facility producing a dependable and affordable supply of clean cannabis plants.

Autumn Karcey, President of Cultivo, Inc, is a pioneer in the cannabis industry.PHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN JOHNSON

“I know I can produce clean medicine,” Karcey says. “I come from the underground but feel a moral and ethical commitment to create a product without contamination.”