Ah Warner is the founder and CEO of Cannabis Basics, a premium hemp and cannabis topicals producer since 1995. Cannabis Basics formulates lotions and topicals for both the medical cannabis and skin care markets, producing everything from pain relief creams to beauty products and tattoo treatment balms. Cannabis Basics is one of the leading cannabis topical manufacturers in the USA, and it was an honor to speak with Ah about how she has grown the business, the difference between her products and many of the other cannabis topicals on the market, as well as how she comes up with her unique formulations.
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Shango Los: Hi there, and welcome to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I am your host Shango Los. The Ganjapreneur.com Podcast gives us an opportunity to speak directly to entrepreneurs, cannabis growers, product developers, and cannabis medicine researchers, all focused on making the most of cannabis normalization.
As your host, I do my best to bring you original cannabis industry ideas that will ignite your own entrepreneurial spark and give you actionable information to improve your business strategy and improve your health and the health of cannabis patients everywhere.
Today, my guest is Ah Warner, founder and CEO of Cannabis Basics, a premium hemp and cannabis topicals producer since 1995. Ah was the winner of the 1999 Hemp Times Bioneer Award for outstanding achievement in body care. She has been featured in Cannabis Now Magazine for her entrepreneurial savvy, honored as DOPE Magazine’s patient of the month for her advocacy work on behalf of the cannabis plant, and recently received a special award from the MJBA Women’s Alliance for her focus and dedication to the Women in Washington’s cannabis industry.
She’s a proud member of the American Herbal Products Association and is a member of their cannabis committee. She’s also founder and executive director of the International Cannabis Health and Beauty Aids Producers Alliance. She’s an active participant in nearly every respected cannabis organization that exists, and we are thrilled to have her with us today. Welcome, Ah.
Ah Warner: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Shango Los: Ah, in the first several years of medical cannabis topicals, we’ve seen a lot of different producers and a lot of different quality, shall we say, but very few formulations that are actually really effective and also pleasurable to use. What attributes make for a really great topical?
Ah Warner: I think it’s important that, when we’re working with this beautiful plant, we stay as natural as possible. For me, when I look in a quality topical, first off, I want no chemical preservatives and no man-made fragrances. Man-made fragrances will create a barrier on our skin. Not only will it not let the therapeutic effects of all the natural botanicals absorb, but it also keeps up from detoxing. It keeps us from releasing the CO2 from our skin.
When we use these man-made fragrances, we also do not get the benefits from the natural terpenes from the essential oils that we should be using. We don’t get the terpene effect. We also don’t get the penetration from those terpenes.
Shango Los: I see. We want to stay as close to the basics so nothing blocks the health that we can get from the terpenes and the other natural constituents. In some way, though, we do have to mix it with something to create a vehicle for the oil. I’m assuming that you think we should stick with natural, I guess solvents isn’t the right word, but vehicles as well to mix with our oil.
Ah Warner: Absolutely. When we’re talking vehicles, my product line I have massage oil, I have lip butter, I have pain cream. If you’re talking about carrier oils or the rest of the botanicals that make up a formula, as natural as you can go, shea butter, coco butter, coconut oil, olive oil, are all great oils to be used as carriers.
Shango Los: My mom says, “Oh, the rule for product development is KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It sounds like it’s the same kind of idea that adding more is not necessarily going to be better. Keeping the product as stripped down, so that you’ve got a very clean and effective medicine, is what you’re saying is the way to go.
Ah Warner: Absolutely, keep it simple. However, I really feel like cannabis topicals are not just about THC. You really want to bundle these cannabinoids, and the very foundation of my entire line is hempseed oil for a completely different set of reasons. You want to keep that at the forefront, but also bundle it up with a lot of other great botanicals so that you have, if you will, an entourage effect. I use a lot of tea tree and arnica that are also very effective for quite the same reasons that cannabinoid therapy is.
Shango Los: That’s a good delineation. There are many different uses for these topicals. As far as I can tell, they fall into 2 big categories: one is being pain relief; the other is for dermatological formulations. One where you want to get it to soak into the skin, and one where it’s more topical. Can you explain the difference between those kind of formulations and their uses?
Ah Warner: What you’ll find in the health and beauty aids market is that we really have to pigeon-hole products to be a single-use item for marketing purposes, but the fact of the matter is many of the products that we use every day could have multiple uses.
My products, my 2 pain creams, are just as great for eczema and psoriasis. Because of the actual benefits of the cannabinoid therapy, it’s anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antispasmodic for the pain relief. It’s also, in the same formulation, great for eczema and psoriasis. It’s antibacterial, antifungal, deals with foot odor because it deals with bacteria.
When people ask me how cannabinoid therapy, what it’s like, I liken it to the best of both tea tree and arnica. You’re dealing with those surface-skin issues as well as muscle and inflammation and pain issues.
Shango Los: You must spend a lot of time educating budtenders when you’ve got products that are only for one thing and then products that can be used for multiple things. They each have got subtleties to provide different kinds of relief. There must be a lot of education in that to make sure that the person who’s actually talking to the customer is getting the right information.
Ah Warner: There really has been a ton of education, and I’d like to give my props up to all of my competitors here in the state of Washington. We really have created this marketplace. It has been painstaking because we really had to, 1, get them to buy into topicals were even a thing that they would want to sell, and then get all the budtenders to really get behind these products. It meant, like any other marketing campaign, giving a lot of product away and having them use them for themselves. Once they buy in, it’s all good from there.
Shango Los: A lot of the different formulations have got wildly different concentrations of cannabis in them. I’ve sampled a bunch and written a lot of reviews, and some of them I got nearly no effect, and others really took care of my carpal tunnel syndrome to sooth it and gave me that anti-inflammatory. Outside of patient diving in and learning everything about it, are there any rules of thumb that can be used so that people know that they’re buying something that’s potent enough?
Ah Warner: Right. There’s a couple things I want to say about this. You want to make sure that whatever THC level or other constituents, whatever level it is, you want to make sure there are terpenes there to actually carry it into the lower layers of the skin if you’re looking for muscle or pain relief. I would like to make a point that the legislation that I just co-authored, it really defines the difference between my world and what I consider cannabis health and beauty aids. Those are products that are less .3% THC. Even anecdotally, we know that these products are very helpful in many, many maladies.
Then there are a separate division of products that I would consider medical grade topicals. Those are products that are above .3% THC. Whether you have high concentration or a low concentration, you need to make sure that whatever it is bundled with is effective in getting it down into the lower layers of the skin. There, I’m talking about terpenes or emu oil if you choose to use an animal byproduct.
Shango Los: It sounds, again, that we’re back to making sure that entrepreneurs educate their budtenders on what the difference is in their product and what it can be used for and to make sure that they can pass that information on to the consumer so they know what they’re getting and they know they’re getting the right thing.
Ah Warner: Absolutely. I do see a lot of stuff out there that I’m not crazy about. I would like to encourage anybody that’s getting into this to please keep it as natural as possible because once you start adding a lot of preservatives for shelf life, you really take down the quality of the product itself.
If we’re talking about patients here, patients need … My health and beauty aids, I target to all health-conscious consumers, so you don’t necessarily have to be a patient to buy health and beauty aids. When we’re talking about patients with serious issues, we want to keep these products as clean as possible. That would be my advice.
Shango Los: Right on. Thanks, Ah. We’re going to take a short break and be right back. You are listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast.
Welcome back. You are listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I am your host, Shango Los. Our guest this week is Ah Warner of Cannabis Basics.
Ah, before the break, we we’re talking about all the variety of topicals that there are. Sometimes I will get one, and it will be separated in the jar. What kind of formulations do you recommend that will stay together? I’m asking this question more from an entrepreneur side than from a consumer side. For folks that are looking to develop their own topicals, where do you recommend that they consider starting for something help them have a successful product from day 1, and then they can learn from there.
Ah Warner: Yeah. It depends on the product. It depends on what you are going to use the product for. Making a massage oil, where you don’t need an emulsifier, that’s not going to separate on you as long as you have all oil-soluble constituents. My 2 pain creams are something pretty rare in this industry as far as I know because I think that most of my competitors actually take an already-built lotion, and then they will add their cannabinoids to them.
If you are going to actually make a true emulsification, you are going to need to do that in your process. That’s why you’ll find the 2 pain creams that I make will never separate. What you’re seeing, I think, on the marketplace is actually formulas that are thrown together that aren’t actual true emulsifications.
There also is a step down from emulsification when you’re talking about suspending. Like a lip butter, for instance, you don’t need an emulsifier. There is a little bit of water in that, but you actually keep the formula suspended and separated until it cools by actual inertia.
For those types of products, it’s all about the physical centrifugal force to keep the product blended well while it cools. It’s about level of sophistication and what type of products. If you’re just starting now out to make topicals, you want to start with something simple like a massage oil or a lip balm.
Shango Los: You’ve got a really great reputation. Not only do you do a lot of cannabis outreach, but people know you to be a product development nerd, I dare say. You build your lotions themselves from scratch. A lot of our listeners as entrepreneurs are going to be figuring out their own formulas.
Do you have any good advice for them for finding their own formula, as far as the testing goes, or creating and comparing different ingredients? Because I’ve tried to do this myself, and sometimes I forget which batch is A, which batch is B, and what had what in it. I’m sure you’ve done that for months and months. Do you have any words of advice for folks who are jumping into developing their own product now?
Ah Warner: Yes, absolutely. First of all, do some research. I can tell you that most of my formulas are from the research that I did in natural cosmetics, or natural botanicals. Do some research first. When you’re actually start to do your test batch, make sure that you take copious notes.
Really, please do not put these products on the shelves until you have had 6 months of research and development. What happens is you’re risking your entire reputation if you put a product on the market, and then it starts to mold, or it starts to separate. You actually need to do that in your lab or in your facility to make sure that those things don’t happen before you expose your brand to those kinds of negative feedback.
Shango Los: That’s actually a really good point. I didn’t even think about the product molding. How terrible would that be to do an entire run of something and then heat seal it, and then ship it out. Then, maybe it sits for little bit, and they bring it home, and they open it, and it’s moldy. Gosh, that is not a good way to start with your customer.
Ah Warner: No, it’s not, but unfortunately, it does happen, especially … I just want to make the note that people that are making commercial chemically-preserved products don’t have that to worry about. If we really are going to focus on natural products, it is an absolute concern of ours.
Look at a company like Lush. Lush recommends one of the most natural cosmetic body-care companies in the world. They recommend refrigeration for many of their products. You might argue the same for some of these products because the more natural the more susceptible they are to rancidity. It’s all about care. Natural products, you never want to keep them in the light, the heat, or expose them to too much air because that exposes them to rancidity or mold.
Shango Los: I think that’s a really good example, too, because I adore Lush products. I love how natural they are. They’ve got fantastic smells. I’m willing to pay a little bit more premium price because I know that there’s nothing toxic in it for me. I’m even willing to put it in the fridge, which is a minor inconvenience, because I want it to be able to stay fresh for me.
Ah Warner: Absolutely. I did want to add one more thing for Ganjapreneurs that are just starting out that it’s really important that you be fully transparent. You really need to put … Because of the history of our industry, not everybody has been forward with their ingredient list. I think that’s really important, especially for patients. They’re sensitive to allergies. They need to know exactly what’s in these formulas, so full ingredient list is definitely super important.
Shango Los: I think that’s a great note. That’s a good idea. Those notes would go on the packaging. Let’s talk about your packaging.
I adore your packaging. It’s simple. It’s colorful. It’s easy to read. I daresay it’s fun. When you look at the other products on the market, sometimes you’ve got people doing package design who are less experienced. They’re using fonts that are mismatched or hard to read or too small for a lot of folks like me who wear glasses. You seem to have discoed around all of those challenges.
How did you come to your brand? Was it just something that came to you fully born, or did you do focus groups? How did you get to the visual representation of your brand?
Ah Warner: Well, fully born after 20 years. Cannabis Basics was Cannabis Creations and then Cannabis Creations Body that started in 1995. If you look at the evolution of our logo, it’s pretty crazy. The best advice I can give to entrepreneurs is to pay professionals do this type of work for you. If you are not graphic designer, you should not be doing this work for yourself.
You can come in with your ideas. My graphic designer has been brilliant because I was really strong about what I wanted, but she was able to craft it in a way that made sense and was timely and was beautiful. For instance, inside of our logo, most people, even dedicated fans of Cannabis Basics, they don’t actually see the subtleties of our logo. We’ve got 4 hands inside the negative space of the marijuana leaf, and it’s just really beautiful. It’s those subtleties that you don’t necessarily see that mean a lot in a logo.
Just along this vein, I wanted to let you know that Cannabis Basics was just awarded the first-ever federal trademark with the word “cannabis” and the leaf in the same marking. This just happened like-
Shango Los: Wow, congratulations! That’s a big deal.
Ah Warner: Thank you! It’s the first of its kind, definitely in my category, I believe in the entire marketplace. It’s a big, big deal. We’re super proud to be leading the way.
Shango Los: That’s fantastic! You’re clearly going to be taking your brand national as allowed by law state-by-state. Have you been able to do any interstate brand development at this point to kind of help warm up the customer bases in the different states to maybe cause them to want to buy it when they come here to Washington?
Ah Warner: Sure. A little bit. I’m so Washington-centric focused that I haven’t really done a whole lot. I’ve been in some national magazines. I’ve been a judge and a presenter at the High Times Cannabis Cup. My main focus is really the mainstream marketplace here in the state of Washington. That is where I’m going to concentrate for the next couple of years because, 1, I can’t take my cannabinoid products across the state border. 2, I’ve just gotten this legislation passed that allows me now to sell in the mainstream marketplace. There’s plenty of market for me to focus on right here in the state of Washington.
Shango Los: The legislative part is very exciting. We’re going to talk about that right after this short break. We’ll be right back. You are listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast.
Welcome back. You are listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I am your host, Shango Los. Our guest this week is Ah Warner of Cannabis Basics.
Ah, before the break we were just beginning to talk about the new legislation that you’ve been working on to allow folks to be able to use cannabis products purchased just at their local shop instead of having to go to cannabis-centric retail stores. If I get the idea generally correct, it’s that once the cannabis oils are mixed with the lotions, they’re no longer abusable, and you can’t bring them out and smoke them. It really creates a different kind of product that should be regulated in a different way. Whey don’t you break it down for us so that we understand the changes that are coming?
Ah Warner: Yeah. About 2 years ago I can tell you that I looked at what I needed for the future, and I went to our champion here in the state of Washington, the Senator Kohl-Welles. I went and had a discussion with her, took her some of my products, and she was really excited about the potential of this as a Washington-centric product. I asked a friend of mine, Kari Boiter, who is a political strategist, to help me to craft some legislation that would define that difference between cannabis health and beauty aids and medical-grade topicals.
Medical-grade topicals is a totally separate issue, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. Medical grade topicals are above .3% THC and can be highly-concentrated RSOs that you use topically that could cause intoxication.
What I’m talking about here are less than .3% THC, that are not intoxicating, that you would never ingest. We introduced legislation in January that actually passed and was signed into law on June 30 by Governor Inslee and went into effect on July 1. It’s a-
Shango Los: Wow, that was fast!
Ah Warner: It’s almost unheard of, actually. It was signed into law, so now, anybody here that is making cannabis health and beauty aids, less than .3% THC, can now start conversations with stores like Bartell’s and Whole Foods and Super Supplements because of this legislation.
I just want to say “thank you” to everybody that was involved, Doug Hiatt. Even bigger than defining these products and allowing them to be sold in the mainstream, what it actually is, in fact, is the first chipping away of our Washington State Controlled Substances Act. These products that have marijuana in them have been removed from the Washington CSA even before industrial hemp has been removed from the CSA here in the state of Washington. This is no small deal.
I want to thank the champions on that on the Senate side. I actually had 2 bills. They were companion bills that were moving through at the same time. On the Senate side, Senator Kohl-Welles was my champion. She was able bring Senator Ann Rivers, who’s a Republican, in in the second position on that bill. Then, on the House side for 1753, I recruited House of Representatives Cindy Ryu. Then Republican Matt Shea, who’s also a hemp hero here in the state of Washington, came in as the second on there. It had bipartisan support and had very little opposition, if any.
My question now is, do I go state by state with this type of legislation that is the first of its kind in the country? Or, do I just go, simply, to the federal level at this point? I think that really we need to knock a few more states down before we actually can take it to the federal level. If anybody is encouraged enough to make that happen and to write the legislation and to get champions behind it and to do the lobbying, certainly they can reach out to me, and I will help them to guide them through that process.
Shango Los: I think that’s a real unique part of being a Ganjapreneur that you are modeling so well. For a lot of parts of our industry, you’re just making a product and you’re bringing it to market based on legislation that other people fought for that the entrepreneur may not have fought for themselves, especially if they’ve just come into cannabis from another entirely different industry. In your case, you’re actually having to make the legislative changes that allow your products to even be purchased. That’s like having 2 businesses.
Ah Warner: It really is. Although I’ve been advocating for industrial hemp for 20 years and for medical marijuana for the last, I would say, 3 years, I really consider myself an accidental activist. It really was out of necessity that I see this law created and changed the situation for my business. I loved being a part of the process. Now that I see how easy it is to just find out what you need and put one foot forward, I would encourage anybody to get involved and make that happen.
There’s one small incident that I want to quickly tell you about. It’s about engaging our youth into this process as well. When I went down to Olympia and delivered a Remedy Pain Stick and my Naked Lip Butter to every single office in Olympia, so 150 offices, every House of Representative, every Senate office, the governor’s office, and the lieutenant governor’s office, I took my 15-year old son with me to do this lobbying effort. He got to see what it was like actually talk to these folks to help them to understand what you need. He’s now seeing our efforts in law. It was a pretty phenomenal thing.
Shango Los: It’s good for him to see, but it’s also good for all of us to hear the way that you blended your entrepreneurial spirit with your activism and then actually take an action about it instead of just complained about it. Wow, that’s really great.
Well, Ah, that’s all the time we have today. I profoundly appreciate you joining us today and sharing your deep experience.
Ah Warner: It was a blast. Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored.
Shango Los: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur Podcast in the Podcast section at Ganjapreneur.com. You can also find us on the Cannabis Radio Network website and in the Apple iTunes Store. On the Ganjapreneur.com website, you will find the latest cannabis news, products reviews, and cannabis jobs updated daily, along with transcriptions of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. Thanks as always to Brasco for producing our show. I am your host, Shango Los.