The Highly: What was your first cannabis experience like?
Carrie Solomon: I was 18, a bit of a late bloomer. I was a freshman in college and smoked a joint in a crowded room of girls in a rickety dorm room at Bard College. I didn’t feel anything. The second time I smoked, I don’t remember the place or time or people, but it became quite the love affair. It made me feel creative every single time. For two years, I was a very regular user and in hindsight, it truly alleviated an enormous amount of anxiety, which I’ve struggled with since my early teen years.
TH: How has that cannabis relationship evolved to where it is now?
CS: There came a point where cannabis use started to wind down for me in my early twenties, when anxiety revealed itself again. My use halted significantly until now. I can only really tolerate high-CBD cannabis and enjoy using it for pain relief and relaxation. I’m a bit of a purist and prefer to vaporize the flower. I certainly miss my psychoactive years. However, I know that my brain and body have changed and that cannabis now plays a very different role in my life. Thankfully, we have options in the modern cannabis world.
TH: Your brand name was inspired by a Viking explorer. Tell us about your affinity for Leif Erikson.
CS: This brand identity sprung from a quick study that sort of stuck. It was a working name for the company based on Jody’s family history with Nordic roots. We loved the idea of the explorer spirit of Leif Erikson, who forged a path into new worlds long before the discoverers of lands we are familiar with today. Cannabis right now is all about being a pioneer.
TH: Were you always into the food scene?
CS: When we lived in New York City, food was always interesting to us, but our deep abiding love for food as a culture and a hobby really blossomed when we moved to Portland. It became more affordable and was easier to access new restaurants and food innovations in a town where everything is fresh, sourced locally, and imbued with creativity. We briefly had a blog in NYC called the “Disgruntled Gastronomes” after trying new places only to be disappointed. After the Portland migration, everything was so delicious that we stopped complaining and just started to enjoy life in pretty much every way.
TH: What chefs/restaurateurs do you admire and why?
CS: Alice Waters, for pioneering a sustainable and organic movement that focuses on farm-to-table cuisine, putting a focus on the quality of the ingredients themselves.
The Sustainable Restaurant Group here in Portland, [which] started Bamboo Sushi and has been able to provide the highest-quality and flavorful menu [items] without sacrificing conscientious business practices.
Although I don’t know John Gorham personally, he is the mastermind behind a family of restaurants in Portland that always nail it on flavor and creativity in the communal eating philosophy—Tasty and Sons, Toro Bravo, to name just two—again expanding without compromising the brand or the experience.
The Salt & Straw gang, of course, for starting an empire out of a small cart that has opened so many people’s palates to adventurous flavors.
Jenn Louis, our friend and collaborator, for constantly reinventing herself and being one of the most passionate creative food lovers I know.
TH: How do you keep coming up with recipes? What inspires them?
CS: I believe pretty strongly in coming up with ideas from the gut. We do some data gathering to guide us in filling a niche but prefer to craft things that would make us happy and feel original. Our philosophy is to try and bring something high-end to the table—with a bit of a twist—so our consumers can experience the joy and creativity of consuming something unique.
At the heart of it, our inspiration comes from flavors that we ourselves would like to enjoy that we don’t see on the market, whether in cannabis or mainstream [products]. We do a lot of R&D at the local chocolate and candy purveyors.
TH: How is it working together? Do you find that you constantly talk about work?
CS: We do. It’s a constant work environment, but over time, we have found the ability to compartmentalize some of our conversations on the weekends when it’s time to recharge. We have also been able to separate our individual responsibilities so there is less overlap between Jody’s production focus and my day-to-day running of the company. We think similarly in terms of new products, so there is rarely much friction around concepting, especially because the creative process is our favorite part of the business.
TH: Tell me about the product development process.
CS: Once we dream up a new flavor or a new topical that we want to make, we taste and try everything we can to see what’s out in the world. Most of the time, we want to improve upon what exists on the shelves, including regular, non-cannabis edibles and topicals. Then we go into testing without cannabis included so we can adjust flavors and test out our ideas. Once we’re happy with what we’ve come up with, we add cannabis to see if that will affect a flavor.
We have to be mindful of scaling, especially when we’re making a new confection or a different type of topical, to ensure that the labor aspect of the process will be feasible. While we’re refining [and] tasting, we’re also looking closely at the economics of the products, the packaging requirements, the marketing possibilities, and naming. Launching a new product can be costly, so we also need to time any new item with our sales forecast, purchasing our full extract cannabis oil at the right time so we don’t overextend ourselves financially.
Once we have a product on the market, the process is centered around how rapidly the product moves and scheduling production for different flavors based on sales. Because we work with a wonderful grower and oil processor, Siskiyou Sungrown, our access to excellent cannabis oil has been seamless.
TH: You also have Physic, your topical line. How do you come up with the scents and what’s the best way to use them for pain?
CS: The aromatic profiles stem from the same sort of gut feeling involved in finding the edible flavor profiles. We typically visit a lot of stores that carry high-end wellness and bodycare products and observe the trends of scents and just gravitate toward what we like and what seems appropriate. We want to appeal to both men and women, so up to now we’ve created two scents that would address both masculine and feminine preferences. Our future products will be neutral. We also like to touch upon aromatherapy as an added component to this highly medicinal product.
Our current balms are the most potent topical product on the Oregon market, gram for gram. They are extremely effective for pain when used liberally where it hurts. They can be used as frequently as needed and are not psychoactive in spite of their high THC content, so we encourage people to use them without fear of becoming high. The balms are best for pain like muscle soreness, some forms of arthritis, bruises, [and] certain types of skin conditions. We’ve even had testimonials of them helping with dental pain and minor sinus pain.
TH: Where does your cannabis come from?
CS: All of the cannabis we use is in the form of full extract cannabis oil (FECO, sometimes referred to as RSO), so the same food-safe oil that we use in our edibles is what we use in our topicals. This type of oil maintains the full cannabinoid profile of all the beneficial cannabinoids that will impart a balanced and healthful entourage effect. This is important not only for the pleasant edible effects one would want, but also the healing effects that one would want in their topical therapy.
TH: What does your cannabis routine look like?
CS: My husband is a more consistent cannabis user than I am, including a nightly cannabis oil capsule he makes from our own personal store of FECO. He also consumes high-ratio CBD edibles from time to time, whether ours or others on the market, to address spikes in his chronic pain when he needs it.
I myself enjoy high-CBD flowers from time to time and prefer to use my Pax3 so I can moderate the quantity and taste of the original flower. I’m partial to cannabis grown by companies like East Fork Cultivars and Cascade High, due mostly to their sustainable practices, freshness, and flavor.
TH: How has cannabis helped you the most?
CS: Cannabis in our lives has truly been about pain relief and stress reduction. It’s what initially led us into this industry and is a core part of why we maintain our topical line. It’s something neither of us could live without.
TH: What other forms of wellness do you practice?
CS: I am a pretty big believer in food as medicine and am always seeking ways to adjust my diet to feel better. My body is very quick to react to what I put into it, so it’s easy for me to make adjustments [to my diet] and see rapid change. We also both practice the stress-relieving act of playing with our adorable cats, who are a source of pure joy in our stressful lives.
TH: How do you think cannabis can help the world?
CS: Cannabis is a bit of a wonder drug. Years ago, when cannabis was still emerging as a viable alternative to certain Western medical treatments, many of the anecdotes sounded farfetched. Over time, like many others, I’ve come to see that the stories are true and significant and profound. We received an email once from a woman telling us that our topicals helped her remove five or six opioids from her life and that she could now consider having children. We are grateful that we have the ability to help people on this level.
We’ve seen so many people alleviate their pain, lessen their insomnia, and feel more connected and at peace with the world from a variety of cannabis uses. It is clear that cannabis can help people remove the burden of pharmaceutical dependency and [its] side effects from their lives. If allowed to flourish, the [cannabis] industry will promote financial freedom and opportunity through jobs and growth. If we can move the needle in the direction of a less constrictive, conservative way of thinking in our country, cannabis legalization will help reverse some of the horrific consequences of a drug war that has been devastating to those it has affected.
TH: Is cannabis a drug?
CS: Yes, in the most positive way. It can alter, cure, promote well-being, adjust physiology in the body, and it can make you happy, inspired, high. Not all drugs are bad.
TH: What is the biggest challenge facing our country that cannabis could potentially fix?
CS: Opioid dependency, economic recession, unemployment.
TH: What’s next for Leif and Physic?
CS: Leif Goods will continue to release exciting chocolate bars to the masses, including chef-inspired special flavors throughout 2018. We also plan to pursue hemp CBD options as well so we can bring our products to the masses outside of Oregon.
A new sub-brand called Junk is our latest project, which is a special line of confections aimed at lightening the current mood in cannabis, a bit of a backlash to the backlash to stoner culture, where you can giggle and just get silly with friends. The first edible is a chocolate-covered marshmallow with chocolate salt, something that is just some fun, high-end junk food for the pot foodie.
Physic will continue to expand with a broader line of topicals aimed at getting you through a full day with cannabis therapy from soaps in the morning and balms in the afternoon to massage oil to end the day. All of these applications will continue to offer powerful pain relief and luxury-level ingredients and aromatics.
TH: What would you tell a first-time user trying Leif or Physic?
CS: With edibles, we always encourage a first-timer to start low and go slow, a pretty common directive in the cannabis industry. We also like to have newbies start with our 1:1 options since there is less likelihood of a negative experience.
With topicals, one of the biggest challenges is to assure the user that the product will not get them high. In this case, we also suggest starting with a small amount to acclimate them to the notion that cannabis can be completely non-psychoactive. If the user is already comfortable with the concept, we suggest a pea-sized amount of balm per location that is painful, then to simply relax.