Jake Heimark never really smoked pot.
Even now, as Heimark launches the second product from his marijuana edibles company, Plus, he indulges only when testing his own product— a kind of medicated gum.
Despite his lack of firsthand experience, he is well prepared to enter the budding marijuana marketplace. A two-year stint on Facebook's risk management team taught Heimark how to build a great product and how to cultivate a company culture that values "moving fast" (though maybe not "breaking things," as the social giant's mantra goes).
By now you're probably thinking, marijuana-infusedgum? Sounds gross.
Heimark insists this is no ordinary marijuana-infused gum (yes, there's at least one other on the market). Plus Gum, which tastes like spearmint and a "hint of cannabis," according to the website, gets users high faster than most edibles because it's absorbed through the lining of the mouth. It has less than five calories, making it one of the most diet-friendly edibles available.
Two years ago, Heimark, a Bay Area native, was working as a project manager at payments startup Gumroad, which has nothing to do with actual gum. But he wanted to run a company.
A friend sent him a link to a "60 Minutes" episode about how the marijuana industry was growing up and attracting big dollars in Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012.
Heimark considered his experience maximizing profits and minimizing payment fraud at Facebook (and his role at Gumroad) and packed his bags for Denver. He rented an Airbnb and joined a marijuana startup accelerator called Green Labs for $450 a month.
One day, some projections about the edibles market crossed his desk. He crunched more numbers. He sent the data to his dad, the former chief information officer at Swiss bank UBS.
"I called my father ... and I said, 'Can you read these numbers and tell me if you see what I'm seeing," Heimark says. "He said, 'You need to be an edibles company.' And I said, 'I think so.'"
Edibles and other infused products are taking a bigger bite out of the $5.4 billion legal marijuana industry with every passing year. It's often the consumption method of choice for people using marijuana for medicinal purposes and those who just don't want to smoke.
Weed-laced treats offer a discreet way to get high in public, and a single dose can power users through the worst bouts of illness-induced nausea or a marathon Netflix binge.
But they offer a completely different experience than a joint or a bong hit. When eaten, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in weed, undergoes a transformation in the liver that turns it into a different substance that's twice as strong and lasts twice as long as when it's inhaled. A user's high might not peak until one to three hours after eating.
Because it takes so long to process, people often overdo it. While there are no recorded cases of people fatally overdosing on marijuana, it can make patients incredibly uncomfortable.
But gum isn't digested. You chew it.
Heimark hypothesized that a marijuana-infused gum would be absorbed through the cheeks and gums faster than the digestive tract. It's the same reason why doctors administer medicine under the tongue. If medical marijuana patients got high more quickly, they might find relief from their ailments and say no to second helpings too soon after their first dose.
Heimark and his cofounders, Roy McFarland and Justin "Crunchy" Crunchington, pored over recipe books from the Denver library and spent every night trying new recipes in the kitchen.
Turns out, making gum is hard to do. Harder still, the guys had to find a way to make the chemical compounds in marijuana stick to the gum and not rub off on user's teeth. Ideally, the finished product wouldn't taste like an ashtray. It was a tall order.
Today, Plus Gum delivers psychoactive effects within 15 minutes of chewing, Heimark says. He credits a "secret sauce" contained in their pending patent for improving taste.
Each Chicklet-like piece of gum provides 25 milligrams of THC, though Heimark claims its potency doesn't feel like a dose that large, because the drug never gets digested. He compares the high to drinking two beers. Plus Gum is available in 65 dispensaries across California.
Recently, Plus launched its second product, a tin of marijuana-infused gummies. They co-opt some science developed for the gum to make the gummies fast-acting, though not as swift.
As the company gears up for the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in California this November (and an expansion to Colorado in 2017), Heimark expects an infusion of new customers. He says these times remind him of being at Facebook.
"What I love about this industry is that it is brand-new and growing. It's so exciting and changing every day," Heimark says. "I was part of tech, and I've seen what that felt like. I can tell you this feels the same, if not even faster growing."
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