Jon Cooper sees the future.
No, we’re not talking about a crystal ball or deck of tarot cards. But the 41-year-old founder of cannabis company ebbu™ believes that the work being done at his laboratory in Evergreen, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is paving the way for the future of the industry.
The concept is the “Coors Light of cannabis,” cannabis products that will deliver the exact same effect every time, in vaporizer oil, dabs or water droplets, based on laborious research to develop a compound that induces a very specific type of effect.
“We couldn’t just do a human study and try to figure out what’s the magical combination of compounds from the plant that’s going to create these desirable results. We had to start at the cellular level.”
“The industry will turn to mainstream brands over the next five to 10 years,” said Cooper. “If you look at what’s fundamental to a brand, you have to deliver a consistent experience to that consumer every single time.”
“The challenge for this marketplace is nobody is doing that.”
Better Living through Chemistry
Cooper never pictured himself involved in this industry, even after Colorado voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2012. He had grown up in the era of “Just Say No” and when he had said “yes,” the experiences were uneven.
“I had some awesome experiences, and I had some terrible experiences, because the plant is inconsistent, and I didn’t know the difference between Blue Dream and Green Crack. I had a very low level of trust in the plants,” he said.
But the industry’s post-legalization explosion in Colorado, and the many people he met whose lives had been improved by medical cannabis, softened his beliefs. As an entrepreneur for two decades, he began to ponder ways that science could create an even, predictable experience.
Think of it as better living through chemistry.
“Anywhere you go in the world, and you order a Coors Light, you get the exact same thing every time. What if we could create consistent, predictable products, with the same experience every time?” he said.
“What I didn’t realize at the time was the breadth and depth from a scientific perspective that I would need to get into to solve these problems.”
Reinventing the Wheel
Cooper began interviewing scientists in 2014 and today, he has 10 on his staff. At first, the biggest problem was just finding scientists willing to study cannabis, given the questionable legal status.
They started by sifting through more than 500 studies—most of which were only semi-scientific, given the longstanding federal hurdles to such research. They also challenged the “anecdotal knowledge” about cannabis, about half of which Cooper estimates is not true.
“There was no road map. Very little scientific work had happened. We were doing a lot of best guesses, and we made a ridiculous number of mistakes, maybe even an embarrassingly high number,” he laughed.
Another struggle was finding capital. Most investors at the time saw cannabis as a “get-rich-quick scheme” and were unwilling to get in on a venture that could take years to bear fruit. To date, Cooper estimates ebbu™ has spent $10 million on research.
Much of that research has of course been on the plant, deconstructing it into its basic parts, but even more has focused on the human body’s reaction to “chemical chaos” of the plant, including compounds like THC-V that have been largely bred out of commercial cannabis. Researchers have also conducted dozens of double-blind studies on human to gauge how they react to different extraction cocktails.
“We couldn’t just do a human study and try to figure out what’s the magical combination of compounds from the plant that’s going to create these desirable results,” Cooper said. “We had to start at the cellular level. We needed to understand what happens when we take different combinations of these compounds and introduce them to these human receptor sites. By the way, stop me if I get too technical.”
Hot on the Shelves
In 2016, ebbu™ finally released GENESIS™ onto the market, a vaporizer oil that promised “a very clean high without the sensation of being stoned,” said Cooper. They followed up with dabs and micro-dose aqua drops.
They’re available at 150 Colorado dispensaries—but Cooper says his company actually plans to get out of the production business and the ebbu™ brand will go away. That’s because he plans to license these chemical recipes to other manufacturers so ebbu™ can focus on research. You might still see the ebbu™ name on the container, but the brand will be somebody else’s.
And Cooper has big plans for this research. He envisions a time in the near future when consumers will be able to make a cannabis extract purchase based on how they want to feel. For example, do they want a burst of energy or to chill out on the couch? Are they trying to cope with anxiety or spice things up in the bedroom with their significant other? And the feeling can be delivered via discreet water drops that will take effect in minutes and last about 75 minutes.
And that’s not all he sees for the future of this industry.
“In the next five to 10 years you’re going to be able to walk into bars and different places and not only order an alcoholic drink, but you’ll be able to order a cannabis drink. In 10 years you’re going to go to the doctor, and the doctor’s going to be able to prescribe you with real doseable medicine.”
“And within 20 years you’re going to walk into a grocery store and things like shampoo, sports drinks, dog food, creams, they’re all going to contain cannabinoids, and it’s all really designed to improve the quality of our lives.”