HomeCannabis Industry InterviewsKatie Stem Interview: CEO of Peak Extracts

Katie Stem Interview: CEO of Peak Extracts

Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, @peakextracts started her first business at age 22. While working for Washington State University and Oregon Health & Science University, she experimented in the fields of physiology, pharmacology and neurology using natural products and pharmaceutical interventions for human diseases. 

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Stem’s skills as both a scientist and herbalist are invaluable to Peak in the formulation, R&D, and educational outreach.

A medical cannabis patient since 2004, Katie has been heavily involved and connected within the community since the early days.

Her battle with Crohn’s disease led her to explore alternatives to dangerous biologic and immunosuppressive drugs.

Cannabis has been a powerful tool to manage her disease and she is a passionate educator and advocate within the industry.

Stem maintains an acupuncture and herbal medicine practice in Portland that she’s had since 2010.

Every Peak Extract product is made using a proprietary in-house Terp-Lock™ extraction process that retains the character and effects of the original material.

Peak’s hypoallergenic topical salve Rescue Rub is critically acclaimed and based on an exclusive combination of traditional Chinese herbal medicines used to treat inflammation, pain and blunt-force trauma.

We had the chance to interview Katie. Learn more about her and her wonderful company, Peak Extracts.

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What is your background and what about the cannabis industry initially drew you to it?

Katie Stem: My background is primarily medicine and scientific research. I worked in various labs for ten years, exploring physiology, pharmacology and neuroscience.

I was struggling to control my Crohn’s disease in my late 20s, so I changed courses and got a degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine.

When we started Peak in 2014, I had been growing medical cannabis for 9 years and I decided to put my lab skills to use for extraction.

Cannabis has always been extraordinarily helpful in controlling my Crohn’s disease, for me starting work in the industry was very personal–and somewhat selfish, since it allowed me access to superior and more predictable medicine.  

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Tell us more about Peak Extracts’ three products, especially the strain-specific chocolates.

Katie Stem: I started making chocolates so that I could have longer lasting relief from abdominal pain and I quickly found that individual strains had different effects on my symptoms.

The more I experimented, the more I discovered how much I could fine-tune my experience.

Most people I’ve encountered that stopped using cannabis had some sort of negative experience with edibles, typically due to problems with homogeneity, dosage or a bad reaction to a particular cultivar.

We wanted to give people more control over their consumption, which led us to our color-coding system. Even if you aren’t familiar with the particular strain, the colors will point you in the right direction.

Purple is for relaxation or sleep, and orange is for energetic daytime use. I always use blue for daytime abdominal pain, and white is high CBD.

In addition to our chocolate line, we also make a topical called Rescue Rub. I developed the base for in my Chinese medical practice here in Portland, to treat pain and inflammation.

I adapted it from a 2,000-year-old herbal formula for treating blunt-force trauma. It’s very effective and smells amazing, too.

In early 2018, we finally launched our vape cartridge line, focusing on CBD strains and minor cannabinoids like CBG. We retain all the original terpenes, so each variety is unique and true to the flower.

Oregonians take their crafts very seriously, and we have access to the most amazing material in the world. We try to do it justice by taking great care in processing it.

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What makes Peak Extracts different from other cannabis brands?

Katie Stem: We’re owned and run entirely by women, which although not unheard of, is rare in this industry, especially in extraction.

Making our own extracts is our biggest advantage because we have utmost control of the quality and parameters, as well as the source material.

We can be choosy about strains, and farms that we work with, and we have control of every step moving forward to the final product.

Our goal was to produce products that are interesting, customizable and of the highest quality.

I’m so proud to see how far we have come in the last few years and excited to see where the next steps will take us.

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What were some of the difficulties you experienced when growing Peak Extracts?

Katie Stem: There are a lot of new skills we’ve had to learn on the fly, particularly managing a growing team, and navigating a very hostile regulatory environment.

It’s remarkable how much public sentiment towards cannabis has shifted in the last decade, so I’m confident that it will be an easier road moving forward.

Being a woman in a leadership role is always fraught with challenges, but that, too, has improved in the past few years and I’m lucky to be part of a supportive team of high-achieving individuals.

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And what is the most rewarding experience you’ve had so far?

Katie Stem: Building this company from a 2-person operation was an enormous leap of faith, and I’m regularly in awe of how successful we’ve become.

If it hadn’t involved so many countless 100-hour weeks, I would point more towards luck. One can never rely on things working out as you planned, so that is endlessly rewarding.

My favorite part of this whole experience is the stories we hear, daily, about how much our products have improved people’s lives. That’s what keeps all of us going.  

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Can you give us some hints on what products you will be launching next? Do you think you will be coming up with a pure CBD product line?

Katie Stem: For our adult-use, THC containing lines, we just launched a CBD formula for Rescue Rub, and in the next couple weeks we’re releasing CBD Solution, a strain-specific CBD tincture.

I’m very excited about this one, as it’s a product I frequently use myself and will allow people who need CBD access to a higher dose at a lower price point than our chocolates.

As for the pure CBD product line, we are making a move in that direction, and there should be progress in the next few months.

Also, in the next year, we will be releasing something totally unique, it’s our most discreet product to date, and I haven’t seen anything like it on the market.

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What is one piece of advice you have for hopeful ganjapreneurs trying to get in on the industry?

Katie Stem: Getting rich should be the last thing from your mind, you should do it because you love it, believe in it, or find it fascinating.  The current regulations and tax structures limit profits, and once they dissolve, large companies will most likely dominate the industry.

It’s a new frontier, hungry for new ideas and talent. With any luck, it will also be a great benefit to humanity, but don’t expect to be a millionaire in 2 years.

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Thank you so much, Katie, for doing the interview! We appreciate the time you took to do it.

About Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts

Eastern Washington native Katie Stem started her first business at age 22 while in the Americorps VISTA entrepreneurial division. A graduate from Carleton College in 2002, majoring in pre-med and literature, she has extensive business and management experience, as well as more than 10 years of laboratory science background. In 2010, she completed her degree in traditional Chinese medicine and became a nationally-certified licensed herbalist and acupuncturist. 

About Peak Extracts

Woman-owned and operated Peak Extracts was the first adult-use edibles producer licensed in Oregon and currently holds a position as the #2 cannabis chocolate manufacturer in the state. Originally founded in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program in 2014, Peak Extracts is locally owned and based on principles of quality and integrity. Peak Extracts’ new vaporizer cartridges feature a focus on CBD, terpenes and CBG and are the only CO2 cartridges available in the market that retain 95% or more of the original terpenes and flavonoids. Peak Extracts’ best-in-class creations are found in more than 150 carefully selected retailers across Oregon.

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