Dr. John Pierce isn't like most doctors. With more than 20 years of experience in the wellness industry, he looks at medicine and complementary therapies from a holistic point of view.
Today, he contributes know-how and expertise about products, product formulations, extraction technologies and more to support the goals of Common Citizen and bring wellness to the forefront of cannabis.
How did you get into the cannabis industry?
For me, it was not a lifestyle. It fell in my lap, quite literally in 2005. At the time I was finishing work on a project on another herb, kava kava from the South Pacific. When that ended, I was introduced to one of the first dispensaries in Los Angeles. I proceeded to make extract preparations for them, tinctures and products for about five or six years. We started to make our own product line, working with CBD in 2011 and 2012. So I started in LA and used those skills to establish business relationships with other teams.
What is your technical background? What did you study at school?
My formal background is in academia. I have a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biochemistry, Ph.D. in analytical chemistry. I always had an interest in natural products, health and wellbeing. It was a lifestyle, a passion if you were. Little by little, I applied my skills in this direction. In 1998 I started my own business, specifically with regard to kava kava. Prior to that, I had a faculty position, immersed in academia doing research. Then, the entrepreneurial bug bit and that led to where we are now.
What is it about the wellness category that interests you?
I’d always been interested in health and wellbeing. My mom passing from cancer made me look at complementary ways of addressing health concerns. That led to a real keen interest in pharmaceutical preparations in general. I edified myself to natural products, other cultures, ayurvedic medicine, shamanic medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). All of those have a common thread of certain plants being used for certain ailments. These are cultures and societies that had very little contact and they all came to the same conclusions. I think we can learn from that.
In the United States medical system, complementary medicine isn’t part of formal training. In other countries, like Germany, natural products are part of their formal training, including understanding medical preparations from natural sources. At minimum, there’s an awareness. There's a lot to be learned for MDs in the States.
Complementary used to be called “alternative medicine,” but that's more of a derogatory term. People pooh-pooh it all the time, but there's a lot of people who achieve benefit for a whole host of reasons—it could be for migraines, it could be arthritis, it could be sleep, it could be pain.
What is it about cannabis that’s so exciting for complementary medicine?
As a plant, it has so many properties besides what it’s known for. For psychoactivity yes, there’s THC. But there are so many other aspects for which one’s health and wellbeing can be addressed. The plant is really quite remarkable. I haven’t personally seen a plant to that magnitude. Certainly, you can consider traditional Chinese plants—there’s reishi mushroom, there’s ginseng, the “king” herbs—but cannabis is way up there.
This must be a very exciting time for you!
It’s really thrilling when your passion meshes with a business. It’s no longer a job. It’s fun. And it should be fun and interesting. It’s getting more competitive now, so you’ve got to be more savvy, more sophisticated, technologically advanced. But Common Citizen avails itself to that, addressing the preparation of products based on cannabis in a way that nobody else is at the moment.
Can you try to explain some of the science behind what you do?
It starts with wanting to learn more, wanting to understand, observations anecdotally, feedback. We are all unique individuals and we all have our unique endocannabinoid system; sensitivities to drugs in general, and cannabis particularly. We look at ratios of cannabinoids, the full spectrum of the plant, including the terpenes and the terpene blends.
There’s still a lot to be learned about the particular modes of preparation—meaning, what are the total cannabinoids? We have flavanoids or cannaflavins that nobody has delved into at all. We have minor flavins that have yet to be included in the mix. Most people only know THC and CBD but there are quite a few others, and they have very strong benefits for sleep, quality of life, or pain.
After nearly 20 years in the cannabis industry, how much has changed?
Nobody was talking about CBD five years ago. I only started working with CBD in 2012. It wasn’t super well known. In 2009, I was at a conference and a woman who had lupus was juicing the leaves of Harlequin and Tatatonic, which were the only high CBD strains on the market.
So the industry has changed a lot in terms of technology and products. I started making vapes around 10 years ago and tinctures. I made oral dissolvable strips and powders, which you could dissolve in beverages, for example. Only now are we starting to see some products based on those preparations. The myriad of products you can make from the advancement of technology is really quite striking.
The preparations on the blends, particularly on the ratios of THC to CBD, have very different effects to address distinct medical needs. But also we want to have fun sometimes. We want to splurge or indulge—and we can do that as well.
When it comes to the future of cannabis, what are you most excited about?
I’m excited that there’s a receptiveness. The stigma is going away. We’re getting away from the imagery of “get high, not well” towards “get well, not high”— although, we can still get high, which is not a bad thing. Not that everybody should or want to, but it’s available and you can.
The receptiveness in the market place, of this magnitude, is a rare event. We can have a significant impact as a business, as a society, to help people in a way which they haven’t gotten the help they were looking for.
When you’re not tinkering with tinctures, what do you do like to for fun?
I like going in nature. I like the tropics very much. I like traveling. The goal is to get a stable routine. I’m doing a lot of traveling now for business but I do like to go to places like Hawaii and hang out there for a couple of weeks. Being close to the ocean is nice or even up in the mountains.
What would you want cannacurious people to know?
Learn. Ask questions. Common Citizen is taking a really good approach and taking on the responsibility of preparing things in a fundamentally sound and ethically correct way. Don’t be afraid. These products we are putting together are going to help you. I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s very humbling to see somebody get well. I didn’t do this for greed—not at all. That’s the most rewarding thing for me.