By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
One of the best parts of spending my life working in the endurance sports community is having the opportunity to meet and get to know brilliant scientists, coaches, entrepreneurs, and personalities. Of course, the more people you meet the more discerning you have to be about who you are going to listen to, and like most people my age I have realized it’s not wise to trust anyone who speaks in absolutes or who makes outlandish claims. When I was approached by Planetarie, a company that develops and sells CBDa products, I genuinely appreciated the practical – even conservative – approach they take to explaining the effects of their products on anxiety, muscle soreness, overall pain relief, and more. Some of this may stem from the fact their Chemistry Manager, Ethan Stevens, is one of the most grounded, down-to-earth, young scientists you’ll ever meet.
While plenty of scientists, engineers, and developers create good products despite having no personal connection to them and no real use for them, the best products are created out of a person’s passion. So, when the Chemistry Manager for Planetarie CBDa had the idea to combine his passions for chemistry, combat sports and outdoor sports, the powers that be at Planetarie CBDa wisely encouraged him to run with it. The result, CBDa Muscle Rub, is always in my bag with my cycling gear and I reach for it frequently to soothe the aches and pains that come from being a 60-year-old athlete.
I wanted to find out more about the development and science behind Planetarie’s CBDa Muscle Rub, so I reached out to Ethan with some questions.
How did you find your way from the University of Colorado Boulder to the Planetarie lab in just a few years, and what drew you to CBDa research and development?
My introduction to the industry was first on the regulatory side. I was working on a contract with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) in the biochemistry laboratory. Colorado had just recently became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and the 2018 Farm Bill had just made industrial hemp legal so we were overrun with cannabis. I had to quickly learn a lot about the challenges surrounding both sides of the industry, with a major focus on compliance testing. When I was in that position we were the regulatory body that was ensuring the products reaching consumers were safe.
As my contract with the CDA came to a close, I was seeking a new position and was offered a job as an analytical chemist at Planetarie. At this point I knew very little about extraction or the company, but I figured I would be focused on testing, which I was familiar with, so I decided to take the job. When I was with CDA, we had tested and taken action on many unsafe products in the beginning, especially hemp products, so for me it has always been important to ensure our products never fall into that category.
Since the company was a small startup my first couple months were spent getting up to speed on all aspects of operations, there certainly were no concrete job descriptions at this point. Eventually I had my feet under me, operations were relatively smooth, and I had some time to think. I wanted to know why we were extracting CBDa when CBD extraction methods were well understood and the market was booming. Of course, safety is different than effectiveness, and I had heard many claims made about CBDa working at Planetarie, but felt it was necessary to personally ensure these claims were valid. When I looked at the data that was available I found a lot of supporting research for the claims being made. Through that initial research I became very certain in what we were doing and was determined to educate consumers as well as put out the absolute best products we could. This is an ongoing effort to both educate myself as new data becomes available and to teach consumers about how CBDa may help them.
Can you explain why water based hemp extraction is important to consumers?
There are plenty of safe non-water extracted products on the market that are extracted with solvents such as ethanol, CO2, and others. I would advise anyone looking to purchase or use any cannabis products to ensure that the company is providing a full suite of certificates of authenticity (COAs) from an ISO-17025 accredited laboratory.
The big distinction for water extraction is that we can pull the acidic cannabinoids out of the plant with the first pass and with high purity. The other two main extractions used in the industry, ethanol and CO2, are also pulling out these acidic cannabinoids but need to undergo further processing, which involves heat. The heat used in the refinement process causes decarboxylation, which converts the acidic cannabinoids into their downstream cannabinoids (e.g. CBDa to CBD). This means that water extraction is currently one of the only ways to extract high purity CBDa from the plant and offer it to consumers.
We also know now that CBDa and other acidic cannabinoids are not stable in ethanol. Since other extraction methods use ethanol for either extraction or refinement, it was thought that CBDa was not stable and would undergo decarboxylation over time. We now know this is not entirely accurate, as the presence of ethanol in the extract is what is facilitating the decarboxylation of acidic cannabinoids, even at room temperature. In comparison our product is quite stable at room temperature for several years. This is due to the extract being free of residual protic solvent, as the product is in a solid microcrystalline form.
Lastly, our unique process is all done in one pass. There is no additional refinement. This means that we do not discriminate against either natural plant compounds, such as flavonoids, or other acidic cannabinoids that are in the plant. Therefore, the final product is a full spectrum product that is very representative of the plant it was extracted from. This is important for the entourage effect to take place. The entourage effect has been studied and it has been shown that cannabinoids are more effective when taken together, and even more effective when taken in a botanical extract form compared to an isolate. The scientific community has not quite dialed in why these effects are seen and there will need to be more work done to understand the complex mechanisms at play. For now, we believe our extracts give you one of the best chances at taking advantage of the entourage effect.
Planetarie CBDa Muscle Rub was your brainchild, from invention through production. How did the idea develop?
Lifting weights, riding a bike, and rock climbing are all things you do not want to perform with greasy hands. Our salve product is great, it allows users to apply a lot of product across large portions of the body, but you have to use your hands to get it out of the container. This gives your hands a healthy dose of jojoba oil, beeswax, and CBDa but also leaves them feeling greasy until it absorbs. For athletes, we knew this was not going to work. They want to get going immediately, so that was the problem we set out to solve when creating the muscle rub.
This was the initial spark of the idea. We knew athletes were already using our products but we wanted to create something designed to complement their activities.
What were some of the unique challenges to creating a CBDa muscle rub product?
One of the challenges was actually the container. Many of our products are sold in frosted glass but we decided we had to use plastic as athletes likely were after something lightweight and durable. We wanted the athlete to be able to toss the muscle rub in a gym bag without worry of it breaking.
We also did not want the product to be a burden to carry around. As a backpacker I know that every ounce of weight counts. When my sister graduated college we hiked the Northville Lake Placid trail in the Adirondack Park. The trail was 132 miles and we completed it in 11 days. This intentionally was not a crushing pace but with all the gear on our backs and trail conditions it certainly was not easy. This played a role in the Muscle Rub packaging because I wanted to ensure the product was as lightweight and durable as it could be.
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Another challenge was related to environmental conditions. We knew this product would be left in hot cars after a workout, or brought along on a long hike in the summer heat. Therefore, we had to ensure that the product was thermally stable which a challenging task is when you are making a product that is supposed to rub onto your skin with ease. In the end we adjusted the formulation to include more heat stable beeswax while balancing it with skin glide friendly mango butter. We successfully tested the product up to 140°F, although we hope athletes are not racing or training in such extreme conditions.
How did your own athletic background influence the drive to create Muscle Rub?
I’m no professional athlete but like many people I have dealt with a lot of injuries. For the past couple of years I have been going through bad cycles of getting into really good shape only to get injured and then fall back to where I started. I was in great shape through college and once I graduated I felt like I had less time to get in a proper workout, and the 2 hours of commuting was not helping. I loved martial arts, specifically Muay Thai (think kickboxing + knees and elbows) and I had done it through college, so I jumped back into my local gym. About 6 months into training I was feeling great again, until I was pulled away again by hairline fractures in both of my shins and a completely blown out back.
I knew I needed to be proactive. Ignoring the injuries by continually pushing and not listening at all to my body was the problem. I needed to stretch. I needed to eat right, and I needed to take rest days. I let an injury that could be solved by a couple rest days turn into an injury that would last a couple months.
“I wanted athletes to have access to an effective step before treating injuries with painkillers.”
I created Muscle Rub out of a desire to take a proactive approach to sports-related injuries. Will this muscle rub be a miracle cure? Absolutely not. I’m not going to tell you that using the muscle rub solved all my injuries, because that is not true. But, it is an important part of my routine now. I knew what CBDa can do, I had done enough research and seen enough people have positive effects to know that it was legitimate. So, I wanted to offer athletes CBDa in a form that was easy to put into their routine. I wanted athletes to have access to an effective step before treating injuries with painkillers.
For me it acts as a gauge. I use it when I need it after workouts, specifically on my back. If my back acts up after a workout and cannot be remedied by the muscle rub, I know I need a rest day. I have been doing Brazilian jiu jitsu for about a year now and have avoided any serious injuries and have not taken a painkiller since. The biggest part of my sustainability is listening to my body, and this product is an active part of that.
How does Muscle Rub affect athletes differently than ingesting a CBDa infusion or softgel?
The muscle rub provides a more direct approach to areas of discomfort. It allows athletes to concentrate CBDa where they need it most. It also contains menthol which acts as a topical analgesic which can help alleviate discomfort immediately.
What is next in the evolution of CBDa chemistry and products?
I think CBDa is on its way to the mainstream. For the past several years we have spent a lot of time educating people on the differences and I think the industry at large is catching on.
As far as products go sometimes you need to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. We have partnered with a really great company using our CBDa and their technology to create the Drink Additive 2.0. This product is much more refined than the original and will taste a lot better as well. This will be the second product in our athlete targeted line and will be hitting the shelves hopefully around late April. We will also be launching our woman’s line in the next couple months.
Partnership Content: CTS has a partnership with Planetarie that includes product for use by CTS Coaches and athletes at CTS Camps and events, and provides CTS Athletes with access to Planetarie products through the CTS Athlete Perks Program.
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