The Higher Learning LV Interview: Adam Terry
Updated: Mar 5
This article is brought to you by the Cannabis Commerce + Chemistry Podcast.
In October 2022, Higher Learning LV interviewed Adam Terry, the co-founder and CEO of Cantrip, a cannabis beverage company based in Massachusetts. Terry has focused his career on "working in cannabis downstream of the plant," including scale and craft extractions, lab design, infused products, and now beverages.
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Terry has a degree in Chemical Engineering with a concentration in biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts. He said he has long had "a passion for beverage" and that integrating his love for cannabis "just made sense." This synergy of passions has manifested as Cantrip, where Terry "tries to bring a technical perspective and engineering efficiency into the design of the company's products."
Higher Learning LV: "Adam, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about Cantrip and your approach to the newly emerging cannabis industry segment of infused beverages. First, what attracted you, personally, to cannabis? What role does the herb play in your life?"
Adam Terry: "My twin brother began consuming cannabis in high school, which was followed by all of our friends. Wanting to be a part of my peer group got me started. But when I finally got high for the first time (somewhere around the seventh time I consumed), I connected with it in a way that none of my other friends did.
"I don't view cannabis as a cure-all, nor do I think it can do even half of what many claim."
"I think I had struggled before to let go of any part of my sense of self and cannabis helped me develop self-actualization by allowing me to stop judging myself so intently. From then on, I knew I would be a regular cannabis consumer. I never considered any jobs that might prevent me from engaging with that side of myself. "Cannabis has become my career and my livelihood. I have a complicated relationship with the plant. I don't prefer to be consuming while working, but networking events in this space require it. Or, at least, expect it.
"I do not smoke as much flower as I used to. I prefer low dose, more controllable methods. This preference seems to lose me credibility in the space, which is frustrating. But I still consume daily and am the first person to test any product I am working on. I have a deep give and take with this plant.
"I don't view cannabis as a cure-all, nor do I think it can do even half of what many claim. I would be the first to tell you that I'd like to see many, many more studies on the most popular anecdotal claims, including as a sleep aid, a cancer treatment, or a 'focus' aid.
"I believe this plant has a wildly variable effect on people with differing biologies and that it is far too under-studied."
"I also believe this plant has a wildly variable effect on people with differing biologies and that it is far too under-studied. But I firmly believe cannabis has a place in our lives for anyone wishing to consume it for their own personal enjoyment and anyone wanting to use it for their own medicine. We have a fundamental human right to control what happens to our own bodies—in all cases."
HLLV: "As CEO and co-founder of Cantrip—a company that your website describes as 'a fun way to consume and experience cannabis'—what is your approach to infused beverages, particularly dosing? With so many ways to formulate a cannabis-infused beverage, how do you and Cantrip dial it in for your customers?"
AT: "I've developed a variety of high-dose and low-dose products over the years and I've tried every single one of them. Consistently and anecdotally, I find that those consuming in large amounts don't enjoy socializing—unless they have exceptional tolerances. Such an exceptional tolerance may be common for people who work in the cannabis industry, but it's uncommon among most average consumers.
"I had three major pillars with our first product line. First, that it be low dose, meaning under five milligrams of delta-9 THC. Second, it had to contain some amount of CBD. And third, it had to contain terpenes.
"We ended up with 3:2 dosing of THC to CBD. From trialing friends and family, this seemed to be the most popular. I was committed originally to staying away from five milligram THC because I wanted to reinforce the idea that this could be continuously consumed, unlike a standard gummy (which, in Massachusetts, is limited to 5 mg THC). We changed that thinking as the Massachusetts market seemed to decide what it wanted and we offered something for those with higher tolerances.
"The terpenes ended up being a somewhat controversial choice. Ultimately, we are providing a beverage that is more geared toward newer and returning consumers and terpenes carry a lot of baggage."
"The terpenes ended up being a somewhat controversial choice. Ultimately, we are providing a beverage that is more geared toward newer and returning consumers and terpenes carry a lot of baggage. By which I mean misinformation and how terpenes are used as a marketing term in this cannabis industry.
"We don't want to confuse anybody, but I'm also committed to making the best-tasting beverage I can. It is my firm professional opinion that bitter blockers and cannabis masking are largely in flavor development and that if your product is going to minimize the taste of cannabis, it is best to blend it with complimentary flavors that work together.
"Terpenes are an important part of that equation and their marvelously complex flavor profiles add an extra essence that makes it hard to replicate by competitors. This makes it closer to a cocktail than a standard seltzer, something that is interesting, fun, and tastes great.
"We never have, and never intend to, market our beverages as sativas, indicas, or hybrids based on the terpenes in them—absent a conclusive clinical study involving humans with a significant sample size that indicates otherwise.
"We are the 'fun way to consume and experience cannabis.' But just having terpenes in our beverages can confuse consumers. So we're working to message as clearly and simply as possible: This infused beverage is here to get you stoned in a fun new way that tastes great."
HLLV: "There's been plenty of talk in 2022 about federal legalization. What is your opinion of the progress that's been made in Washington, D.C.? Is the fall of the Schedule I status of cannabis in the near future?"
"We never have, and never intend to, market our beverages as sativas, indicas, or hybrids based on the terpenes in them."
AT: "You'd be better off asking a lawyer or lobbyist than me. However, in my opinion, we are fairly close to SAFE banking. I believe there is now enough money floating around in cannabis for it to matter to politicians—more than there used to be.
"Cannabis is maybe the most popular issue of our time. I doubt that means any other legalization forms any time in the next decade. But it would at least mean the re-scheduling of cannabis and the reform of tax code surrounding marijuana products. As well as clearing the way for more banks to get involved.
"There's a reasonable chance it could happen in the November timeframe, during the lame duck Congressional session. Democrats have the votes if they can stick together. The sad part is, while some Republican House members are reasonably supportive of some measures on cannabis, I don't know of any Republican senators who are on board.
"This means this will likely be a DOA [dead on arrival] issue in the Senate. Remember, we need at least 60 senators to beat a filibuster and I couldn't count more than a few vaguely interested in this. It's crazy, especially considering that Gallup has repeatedly found that this is one of the more broadly supported issues among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents."
HLLV: "You're a chemist who has worked in a variety of industries, including coffee and cocktails. Chemically speaking, how do cannabis beverages compare to coffee and alcohol-based drinks? What opportunities does the large collection of cannabinoids and terpenes produced by cannabis present to infused beverage companies like Cantrip?"
"In the case of cannabis, almost all of the terpenes and cannabinoids are on the outside of the plant [in the resinous trichome glands]. Thus, extraction residence time is ideally shorter and much colder."
AT: "In terms of extractions, cannabis is almost the inverse of coffee. To access the oils and flavors of coffee, which are largely in the dried bean, you need to grind the bean and express it with hot water. Between two and four minutes of contact time between the water and the bean is usually right for most coffees (think French press as a batch example of coffee extraction.)
"In the case of cannabis, almost all of the terpenes and cannabinoids are on the outside of the plant [in the resinous trichome glands]. Thus, extraction residence time is ideally shorter and much colder. Coffee is extracted using water around 202° F (~97° C), while solvent-based cannabis extractions run around -40° to 176° F (-40° to 80° C), depending on the system involved.
"Coffee and cannabis have some things in common. Each features multiple methods of extracting that vary in temperature and pressure. Ultimately, it is the choice of raw material and the type of extraction that determines a finished product. Just as espresso is different from drip coffee, CO2 extraction is very different from BHO extraction for cannabis.
"As any farmer knows, all harvests are different to a certain degree. Something that Starbucks is known for in the coffee world is slightly burning their beans during roasting. This creates more consistency in the product at stores, even with different crops of coffee coming through. This is important for a global coffee brand if you want the same coffee in both Las Vegas and London.
"Cannabis has attempted to create that opportunity through molecular distillation, the process that creates the light-gold distillate so common today in vapor cartridges. There's some real opportunities in beverages for crop- and strain-specific beverages based on craft cannabis. But they don't currently feature an appealing economic opportunity. And they won't until the market further develops.
"The future for Cantrip is becoming the number one most well-recognized and loved cannabis beverage brand on the planet, full stop."
"It is better to create something reproducible across multiple markets to meet baseline demand and then focus your attention on specialty products for more connoisseur consumers."
HLLV: "What is the future for Cantrip? Are you planning to expand beyond infused beverages into other segments of consumer packaged goods?"
AT: "The future for Cantrip is becoming the number one most well-recognized and loved cannabis beverage brand on the planet, full stop. We have a long way to go, but there is an immense opportunity in the space right now.
"I've tasted most of my competitors and, while I like some of them, I think very few have the right people in charge of their taste profiles. This creates a huge opportunity. Markets may be created by branding and marketing, but they're carried through on the strength of the product itself and the loyalty it can attract by delivering a unique experience to the consumer.
"That's how you create centuries-long longevity like Schweppe's or Coca-Cola. You focus on product quality and delivering a consistency to customers. These positions are still open for cannabis beverage brands.