For a long time, ingesting cannabis usually meant indulging in a pot brownie. But the realm of edibles has gone chic and quasi-mainstream thanks to brands like Dixie Elixirs. Combining a foundation in the medical world with a firm footing in scientific innovation (their head of science Shellene Suemori has worked for NASA) with fresh, sophisticated branding, the Denver-based brand bills itself as “the future” of the market. And we tend to believe them since seeing what they’re up to in their Rocky Mountain lab.
For starters: their scientifically sound, meticulous execution and squeaky-clean branding are both essential to operate within what’s perhaps the most tightly-regulated consumer industry—recently legalized cannabis-based retail products. At the beginning of February 2015, the fledgling industry was forced to recalibrate in the face of new standards for the dosage and packaging of edibles, which now require any application to have the ability to be separated into 10 mg servings. It’s easy enough if you’re breaking up a piece of chocolate, or separating mints into blister packs. However when less easily divisible products are in question (like Dixie Elixirs’ flagship cannabis-infused carbonated drinks) it gets a little trickier.
That’s where the company’s actual identity as a scientific laboratory starts to matter. Forced to shelve a few products for the required regulatory updates, Elixirs will relaunch in March with FDA-approved, child-resistant caps that hold the legal 10 mg individual doses. Still, whether you limit yourself to the government’s requirements is your prerogative once you’re consuming legally in a private place.
Dixie operates under the “start low, go slow” philosophy when developing product. Education on edible consumption is an important component to their business model, which includes extensive work with Colorado’s budtenders (who tend to be lifetime medical card-carrying cannabis users). Teaching them the importance of the different rates of absorption based on different delivery systems—and how to best convey that to the consumer—is a key component of Dixie’s business. Now that all of a sudden they can sell to anyone over 21, the issue of misdosing a novice user becomes a real concern—which makes following the rules set out by regulatory bodies a chief concern.
Due diligence begins with their innovative, three-step testing process of rendering CO2-extracted THC. When we visited the lab, Suemori was tweaking flavors on a fresh batch of Dixie’s new Lift energy shots, or as they call them “Dixie-Boosted” drinks. Suemori was approached by Dixie to head up the science division—at the time, the elixir wasn’t staying emulsified. Unfamiliar with the industry, Suemori could see the problem clearly however, and was able to apply her background in cellular molecular biology and chemistry. “My job was figuring things out, and how they work chemically,” she says. So after completing a round of grant-funded research for NASA, she found herself researching an infant field, moving through homemade trial and error and subjective data to come up with ideas on what might work within the limits of government regulation.
Dixie’s proprietary formulations travel from the lab where THC is extracted to two commercial kitchens that are run by a director and a team of two managers, a head chef and two sous chefs. Their combination of natural ingredients, which they claim enables cells to absorb THC more quickly, is also proprietary. Dixie places a strong emphasis on flavors within all of their products—choice elixirs include sparkling blueberry, pomegranate, red currant and sarsaparilla, to name a few. The Lift drinks come in citrus açaí and mint coffee flavors, while Dew Drop tinctures—concentrated liquid dropped under the tongue—range from cinnamon and ginger to vanilla and ginger-mango, or you can opt for the flavorless “natural” variety.
Then there’s the Synergy line, which combines THC with CBD in a 1:1 ratio. CBD is the second-most prominent cannabinoid after THC in cannabis, sought after for its proven therapeutic benefits and minimal high. The aim with Synergy’s even ratio in its topical Relief Balm, Dew Drops and Scrips (concentrated tablets) is to level out the effects of cannabis; balancing the mind-altering outcome with body-enhancing responses.
In fact, the term “wellness company” is mentioned as we tour the facility; moving from the lab to the kitchen, past production lines and a small growing operation in an American Cannabis Co “cultivation cube.” The entirety of the production operation is monitored by security cameras with a live-feed to the Denver Police Department. After all, we are talking about plant-based sodas with pharmaceutical-grade science behind them. That the plant happens to be marijuana makes for an even stricter adherence to terms like “natural ingredients.” With the police literally watching their every move, this isn’t an operation that can throw around such claims lightly.
Poised to relaunch their redesigned packaging and unveil some new goods next month, Dixie Elixirs—under the savvy and ambitious eye of entrepreneurial CEO Tripp Keber—is also playing the long game in the growing edibles business. The proprietary science behind their line, as well as actual products and systems, will be licensed to other states as they enter the legal recreational retail realm. To explore the Dixie Elixirs lab is to see how edibles will be done—at least for now, as the industry continues to change with every turn.
Images courtesy of Dixie Elixirs