During the past three years, Sam Rickenbach worked for several Portland-area companies as a cannabidiol (CBD) extraction laboratory director. He generally enjoyed his work, but over time came to believe that most of the businesses in his industry — including his own — were severely overcharging for their products.
The more and more he learned, the more disillusioned he became. He was bothered by the fact that many people with legitimate medical needs for CBD products were quite simply getting priced out of the market.
“It makes me sick to see these products on the shelves that are $60 a pop when I know for a fact that the raw ingredients only cost $3 or $4,” Rickenbach said. “I feel that’s a really dishonest and mean thing to do. As somebody that uses these products and benefits from them, I know that if I didn’t have the access that I do from being part of the industry, I wouldn’t be to see those benefits because I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
So Rickenbach decided to do something about it. Earlier this year, the Washougal resident left his job at a large cannabis company and created his own business, Gorge Family Therapeutics.
Through his website (gorgefamilytherepeutics.com), Rickenbach offers self-produced CBD tinctures which contain 100 milligrams of CBD per milliliter and zero tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Customers have a choice of size — the bottles range in size from one-half ounce to 4 ounces — and flavor, including original, lemon and peppermint. He eventually hopes to also offer salves, lotions and more.
“My products are aimed at making (CBD) affordable and practical for people to use,” Rickenbach said. “(My products are) about two to three times cheaper, but they’re also two to three times more potent. You’re just getting a lot more for your buck. The concentration makes it really easy to dose.”
CBD is a phytocannabinoid, one of one of 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants.
“It generally provides relaxation. It’s really good for anxiety, any form of stress or lack of sleep,” Rickenbach said. “I’m amazed how often I give somebody a tincture and they come back and they’re shocked. One of my mom’s friends couldn’t sleep for months. He was getting one or two hours a night. She gave him one dropper-full and he slept through the night for the first time in three or four months. That’s always impressive when you hear stories like that.”
In the United States, the CBD drug Epidiolex was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2018 for the treatment of two epilepsy disorders. Because of the fact that cannabis is a Scheduled I controlled substance in the United States, however, other CBD formulations remain illegal under federal law to prescribe for medical use or to use as an ingredient in dietary supplements or other foods.
“The FDA recognizes the significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD. However, there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety and quality of products containing CBD,” according to a statement on the FDA’s website. “The FDA is concerned that people may mistakenly believe that using CBD ‘can’t hurt.’ The agency wants to be clear that we have seen only limited data about CBD’s safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered.”
Personal journey leads to unexpected career
Rickenbach had no interest in becoming a scientist when he was growing up in Hood River, Oregon. In fact, his younger self probably wouldn’t be too impressed as his older self’s accomplishments.
“When I was a kid, I absolutely hated math. I didn’t think I was good at it at all,” he said. “I remember distinctly thinking to myself if I ever have a job that involves math when I grow up, I’ve failed at my life.”
He started to gain an interest in science after taking a medical biology class in high school, however.
“That just got me a lot more confident in my scientific prowess because I was always decent at biology and that sort of thing, but I was totally lost in chemistry,” he said. “But in med bio, we reviewed a lot of chemistry basics, and it made me feel a lot more confident.”
Rickenbach’s own struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety also played a role in his eventual career choice.
“Around the same time, I started learning about the potential for psychedelic therapy and things like that, and when I was searching the internet, I found articles that were mentioning how classical psychedelics like mescaline, psilocybin and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) were being used to treat those conditions,” he said. “That kind of got me interested in psychoactive compounds and the therapies they can provide. That’s what really propelled me to explore biochemistry and take it on as a career.”
He graduated from Portland State University in 2017 with honors in biochemistry. Several months later he was hired as the director of research and development at a Portland-area CBD isolation company, and “everything just kind of took off from there.”
Now he’s hoping to attend graduate school.
He’s applied to two programs at Oregon Health and Science University, where he hopes to study neuropsychopharmacology.
“That’s essentially looking at the brain and how different pharmaceutical products affect it and what the consequences are,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing the potential of different psychoactive compounds and psychedelics and how they can be used to treat things like addiction, drug abuse disorders, OCD and anxiety.”
He also has long-term development goals for his new business.
“My overarching goal with this whole thing was to develop into more of a broader nutraceutical company — basically getting supplements in bulk locally and putting them in capsules or other forms of administration and providing that — turmeric, melatonin, that kind of thing,” he said. “It just so happens that I’m experienced with CBD and the market and where to get it, so that’s what I started with. I’m working on developing it into a more holistic kind of company.”