Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey is part of a generation that has seen marijuana transformed from a prime target of the war on drugs to the darling of venture capital firms.
Two decades ago, when Aggrey started a small grow operation in San Francisco’s affluent Twin Peaks neighborhood, a neighbor forced her to shut it down. “I just personally didn’t come from a place where I had someone to bail me out if I were to be raided,” said Aggrey, who was born in the U.S. to parents who had immigrated from West Africa.
Today, Aggrey lives in Mexico City where, with cannabis researcher and advocate Karina Primelles, she runs Xula, which uses cannabinoids to make products that address a range of health issues. This year, the company launched a line of CBD-only tinctures called Solo Hemp in the U.S. to support a variety of needs including relaxation, pain relief, and gut health.
Its focus on the needs of women make it stand out. One of its products, called Happy Period, targets cramps, backaches and digestive issues with 500 milligrams of CBD. Another, called Happy Hormones, bolsters mood with a stronger dose.
“Our products are centered on people with wombs,” Aggrey said. “People with a uterus, people who have cramps, people who go through hormonal imbalances, folks that go through menopause.” Women’s bodies, she adds, experience “these discomforts – all these beautiful cycles,” issues that the cannabis market seldom addresses, making women an “extremely underserved” market.
A 2019 survey estimated almost 900,000 women in the U.K. quit their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. Women in that age group are likely at a key point in their careers. They are more likely to be eligible for senior management roles, and these losses contribute to the gender pay gap. It’s bad for the companies, too: Globally, menopause-related productivity losses can amount to more than $150 billion a year, according to Reenita Das, a partner and senior vice president for healthcare and life sciences at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
As part of a new, heavily regulated industry, businesses that sell cannabis-derived products – whether they use CBD, the lesser known cannabigerol (CBG), or cannabinol (CBN) – face a different set of challenges.
In the U.S., the company walks a fine line by informing consumers about the contents of its products while making no medical claims.
“Because we’re not pharmaceutical and we’re not a supplement, we’re in this weird gray area where we can’t write on the product page or the box or any material that says ‘menopause,’” Aggrey said. “It’s a medical word, so it’s a medical claim. We can’t say ‘menstrual cramps.’”
Thus, Xula’s playful names for products include Moon-a-pause, Calm + clarity, and Lights out, a sleep aid. The company publishes blog posts and an index on its website, where you can read about the benefits of the cannabinoids and herbs it uses. Xula’s products are all tested by a third party to provide consumers with a verified list of what herbs are found inside.
Many startups have begun touting CBD as a healthy, restorative, plant-based ingredient. Depending on which marketing materials you read, it can provide relief for just about every malady known to modern humans: anxiety, chronic back pain, muscle soreness, dandruff, even chapped lips.
But some early research has created optimism that the science could back up the testimonials. In August, the Australian youth mental health organization Orygen found that teens and young adults with treatment-resistant anxiety who were given a single daily CBD pill for 12 weeks reported their symptoms fell by an average of 43%. Research by FN media group expects the worldwide CBD oil market to witness a compound annual growth rate of 38.9% from 2021 until 2029, climbing from $9.86 billion to $136.64 billion.
Aggrey began her career in Humboldt County, Calif., the “pot promised land” as she calls it, straight out of college in 2005 to work for the World of Possibilities radio program. It wasn’t long before she quit her job and followed her passion as an “OG weed head.”
She quickly caught on. “Some women I knew kind of took me under their wings and showed me the ropes,” she said. “And that was kind of my crash course into agriculture.” Under Proposition 215 that passed in 1996, she started her legal, fully licensed professional indoor grow operation in San Francisco.
In 2014, she moved to Mexico City. Mexico was then mulling changes to its marijuana policy. In 2015, the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of recreational use on behalf of four plaintiffs, sparking prolonged debate about legalization and regulation.
In 2018, she met Primelles through a friend. “We had absolutely no idea that (the industry) would open up here in Mexico,” she said. “Once it did, that’s when Karina and I started the R&D.” Xula started selling its products in the U.S. in October 2020.
They are able to legally grow and sell their organic hemp and botanicals products in the U.S. because of the 2018 Farm Bill. But neither CBD nor hemp are recognized as pharmaceutical drugs nor are they legally recognized as herbal supplements. As such, Aggrey says, “We are not able to advertise claims of what the product can do as freely as other supplements like fish oil or ginkgo.”
Aggrey and Primelles are aware of their peculiar status in the nascent industry. They are women of color who own and run a company that sells ancient remedies after decades of demonization and mass incarceration of Latino and Black people.
“I think the wisdom of Black, Latin and Indigenous people informs the cannabis culture and is maybe the foundation of the culture, but there is no access for us. It’s expensive,” Aggrey said. “And even as a consumer, you are not marketed to. No one cares if you’re Black, over 40. It’s like, ‘Bye.’ ”
Eventually, Xula aims to sell products that contain marijuana. They’re popular, trusted, and – according to Aggrey – more effective. “Honestly, my co-founder and I really just want to sell THC. We want to sell weed,” Aggrey said. “We want to do it legally because we know that it is the more potent cannabinoid; and when it’s present, even with others like CBG and CBN, it just works better.”
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