Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Benjamin Stone
Dahlia Mertens took her love for holistic healing, combined it with a massage therapy practice, and eventually birthed the cannabis-infused body product line Mary Jane's Medicinals. Since getting the business up and running in 2009, Mertens has already seen public attitudes toward cannabis shift greatly. POPSUGAR got with the green-minded entrepreneur over email to chat about anxiety management, changing legalization, and "aha!" moments in the bathtub.
POPSUGAR: You started infusing oils with cannabis as a massage therapist to help clients manage chronic pain. Tell me more about what inspired you to start dabbling with this kind of plant-based therapy.
Dahlia Mertens: I have always gravitated to a more holistic approach to health and healing. While working in the spa industry, I was exposed to many different lines of body products. The plant-based natural products were always more attractive to me than the product lines that had long lists of ingredients I could not pronounce. While working as a massage therapist, I started thinking about creating my own line because I was inspired by some of the herbal product lines I was working with and loved the therapeutic nature and smells of essential oils.
In 2009, I visited my friend's medical marijuana farm in Northern California. For the first time I saw cannabis plants growing outside. The plants were massive and breathtakingly beautiful. While at the farm, I was introduced to a cannabis-infused grapeseed oil that was being used as a massage oil. At the time I had never heard of cannabis being used topically and did not think it would do anything. After applying some to the sore muscles in my neck I experienced a warm sensation of increased circulation and relaxation in those muscles, but I did not experience any of the psychoactive effects commonly associated with smoking or ingesting cannabis.
At that time in Colorado, the medical marijuana movement was in its infancy but quickly gaining momentum and cannabis businesses were popping up all over the place. The wheels started turning in my head and this discovery of cannabis being used topically excited me. When I got back to Colorado I began experimenting with different cannabis infusions and created an infused massage oil that I began using in my practice. Initially I thought the use of the oil would just make for a more relaxing massage, but to my surprise my clients were regularly reporting back to me of chronic pain, circulation, and skin issues being alleviated with use of the oil.
At that point I realized I was onto something bigger and more exciting than just an extra relaxing massage oil. So I developed my branding, expanded the product line, and began driving around the state knocking on dispensary doors and opening people's eyes up to the wonders of cannabis-infused topicals.
DM: Cannabis used topically has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects so it is very effective as a natural pain reliever, but through the years we have received so many testimonials of these products doing so much more. The cannabinoids (the active chemicals in cannabis such as THC and CBD) which are in our products bind to receptors in your skin which stimulate the endocannabinoid system (a system in your body that regulates homeostasis). When the cannabinoids bind to these receptors it stimulates your [body's] natural healing response. These products help your body heal itself. They speed healing time for injuries and help mitigate the pain of the injury. These products are also very effective at treating burns — all kinds of burns, from radiation burns, to sunburns, to burns from hot soup!
People use these products for many different types of skin issues: itchy or painful rashes, old scars, fine lines, sun damage and age spots, cold sores and warts, acne (because cannabis also has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties). Cannabis is also a neuroprotectant so people use it for nerve issues such as Restless Leg Syndrome. We have also received a lot of excellent feedback from people who have experienced nerve damage after chemo and radiation treatments and these products seem to help [that], as well. [For some people] migraines seem to be lessened with use of these products with application to the temples and the back of neck when a migraine is coming on. The massage oil is a wonderful and stimulating lube for sexy time. People also use these products to relieve stress and hypertension.
Our tag line is "Just put some salve on it!" because it works for so many different types of health issues.
PS: I've tried and fell in love with the Heavenly Hash Bath soak. I used it before a wedding I was nervous to attend. How can people use your products to help temper anxiety?
DM: The Hash Bath is a wonderful product for relieving anxiety. That is probably our most effective product for treatment of stress, anxiety, and hypertension. Personally, I apply our lotion to my entire body after my evening shower and I find that also really helps me unwind after a stressful day and allows me to sleep more soundly. Smoking or vaping a little cannabis before application of the products seems to boost up the efficacy too — the cannabinoids applied to the surface of the skin interact with the ingested cannabinoids. I experience a subtle-but-pleasant tingling sensation when I combine smoking cannabis with application of the topicals. Applying the salve to the base of the feet is another way to systemically treat your body for stress. There are so many receptors on the soles of the feet that I have found this to be effective.
PS: How did you decide on what products to include in your current lineup? What other products can we expect to see in the future?
DM: I started with the massage oil, my next product was the salve. The salve quickly became our most popular product — people love that delivery system. I added the lotion because I saw the beneficial effects the salve and massage oil was having on my skin; I saw the fine lines in my skin lessen and the general appearance of my skin improve.
I also noticed some of my old ski bum friends with leathery faces and years of sun damage have dramatic improvement in their skin health and appearance — which inspired the lotion, too. I was getting great feedback on people using the salve on their lips for severely chapped lips, so I created the Lip Bong for that reason. Its healing properties make it a wonderful lip balm especially in dry climates like Colorado. The Heavenly Hash Bath was an "ah-ha!" moment in the tub.
We are working on a sex lube, a tinted lip balm, a bath bomb (the kind that fizzes up), and a couple secret projects that I can't share until we roll them out.
PS: How has California's adult-use law passing affected business?
DM: At this time our business is focused in Colorado. We are working on building a partnership in California with an established canna-business. I can speak at length to the legalization and licensing in Colorado, but we are in the initial process of navigating the new California environment.
PS: What has surprised you most on your journey with starting, rolling out, and maintaining MJM?
DM: Learning about how the plant works with our bodies and the incredible amount of healing potential it can provide for human health is incredibly exciting for me. There has been so much propaganda and misinformation concerning cannabis fed to us over the years that it is very refreshing and eye-opening to learn the truth about what this plant can do for our health. Seeing people replace their opioid regimens with cannabis is rewarding because cannabis is so much safer and less toxic than most of the pharmaceuticals we are prescribed and cannabis treatments are proving to be as effective or more so than a lot of our Western medicine approaches.
Being a pioneer in a nascent industry that is not federally legal yet has all kinds of surprises everyday, and in order to survive and maintain a business in this environment you have to be very flexible and courageous. But that aside, the incredible efficacy of the cannabis plant is the most surprising and exciting aspect of this industry for me.
PS: Tell me about your mentors in the cannabis game. Who do you think is doing some of the most important work?
DM: The people on the front lines of legalization. The cannamoms and dads fighting for their children. The Rick Simpsons of the world who are willing to risk their own freedom to get cannabis medicine to people who really need it. The athletes that are willing to put their careers on the line to advocate, and the veterans of our military who are courageous enough to stand up for cannabis medicine. I also really respect all of the people who have worked on writing and creating the laws here in Colorado. I feel like for the most part the state of Colorado has created a strong example on how legalization can work and benefit the people.
PS: How have you seen attitudes and society shift with regard to cannabis amid shifting legislation?
DM: The American people have been fed so much propaganda their whole lives regarding cannabis. I believed a lot of that propaganda for most of my young adulthood, until I started becoming educated about cannabis. Finally real information about the health risks and health benefits of cannabis are becoming available and mainstream. It takes time to re-educate people, but it is happening. When I started my business in 2009, I would brace myself when asked what I did for a living because I never knew if I was going to get a judgmental look or genuine interest in response. These days when I talk about my business or cannabis in general I am noticing a lot more open-mindedness and receptivity. The tide is turning.
PS: What would you tell someone who is apprehensive about trying cannabis-infused body products?
DM: Cannabis topicals are a very exciting niche of this industry because it is a way people can experience the medicinal benefits of the plant without experiencing the high. In this regard topicals are a great ambassador for the plant. I have seen numerous conservative people that would never dream of smoking or eating cannabis be open to topicals.
PS: What is your personal favorite in MJM's line? Why do you consider it the best?
DM: If I had to choose just one product it would probably be the salve because it is our most versatile product and easy to throw in your pocket or purse. I rub it into my tight shoulders at work, I rub it on my sore feet after work, I apply it around my eyes at night (it's amazing for reducing puffiness or bags under the eyes). It's my first aid if I injure myself or happen to get stung by a jellyfish. It's my after-sun cream and my anti-wrinkle cream. I apply it to my knees before I go skiing, and to my aching muscles after a big day on the hill. The uses seem endless: "Just put some salve on it." For real!