Founded in 2005 by Christopher Shade, Louisville, Colorado-based Quicksilver Scientific is a leading provider of advanced nutritional systems with a focus on detoxification and liposomal delivery whose core business is in the nutraceuticals sector of the health and wellness industry. According to the company, its products are available throughout North America, parts of Central and South America, Europe and Asia. Simultaneously, the company is tiptoeing its way into the cannabis industry in a big way by utilizing its established proprietary formulations for new purposes in a new industry whose future potential cannot be quantified. During a recent chat with CBE, Dr. Shade talked about the advantages his company brings to a part of the industry that is only just getting started.
“We started with environmental toxicity as the problem we were trying to solve,” said Shade about the founding of Quicksilver and its eventual embrace of cannabis. “That was our first foray into bioavailability and emulsion systems – these were called liposomes – and we were trying to get glutathione into the body. That’s a molecule your body makes but often is low in; it’s what links onto toxins like mercury and takes them out of the body. So, we had started doing that and we were going to shows. We were going to dental health shows because a lot of people were getting mercury from the dental amalgams; we were going to integrative medicine shows and functional medicine shows and I was also going to a lot of autism shows and working with people who are pretty sick – either with autism or they had Lyme disease or mold toxicity or mercury toxicity.
“Then, around 2015, there started being mentions of this new cannabinoid, CBD, and at the same time states were starting to dabble with legalization. I found a great application of CBD into my area that I was doing – detoxification – and especially in the area of autism because of its ability to calm neural inflammation in all these inflammatory mechanisms going on in the brain. CBD was really good at it, but it also had a solubility and bioavailability problem that were addressed by the technology I was using for glutathione at that time. So, we started making nano-emulsions for intraoral absorption of cannabinoids, and of course we started with CBD because that’s legal for a nutraceutical company, even those early years were hairy. You were always worried about getting raided by the Feds because of the weird laws going on. But we wanted to develop some other systems that would take cannabinoids into drinks and that can be licensed to companies to do THC and CBD blends. and then eventually as it evolved, we started making emulsion systems that could go into edibles as well.
In January 2017, the company announced “the next major technology in nutraceutical delivery systems. The secret?…Advanced pharmaceutical-grade liposomes that provide the power of intravenous therapy with the convenience of oral delivery.” The promise of “unparalleled bioavailability” held obvious applications for a myriad of uses, including for the cannabis industry. “That was for intraoral use,” said Shade. “We started developing that around 2015, and I think we came out with it in 2016 and then stabilized it and started selling a lot in 2017, and that was when we put out that press release, so that was really when we went out very strongly with it.”
Last year, to meet current demand and set the stage for the future, Quicksilver created Apricō. ”Apricō is a new line that we just released,” explained Shade “We’re largely a doctor company, and we wanted a consumer line that was easier to approach, lower price-point, better flavors, gummies and easier form factors. That’s what Apricō was made for.
“Quicksilver Scientific is the parent company,” added Shade. “It’s also a supplement line that goes both to doctors and to consumers, and then Apricō is a line just for consumers. All of it is our technology and made here in Louisville, Colorado. Then there’s the licensing that we do to companies, the most notable of which is Truss beverages in Canada, and they’ve recently opened up in the U.S. Truss is a joint venture between Molson Coors and HEXO Corp, and we provided the technology for them to make their cannabis beverages in Canada. Then they opened up the U.S. wing, which sells only CBD, whereas in Canada they do CBD and THC blends. We provide the technology for Canada, and in the U.S., we make the emulsions and send it to the beverage manufacturer.”
Truss is currently in 17 U.S. states, implying that it is setting up the network now for CBD and then when THC can be made available, it will adopt it. “Correct,” said Shade/ “Truss will jump into doing THC when it becomes nationally legal.”
I asked Shade about the relationship with Molson, and the fact that David Durkee came over from Molson to help run Apricō. Was Molson just another client, or is it more of a flagship relationship?
“It’s a little bit of both,” said Shade. “Anything you do with a company that size becomes a flagship relationship, but we can license beverage emulsions to smaller beverage companies. We’ve modified the emulsions to go into gummies as well, so we’re just opening up licensing relationships to companies that want to put that technology into gummies. Outside of cannabis, we’re talking to some large beverage manufacturers about putting nutraceuticals into emulsions into different beverages, making functionalized beverages. So, the overarching is functionalized beverages, and within cannabis, the overarching is functional foods; beverages and gummies and with CBD and CBD/THC blends. We can license or provide emulsions to different companies, and we have a lot of relationships out there, but the one with Truss and Molson is probably our flagship.”
Functional-use products are of obvious interest to people and producers. The Quicksilver website lists several functional categories, including cellular, cognitive, detox, GI, hormones, immunity, inflammation, longevity, metabolism, sleep, vitamins and minerals. Do they apply to cannabis, and are formulations so specific that you can target them where you want?
“They can be,” said Shade. “People use the term the entourage effect, which means something greater than the sum of its parts; all these terpenes do this, all these cannabinoids do that, and they all work together. Now you can bring other plants in, and that’s our view of the entourage effect; we bring in either vitamin, minerals, or plant extracts to go with the cannabinoids to get certain effects. So, on a broad level, yes, you can have cannabinoids applied to almost every one of those categories, but not completely. As we understand more about individual cannabinoids and terpenes, they can be added into these formulas, or we can build formulas around cannabis for different applications, say immunity, or metabolism. Not every one of the categories, but cannabis can fit into a lot of them.”
The reason I had asked was to inquire if the science is up to snuff in the cannabis space. Can the products deliver on their promises? “The question is, where’s the science in the nutraceutical space, and where is it in the cannabis space,” responded Shade. “Both of them are advancing at lightning speed, and they’re finding out which of the cannabinoids works on which biochemical paths in the body. And for a much longer time they’ve been doing this with natural compounds, so there’s a lot to choose from. The question is, is it going to be therapeutically valid at the doses that people take, and these are the things that the formulators have to figure out. Claims have what are called ‘structure function’ claims, and that’s what’s different from ‘disease’ claims. So, disease claims are like, ‘This helps with Parkinson’s or with cancer.’ Those are the things that are illegal and what the FTC and the FDA comes down on people for. A structure function claim would be like, ‘It helps with liver function, it helps with bile production, or it helps the insulin signaling in the body which are little functions in the body.”
So, how much do the current nano-solutions on the market differ from one another? Are there significant differentiators? “There are differentiators in the emulsion technology itself,” explained Shade, adding, “This is a big deal. There are a lot of ways to get cannabis to disperse into water and the emulsions will be very cloudy and milky looking, and the absorption is not very good and it’s not very fast. A differentiator that we have is the speed of absorption and the total amount that’s absorbed, and that’s by getting the emulsions truly down to the nano size. And a lot of people are throwing around words like nanotechnology, nano particles, nano emulsion, but very few of them are really nanoparticle size, and that’s where you get the absorption and the speed. The companies need the kind of technology that can measure their particle size and ensure it’s the same all the time, and we have a number of patents and other intellectual property around that. That’s really a big differentiator.
“Then when we start blending this is another thing where you need to be able to get the solubility of all the different compounds you’re trying to get in there, and the stability,” he added. “Did you get them in and did they stay stable, and that’s where a lot of companies just don’t have the experience to do really complex formulation like that.”
At the end of the day, will all formulations seem the same, or will clear leaders emerge? “I think you’ll see a few kinds of emulsion systems out there,” said Shade. “We always designed ours for the highest efficacy but because of demands for flavor, we also started making other forms that were softer on the tongue but not as efficacious. So, we’ll see different emulsion systems working into different applications. There will always be clear leaders in terms of efficacy and complexity of formulation, and hopefully there’ll be something that we don’t see coming along, something to shake it all up. But I really see blending a lot of different botanicals with the cannabinoids in high efficiency formats as the real leader in terms of making this a therapeutic thing rather than just a recreational thing.”
But his solutions would be applicable to all even if they’re in the recreational sphere. “In the recreational, there will be the super-fast onset, super high levels, and for people just looking to have a drink that they don’t have to taste the cannabis or a gummy, we’ll be able to offer solutions in those realms; they’re just not quite as exciting.”
What about alcohol substitutes? Is that in their bailiwick? “We’ll make it happen,” said Shade.
Quicksilver also sells high-end nutraceuticals from its website, but you have to have an account and log in to do it. “You have to be logged in to see them because Facebook won’t let us advertise because we sell CBD, and so if it’s only to log in, then it’s okay,” explained Shade. They are available in certain retail shops. “High-end retail shops that are usually selling professional doctor supplements,” said Shade. “Out on the West Coast, that’s Erewhon and Earthbar. In the mountain states, Pharmaca, and there are a bunch on the east coast, but it’s not everywhere.”
Are there any others barriers to market they have to deal with? “There are still barriers to CBD, especially if you go over to Europe,” said Shade. “We’ve been trying to expand more in Japan, and that’s very difficult. Korea also is very difficult. There are always some barriers.
“With supplements, it’s a matter of trying to stay in our professional space,” he added. “And we do sell direct-to-consumer, but they are what were called professional supplements. They used to only be sold to doctors and doctors sell to the patient, but since Amazon and the whole e-tailer world has opened up, there are a lot of stores selling professional supplements and they have naturopaths working there, so we tend to stay in that very high-end space, even if it is retail.
“That’s where we’re placing ourselves as a very premium brand,” he continued, “but then as a developer for other groups, if you have something you want done and we can solve it, we love doing that, especially with alcohol replacement, where you really have to ship the buzz, because THC is not an alcohol replacement. THC and CBD and a couple of other things start being more like alcohol replacements, but you have to use other things that work on your neurotransmitters in a similar way to alcohol, things that relax you and fulfill that thing to doesn’t make you tired.”
So where are we in terms of the development of products that are trying to be a replacement? Are we in the second inning or is there still a lot of work to do? “Maybe the third inning,” said Shade. “It’s great they’re out there already, but I think that they’re going to evolve a lot. I know they’ve created a whole palette of them, and they’re trying to create different mood states for different times of the day, and it’s really good. I think we’ll develop on those, and we’ll make them a little bit more potent. In Canada, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re not able to use. I would use neurotransmitter precursors there – like serotonin and dopamine and GABA – but you’re not allowed to do that in Canada, whereas in the U.S. we might be able to. So, it’s a combination of what ingredient deck is available to you in a regulatory framework, and how evolved are we.”
“Remember,” he added, “in the beginning, all people wanted was to smoke legal weed. Eight years ago, I was trying to get people to take these intraoral or sublingual nano-deliveries that everybody loved, but nobody cared enough. It was just like, ‘Let me just get my bag a week without getting arrested.’ Then the adults started getting into it, and there’s the therapeutic, the real medicinal, and as that matures there’s more space for this advanced technology and more desire for this technology to take us there. And so, I think it’s really just shaping up right now.”
Quicksilver seems to have a lot going on in both mainstream and cannabis, and I wondered how that worked in terms of its revenue streams. “The most important thing for us is the Quicksilver nutraceutical line,” clarified Shade. “That’s our calling card, where we’re doing the most work, where we’re getting the most results with people, and it’s the bread and butter, where the money comes from, and some of our private labeling for other companies are also in that space. The functional integrative medicine space is where we’re really focused, but our technology has these other applications. And so, we keep ourselves active in those spaces, and a lot of that is for when it really opens up and becomes legal across the entire United States. Beverages in Canada are totally a plan with two arms tied behind their back. You can only buy four drinks at a time up there, so it’s never going to be big, but it’ll be big down here. So, we’re not spending all our resources trying to get every last emulsion account out there in the cannabis world, but we’re staying relevant and staying at the top of the pack as the leader so that when the companies are big enough to have mature relationships, they’ll come to us and we’ll expand into that space.”
Working with Molson has to send out the message to the world that Quicksilver is capable of working at scale, and that has to be a message that is receptive to other companies of that size and with similar ambitions. “Molson found us a couple of years ago,” said Shade. “They were evaluating dozens of companies’ emulsion technologies, and they had a third party evaluating. In fact, David Durkee was the guy who found us, and they were like, ‘These guys can do it. They’re pros.’ And it is plug it in and get ready for when it all happens down the road. And so, it is a way to get there, and if we didn’t have this focus on our core business, we’ve been starved to death.”
How are deals structured, and can a mom-and-pop or a start-up with a great idea can afford to use a technology like this.? “We’ve done a couple of different relationships depending on whether people want more upfront costs or tailing costs,” Shade explained. “With tailing costs, there are more rev-share and less ingredient costs, because we’re selling the ingredients somewhat pre-assembled, like a sub-assembly, and then they’re doing the final addition of the cannabinoids and some final processing. We have a variety of different emulsion systems for this and at a variety of different scales, and we’ve opened up some smaller ones just to get some relationships going and see what they can do. We have a very nice relationship with Miraflora Naturals, which is a Colorado-based company that grows all their material here in Colorado, and they really like blending other herbal components with the cannabinoids. They’ve been a good relationship, and we’re open to smaller users. Not a million of them, we can have too much focus on small things, but you don’t have to be a Molson to show up. Prices range from low hundreds to several hundred dollars per liter, and again, it depends whether you’re up-front or on the tail end, so there are a couple of different solutions for each application.”
Could a bar or a lounge purchase a syrup and make a cannabis drink to replace an alcohol drink? “Totally,” said Shade. “I love that application. We tried it with a restaurant that has since closed here in Boulder, and that was a lot of fun. We even looked to coffee bars. In California. I think Erewhon has some of ours in liter dispensers and they sell it right at their juice bar and they put it into different juices and smoothies and such. I look forward to the time when this is in the bars. We have had discussions with a couple of groups that want to go there, and so that is an obvious application.”
Quicksilver currently has a handful or so of clients in the cannabis space. “There are a lot in the development phase looking to get products ready for when they’re going into a larger phase in their development, but active buyers now is in the five to 10 range,” said Shade, who added that its formulations are protected by “a combination of patents and trade secrets.”
It occurred to me as Shade was speaking that their solutions might also apply to psychedelics. “Certainly, and Colorado is the place to do it,” he said. “I do want to develop the deliveries and work initially with some of the people at MAPS, which is a psychiatrist group that deals with psychedelics. One of the big problems they have is consistency of dosing and absorption, because even if they have a capsule with exactly 25 milligrams of psilocybin, it is going to have different absorptions in each person that it goes into their gut based on what else they ate, what the integrity of their GI is, how strong their enzymes are in there, and these delivery systems get you past that aspect, everybody has a very similar blood level, and they get them there faster and more reproducibly. So, I think this is going to be an awesome application with psychedelics, first on the medical front and then on the recreational front. I mean, light psychedelic sort of micro- to miso-doses are a wonderful way to socially enjoy anything and not rely on alcohol or cannabis.”
Our time winding down, I asked Shade abut the level of competition in the space, and if big emulsion, for lack of a better term, in coming in. “Big emulsion is coming into the space and they’re going to eat everybody,” he joked. “No, I don’t see big emulsion showing up. I mean, you’ve got us, you’ve got SoRSE, you’ve got Fortosa, and really not many others. Other people might private label some of their stuff, and there are a couple of others dabbling in the space. It’s not like the CBD space, which is crazy crowded, but there are also not a lot of products out there. It’s hard to do beverage on a state-by-state basis. Making beverages accurately is kind of a big endeavor, and it’s set up better for the whole country. That’s why most of the THC beverages you see are in California, because that’s a little country.”
What about Quicksilver Scientific-branded CBD or THC products available for purchase? Is that a part of your future plans as well? “Quicksilver Scientifics’s CBD products are very well used in the doctor space, and they can be bought directly through us, but you have to make an account, and we will expand those,” he said. “We will stay in our lane and we won’t do RTDs, but will that other people do those. We’ll do intraoral and nano-capsules, but we probably won’t do THC. That takes a lot to get into and we’ll partner with other groups to do that.”
For people are reading this, what are you looking for? “We’re looking for good partners who need the emulsion technology, whether it’s for beverages, gummies, or some other application,” said Shade. “Just sophisticated partners who can scale up and need the highest grade of ingredients.”
Quicksilver currently operates one lab, in Colorado, with no immediate plans to add more. “We do all of our R&D here; we do all of the testing of the R&D; we do uptake studies into people for bioavailability, and the metals testing that we do is for internal use for our supplements, plus we do clinical metals testing on people,” said Shade. “So, it’s not like people send their products in
We’ll do cannabinoids and terpenes, but that’s not what you need us for. You need us because you need a partner to get the technology into your product. You say, ‘I want this, this and that in it,’ and we do all that in-house. And then we can do the bioavailability testing of it to see how well it’s working. So that’s the kind of services that come with this, and if we’re licensing to you and you’re putting in THC, then you have us as technical guide throughout the process, and anytime there are problems we do the problem-solving for you.”
Does that mean sending people onsite in whatever state in order to get the product perfect? “Yep, that’s what that means?”
Quicksilver currently employs about a hundred people, most of whom are dedicated around the Quicksilver line. “But for our R&D production staff,” Shade added, “we have about five of us doing that.”
The company is privately help but reported strong revenue growth for the past few years, and is not looking at any major capex spending on new labs. “We have 60,000 square feet here, and we can scale quite a bit.,” said Shade. “Right now, we don’t have plans to expand any more, but you never know what kind of partners you join up with and what you might have to do.
‘We’re a profitable company and we built all this out based on our own profits.,” he added. “So, we don’t need that right now unless we were going to go into a large expansion.”
However, 0ne could see that with a certain catalyst that the entire sector could totally take off, “And then we could we can rapidly scale,” said hade assuredly. “The first thing is you probably do something on the east coast so that you’re not moving stuff around so much. If the capital was there and we waited to see that the demand is going to be there, and you’ve lined up a couple of big companies to work with, then you could rapidly expand the technology because we have such a good understanding of our supply chain that I think that wouldn’t be hard to do pretty quickly.”
I remarked that it must be a good feeling to be at the forefront of something big that you know is going to happen. “It’s going to be exciting when it opens up,” said Shade.
My second-to-last question had to do with Dr. Shade’s Longevity Wheel, which his website defines as “our six-spoke framework and comprehensive approach to biohacking conventional aging assumptions. It addresses multiple hallmarks of aging that can negatively impact health span including genomic instability, telomere shortening, epigenetic alterations, such as altered methylation, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, Mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication. Was any of this relevant to cannabis?
“At that top spoke, it says Nrf2 and AMPK, and that’s sort of constant detoxification and refreshing of all of your cells, and breaking down old components and putting new ones up,” said Shade. “For all that to happen, you need good control of inflammatory processes in the body, because inflammation shuts all that stuff down. And so, CBD’s ability to control inflammation so that you only have it when you need it really helps facilitate that whole part. There are a number of areas where runaway inflammatory processes are going to screw up all these longevity processes, and so I see cannabis long-term as being an inflammatory controller so that you’re getting the proper inflammation, and that’s allowing the better parts of your biochemistry to shine.”
The last question had to do with Shade’s work with autism. “I’m part of The Autism Research Institute’s think tank, I lecture at AutismOne every year, talking about curing autism. M.A.P.S. is another autism group I’ve been pretty active with helping them with their therapies, and we integrate a lot of CBD into those therapies. And now, as the company matures a little bit, I’m going to focus a little more on helping get some of the research done around [autism], so that’s going to be an ongoing area that that I have my fingers in.”
How far along is that research. “It’s just starting,” said Shade. “It got a lot of work done in epilepsy, but I think its application to autism is certainly behind epilepsy, and I think it needs a lot of focus right now to figure out what subtype of autism it works best on. I’ve heard really miraculous stories, and then stories where it’s not really doing much, and this is from clinicians and mothers. We know it works really well on certain subtypes, and so who are the subtypes, what are the indications, and what are the appropriate dosages and cannabinoids?”