If you live in states where recreational plants are still considered illegal, you cannot fully appreciate its tons of benefits to offer. Extraction happens all the time, and the best way to start educating yourself about it is by undergoing plant extraction courses. Tony Frischknecht is joined by Dr. John MacKay of Synergistic Technologies Associates to share his engaging courses for all levels focused on the extraction processes and their impact on everyday life. He also explains why Western medicine must be more open in adopting new practices by delving into the plant-based methods the Eastern world has been doing for a long time.
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Dr. John MacKay On The Importance Of Getting Plant Extraction Courses
I’m excited because we’re changing gears a little bit from our normal educational platform that we have. We’re going to do an interview-type format. I’m very excited to talk to our next guest. He’s extremely knowledgeable about extraction. I have Dr. John MacKay. He is an internationally recognized Scientific Expert in Analytical Testing, Extraction and Purification Techniques within the botanical space. His career has included many roles in innovative product development. Dr. MacKay is a contributor journalist of Extraction Magazine, a Herb Extraction Publication, and Terpenes and Testing Magazine, a publication serving the herb industry with herb news and science on horticulture extraction and testing labs. Dr. MacKay earned his BA in Chemistry from St. Lawrence University and his PhD from the University of Vermont in Inorganic Chemistry focused on the synthesis of cancer-fighting compounds. Please welcome John MacKay to the show. Dr. John MacKay, how are you doing?
Very well. Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you guys. It’s never a dull moment. We have no idea which way we’re going to trail in the bunny hole, but we’ll see where it goes.A lot of the extraction happens no matter what you're doing. Click To Tweet
For some of the readers out there, I know you’ve got an extensive background on the herb side. We don’t focus solely on this show about herbs. We focus on essential extraction. For those that have been reading from the beginning, this is where we, as a company, got our start in the herbs, but there are many other things. There are many other essential oils out there in our world. I’m happy to have you on. Can you explain to the readers a little more in-depth on why you enjoy the science of extracting?
A lot of the extraction happens no matter what you’re doing for sample prep in the analytical chemistry. Extraction happens whether you’re doing a blood plasma for peptides or you’re doing pesticide work at the USDA or you’re doing mining for gold or you’re looking for ionic compounds of sodium or fluoride or whatever it’s in our water system. Each one of those is an extraction. You have to be able to do an extraction to be able to isolate the compounds you’re looking for and analyze them. You move it to a larger scale where you’re using that product in other means or other products like essential oils, which they call EO. When you’re doing that, each one of those parts of the business starts in the analytical side. I’ve been doing it since 1972, once you figure out what extraction is on a small scale. If you’ve been drinking decaffeinated coffee, you’re looking at extraction. If you’ve had nicotine cigarettes, that’s an extraction. Each one of those is an extraction, as well as walking up and down the aisle with vanilla or DHEA or any of the fish oils. Those are all extraction-based technology that’s providing those products on our shelves.
Let me ask you this. Why have you chosen to focus solely on herbs where you spend most of your time?
I did spend most of my time with that before late 2012. Before that time, I had no knowledge of herb. Maybe someone along the way might have shown it to me in my college days or so. As a research scientist and making analytical equipment, I had no interest in it. I remember when it first came out. I started to see that they were doing medical marijuana applications. To be quite frank, I said, “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” All these people want to do is get high, but I was in the Eastern side of the United States most of my life, not the Western side of the United States or are you from the Midwest side of the United States? As you looked at that and I read more into it, reading some of Ethan Russo’s work, Sanjay Gupta went out to Colorado and found that he also had the wrong opinion about how this could be working to the endocannabinoid system.
I started reading Mechoulam’s work, who’s another Synthetic Organic Chemist. As I went through that process, I realized that I also had a family member died of epilepsy through a grand mal. She had been on her life on phenobarbital. It interrupted because back then, if you had epilepsy and you were having blinking eyes, it’s hard to concentrate and you’re always having seizures. It’s hard to not be made fun of if you’re slow or you’re this or that. That made it more personal. That’s when I started digging into it. I backed into the industry rather than aggressively going into it. I backed into this on the factor, as I looked at the extraction technology that was out there in 2012, it wasn’t research-oriented. I was able to bring that scientific bearing and merged it with the practical application applier. Applied scientists that were out there for generations that might’ve been in a cottage industry, for example. That’s how I did it.
Extraction has been around for hundreds of years. When you look into the herb world, we think it’s this new thing. All of a sudden, extraction popped up out of the sky and now we’re extracting oil for herb. However, that is not the case. It’s the furthest from the case. Why do people act like this is something that it’s a new technology? Do people not realize? Do they not study it? What do we find in the industry or what are you finding why that’s the case?
I’ll put it to the United States, especially on the Eastern side of the United States. We’re not familiar with this as a plant that grows in such varieties and at such scale. You’re also walking through our land of it was a bad drug and it has no value. You also had that through our heritage. The herbs, to be quite frank, back in the 1970s, it might’ve had 4% or 6% of cannabinoids. Now you’ve got plants that are up to 32%. I think there are two things that happened. Number one, we weren’t aware of the plant and its potential medicinal value. The second one, not to be quite blunt, but Americans tend to think that they’ve discovered the world. We’ve only been here a few hundred years.
The Chinese had been in China for a lot longer than we’ve been in the United States, as well as the Egyptians, as well as everyone over in Afghanistan, that side of the world, and India. This is not a new technology for them to be able to do that. I would also add onto that. The science of medicine was called pharmacognosy. Pharmacognosy was the medicinal value, the key med of plants. Around the 1950s, probably somewhere in there, slowly but surely, those pharmacognosy PhDs, it was solely pharmacognosists and ethnobotany.
When you look at that, that slowly transformed into pharmacies with small molecules because they’re much more controlled. Many of those small molecules, Americans don’t know that it came from a natural product. There’s no one out there at gnawing on bark just to get aspirin. When we see that, that’s the part that moved me back towards the natural products. They call it traditional Chinese medicine. It should be traditional medicine. That’s more of what it is, but we’ve aligned it, so it’s an Eastern sort of thing versus Western. We’re a level one society, for example. They would say that. When you’re in China, you’re going to find shops that are making personalized medicine for tens of thousands of years.
These little shops, are they creating extraction or they’re taking plant material? They’re actually creating their products and putting them on the shelves. Is that what you’ve seen?
It’s actually personalized medicine. It’s a bunch of like you see some of the compounds. You still see them in some of the cities that you go around. You’ll see pharmacies but if you look in the yellow pages. You go back through and you’ll find compounds are still making unique products, whether it’s for the endocrine disruptors or it’s for menopause or other things like that. You’re going to find specialized ones for your metabolism. In China, in some areas, the doctors only get paid when you’re healthy. They don’t get paid if we get sick. They’re responsible for keeping you healthy, not for taking care of your diseased states.
That’s a completely different mind shift. It’s pretty amazing.
The Americans aren’t going to feel bad anytime soon. They went to medical school not to keep them nauseous. That’s a lot of money.
What a great thing to aspire towards though, eventually, if we could shift the mindset of creating a healthier community by paying people to be healthy.Learning comes through listening, seeing, touching, doing, and having a vibrant discussion during a session. Click To Tweet
It definitely is a mind shift. There’s a great skit with Bob Newhart. He merges the spin around of Western medicine versus the Eastern. What do the Eastern medicine people learn from us? It’s quite entertaining if you Google Bob Newhart and traditional medicine. It’s quite a good vibe and it’s good fun.
With our understanding that there are people that are such as yourself starting to understand this more and more, where do you think we see the future of extraction heading?
The first part was the encouraging part of being able to have the states legalize. The second part that Dr. Jeff Raber and I were on definitely on a warpath as far as making sure that people knew that pesticides weren’t a good thing. Everyone said, “No, you don’t have pesticides.” When you look at how far it’s come from 2012, 2014, there was this first stage of just the High-THC products. You had a second surge of products in 2018 when the Farm Bill came to pass. You’re seeing that transition. The transition goes from making 4 or 5 cookies in your house doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly going to be making, for example, Keebler cookies. I’ve made hundreds of thousands of these things.
What you’re going to see is more automation, more real-time knowing what’s happening inside that vessel. More regulations, as far as, not only ASMB or FDA or USDA, but you’re going to see OSHA. You’re going to have other things that have to come into play that make sure your employees are safe. Also, the product is not out in the open. You’re not going to have people around desks, snipping and making buds. You’re not going to have people loading vessels with a scoop and a funnel. You’re going to have a real production style where from the time the plant comes in until it’s in the ingredient forms that you want. It’s never touched. It goes through an entire process. It’s monitored the entire way.
I think it’s hard for people out there that are reading. I imagine it’s challenging for them to wrap their heads around that, especially if they’re in a totally prohibition state that doesn’t allow medical or recreational at this point.
That’s going to be less and less. For example, some of the things that come from there are the people finding the loopholes like Delta-8. It’s a loophole. There’s a lot of things that can happen that still had to be taken care of.
There’s so much to learn about this but also, where do you get the right education. What type of platforms out there offer education on not just herb but the extraction side? Are you aware of any?
It’s like one of those big softballs that come in slow. There’s no one in the outfield and they’re trying to get a hit at the bottom of the ninth. There are some good platforms out there. I would say that Green Flower, for example. Max has put it good together with a program on the side and to look at videos. Some good people had put them together. I’ve helped put a couple of them together for them with multiple PhDs. There are multiple people that have a lot of personal experience with solvent-less. For example, I will say Mace Media. They put together a lot of different platforms for that and try to work towards not only the extraction side but from the medical side. I think that some of the magazine’s internals of doing a good job. There are some herb science journals out there that are focused on looking at the science in a readable format. On my own side, I ended starting up my own website for extraction research and for doing classes.
You’re creating a platform yourself too. You’re setting this up. You’re going to create some curriculum. How are you formatting the curriculum? Have you decided on how you’re going to do that yet? How far down the road are you?
I got my first class in Denver. My teaching style is I’m in between Bill Nye, The Science Guy, have a little bit of Robin Williams, a lot of Bob Newhart and just pure Dr. Mechoulam of science. On my side, I try and bring the extraction to terms. For me, in my classes, you’re going to be making coffee and you’re going to be looking at caffeinated versus decaffeinated. You’re going to be looking at lavender. You’re going to be looking at orange peels. You’re going to be looking at it by CO2, by ethanol like grinding. There’s a lot of different ways. Not only the teaching, but for me, learning comes through listening, seeing, touching, doing, and having a vibrant discussion during a session. I’m structuring for a 1, 2 or 3-day that as you get deeper and deeper into it. How much do you want to get into it? Also, don’t forget that you have the business side. You had to merge the business with the science.
The other part that I see is that there’s a difference between someone working for a large multi-state license and someone who’s making a product for their mom or for their child. They’re trying to make something that’s ethical and safe because they have them under their care. It goes from the person making their coffee, drying and roasting their coffee, and making their coffee or teas or something like that all the way it’s through outside of Starbucks. They’re in there growing them in the back and then bringing them out front. You have all those different processes. My teaching philosophy is fun and hands-on. Science doesn’t have to be bad. It’s making molecules so that you see what this product is and looking at the ramifications as well as the positive side, but it’s also everything. It’s EO.Good is not a number. Click To Tweet
Going back, you talked about creating your own compounds for personal use for people. In China, they’ve been doing it for years. Do you see this as part of that education to create something like that? You brought up lavender and everything else. Who is this best suited for?
Someone breathing. I think one of the things that I believe is that no matter how you come into it as an expert or as a novice, merging those together and merging those people together, it’s a challenge for me because now I’m making sure I’m not leaving anyone behind it and not boring someone to death. You can segment that knowledge by starting with a surface and going a little deeper. Most of the people I’ve seen will also see that there’s a fun part to it so that the people that are way beyond my intelligence. By any stretch of the imagination yet being able to say, “I could bring that to my grandmother. Now I can explain to my grandmother what I’m doing by three packs of colored chocolate candy.”
Now you can say, how do you bring the experts so that they can talk to people? Not everyone who’s an expert can then articulate it in a fun way. At the same time, you have someone who’s learning from them and is going, “That’s the other compounds that are in there.” You bring their level up and the other one down, but when you merged those people together and you bring them coffee, tea and some pastry. They’re going to talk to each other. They’re going to start to merge with each other and recognize that they feed off of each other and they can contribute to each other.
If you have a level of interest in how botanical extraction works, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at? Is that what you’re telling me?
I have positioned it so that it’s got different levels. It goes to each level and allows the analogies for the experts. It allows the novice to see how it contributes to each part. It’s the water content. Why does that work? The size of the particles. Why is that important? It allows people to see every part of it. That’s my goal, to merge class because I’ve taught chemistry to 300 students at one point. When you look up there and you see 300 students, and you’re just going, “These people are not all on the same level,” and so now you don’t bore the students that are more excelling. You bring the other students up to an acceptable level. If they didn’t get to see when they came in, first of all, there are no such atoms. I can’t see them, so, therefore, they don’t exist. That’s how I work.
You’re doing a 1, 2 and 3-day course. What are some of the costs on these courses?
The one-day course $710. For most people that know extraction, they smile because if you put that upside down, it spells oil.
I’m glad you pointed that out. I wouldn’t have figured that out right away. What kind of time can they save with just a one-day course? What will that bring to them?
My goal is when they go back to industry, the ROI should be less than two days. They should recoup that $710 within two days. That’s my goal. If they can learn 1 or 2 things, they come away with the change in their process or allows them more productivity or less waste, then I’ve done what I needed to do to make them responsible and productivity. No one’s going to spend $710 in this economy on waste. They also have an opportunity that they can take a test or not. They can be certified or to say they attended either way. I came out of college teaching.
There are no worst students in the world. I don’t care what you think. Pre-med students, they’re impossible to teach. They’re too smart and also, they will battle for one more point. “I should have gotten a 91. I got a 90.” They’ll come in and battle. This is what I did. I said, “I’m welcome to look at your tests. If you’d like me to review your tests, I will again, but there are probably points that I probably gave you too many points on another section but be sure to leave it here. You could probably get 91 or you might get a 73. I don’t know.”
That’ll make you think of making you go work again, going through that time if they could potentially lose points.
If they can lose points, that’s what it is. I do test on the material itself and I do go back through. I went back. I looked at that and I say, “Knowing the basics and then knowing how to apply it. If you get 100, you got to know how to apply it,” not only in the science but on the business side. It’s a merging of business and science. On my side, I drive towards formulation-centric. You start at the end on the ingredients you’re trying to make. You move it back towards, “Where do I get those ingredients?” You move it back towards, “How do I extract to be able to get those ingredients?” From there, you could extract to, “What’s the variety of plant that’s going to provide me those ingredients?” You don’t start with the beginnings. You start at the end.
It’s just like so many goals in your life. Start with the end in mind. Let’s see where I want to get it, and let’s work backward and figure out all the things that I need to make that happen. What’s the name of the courses that you’re doing? Do you have a name for it?
Cleverly enough, it’s Principles and Practices of Extraction.
What’s your website so people can reach out to you there if they’re interested?
It’s SynergisticTechAssociates.com. I try to make it as long as possible.
If people are interested, they can go to ExtractionEssentials.com, click on there. It’s easy. John, cool stuff that you have coming out. I’d be interested in having you on again in the future to discuss how things are going and the stuff you’re seeing with some of your students. I know you’ve been teaching for a long time. Most teachers say, I assume, you’re probably one as well. You learn as much from your students as they learn from you. I’m sure that’s the case.
Thank you so much for being on the show. I hope you guys are interested in it. If you guys are reading the show at all, you’re obviously at least interested in extraction. John is an amazing teacher. Please look him up. He has extensive knowledge. If you guys are against herb, it’s totally fine. Don’t let that draw you away from him. That’s just what brought him over to exploring some new compounds and understanding that. I’m sure he’s learned an extensive amount.
Also, if you are interested in the herb, this is the guy to talk to you about extraction. I appreciate it, John. If you guys are enjoying reading what we’re bringing here, please hit the subscribe button or like us. We appreciate that and check out all the rest of our episodes. We’ve got other twenty-something episodes that are explaining all kinds of different ways we extract. Come check it out at ExtractionEssentials.com. We’ll see you guys soon.
About Dr. John MacKay
John MacKay, Ph.D. is known for his insightful analogies that bring complex chemistry to everyday activities that we do every day. From making coffee and tea to cleaning our clothes to counting colored candies and rescuing dogs from neighbors with walking sidewalks. Without trivializing the important science or making the easy facts seem impossible to learn, everyone leaves his classes to make scientific and business decisions.
John A. MacKay earned a B.A. in Chemistry from St. Lawrence University (SLU) and a Ph.D. from the University of Vermont (UVM) in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry. After positions teaching at Davidson College, Lyndon State College, and University of Vermont (UVM), John joined Waters Corporation in 1983.
Dr. MacKay founded Synergistic Technologies Associates, LLC, which has helped many major brands optimize their extrication processes operations based on Six Sigma principles.
With the expertise and desire to spread the science throughout the industry, John has taken on roles as a contributing journalist and science editor for Terpenes and Testing Magazine and was the editor of the first issues of Extraction Magazine and now is contributing journalist and scientific advisor. He has also been appointed the Educator Assistant Professor on the Volunteer Pathway, Department of Pharmacology at the Robert Larner, MD College of Medicines.
John A. MacKay, Ph.D.
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