In 2003, Trista Okel became one of the many small, indoor growers caught without proper permitting. Like many, she mistakenly felt she couldn’t qualify under state mandates, as her particular diagnosis was not included on the short list of ailments allowing medicinal use of cannabis in Oregon.
“When I was raided I had three plants, each one foot tall,” she explained. “I learned a big, expensive lesson, but I also learned more about the plant than I previously knew.”
When a full acquittal came from a jury of her peers based on a medical defense, she became an activist bent on helping others.
Okel’s diagnosis is complicated. She suffers from chronic pain due to Mixed Connectivity Tissue Disease is similar to Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS). She’s has narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder passed down through a family’s genes, affecting the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles.
While researching for her case Okel said she found more information on cannabis as medicine that she had realized, specifically about terpenes – the fragrance in the essential oils of beneficial plants.
“I realized the importance of terpenes,” she shared. “By 2004 I stopped burning flower and started vaporizing. Then I took the vaped plant material – which was converted into THCA, and started making capsules.”
THC–or Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid–is a biosynthetic precursor of tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, or the psychoactive compound in cannabis. THCA is found in fresh, undried cannabis and is also created after decarboxylating cannabis, or drying for a short time under intense heat.
Okel further learned that by ingesting the caps she was able to successfully treat the chronic pain that had plagued her for years.
She had the caps with her during a camping trip in 2005 when a log fell on a friend’s foot. Okel quickly broke open one of her caps and applied the strong oil directly to the area with excellent results. The swelling went down quickly and her friend’s pain was quelled. This started the inspiration for her topical product line, and what would ultimately become Empower Oil.
After tinkering with recipes for several years, Okel said Empower Oil now has three strong products in its line, including a roll-on topical, bath salts, the infamous THCA capsules, and the addition of a topical spray for sensual stimulation.
The company has currently outgrown its literal cottage location of Okel’s 900 square foot home, and is moving into a 2100 square foot office space.
“We just applied for our medical marijuana processing license from the Oregon Health Authority,” she shared. “Looks like we are the only topical company on the list so far.”
Though Okel said she’s been courted by other companies looking to take advantage of the new laws allowing entities outside the state to invest in Oregon cannabis businesses, she chose to keep profits close to home, accepting personal loans from friends.
“Helping people with my products is good, but my goal is to become an ambassador for the plant,” she concluded. “This is a good business, but it’s also a calling to help others and educate on the medicinal properties of the plant.”
While Oregon patients grapple with newfound limitations within legalization, the plant still prevails with good medicine and good business opportunities on the horizon. The key is in educating the powers that be on the healing properties of the plant for the greater good and the economic benefits will follow.