While Cannabis & Tech Today covers many brands at the forefront of innovation, few announcements excite this author as much as Puffco’s. The brand changed the concentrate experience with its creations, allowing users to enjoy concentrates without the stigma often associated with dabbing.
In this interview with Puffco Founder and CEO Roger Volodarsky, he explores what inspired him to take concentrate consumption to the next level and how this revelatory experience is connecting him with a like-minded community that’s elevating the hash space to a more refined, precise realm.
He shares 10 years of insights around consumer preferences, the evolution of hash, and what it means to finally find your tribe.
Cannabis & Tech Today: As far as the consumer’s taste from 2013 to now, what kind of trends are you noticing?
Roger Volodarsky: I think the most exciting part of contemporary hash is the constant evolution. So year one, I started in the cannabis space and the only thing we know concentrates as, except for traditional hash, is what we were calling wax, which we then learned was [butane hash oil] B. H. O.
Year two, live resin becomes a thing. Now, they’re freezing the flower before they process it. Then the next year, distillate became a thing. Distillate was not popular at all and it just hit the scene. The year after that, flower rosin happens, and the year after that hash rosin happens.
This whole time, while all that is going on, we see the way people consume and the devices they use constantly evolve to focus on flavor, to focus on vapor. Then we hit this pivotal moment where people discover that low-temperature dabbing is a thing and no longer do you just have to torch until something is red, and then cough for an hour, and go through all this process.
Now it’s easier to do and you’re getting way more flavor and your high is not intense anymore. It’s actually more pleasurable.
The past 10 years, I could probably spend an hour talking about how every single year there is a leap, and this is still happening today … The story of cannabis as it relates to hash, to me is the fastest-growing innovative area of cannabis. It’s also the fastest growing in terms of community. But to be in the contemporary hash space is to exist in a space that is constantly evolving.
It’s constantly getting better, and it always feels that the future is more promising than today.
C&T Today: What do you wish that people understood about concentrates that maybe they don’t?
Roger Volodarsky: There’s a lot of preexisting perceptions about concentrates, and I don’t think a lot of it is positive. If we look at traditional hash, it has been vilified across the world.
Even though you can go to almost any place in the world and find it, it has been extremely vilified and people have seen it close to other drugs that are super addictive and hard, like heroin and opium. So there’s that stigma that comes from the old world, but then contemporary hash hit the scene in the early 2010s, which is what Puffco was born out of.
Those days were filled with lots of videos of people taking these really big rips on red hot nails, coughing their brains out, some of them passing out. And that only reinforced this perspective that concentrates are extremely strong and for people looking to get blasted, not just a little bit high, not for medicine, you’re using it to get absolutely ripped.
That’s just not where it is today. Where it started, I think a lot of us fell in love with concentrates because we were able to get a more intense high than we were from flower. But over time, with the introduction of low-temp dabbing, I found that I actually turned to concentrates fully in 2015.
It was an era where we were calling flower pre-run, meaning something that had not yet been turned into hash. The reason I loved it was not for its potency, but actually for the control I got over my high. If I take a low-temp dab, the onset of effects comes faster and it goes away faster.
When it goes away, it’s leaving me with a less residual stoniness or being burned out. For the people who think concentrates are this intense thing for super users, they’re really for people who want better control over their high, specifically those who are using during the day.
If you’re smoking at night, it’s fine, but if you need to smoke midday and recover and do your job or have conversations and be responsible, I think it’s most effective for that. If you’re looking for the nuance and flavor of the plant, it is no better represented anywhere than it is in contemporary hash.
The number one thing I want people to know is you can turn to concentrates for intensity, but more and more these days, people are turning to it for flavor and control over how high they can get. So I wish more people knew that and just didn’t see it as this crazy super user thing that it sometimes has the perception of being.
C&T Today: How does Puffco continue to innovate as a tech-forward cannabis company? How do you transform your ideas into reality?
Roger Volodarsky: I’m not an engineer, I’m not a designer … I tried hiring a few engineers early on and it felt like I would give them my ideas and I would never see anything that truly reflected it.
That changed when I hired our first lead engineer, Avi Bajpai. He’s currently our chief technology officer. He started at the company with one junior engineer and today we have around 15 mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software designers, and industrial designers. And now we have a crazy process for designing products that has a lot of thought.
But really where it all starts is with the experience, the feeling you get from the dab is priority number one.
Everything else comes down to how we want it to look. How do we want users to engage with it? What stigmas are we trying to dissolve through design? But nothing is more important to Puffco than the experience you get when you engage with contemporary hash.
You can see that through the evolution of — what I’ll call to your readers — our engine, which is our atomizers or our chambers, they’re constantly evolving.
It’s almost every year or every two years we’re coming out with a new technology that can vaporize your hash better. One of the biggest leaps we made was with our 3D Chamber, where we effectively completely changed how hash oil was being heated.
Previously, it was heated from the bottom. That’s just how everybody knew to do it. And we said we don’t want to heat from the bottom anymore. We want to heat from the sides. We don’t want heat where the oil is static. We want heat where the oil goes when you inhale.
And so we completely rethought how oil should be vaporized and made sure that it’s something that would give people the feeling that, “Oh my God, this is a level up from where I was before.”
C&T Today: What do you think regulators are getting wrong when it comes to this industry?
Roger Volodarsky: I think regulation is a challenging thing because you have people who are learning about something, then trying to regulate, and that to me is the biggest problem with regulation.
Not to say that these politicians are evil or they’re out to get us, they just don’t understand and they’re trying to keep people safe from a state of ignorance. That to me is the biggest problem when it comes to regulation and compliance.
A perfect example of this is potency caps. For some politicians, it’s become a new vehicle for fear and outrage or saying that potency caps are something that need to happen when it’s actually harmful to people. You have a lot of veterans out there that need high-potency product to use.
Also, with devices like Puffco devices, you can get something that is high potency and control the effects that it has on you.
Also, the human endocannabinoid system can only absorb so many cannabinoids at any given time. So putting a potency cap on something, it’s something you don’t need to do because the body naturally does it. You can only get so high, nobody is going to the point where it’s turning toxic.
It’s just going to get them a little bit sleepy, maybe a little bit paranoid, but it won’t hurt them. The problem with this is people hear the word strength, and when you relate strength to a lot of other substances, you’re talking about toxicity.
If you’re talking about alcohol, too much alcohol can kill you. If you’re talking about Tylenol, too much Tylenol can kill you. We don’t have this understanding of cannabis as something that there’s almost no way to get too much of. It’s not the same as everything else.
Unless you have the approach of curiosity, “I’m here to understand why people are using this; what does it mean to them?” You’re not going to create good regulation. You have to approach it with curiosity. And unfortunately, that is typically not the path of regulators. For some of them, it is. There are people out there that are so curious.
I think Colorado has been a state that has done a great job trying to understand the needs of growers, entrepreneurs, and consumers, and providing a safe regulated market that also has great tax benefits to the state. I think some markets do well, but if they’re here to regulate and not understand, that is going to harm the space as a whole.
C&T Today: After 10 years in business, what are you most proud of?
Roger Volodarsky: I am proud of the community we created … When we started this journey, we felt like outsiders. These days we feel like we’re at home, at home within the greater community, at home within our niche, concentrate, contemporary hash community. We’re seeing all walks of life connect through the same thing that we all love and that’s contemporary hash. And if there’s any honor or privilege that I feel I have, it’s sharing and contributing to a large community of like-minded individuals coming from all walks of life. That’s my absolute favorite thing.
There’s nothing better that I could think of than that, and that also includes this Puffco community of employees that I feel really pushes the limits of what’s possible in technological and human development. Community is at the core of what we love, what we grow, and what we’re here for.
This article first appeared in Volume 5 Issue 2 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.