Foria's Chief Brand Educator, Kiana Reeves, was interviewed recently in Medium about her perspective on cannabis and sexual health, life, education and activism. We're reprinting here, thanks to journalist Len Giancola of Authority Magazine and MJ.com.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kiana Reeves, Chief Brand Educator at Foria Wellness. Kiana started her career in birth work as a full spectrum doula, working with mothers and families during birth, postpartum, abortion, and miscarriage. The more she studied, the more she realized that as a society, we don’t know how to talk about and care for our pelvic area. It became Kiana’s passion to understand the complexity and deeply-linked experiences connecting women throughout the female lifespan. This ultimately led her to become a voice for Foria as Chief Brand Educator, with a commitment to teaching people to be more connected to their own sexual experiences. Prior to joining Foria, Kiana founded her own company called The Tulip, centered around women’s pelvic health. She is a certified doula, somatic sex educator, innate postpartum care provider and STREAM (Scar Tissue Remediation, Education and Management) practitioner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Kiana! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I ended up here in a pretty roundabout way, part fate, and part happy accident. My background is in female sexual health and wellness as a somatic sex educator. I’ve also worked as a birth and postpartum doula for about 10 years, and in 2014 co-founded a company with my sister called The Tulip. We were really interested in looking at traditional models of pelvic care from around the world and sharing them as a means to support the female life cycle through menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause and beyond.
In 2016 I met Mathew, our founder, and we had planned some brand collaborations. I ended up joining the team as someone who could really share my background and help build meaningful conversations and innovation as a brand. We get to share the wisdom of plants and humans’ historical relationship with cannabis, and that continues to inspire me on a daily basis.
As I became familiar with our products, experiencing them myself and receiving feedback from customers about how their lives were changing, I knew that what we were doing as a brand was much farther-reaching than just selling products — we are, in fact, offering solutions that are fundamentally changing the way people experience sex, menstruation, postpartum, and menopause. We get to have conversations about all of these important life experiences — which aren’t typically prioritized by our culture or the medical community — and we get to help change that narrative.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The most interesting story for me, is not my story, or our story as a company at all — it’s actually the thousands of stories of our customers. Many of our customers have searched for support and solutions for a wide range of experiences; endometriosis, debilitating cramps, painful sex, menopause, inability to climax, sexual anxiety, vulvodynia, vaginismus, interstitial cystitis to name a few. Quite often they come to us after trying everything and feel that something is wrong with them that can’t be fixed, this is especially challenging when it comes to sex. When someone experiences a physical condition that prevents them from experiencing sexual pleasure it impacts their whole identity, their relationships, and their quality of life as a whole. The emails we get range from people telling us they experienced the first pleasurable sex with their partner in years, or that they thought something was lost to them — and through using our products — they feel hope again. Here are just a few of my favorite testimonials — there are of course so many just about pleasure-enhancement, but I’m particularly moved when we can help someone who had almost lost hope.
- “You guys are my heroes!!!! I commented on one of your posts in reference to Awaken. I’ve not been able to have pain free sex with my husband for several years. Until today! We got our Awaken in and it happened to be when we were taking an anniversary vacay. We’ve been married for 24 years and he has been very patient with me and my Endometriosis journey. But today! Today! With Awaken we have had sex multiple times! We’ve both had multiple orgasms and I’ve had ZERO PAIN!!!!!!!!!!! It’s amazing!” — Dana C
- “Saved my sex life. Saved my relationship. I suffer from vulvodynia and sex is usually painful for me, especially afterwards. It was starting to cause a rift in my relationship with my partner because we were only being intimate maybe once or twice a month. My sex drive was down because I constantly associated sex with pain. This little spray changed everything. Now I feel amazing during and after sex, sometimes I’ll want to do it more than once in a row. This little spray was literally life changing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!” — Steph
- “I literally had no interest in sex. My marriage suffered from lack of intimacy. Because of a major life crisis in dealing with the deaths of both my parents, I experienced anxiety and depression. All of this was amplified by menopause and the problems associated with it, including painful intercourse, night sweats, hormonal surges, etc. I desperately wanted to feel “normal” again. I found out about Awaken via an email and after reading the product description and reviews, decided I needed to try it. There isn’t enough space here to express my gratitude for what it has done for me!” — Danielle
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I came on when we really only had about 3 employees in California, so you can imagine I was wearing many hats. One of my jobs was to create, design, and send out our newsletter to our entire list… Mind you I have no graphic design experience and I’m not the best at spell-checking myself. At that time we already had about 50,000 subscribers and at least 2 emails I sent out with major errors — you can imagine my sincere embarrassment when Mathew pointed them out.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
Well, I actually have the double stigma of being in the cannabis and sex industry, which makes for a very interesting conversation — and I’ve been tremendously surprised at how responsive people have been. The funniest stories have happened in taxis and Ubers — I was speaking at SXSW last year and my driver was asking about what I do… I’m very open about it which can be shocking, because in a short amount of time you are talking about vaginas, orgasms, cannabis, and sex with a complete stranger. But this one Uber pool driver was just ELATED about the idea that he could put a cannabis-infused arousal product on his partner — I mean, he was singing, shouting, and laughing all at once — I ended up giving him and the other 3 passengers a month supply of Awaken samples to take home with them. That was a memorable experience for everyone.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Many people have supported me along the way, but two people really stand out to me. I feel incredibly supported by my mentor Kimberly Johnson and her work in relation to the nervous system, sexuality, and motherhood. I met her when I was still running The Tulip and she was introduced to me as “The Vaginapractor”, all I knew in that instant was that I also wanted to do this work and so I ended up studying with her and her mentor — for which I’m forever grateful.
The second person is our co-founder Mathew Gerson. He has trusted me since bringing me onto the team in a way that allowed me to find my strengths and story-tell in a way that feels inspiring on a daily basis. He has made the experience of building a brand full of heart and soul, and I’m so grateful to have had that kind of freedom and trust from him to help shape the vision of this company.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
So many! We are at an incredible crossroads as a brand with our growth, and we’ve been heads down for quite some time creating our product lines, education, and trust with our community. At the moment we are getting to spread our wings and find creative ways to share our story while creating innovative product lines. I’m very passionate about story-telling, and at the core of what we are doing is telling the ancient story of plants and humans being in relationship with each other. We are also getting to be a part of a revolutionary conversation about the importance of female pleasure, why it matters, and how it is deeply connected to wellness.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
a. Individuals have the opportunity to support brands they love through how they spend their money and how they spread the word to their community. Choosing to support brands that prioritize representation across all levels of the company can have a big impact. Brand transparency is becoming the norm, so checking out the company’s story and their team is a great way to learn more about brands you love.
b. Companies need female executives, period. If they are not prioritizing gender representation through the executive, director, and upper management levels of the company they are missing the mark.
c. Collectively if we keep this conversation at the forefront of our mind both through journalists, news outlets, and on social media it will build the momentum, awareness, visibility, and pressure for companies to always take this into consideration when building their companies.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
It’s a gold rush right now, and there are so many companies just copying each other, adding branding and marketing without doing anything innovative or even creating a quality product. That’s all fine but the real growth will come from new research-backed formulas and delivery formats. Don’t follow trends, be an innovator.
To innovate, you need to get down with the science. Read up on experts like Martin Lee at ProjectCBD, or Ethan Russo (who inspired our products with his research on the history of cannabis in gynecology and obstetrics).
There’s a ton of new research in the last several years showing that whole-plant, full-spectrum CBD works better than CBD isolate, but there are so many companies using isolate and pretending it’s the same thing — it just isn’t — so the consumer experience with CBD has been really mixed. Make sure you are making products that are actually effective, and don’t make price your bottom line. Consider the environment in all things you do.
Respect the plants, respect the history of the industry, and listen to the people who came before you.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
Non psychoactive therapies are going to be revolutionary: not just CBD, but the topical use of THC.
Minor cannabinoids (most of which are non-psychoactive) with unique healing properties CBG, CBN, THCa, CBDa, etc. The supply chain is still developing for these compounds, but once it matures, the industry will leap to a new level of targeted effects.
New research studies focusing on non traditional ways of using cannabinoids, like our upcoming study on our Basics CBD Suppositories, which will track 400 people who menstruate, over the course of 2 different cycles. This will be the first study looking at the genital application of cannabinoids for relief of menstrual cramps, and we hope it is just the beginning in terms of research.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
Incarceration for cannabis-related crimes is hugely concerning, we need to reform this and make sure that any person who has been incarcerated for cannabis is released and their record expunged. Not only that, but we should be funding through the taxes generated by the cannabis industry programs for those transitioning back into jobs and housing.
The environmental impact this industry will have is massive. The way cannabis is grown, how water is used, how the products are manufactured, and how they are packaged all has a huge impact on the environment. We have the opportunity as an industry to do things right from the start. I would love to see environmental regulations in place through the entire seed-to-shelf process that would require our industry to be accountable both for the quality and efficacy of our products, and their impact on the environment.
Gender and racial parity are huge topics that need to be prioritized as the cannabis industry grows. The bar to entry is increasing from a financial and legal perspective, we need strategic ways to make sure women and people of color are represented and given support as business owners and executives — otherwise this industry will look like just about every other industry out there which are predominantly run by white men.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
It depends on the senator. The average senator won’t be impressed with a lot of the other reasons I have but here’s what I’d focus on: it’s a huge new industry providing jobs and tax revenue.
Also, the healing potential for PTSD and chronic pain for veterans and seniors could be a huge cost-savings. Plus cannabis is proving to be an amazing alternative to the highly addictive opioids.
Lastly, keeping cannabis illegal just drives the black market into growth — which creates risks with product purity, for example the recent vaping crisis where unregulated vape pens with unsafe ingredients were causing illness and death.
This plant also has the potential to have a huge environmental and economic impact, the possibilities are nearly endless and the demand is only going to increase.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
Smoking cannabis doesn’t have the same lung cancer risk as smoking cigarettes, and people don’t do it as constantly, so I don’t believe it’s the same sort of public health nuisance.
Regulating cannabis production is great — the purity & potency testing mandated in legal states is empowering consumers in a big way.
I think there’s little risk that cannabis advertising will ever be as prevalent as cigarette ads used to be. Should we advertise cannabis in a way that children want to use it? No. But should cannabis be a forbidden topic, so you can’t discuss the health benefits on TV or on Facebook? That would be extreme.
Smoking isn’t the only format for using cannabis. Vaping is much better as long as the oil is tested and labeled correctly — plus the hardware has to be ultra pure or else the vapor could be more toxic than smoke.
Ultimately, cannabis is about so much more than inhalation. We’re primarily a topicals company, and we were one of the first non-psychoactive THC products on the market, so we’ve always been focused on educating people about the many other uses for cannabis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many that come to mind, but most recently I have been listening to and reading a lot of Brene Brown. Her work on vulnerability and “getting in the arena” are hugely influential to me, especially when I have felt unequipped to face certain life and work situations, and have chosen the path of courage and vulnerability instead of shying away. One quotation that I come back to again and again says that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would want a movement that could really expand people’s perspective on how delicate and precious life is. I think the interconnectivity between our relationship with nature, ourselves, and each other cannot be underestimated — especially as a woman. I also believe a key to healing our destructive consumption habits and the damage we are inflicting on our environment and each other is coming back to the essential truth that we are all dependant on each other and on our environment. If I could inspire a movement it would be to inspire people to deeply investigate their relationship with the natural world around us, feeling the truth that we are on this small planet floating through the cosmos, completely dependant on these trees — waters — plants — animals — and each other for survival.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!