Dr. K Becomes Austin’s First Female, Black-Owned Cannabusiness
Diversifying the industry’s green rush
When her father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, Dr. Kirsten Shepard, a licensed chiropractor and massage therapist, sought alternatives to the opioids he was prescribed. "I was searching for whatever, whoever, anything that would help with his nausea, lack of appetite, and the pain that it caused. I knew about cannabis – I spent three years in L.A. before coming back to Austin in 2008 – but I was very naive about it. I thought everybody was like Snoop Dogg – they just wanted a legal way to smoke, you know? I didn't think about compassionate use until I needed to think about it."
Shepard, also known as Dr. K, is the founder and CEO of TrueStopper, one of Austin's first female Black-owned cannabusinesses. In addition to advocating for more opportunities for women and BIPOC founders and more market transparency, she created a line of regenerative hemp-based products that are "triple-tested by ISO-certified labs." All of the TrueStopper offerings – including salves, roll-ons, oils, broad spectrum CBN and CBG tinctures, bath bombs, calming and focus tablets, gummies, and dog chews – have a verified certificate of analysis, are nontoxic, and contain 0-0.3% THC.
"TrueStopper is one of only 4% of cannabis businesses that is African American-owned. A green wave is on the horizon, but it's time to change the narrative so that women and BIPOC founders aren't left behind," said Dr. K. "And while the CBD industry is experiencing exponential growth right now, it's not without its challenges. In addition to diversity gains, we must be advocating for more clear regulations to ensure the opaque CBD market is not tarnished by vendors who overlook high quality and purity as a product standard."
Already a part of the "holistic realm," she targeted therapeutic topical applications because "skin is the largest organ," and her father did not want to be "high," so she focused on non-psychoactive cannabis derivatives like CBD (and other cannabinoids) to use as complementary therapies. She added, "Pharmaceuticals, there's a place for them, but there's also a place to try natural things first and I'm looking forward to the day where our country has federal regulations that allow people to use plants as medicine as needed versus all the bureaucracy that we currently have."
TrueStopper's protocols for anxiety, chronic pain, cognitive function, and performance recovery have primarily been used by seniors and veterans to alleviate chronic muscular-skeleton ailments, as well as athletes focused on injury prevention and recovery. Dr. K specifically referenced the ongoing opioid crisis, and said she hopes to educate people, whether or not they buy her products. "When you turn on the TV in the United States, what do you see? You see pharmaceutical sales ads, you see ads for fast food and liquor. We're bombarded with those every day. If you go to Europe, you're not seeing that. You're seeing lifestyle and travel, you're seeing fashion, and I just think it speaks so loudly to what the focus is in this country. It's sick care, it's not health care, and I think that really needs to change."
"If our job as health care providers is to first 'do no harm,' that's exactly what we should be doing."
An active member in organizations such as Texas NORML, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the American Chiropractic Association, Dr. K believes championing pure products, free of pesticides and backed by product insurance and certifications of analysis, is as critical to moving forward as diversification.
Although the past decade has seen cannabis reform bills crawl across the country, prejudices still perpetuate misinformation resulting in disproportionately high incarceration rates and low commutation rates for Black and brown individuals, seniors, and veterans. To boot, those profiting from the so-called green rush are not the same demographic as those facing punishment for cannabis usage, including those seeking cannabis alternatives to opioids for their chronic ailments. "[It's] keeping that same cycle of inequality going and it's so disheartening. One thing that gives me hope with legislation now, is with these 27 bills that have been proposed, there's bipartisan support – and this is Texas!" (See this week's issue for cannabis updates from the Texas Lege.)
"We want to provide everyone with the type of whole person care that athletes and celebrities receive," she added.
Dr. K will also soon launch a line of CBD-infused cookies made in partnership with Austin-based GoodenSweet. "Sean Gooden is a local 'cookie-preneur' and his cookies are delicious. To partner with another local Black-owned business, it's amazing. [He's been called] 'the Black Belt Baker' [because] not only does he have this amazing cookie line, he also teaches kung fu, tai chi, and meditation. So combining my knowledge and purpose with his knowledge and purpose, and those delicious cookies and our CBD products, we are really looking forward to officially launching our new product."