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Headshot of CEO of Irwin Naturals Klee Irwin

Courtesy of Irwin Naturals

Industry Innovators: Klee Irwin, CEO of Irwin Naturals

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

September 22, 2022

With cannabis markets thriving in states across the country, and a piqued public interest in the potential benefits of

and other herbal remedies, it’s easy to forget that mass recognition of plant medicine has been a decades-long endeavor for many, not to mention the storied link between plant medicine and Indigenous cultures throughout history.

led the way back in 1996 as the first state in the U.S. to establish a medical cannabis program, though industry professionals like Klee Irwin got their start in plant medicine even earlier.

Paving the Way for Plant Medicine

Irwin is the CEO and chairman of

, founded in 1994 with a simple mission in mind: heal the world with plant medicine. Irwin was 27 at the time and, in retrospect, said he was in the right place at the right time.

“We were one of the ones that tended to, you know, really innovate and get funky and creative,” Irwin said. “We did it with our packaging, like nobody was doing packaging like us. We did it with our formulas. We tended to take multi-pronged approaches.”

Courtesy of Irwin Naturals

When Irwin Naturals first started, Irwin didn’t have a lot of extra money to go toward advertising. Instead, he poured the extra funds into more expensive ingredients to ensure the products were as effective as possible. The approach soon had countless eyes around the nation on the company’s herbal offerings, as high-quality products that were genuinely proven to work, keeping consumers coming back regularly.

Irwin added that this focus on product quality prevails to this day and continues to feed the success of Irwin Naturals.

“Irwin Naturals, essentially, if you could say one thing about this simplistic identity of our shtick, the brand or our approach, is we just make really expensive formulas for moderate prices because we don’t advertise hardly at all.”

He nodded to Apple, which he said excelled largely because they chose beauty as a key aspect. Similarly, Irwin Naturals has continued to elevate its visual appeal while embracing the same high-quality ingredients and minimal advertising it was founded upon.

Irwin also argued that, with the growth of the internet and social media throughout the 2000s, advertising feels less relevant. He used movies as a modern-day example of consumer habits and how they have morphed to modern-day technology conventions:

“Even if we did watch ads, it’s like, I ain’t going to see that movie unless I check what Rotten Tomatoes thinks, and the Yahoo! movie reviews,” Irwin said, in reference to quality versus advertising as ongoing strategies. “If, you know, they both come up with 4.5 stars, I’m going to go see it, right?”

By 1999, Irwin Naturals was selling products internationally and in all 50 states through big-box chains. The company prides itself on becoming a household name today, recognized by more than 100 million Americans and Canadians. American consumers can find Irwin Naturals on more than three million shelves in about 100,000 retail locations across North America today.

Courtesy of Irwin Naturals

Irwin Naturals is Healing the World

Today, Irwin Naturals continues to grow alongside some of the emerging plant medicine industries, in addition to their initial herbal remedies. While these strides are still relatively new for Irwin Naturals, Irwin said that he started the company with the intention of embracing all plant medicines. 

“The brand started with plant medicine as a general category of just herbs, which was nice because it helped people to use those instead of some pharmaceuticals. So it helped,” Irwin said. Though, when there was an opportunity to expand the scope of his business, Irwin was prepared. 

Irwin Naturals launched their initial line of functional mushroom products in 2018, shortly followed by the national launch of their hemp-derived

products in 2019.

Irwin referenced his personal journey with ayahuasca as paramount in shaping his own understanding of plant medicine, though he noted plant medicine doesn’t necessarily have to be psychedelic.

“It was partly my experience with some entheogens and how enlightening it was, and non-recreational. It was just really a different thing,” Irwin said. “I mean, to me, the number one thing that new people who have never participated in ceremony before, when they first go into plant medicine use with some intention, preparation, they come out of the other end saying, ‘Oh, my God. If everybody on the planet were to just do this, what I just did once and only once, the world would change.’”

Irwin referenced the growing mental health crisis in the United States, alongside the pharmaceutical industry that often acts to mask symptoms, as opposed to getting to the core issue and providing a permanent fix.

“With psychedelics, in the peer-reviewed clinical studies, they’re using the word ‘cure,’” Irwin said. “People are becoming permanently asymptomatic. And so, it’s a cure, and that cure rate is closer to the range of 80 percent.”

Courtesy of Irwin Naturals

Witnessing the rapid progress within the psychedelic sector, Irwin compared psychedelic growth to the evolution of cannabis “on a super compressed, accelerated timeline.” With bipartisan support to back it, alongside hearty evidence that psychedelics could provide long-standing solutions to otherwise treatment-resistant conditions, Irwin sees a new future, a collective embrace of psychedelics with the power to transform the entire way the world deals with mental illness.

Irwin Naturals Emergence and Tackling Psychedelics

Once the public discourse and research began to catch up to those personal psychedelic experiences and beliefs Irwin held close for years, the obvious next step was to push Irwin Naturals into the psychedelic realm. Irwin launched the psychedelic mental health clinic chain,

, earlier in 2022 with a focus on synthetic ketamine. 

With more than a dozen clinics currently in operation, Irwin already noted the feedback he’s received from patients, the authentic gratitude expressed in providing relief and lifesaving treatment to those in need.

“With the Irwin Naturals Emergence clinics, we want to become the first household name with a national footprint, with these brick-and-mortar clinics that are helping people,” Irwin said.

Regarding the name Irwin Naturals Emergence, Irwin references his work at Quantum Gravity Research, specifically, “Emergence Theory.”

“The reason we call it

is because nature, your consciousness, emerged from the interactions of simpler things, like quarks and electrons,” Irwin said, adding that we still can’t quite put our finger on what exactly is within each of our own, individual essences — what makes you, you, essentially. 

“This is all we know, is that it emerged from the collective behavior of countless, really simple things… It’s kind of an attempt to unify notions of consciousness with notions of mathematical physics at the unity of general relativity and quantum mechanics,” Irwin said.

As a supplementary explanation of the Emergence title, Irwin describes the experience of many individuals with mental health issues. They adapt and cope with their symptoms throughout their adult lives, sometimes to the point of not recognizing their emotions and what it means to be happy or at peace. It becomes the new norm.

“But for those people who can break through and emerge out of those murky waters and transcend, [there is] this powerful word, emergence,” Irwin said.

When asked if he ever envisioned a future, during those early days in the ‘90s, where Irwin Naturals could start legally exploring the psychedelic realm, Irwin quickly replied, “I certainly did not,” though he pointed to his metaphysical and spiritual life philosophy in recognizing that it was always surely a possibility.

“It was just almost like something from the future, like my future self looped back and made contact with my past/present self and said, ‘Do you want to collab?’ I’m like, ‘What?’ And in that learning process of all those experiences, I started seeing a kind of flow to everything, where every single thing that happens, is a synchronicity, has a purpose, and you can almost never see the purpose in the moment. You’ve got to wait.”

Courtesy of Irwin Naturals

Joining the Cannabis Revolution

Paired with the launch of Irwin Naturals Emergence, the company also launched its cannabis-based THC products under the flagship Irwin Naturals brand earlier this year, simply titled Irwin Naturals Cannabis.

“It’s a high order, like not all health is the same, right?” Irwin posed, referencing the behavioral outcomes and associated diseases related to drinking alcohol. Alcohol might have been the “drug of choice” for our parents, Irwin said, but many consumers today are choosing cannabis, which he argues is more mind-opening and explorative than being under the influence of alcohol.

“It’s changed in that sense, because of the damage that alcohol can do to its overall society, especially for people vulnerable to abuse it,” Irwin added.

Irwin describes the company’s new focus on cannabis as something “nobody has been able to do yet.” He uses the example of one of their herbal sleep formulas, Power to Sleep, which is already on shelves in Whole Foods, Costcos and WalMarts around the country.

“So, what we can do that others can’t do is we can say, ‘Alright, we’ll take that product that’s in 100,000 outlets, and that pretty much is a household name, and we’ll just sell an alternative version called Power to Sleep, with THC or CBN. Right? Then we’ll put those in dispensaries.”

With its national recognition and legacy, Irwin Naturals is in a unique position, given that cannabis brands are often segregated by state level. For example, a retail dispensary in California versus another in

likely won’t see much, if any, overlap in brands.

“Now, we go into some dispensary and some state, and it’s that familiar-looking, green glass bottle, looks just like the one in Whole Foods. And it’s that Power to Sleep, but it’s Power to Sleep with THC. And you’re like, ‘Oh my God, my mom uses that! I’m gonna buy that for her.’ So that’s exciting.”

Irwin Naturals also plans to offer a THC solution in their pill-based products, along with gummy options, in the future. The company looks to continue leveraging economies of scale to drive down patient costs for its emerging psychedelic and cannabis industries. Though, word about Irwin Naturals is already out — it’s simply a matter of time.

The Future of Irwin Naturals

With the fresh introduction of two huge endeavors, Irwin has plenty to keep him busy. Rather than continuing to set up ketamine clinics himself and starting from scratch, Irwin is looking to team up with existing clinics, giving them stock in the public company to rebrand facilities under the Irwin Naturals Emergence name. With that, he wants to introduce a flexible pricing structure to increase accessibility for all patients in need.

So far, it appears that a number of these clinics are eager to take Irwin up on the offer. In just a few months, the company boasts about 13 clinics, with another 30 or so in the pipeline ready to close, according to Irwin.

With its already impressive brand recognition — Irwin said that the brand is already known by about 80 percent of U.S. households — Irwin Naturals is in a highly visible position as it continues to grow and potentially tackle other substances, like psilocybin or MDMA, once their therapeutic use becomes legal.

In regard to cannabis, Irwin Naturals’ current focus is in licensing. While the company can’t afford to “touch the plant” directly, Irwin said, it can work with partners in recreationally legal states. Irwin Naturals sets the specifications, the final products would use their bottles, labels and ingredients, and the initial solution would be mixed by Irwin Naturals before supplying to partners.

“You just have to sprinkle in the THC in the right quantity, and then [brand partners] sell it to the dispensaries,” Irwin said. Of course, with the many compliance-related hurdles, not to mention policy that fluctuates state-by-state, and the looming possibility of

, this process is easier said than done.

But the future is bright for Irwin Naturals, with numerous possibilities that didn’t even seem within reach just five or 10 years ago, let alone back in 1994 when it first began sales.

“I just feel lucky to be able to have started that brand,” Irwin said. “And to be fearless enough to just not give a shit if it hurts the business, if it makes me lose money, if it makes people talk shit. That’s not going to happen because it’s so much in the trend right now, but even if it did, I would still do it. Because at this stage of my life, it’s a real spiritual type of outlook where it’s not about money. It’s about, ‘How can I be of service right to as many people as possible?’”

Keegan Williams

About The Author

Keegan Williams

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.