Survivor & Entrepreneur: Penn State Alum Creates Quality Hemp Company ‘Nama’
Christopher Whelan attended classes and went to football games just like every other Penn State student until he started to experience abnormal health symptoms.
Whelan was diagnosed with cancer during his junior year at Penn State. Now, he’s an attorney specializing in cannabis law and the owner of “nama,” an edible, hemp-infused confection company that provides quality products to its customers.
Whelan went through treatment during the spring and summer of 2013, driving back and forth between State College and his home every other weekend. Despite this, Whelan made the dean’s list in the spring semester of his junior year.
“Having cancer gave me a different outlook on things and made me appreciate things much more,” Whelan said. “I almost look at it as a blessing if anything.”
He continued his education and graduated from Penn State in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in crime, law, and justice with a business option.
After graduating from Penn State, Whelan made it his goal to take time for himself to study for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and to get into the best shape of his life.
“I was the sickest of my life,” Whelan said. “I wanted to see if I could become the healthiest of my life.”
After receiving his degree from Brooklyn Law School, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, as a practicing attorney. Whelan was originally an associate with a specialty in bankruptcy law under Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP for just over two years. He worked with many established attorneys and judges in the realm of bankruptcy. Whelan decided to research and pursue the new and emerging cannabis law field.
“With cannabis, one thing I love is it’s so new,” Whelan described. “Everyone is on the same playing field because the laws are just coming in.”
With Whelan’s law and product background on cannabis, he transformed the idea of CBD edible gummies into a company called “nama.” Whelan found his passion for creating high-quality cannabis products during his cancer treatment, as he turned to CBD products as an alternative to traditional medicine. While in recovery, he dove into marijuana and hemp research and the potential positive medicinal effects.
Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants. The hemp plant is federally legal but the marijuana plant has yet to become legal nationwide. The difference between the plants is based on the amount of THC in the plant. Compared to THC, CBD alone will not physically impair an individual. CBD may offer various positive effects such as stress and anxiety relief, chronic pain relief, and more.
“I was making my own CBD products, and they helped me during my recovery,” Whelan said following his graduation from Penn State.
Whelan found positive effects from his CBD products as a practicing attorney as well. The CBD products allowed him to wind down from the workday and create a disconnect between work and personal life.
At three different points in his life — during his cancer treatment, while competing in weight-lifting competitions, and as an attorney — Whelan experienced benefits from hemp and cannabis products, both mentally and physically.
With his passion for hemp and cannabis products, Whelan decided to leave his job in 2020 to pursue nama. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whelan met on Zoom with cannabis specialists to create hemp edible products. Finding proper ratios for THC and CBD was a challenge to offer the proper effects, which may include stress relief and energization.
“I like to say that nama is an extension of myself,” Whelan explained. “They are products that I enjoy, and I think they can work for a lot of individuals.”
In the past three years since Whelan created nama, the company has become widely successful and boasts the highest customer retention rates within the hemp industry and the highest reorder rates on Shopify.
When creating products, Whelan has two things in mind: transparency and effectiveness.
“With those two things in mind, let’s make cannabis products for specific times of the day or experiences, and let’s make that clear on the label,” he said.
Whelan finds that many consumers of cannabis products don’t know the effects of what they are consuming. Misinformation can spread about cannabis products, which creates stigma and ignorance about the purpose of the products. To combat this and bridge the educational gap, nama prioritizes transparency with customers regarding what the products actually do.
“You won’t feel high, you can get all of your chores done, you can keep working, but a weight is lifted off,” Whelan said.
Nama offers a variety of hemp edible products, including the bestseller Relax Plus gummies that aim to replace the effects of two alcoholic beverages. It mirrors the feeling of alcohol minus dehydration and headache the next morning.
The Sleep and Sleep Plus gummies are intended to allow customers to wake up recharged with a restful night’s sleep.
All products come in a CBD-only formula and a CBD formula with THC. “Plus” products have an additional amount of THC with a limit of 0.3%.
Since nama’s original product launch, Whelan created and added additional products based on customer feedback.
With every shipment to a customer, a dosage guide is provided so customers know exactly what dosage is right for them and their needs.
Under the Farm Bill enacted in 2018 by Congress, all cannabis is federally legal up to 0.3% THC. This low-THC cannabis is categorized as hemp. Above the 0.3% THC limit, cannabis is categorized as marijuana.
Nama was originally launched as a hemp-only company since the barrier to entry was lower than marijuana companies because of the increased flexibility of state laws. Although hemp is federally legal, states are now enacting their own laws regulating the commercial sale and production of hemp. Some states are banning synthetic THC and are heavily regulating the production process in regard to how much THC is included in the final product. Staying up to date on hemp laws and regulations is a challenge when selling to customers nationwide, however, nama still ships to a majority of states nationwide.
Nama is launching into the traditional cannabis industry in New York. Additional products will be launched exclusively as an edibles company but will soon provide other methods of consumption this summer.
“That’s what I see for the future of this industry: very functional products, not those extremes,” Whelan said.
To learn more about nama and Whelan’s story, visit nama’s website.
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