LADY BUSINESS: Trista Okel of Empower Oil

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Feature image credit: Toni Agosta/Shutterboxx Photography

When it comes to treating yourself with cannabis derivatives, there are many products to choose from. With a wide variety of cannabis-infused “medibles” (marijuana edibles), medicinal topicals (marijuana-infused lotions and salves) and tinctures out there, sometimes it becomes hard to choose the right fit for you.

Designer labels, constituents in different mixtures, and word-of-mouth reviews all play an integral part in the decision-making process. In my view, it is important to know what is in your medicine and where it comes from, and sometimes to know the producer personally. Every item found in dispensaries or collectives, from flowers (buds) to salves, has a distinctive and personal story behind its creation. These medicine men and women have lived a struggle of their own, decided to take matters into their own hands, found relief and chose to share their medicine with the rest of the world.

Recently I discovered an interesting new medicine- Empower Oil. The label caught my eye at first, black with stark white writing that reminded me of a protest sign. Behind the simple and rebellious label was a unique concept, a roll on application topical combination of healing essential oils I instantly recognized. I contacted the oil maker to find out more. After a quick phone conversation I was invited over to to see how it was made. She deftly explained to me how the oil works and offered me a variety of samples.

I gave the samples to others who needed the relief most. What I was given in return was outstanding positive reviews, and requests for where to find more. I sat down with the woman behind the oil, Trista Okel for an interview to find out even more. The story behind this excellent mixture is nothing short of astonishing.

Trista Okel

“Helping people is first and foremost for me.”

BRANDON KRENZLER: How did you start making this oil? What made you want to?

TRISTA OKEL: In 2005, I was making cannaoil capsules [Cannabis infused olive oil filled capsules] to help some medical marijuana patients in my area with pain, insomnia, and nausea.

While camping a couple of weeks later a very heavy  log was dropped on a friend’s foot, it was around 200 pounds. Her entire foot immediately swelled and turned black and blue. It was nasty and there wasn’t any Ibuprofen to help with the swelling. Then it hit me- the oil could work topically to help at least take some of the pain away.

So, we broke open a couple of cannaoil capsules and rubbed the oil all over my friend’s foot. The results were better than good, they were amazing! Not only did the oil help greatly with the pain, but it also reduced the swelling tremendously and the bruise was almost gone in three days. The healing time on the injury was reduced by about two-thirds.

Later that month, my mom was talking about the great deal of pain she was in from advanced arthritis, compressed disks in her back, mixed connective tissue disease and Fibromyalgia. It was heartbreaking to see her suffer in such pain. I gave her some of the oil from the capsules to apply topically and it really helped her.

But there was a dilemma: at that time my mom worked for a state agency that was dedicated to alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs. There was no way that smell would fly there. So, I started adding essential oils in hopes of masking the smell. While experimenting with and researching essential oils, because I’ve always had an interest in aromatherapy, I learned that different essential oils work for different kinds of pain and maladies when applied topically, with or without carrier oils, like olive oil or grape seed oil.

After much trial and error, experimenting with different strengths and strains of cannabis, different concentrations of cannaoil, carrier oils and a plethora of essential oils, I eventually established an essential oil mix that worked synergistically with the cannaoil. Although I had hoped, I didn’t expect those results.

I discovered-the combination not only helped with pain and swelling, but it also helped with bruises, scars, neuropathic pain, rashes, psoriasis and was reported to help with a few other ailments as well. To my surprise, it worked better than the straight cannaoil worked. I was blown away and my inner skeptic said, “No way.” But I kept giving it away to people in pain and they kept telling me it worked.

Last week, a patient who is fighting cancer and has a kidney stent told me it not only works on the kidney pain, but it worked on a fever blister she had. She says it dried it up within 24 hours. That is a new use for it. I hear of different uses for Empower Oil on a weekly basis. I’m pretty blown away with the feedback I’m getting on it now that it is on the shelves in a few [Oregon] dispensaries.

That is why I started making Empower Oil and why I love doing it so much now. Giving relief, even if it’s a small reduction in pain or any other ailment people choose to use it for, is my primary goal and my driving force. Helping people is first and foremost for me.

BK: What are the plant essential oils other than cannabis, and could you describe their benefits?

TO: There is a natural form of menthol, wintergreen, also known as methyl salicylate, which, according to my research, is in 85% of all topical pain relievers. Methyl salicylate is a big part of the formula and mixed with the cannaoil, carrier oils (like jojoba and grape seed) and a few other essential oils in minute concentrations, Empower Oil works both topically and as aromatherapy. It is meant to be calming and uplifting to the user. Lots of folks who use Empower Oil are seriously ill and can use all the help they can get in feeling better. Pain has such a major effect on all aspects of a person’s life. It was really important to me to help improve one’s mood as well.

BK: How would you recommend using the oil? 

TO: Put it where it hurts. The short answer to your question is the slogan: “Put it where it hurts.”

Empower Oil is very concentrated, so use it sparingly. A little bit goes a very long way, so rub it into your skin until completely absorbed. There shouldn’t be any oily residue after you apply it. If there is, you either didn’t rub it in well enough or you used too much. Use it often, especially at first and with acute pain. Like with most natural remedies, it requires multiple applications to work best, five or six times per day to start. The roller ball applicator helps you get the right amount of Empower Oil at the site of the pain.

Helichrysum Italicum, a natural pain reliever

Helichrysum Italicum, a natural pain reliever but not good for aromatherapy

BK: During your research and development stage, what were some of the most memorable moments and lessons?

TO: I made a lot of utterly putrid essential oil mixes for quite a while. There is an essential oil, Helichrysum Italicum, that works well for pain, scarring, muscle and joint pain, the list of its benefits is expansive. Helichrysum Italicum is a wonderful essential oil, but it smells grassy and has a sharp, astringent aroma. It has very little aromatherapy utility and the scent doesn’t mix well with the smell of cannaoil at all. Since Empower Oil is meant to be aroma therapeutic as well as a topical remedy, Helichrysum would not work for this formula, despite its utility. The lesson I learned with that experiment was to make small batches when trying new blends. That one was quite an expensive lesson.

I also had to learn to work with oil. Oil is messy. I have worn more cannaoil than I would like to admit. I now wear lab wear to work with it, but in the beginning, especially when I was really excited about a new formula idea, I would just go straight to work without changing my clothes. That and cheesecloth are life savers!

The most exciting part of the process was finding the roller ball bottles for applying the oil. It is the least messy method I’ve seen and allows you to apply a little pressure to the exact place needed. It’s so useful with not using too much and wasting the oil as well. I had to learn that the oil works best if only a little is used at a time, as it’s meant to penetrate the skin, not sit on top of it.

BK: How did you come up with the name empower oil? Is there a story behind the appellation?

TO: There is the long story and the short story for the name “Empower Oil.”

The long story is this:  In 2003, I grew three small 12” plants. I used cannabis medicinally at the time, but didn’t think I qualified for the license because my issues were about severe chronic pain. I didn’t know it was a qualifying condition and I didn’t have health insurance, so I made a choice to try to make my own.

I was caught with the plants, which were sitting next to a 40-watt shop light, so if you know anything about growing cannabis, you know that I knew nothing about it at that time. I awaited trial for 11 months for one count of felony manufacturing of a controlled substance, one count of intent to distribute (because three baby plants next to a shop light are a sign of a big time dealer!) and one count of possession of over an ounce because they left the roots and stalks on the plant matter when they weighed it.

I believe the total was a gram or two over an ounce. The jury reached the verdict in eight minutes, although it took 20 minutes to get back up to the court room for the verdict. I was found not guilty by an angry jury of my peers. They were angry because it was estimated the state spent between $40,000 and $60,000 on my trial. And my family had to spend quite a bit as well.

When the jury came back with the verdict, I was so relieved. And then came my anger. With the threat of prosecution off the table, I was outraged because the next day, on the front page of the local section of the newspaper, there was an article about my acquittal. I was not interviewed for it. It listed my name, age, and neighborhood.

I was “outed” as a cannabis user and someone who had been arrested on felony charges. The entire experience had forever changed my life. From then on, I now had to explain myself on every job application, volunteer application, housing/rental application, even though I was acquitted. I now wore a “Scarlet M” for all to see.

So I decided to put my energy into making sure this didn’t happen to others. During the 10 months I waited to stand trial, I was afraid and disempowered. Luckily for me, my attorney, Leland Berger is a prominent cannabis activist who introduced me to a number of people who helped me channel my anger to help make a difference.

After I was acquitted, I became empowered and used my outrage to speak publicly on the issue, lobby my state and federal representatives, work on a campaign for the legalization of dispensaries in Oregon and join national protests, I even got arrested (on purpose) in Washington D.C. with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) alongside Steph Sherer and 13 other inspiring activists.

During that trip to D.C. and the six hour jail stay for blocking the stairs into Health and Human Services by sitting down, I, along with another woman who had protested that day, talked about starting a marijuana legalization advocacy group by and for women. At that time, it was well known that women were the primary voting block against the legalization of marijuana. If we could show other women the safety, utility and power of this wonderful plant, perhaps we could start changing the future of the legality of cannabis. Women ended alcohol prohibition and gained the right to vote, why not end cannabis prohibition?

The problem was that neither of us had any experience or money to start such an organization, so nothing came of it. The name “EMPOWER” was originally a mouthful of an acronym: Ending Marijuana Prohibition by Organizing Women to Enact Reform. The name stuck with me all along. Now, we are fortunate enough to have the Women’s Alliance at NORML, women’s cannabis magazines like Ladybud– not all bikini clad women selling grow lights or fertilizers. Now we have professionals who have come out of the cannabis closet to speak up and make a difference. It’s beautiful to see!

Join Empower Oil's mailing list!

Join Empower Oil’s mailing list!

The short story is this: Since I had the name and the passion behind it never ceased, after trying numerous other names, everything from “magic snake oil” to “boomer oil blend,” I finally came back around to “Empower.” Because using Empower Oil reduces pain and helps with other ailments, it empowers you to do what you want to do again.

My mom uses the oil and is able to do so much more than if she didn’t. When she doesn’t use it, she is barely able to walk and feels pain all over her body. She is empowered now, and that brings tears to my eyes.

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” ~Ayn Rand

BK: Where is Empower Oil available?

TO: Currently the oil is available at select Portland, Oregon area dispensaries, Collective Awakenings as well as Portland Canna Connection, both in Portland. There are a few private delivery services in town who have taken to keeping Empower Oil in stock. Three other dispensaries in the Portland area are also going to carry in the near future.

Private Patients and Providers can contact Trista at for more information and ordering. The website is a start-up in progress- Like Empower Oil on Facebook