Alejandro Garcia is a consultant for a number of dispensaries and labs in New Mexico. His years of practical experience making cannabis concentrates for local producers have helped him facilitate product extractions, leading to better concentrates at your favorite dispensaries.

The [Rolling Paper]: What attracted you to the cannabis industry in the beginning?

Garcia: Well, like a lot of people, cannabis kind of fell in my lap, I guess. I left the military in 2008. I spent four years in the Air Force doing several different job. And when I left, I left a very changed person than when I first entered. I had experienced some really close losses in my life—people that I was very close to—during my time in the service.

So I came out with some PTSD and some demons that I was carrying. Unlike a lot of people, I really didn’t have a lot of experience with recreational drugs growing up. I wasn’t exposed to cannabis as a teenager or in high school or in middle school. I knew about it. I was one of those guys who thought that people smoked the actual leaf as opposed to the bud. I’d actually never seen a bud in my life.

So when I left the military, I came back to Albuquerque—back home—kind of a broken man. I was prescribed a lot of anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety medications. I was a shell of myself, and I spent about two to three years lost in the civilian world trying to cope with what had happened to me in a world, or civilization, or a society that didn’t really understand the trauma that I had been exposed to.

It was then that, at lunch one day, a co-worker of mine offered to smoke a joint with me in his car. Trying not to seem like a square, I went ahead and partook. We went for a ride. I smoked. And I had probably never in my life been so uncomfortable.

However, I remember that after the strongest aspects of being high for the first time had subsided, my thoughts were a lot calmer—not as racy. I was able to savor my thoughts, as opposed to just gulping them down. They weren’t racing through my mind—thought after thought after thought.

So I decided to try it again. And sure enough, just like with everybody, the second time, it was not as strong. It was more enjoyable. Everything just seemed to slow down for me. At that time I think that’s what I needed in my life.

I decided to do research into it. At that time there wasn’t really a whole lot of information out there for me to just read. And a lot of the stuff that was out there was all anecdotal, meaning people’s opinions, essentially. It took me a long time, doing my own research, doing a lot of trial and error—trying to grow different strains and then extraction.

It’s just one of those things that—because of my medical needs, cannabis just kind of fell in my lap. I was looking for a way of saving myself from the prescriptions that I was being given. And cannabis was essentially my saving grace. I almost feel indebted to it. It’s my life’s goal to continue in this industry that’s given me my life back

What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into the cannabis industry?

Well, we’re definitely fortunate now. There’s a lot of resources that weren’t available when I was going through this. The rate of innovation that we have seen in the last 10 years is mind blowing. You can literally Google cannabis and be inundated with hundreds if not thousands of ways for you to start looking into it.

My advice for somebody who is looking into getting into cannabis would be to—especially in the day of social media that we live in—try and look for groups on social media, whether it be Facebook or Instagram. Find a local group of people who are enthusiastic about cannabis and start networking with them.

Most of these local groups are very welcoming of people wanting to learn more about how cannabis works or are looking to get into the industry. Networking to me has been invaluable—connecting with people, sharing in similar interests and then finally now out that they have similar ambitions or similar goals—has really helped me out and getting in into the industry itself.

It’s really just surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are looking for the same thing that you are, and a lot of these social media groups are a good start.

There’s a lot of books and studies out there, too. I try and stick with things that are peer-reviewed—that aren’t just anecdotal information.

Back when I started, there wasn’t a whole lot of research that I could just look into to create my equipment, so essentially I would look at YouTube videos, look at what they were making. If I had it available to me, I would buy it, and if not, I would manufacture it out of steel or copper, or anything that I had available to me. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier and it’s a lot more affordable for somebody to procure a basic system to to try and learn.

So if you’re trying to get into the industry, my advice to you is to do some social networking, look at information online from reputable resources and visit some of these manufacturing websites. And if you see something that is out of your price range, look at individual components. A lot of these things can be procured at brewery websites.