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Products with purpose: Q&A with Carolina Vazquez Mitchell, Chief Science Officer of Ciencia Labs

By
Dutchie
October 14, 2022

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Ciencia Labs, a Los Angeles-based cannabis product manufacturer and house of brands with science-backed products developed for sleep, pain, anxiety, and fun. As Chief Scientist, Carolina oversees the development, improvement, manufacturing and overall compliance of products and ensures that any company continues to lead the fledgling market in product innovation while upholding the highest standards of compliance and food safety. Her current role includes guiding all lab testing, food safety, quality control, packaging, and adherence to the law around cannabis products within the state of California while continuing to spearhead development around new products.

So Carolina, let's start from the beginning. You're from Guadalajara—tell us more about where you grew up and what your experience was like growing up in Mexico.

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Yeah, so I grew up in Mexico. I'm actually an immigrant. I came here about 12 years ago and I was a full-grown adult. I came here around when I was 24 years old. I finished two bachelor's degrees, one in pharmacology, and the other one in industrial chemistry. So since I was about 14 years old, I've been only studying the sciences. All my preparation into high school and college where all my classes were in pharmacokinetics and chemistry, organic chemistry, math. So I didn't really have any geography classes or philosophy classes. My background is very specific into science and I have been working in labs for about 20 years, ever since I was 16 years old and growing up in Mexico. Then something that people forget here is that the U.S. is a first-world country. Mexico is a third-world country. So it is hard. Schools are very different. Teachers are very different. And trying to get ahead is very difficult as well. We don't have that. The government doesn't really help. There are literally people who don't have anything to eat. Some days it was even difficult for my family. I come from a family that wasn't wealthy at all. And I even remember trying to ask for food credit in some of the grocery stores in the corner because we didn't have food sometimes. People have big families. Government doesn't really help. We don't have food stamps. So you really don't have food sometimes. So you you really go hungry in Mexico. And that's something that some people forget, people are very lucky here. You see it, I see it. I grew up in Mexico and when I come here, I'm like, well, I mean, you still have food stamps, you still have food, you still have milk for your baby. You still have some help from the government. So it was hard to to grow up in a country like that.

Your initial interest was genetics, and you later made a switch towards pharmacology and food science. What was the inspiration behind that?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Well, when I was 12 years old, a teacher asked me, 'what do you want to do when you grow up'? And I said, 'I want to be a geneticist, and a geneticist is a scientist that will literally look at your genes and analyze them. You can do different type of research. You can focus on plants and animals and see how their genetic background or their genes are going to be expressed, and how combining different plants or animals will express those genes and what would happen. You can also can work with humans. You can even be a genetic consultant where you evaluate the genes or the genome of an egg donor and a sperm donor and confirm or give advice on mutations; like the type of genes that the babies will have, what type of diseases they might have, etc. And I love all of that, like how your genes are expressed in your body and how your body interacts with the environment as a result.

But once I started more into industrial chemistry, I was looking at these big manufacturing facilities of tequila and beer, because that's very popular in Mexico. We have big industries especially in my hometown, where these tequilas are from. So we have big distilleries and I saw these big instruments and how you track alcohol and all your other compounds like essential oils. That made me more interested in that type of industry. Then I started studying pharmacology. I started studying how molecules interact with the body. So for me, that was kind of like a step forward into how genes interact with the environment. But now we have molecules that would interact with your body and you react differently to those molecules. And some of those molecules are toxins, but some of the other molecules would interact differently and help you with diseases. I mean, I fall in love with all the drugs and the transition between working or being very focused on genetics. I try to discover how the external factors can affect your body. And then I was very interested in synthesizing those as a pharmacologist. And then the natural transition was to step into the cannabis industry. I saw a space where I get to use my chemistry background for extractions and to study cannabinoids, how they're being extracted, and how the type of extraction will affect the final effect. And the fact is, the way the cannabinoids would interact with endocannabinoid system and other receptors that you have in your body and how they combine with other molecules will produce a specific effect. The development of foods that can carry these cannabinoids and not only be chemically effective, but also taste good, is everything I'm passionate about: chemistry, pharmacology and creating products with flavors that make life fun and entertaining.

The development of foods that can carry these cannabinoids and not only be chemically effective, but also taste good, is everything I'm passionate about: chemistry, pharmacology and creating products with flavors that make life fun and entertaining.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Well, why not? That's the better question. But when I was I came here, actually, to study a PhD in Chemistry. And towards the end of the PhD, I actually came to the United States, and I started working as a researcher at the University of Southern California. And I was actually working on genetics, like the genes and CRISPR. I worked with a woman who won the Nobel Prize for research, and I was a collaborator. So I was very into the research. But it was, I don't know, maybe 1% of the population really cares about that type of research. Like this woman won the Nobel Prize, and almost nobody has heard of it. The only people who know are those in the scientific community.

My research was also extremely focused. Nobody outside my lab probably cared about my research. Towards the end of the PhD program, I had to present a project. And that project was a very applied science—a transdermal patch that would become activated upon detection of lower levels of sugar in your blood, and will release insulin into your system only when you really need it. So when I presented this project to my advisors, they said, okay, well, this is too much of applied science, you need to think more like a chemist. And I was like, okay, so are you saying that if I want to stay in the program, I have to just do useless things that nobody care about as far as chemistry? They were like, well, pretty much. If I wanted to create a device, I had to change programs. And I was like, well, I'm out. I'd been working there for almost seven years of research, three years of research and four years in the PhD program. And you're telling me that I shouldn't do anything useful with my degree? I left.

So would you say your goal was to have a bigger human impact?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Well, yeah. I mean, I didn't want to just stay and do things that someone else tell me to do. And I always wanted to do something that works for people in medicine. And I found my space in cannabis because I have been studying cannabinoids now for about four or five years—there's a lot of research on it, I'm very passionate about it, and I know I can use cannabinoids in combination with other molecules to help people. And when I started working for Power Brands and doing consulting for these other huge brands in the food industry. I loved what I was doing and it was very fun. But again, it was just kind of food. I didn't feel like, oh, I'm really helping someone. Like, how do you think you can help someone by making a new flavor of Doritos? I don't know. I felt kind of empty. And then I worked at Kushy Punch, so I learned a lot about big manufacturing, particuarly the manufacturing of edibles. And then I worked as a lab director in a cannabis testing lab, where I observed the parameters of how your product in cannabis is being handled and tested. With my experience at these different companies, I had everything that was needed to create my own company and finally make products that I believed would actually help people.

In your consulting days, did you find that cannabis businesses were accurately using the science to make good products?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: It's funny, what I observed when I actually started helping cannabis companies is that they forgot that they were actually working with the pharmaceutical compound of the drug. They were just looking at, does it taste good? These companies weren't thinking about edibles. They were selling joints. And because a joint cannot really get contaminated with bacteria, it doesn't have moisture, and is not going to spoil. It might get dry and stale, and that won't taste good, but it won't make you sick. The problem is that people were treating edibles as if they could not be contaminated with salmonella or other bacterias. And that was very surprising. They weren't thinking of edibles as food. They were not producing edibles like you produce food in the food industry with basic food protocols— even using a hairnet. But the fact is, we are working with a drug inside of food and even though it's not regulated by the FDA, we have to comply with the standards of both of the drugs when it comes with consistency, effect percentages and and and be compliant and also food which have to have a lot of requirements. They have to pass microbiology tests and foreign material tests and moisture tests. So it was very shocking for me to see that people who were creating edibles were doing so without considering how to make them safe to consume.

I found that cannabis companies forgot they were actually working with the pharmaceutical compound of the drug. All that mattered was whether the edibles tasted good [...] so it was very shocking for me to see that the people who were creating food were doing so without considering how to make it safe to consume.

That's actually a great segway into Ciencia Labs! Can you tell us a little bit more about Ciecia Labs and why it's so important to you?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Yeah. Well, when we were looking for a name, I immediately thought about that. And since the labs, that code was. So I go, bing, bing, bing. Yeah. I think everything I do, even when I cook, I use science. Like everything I do, everything I see in how I see the world. I see it through the lenses of the scientists. And I think you cannot create a brand that contains cannabinoids and affect your body in such a. Amazing way, like cannabinoids, even in their low concentrations, can affect your body and your understanding of the world. And you cannot divorce those two. You cannot be working in the cannabis industry, developing products without having a scientific background or without using science to create your products. So for me, it was evident I cannot I cannot make any product without you seeing the science to make them safe, to make them efficient, to make them compliant, and even to make them taste good. Because you have you also have to understand the chemistry of the compounds and how the different extraction will affect the taste of the different and the cannabis extracts. So you have to understand everything from the flavor, from the stability effect, everything. Ideally, I want I will like to use science in everything, right? And I kind of that's how I live. So it's is the way I live. Like your labs for me is not only a company that makes cannabis products or create products, it is a way of living for me is definitely yeah.

What's your favorite way to consume cannabis?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell:  My favorite product is the Dre, the dream vape pen because it's so fast and I have been using it since I started the company in '19. Every single night. And it works every single day. Sometimes I would get very high on edibles. One time, I had an infused dinner and got extremely high. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't fall asleep. I was so high that I thought, okay, let me just take Dream. It was the only thing that made me sleep. So I have so much faith in that product, in the inhalable, and it's so fast, so effective. That's my favorite—vapes. But gummies are also very fun. I love creating new flavors of gummies, especially if they have that sour tartness.

Do you have a favorite cannabinoid?

Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: Well, CBD is the mother of all the cannabinoids. But at first, a lot of people didn't really pay attention to it. They were looking at all the other cannabinoids that are produced by CBD. But there's some research that has gained traction lately, in the last decade or so, on CBD being used specifically for anxiety, panic attacks, and stress disorders. Based on the wavelength of the brain, we know that CBD increases alpha waves, and that alpha wave is actually the state where we are very relaxed or in meditation. When you're meditating, you can get into that state and it facilitates and increases the alpha waves. We don't understand the mechanism as well as we do with THC, but we do know in the scientific community that CBD has helped people with anxiety disorders and depression.

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