Interview with Carolina Vasquez Mitchell, Founder at Ciencia Labs (dreamt, LUCHADOR & Quell)
What inspired you to jump into the wild world of California cannabis?
Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a “mad” scientist. So, when I was 15 in Mexico, I started studying chemistry. I was in a four-year technical program and my specific area of study was industrial chemistry. During that time, I worked at big distilleries. We learned how to distill and to produce sugars out of agave plants to produce tequila. The distillation process is very similar to the process you use to distill cannabinoids, just different boiling points.
I finished the program and I got my bachelor’s in pharmacology. Eventually, I came to the United States and I worked for a couple of years as a researcher at the University of Southern California. I entered the chemistry program there to get my PhD. I began to get bored of the research, because I had already been studying chemistry for 15 years at that point. I quit the PhD program and got my master’s in science. I got into consulting for food startups to help them produce products that were much more stable, tasted better and had better chemistry.
I started working with companies that make food with cannabis. That’s where I got my start in the cannabis industry. I got hired by a big company that sold gummies in California and I was their Chief Scientific Officer. I learned everything in cannabis. I already knew the processes, but I focused more into the cannabis industry.
What motivated you to start your own business?
The FDA is not regulating cannabis food products. I think this is a very big mistake. I’ve seen a lot of unsafe practices. It’s more likely that you’d die from food poisoning than you would an overdose of cannabis, which we know is almost impossible. I was confident that I have all the skills necessary to start a company, where I can make good and safe products.
These products aren’t eaten a day after they’re produced; sometimes they’re consumed six months to even a year after. If you don’t make a product safely or package it safely, the product can get contaminated, and people can get sick. I thought there were a lot of things they were doing wrong in the cannabis industry and I was like, “why not do it myself?”.
How did you land on the name “Ciencia Labs” and what brands are being produced by Ciencia?
Ciencia means science in Spanish and “Ciencia” just sounds better than “Science”. It’s important to me that all of my products are based around science. We use science, we have a lab and we produce cannabis infused products based on science. The idea was to create products that can solve different problems. I did a lot of research on cannabinoids – mostly THC, CBD, and CBN. I spent two years researching how can we use cannabinoids for different effects and how we can improve the health of people with these cannabinoids.
The first one, and one of the most popular is dreamt which is for sleep. People that have problems sleeping, they use cannabis, so we decided okay we’re going to focus on that. We’re going to create one of the most effective cannabis infused products in the market for sleep.
The second brand is LUCHADOR which was created because a lot of people told us that our products have very low THC and we were like “Well, yeah because we don’t want to get you high, we want to help you sleep.” Finally, we thought if people want more cannabis, let’s give them what they want. So, we decided to make a very fun product with fun Mexican flavors. There was a lot of pushback about the flavor names, people would say they were “too ethnic” but since it’s my company, I’ve decided I want to go full ethnic! I’m Mexican and I’ve loved Luchadors since I was a kid. I used to love to make comics with Luchadors. There was no other brand with that name or anything similar. I thought it was super fun for cannabis. I was told to make the brand more feminine because I’m a woman. I went against that because I wanted a brand from everybody. I know I’m a woman, and I know this is a company founded by a woman, but I want to include everybody.
The third brand is called Quell. We called it Quell because it was made for stress and anxiety. The other reason why people use cannabis, specifically the heavy CBD strains, is for stress or anxiety. This is the new brand we are about to launch very soon and it’s a very interesting brand.
In the future, we’re going to launch another brand that’s going to be for pain management. The formulations we’ve created target pain a lot faster than other formulations.
What’s your day-to-day like as an owner/operator?
At the beginning, I created all the production plans, the setup of the facility, ordered all the machines. I bought every single item we have here in the facility. Since the start, I was the cook, I was the quality control, I was the food safety person. I was almost everything with respect to production. I did and still do all of those things even though I’m the founder. but, I mean, I really believe that’s how founders should be, right?
I only have seven people in production, so they do a lot of things and I try to help them as well. Everything that they have done, I have done it before; from washing dishes to cleaning the floor to making the gummies. Everyday I’m extremely busy with the day-to-day operations, we are a still a very small company.
If you had to describe the Ciencia team in one word, what would it be and why?
We hustle every day, and every day is a hustle. I love my team.
Who are your products designed for?
I try to focus on the problem rather than on the people. Every time I see a problem, I’m always looking for the right formulation for the solution.
What would you say to someone who is concerned about including melatonin in cannabis products?
Well yes, there are some people that have more sensitivity to melatonin, however; melatonin has many benefits. I take it every day because there are some negative effects of THC that are neutralized by melatonin. If you don’t want to use melatonin but you still have issues falling asleep, we have other options. We have the gummy, for example, which is one of our best sellers and doesn’t have melatonin.
What is your process for pairing active ingredients with human problems like insomnia and anxiety?
A lot of research. I read through hundreds of articles. Everything that’s a drug has side effects. Some have less than others, but even THC and CBD which are natural, have side effects. I look for all of the benefits and the side effects. With anxiety, some people get anxious because they’re very stressed and some people don’t have the neurotransmitters necessary to regulate their anxiety, or they have an imbalance of hormones. Anxiety can be very complicated. There’s a receptor called GABA which regulates a lot of different neurotransmitters. The receptor GABA is very close to the benzodiazepine receptor. When you have anxiety, you don’t have enough molecules binding to the GABA receptor to help you to feel relaxed – that’s the general idea. There are many ways that you can stimulate the receptor. I looked for all of the molecules that help to simulate that receptor. The base of the Quell gummy is CBD which is known to have relaxing effects and reduce anxiety. It also has CBG which helps with relaxation and one milligram of THC which is just enough so it relaxes you without making you feel anxious.
It’s obvious to me that education is hugely important to you and how you run your business is there anything about cannabis that you think is misunderstood?
Cannabinoids are wonderful molecules and something that I hear people saying is that it’s too new and nobody understands the effects of cannabinoids. This just isn’t true; we’ve been intensely researching it for 60 years. There are hundreds and thousands of articles which focus on the many, many different effects. If someone tells you that cannabis can help you with everything, you probably shouldn’t buy that product – I wouldn’t trust it. Cannabinoids are helpful but they’re not magic. They also have side effects and some people may not feel great taking CBD even though they advertise everywhere that it helps with everything. It’s just not true. We cannot federally legalize the plant if people are constantly making these claims.
Has it been challenging to have a science background in an industry that the scientific community has been cut off from in terms of research?
Even though I’m a chemist, a pharmacologist and have 20 years of experience, I don’t have anything against vapes or inhalation. However, there is a lot of taboo around inhalation. For me, inhalation is just another method of administration. There’s a lot of research where they use inhalation methods. For example, they’re looking into make inhalable forms of antibiotics which can target tuberculosis, which is in the lungs so there’s a lot of research into inhalables. Some things can kill you but they can also improve your health. It’s all about dosage and the molecule.
What has been the most rewarding part of this whole crazy cannabis journey that you’ve been on so far?
When I see people reviewing our products, I always think, “Oh no, they’re going to complain about our product” but so often I see people saying things like “Just wanted to tell you that you saved my life, I wasn’t able to sleep for years and now I’m able to sleep for eight hours it’s incredible.” ..thanking us for what we’ve created. It’s one of the most rewarding things because I know how it feels not to be able to sleep. If you’re not able to sleep, nothing matters. So that makes me very happy and very proud that I’m able to improve the lives of so many people. I’m really looking forward to hearing about the positive experiences and relief people get from Quell too.
Ciencia is known for putting on these amazing LUCHADOR wrestling shows, if we gave you a blank check for one show, what would that show look like?
I would rent the biggest stadium in Los Angeles, and I would invite a lot of real Mexican wrestlers and make it a free event so everybody can enjoy it. I would also allow consumption of cannabis. It would have pinatas full of candy and prizes. I would get like 50 cent and Pitbull. It would be great.
Do you use cannabis yourself and your personal life?
Of course, every single day since I started this company, I have used dreamt for sleep. I do it every day and have for almost three years now. It helps me.
Who do you look up to?
When I was in my PhD program, one of the articles that I published when I was doing my dissertation was a review by a woman named Jennifer Dounda. She won the Nobel Prize in 2020. I was very delighted and very proud that a woman won a Nobel Prize. I actually told my husband two years prior that whoever is the pioneer on this research is going to win the Nobel Prize, because this is so new, and she did.
She always maintained her opinions and continued with her research and I really look up to her for that.
dreamt’s science-backed formulas use cannabinoids and natural sleep-inducing compounds to help you fall asleep quickly and enjoy a complete night’s rest.
by Ciencia Labs
With fuego Mexican flavors like Cucumber Chili Lime and Horchata, and an excellent price point, LUCHADOR is the super fun social equity brand your customers have been waiting for.
by Ciencia Labs
COMING SOON: Quell
Quell is a calming, stress relieving formulation that combines CBD, CBG and THC with natural compounds that increase dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters that promote relaxation.
by Ciencia Labs