From brilliant woman-owned brands to the hardworking ladies in cultivation, innovative women are building a better industry. On the science end of the spectrum, women and nonbinary experts are helping advance cannabis science, whether it be through breakthrough scientific research or breaking down stigmas and misconceptions for the general public. We can thank Dr. Cristina Sánchez, the molecular biologist who has made it possible for us to understand how cannabinoids can help beat cancer and Dr. Allyn Howlett, who discovered the CB1 receptor, which significantly improved our understanding of the endocannabinoid system.
Read on to learn about more innovators who are pushing cannabis science forward in their everyday work.
Dr. Chanda Macias
An all-around powerhouse, Dr. Chanda Macias was the first woman of color medical operator in the US with National Holistic Healing Center(NHHC), as well as the first woman of color multi-state operator with Ilera Holistic Healthcare.
With a PhD in cellular biology and a wealth of experience, Dr. Macias provides necessary cannabis education through her online educational programs. She’s hosted a webinar looking at how cannabis can impact patients with COVID-19, a virtual class about using cannabis for autism, and plenty of content centering around the endocannabinoid system. Check out her large array of cannabis educational content to see just how much expertise she shares with the public.
Her knowledge is well-rounded and rooted in years of hands-on experience. She previously served as the Director of STEM Education in the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences at Howard University and also trained students in infectious diseases in Africa through a NIH-Minority Health International Training grant. Today, she uses her knowledge to support the cannabis industry’s growth, serving as the co-Vice Chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) Board, among other involvements, including advocacy for better legislation, regulation, and compliance in her local markets.
I first found Jazmin Oliver on my For You Page on Tik Tok. (I swear I’m not too old to be on that app…) She was discussing why we should stop using the terms “indica, sativa, and strains,” because, as she put it, “they don’t exist.” Though a hot and arguable take, she went on to explain why consumers need to focus on the chemical composition of their weed, not necessarily the strain or classification.
And while her Tik Tok and Instagram provide great scientific information for users, her accounts aren’t huge. Most of her work advancing cannabis science comes from her educational content, which goes far beyond any app.
In 2019, she launched Cannabis Science Consultants, where she and her team focus on extraction, process design, and product refinement. Oliver is also adjunct professor of cannabis extraction and product production at Saint Louis University, helping to create more young, science-minded industry professionals. She also writes science-forward articles about various conditions, like this piece about cannabis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. We could all use more unbiased, science-backed articles on health conditions, especially when the first page of Google is flooded with marketing materials on the topic.
Dr. Daniela Vergara
An evolutionary biologist for cannabis genomics, Dr. Daniela Vergara conducts her research at the University of Colorado Boulder. She also founded the Agricultural Genomics Foundation (AGF), a nonprofit that aims to share cannabis science with the wider public. Beyond the educational courses and research papers, the AGF also has a blog and a host of podcast episodes that break down cannabis science topics.
In addition to her research and nonprofit work, Dr. Vergara is also an Emerging Crop Specialist as part of Cornell University’s Harvest New York Extension Team. There, she helps hemp farmers perfect their crop. This should come in handy as existing hemp farmers are approved to transition into producing for New York’s legal cannabis industry.
Speaking of crop quality, one of Dr. Vergara’s research publications included a comparison of federal cannabis versus crop from the private market. She found that the government’s cannabis lacked potency and variation. Though we could’ve guessed that the government sucks at growing weed, it’s nice to have this verified by thorough research.
Dr. Miyabe Shields, Ph. D.
Our friends at Respect My Region first put Miyabe Shields on our radar when they highlighted two cool scientists using Tik Tok to educate about cannabis. Dr. Miyabe Shields, Ph.D. makes great use of their Tik Tok account to break down complex cannabis topics, making them easy to understand for the general public, including people like me, who failed basic science classes more than once.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for what Shields is doing to advance cannabis science. As the Chief Scientific Officer of Real Isolates LLC/Profound Naturals, they provide biochemical validation and formulation for plant-based medicines. They’re also the co-inventor of Smokenol, a patent-pending method of extracting active ingredients from cannabis smoke to be used in products like tinctures, gummies, and topicals.
And it doesn’t stop there. Dr. Shields’ Tik Tok videos are great for those with limited attention spans, but they go even deeper into cannabinoid science on their podcast, Smoke N’ Science, alongside Dr. Riley Kirk, another amazing scientist featured in Respect My Region’s article.
Liz Luscher, Ph.D.
Cannabis companies greatly benefit from scientific experts that can bridge the gap between complex jargon and the general public. At Curio Wellness, that expert is Liz Luscher, Ph.D., the Associate Director of Applied Science.
With more than fifteen years of experience in plant science, Luscher has pushed the cannabis field forward with various titles. In her current role, she leads the harvest and post-harvest process for plants from Curio’s R&D rooms. She performs pheno-hunting, screens genetics, and carries out experiments to increase the multiplication rate of certain cannabis cultivars in tissue culture. A real-life application: earlier this year, Luscher and her team populated Curio’s expanded cultivation facility with more than 10,000 new cannabis plants grown straight from tissue culture.
Earlier this year, Luscher and her team also engaged in a two-year research project partnership with Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. According to Curio Wellness, this is the first known collaboration between academia and the cannabis industry. It’s truly one for the books.
Dr. Jessica Knox, MD, MBA, MPH
You may remember Dr. Jessica Knox, MD, MBA, MPH, from the 2020 3D virtual summit, MJ Unpacked California, or the article we posted after the event, which explored the future of terpenes and edibles. It wasn’t a coincidence that we had Dr. Jessica Knox discuss the future of edibles with us, as she has six years of clinical experience in cannabinoid medicine and is the co-founder and CEO of American Cannabinoid Clinics, co-founder of Pivital EDU, founder of Doctors Knox, Inc, and a co-founder of the Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM), a national medical association for BIPOC professionals. Qualified is an understatement.
As an endocannabinologist & cannabinoid medicine specialist, Dr. Knox is spreading the good word of cannabis science education every way she can. She’s a frequent speaker and guest for various summits and events, hosts multicultural cannabis history watch parties, and frequently posts snippets of fascinating information on social media. Check out her Instagram to get a better idea of how active she is in the scientific community.
Jacquie Cohen Roth, MS
The founder and CEO of CannabizMD, Roth has been busy since 2017 building an ecosystem to support Maryland’s medical cannabis industry.. With a founding mission to guide the nascent industry toward growth and sustainability, the company has now grown far beyond Maryland and into an international resource for medical cannabis science information.
Roth was part of the first graduating class of University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy (UMSOP) Master of Science Medical Cannabis and Therapeutics. She’s taken her expertise with her to CannabizMD, hosting webinars, forums, and providing introductions to complex cannabis topics online and in person. In fact, the company’s 3rd Annual CannabizMD Cannabis Science + Policy Forum is coming up next month in Maryland, both in-person and through Zoom.
Wrapping up this list of STEM masters is Bhavana Rao, the former Director of Extraction and Product Development at Christina Lake Cannabis. Now, using her decade of experience as a chemical engineer, food scientist, and product developer in biotechnology, brewing, stem cells and cannabis, Rao is a self-employed consultant who works with companies in Canada, the US, and India. .
Before her time at Christina Lake Cannabis, Rao headed the research and development at Blissco Cannabis Corp, a subsidiary of Supreme Cannabis (now owned by Canopy Growth). On her website, she notes that “there is a gap between consumers, producers, educators and policy makers,” explaining that she helps educate individuals and companies in the highly-regulated industry.
All of these incredible individuals are pushing cannabis science forward and helping to bridge the gaps, as Rao mentions, between consumers, producers, educators, and policymakers. From engaging videos to in-depth product development, these achievers are positively advancing the industry in various ways. This list contains just a handful of the many amazing professionals advancing cannabis science, and we can’t wait to see more women join the science side of things in the future.