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Career Day

On the cutting edge of the marijuana industry

Why a chemist gave up her med school dreams to make health products from cannabis oil.

By Jenni Gritters

Laurel (Lo) Friesen is the founder, CEO, and Chief Extractor of Heylo Cannabis in Seattle, Wash. 

How did you end up starting your own cannabis company? 
I’ve always been a total science nerd, but I actually planned on taking the medical route. I was pre-med in college, then I worked for the gastroenterology department of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. While there, I learned that some digestive diseases are benefited by cannabis use. At the time, I was using cannabis for my own anxiety. Then my dad, who’s a physician, started to talk about cannabis, too. He suggested we go to a cannabis conference together.

What does your company do?
We are a marijuana processor, which means we convert marijuana plant material into something else, and then send it to a retail store. I think the future is extraction because of how many products you can make from cannabis oil, so that’s what we focus on. 

What does it mean to extract oil from cannabis? 
We use CO2 to penetrate plant material in a closed loop and then we extract cannabinoids like THC and CBD, as well as waxes from plants and water. This takes anywhere from eight to 18 hours, and it’s all intended to create an extract that’s as close to the plant as possible. Cannabis is an incredibly complex plant, so it’s important to have a balanced profile in your product in order to get a well-rounded experience. 

“I think we need better technology for vapes, to give consumers more control over their use and dosages.”

Do people ever judge you for working in the cannabis industry? 
I’m from the Midwest, so when I go home, there’s the potential that I’ll encounter people who are anti-cannabis. But there are clinical trials coming out now [examining] how this plant can have profound medical impacts.  

What question do you get most often about marijuana use? 
People know what alcohol will do to them, but a lot of people don’t know the answers to questions like, “What will I feel like if I use cannabis?” People also wonder about CBD and if they will feel its effects. I think we need better technology for vapes, to give consumers more control over their use and dosages. That will open the doors for the rest of the country to feel like they can use cannabis in a controlled fashion. 

Do you ever wish you’d gone to medical school instead? 
People ask me that a lot, and the answer is no. I feel like I’m able to use my experience with medicine and make a difference in patient care with the products we make. I’m also passionate about creating access to information. It’s a joy to be able to use my science background in a tip-of-the-iceberg way. 

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Jenni Gritters is a writer based in Seattle.

 

Illustration by Verónica Grech

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