Dr. Monica Vialpando is the founder of Via Innovations, a boutique cannabis product development company. She leads a team that brings scientific innovation to cannabis product formulations and designs.
Her love affair with cannabis matches her love for yoga. Monica's leadership empowers women, inspires creativity and that transpires into world class cannabis related research, development, innovation and science.
Tell us a bit about yourself and about Via Innovations!
I received my doctorate in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a research focus on formulation of poorly water-soluble molecules from the University of Leuven. After graduation, my work was heavily centered on developing new medicines and overseeing clinical trials for pharmaceutical industry giants.
With time, I was becoming increasingly interested in bringing together my love of cannabis with my love of product development. The more I shopped for products myself and researched the cannabis space, the more I saw the opportunity and necessity for the integration of high level science and pharmaceutical level product development strategies.
My focus with Via is to use and implement scientific research up front, in the formulation and development of each of our innovative products to therefore create best in class and timeless designs. In doing so, we are ensuring longevity because whereas it might take us longer to develop and launch a product, we are adding a level of sophistication and science to ensure products withstand ever-expanding regulation standards.
In addition, the more that our understanding with the cannabis plant evolves, the more unique ways we discover to formulate the plant for the specific target product profile in mind.
We are essentially expanding the playing field of the market and showing consumers that while yes, cannabis is indeed one of the best plant-based medicines available to us, we must approach it seriously and formulate cannabis-containing products to be safe and efficacious.
One of the pillars to Via Innovation’s blueprint and ultimately to our continued success is an appreciation for diversity and a display of such in our company culture. It is through this commitment to constitutional inclusivity that we differentiate ourselves as well as represent minorities.
Though morally expected, it is not always a common practice in the industry to consider all people when designing products but for our company, we make it a requirement.
What excites you about cannabis as a formulation scientist?
Cannabis is a very mysterious and complex plant and us scientists are just not opening the doors to discovering the myriad of therapeutic properties.
Because our projects are bespoke there is so much variability in the projects that we do so I’m continuously learning more about this plant, specifically around ways it can be used as preventative medicine, especially for women.
How does cannabis interact with skin receptors?
Interestingly, there are numerous cell types and receptors that exist within multiple layers of the skin and within the common appendages (hair follicles, sweat glands, etc.).
Not only are the main cannabinoid receptors present (CB1 and CB2), but other types of receptors that have been found to bind to either endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids (TRPV ionotropic receptors, PPAR receptors, etc.).
The endocannabinoids expression levels are highly regulated and can act as agonists or antagonists on the various receptor types.
How might different cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in specific ways?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a naturally occurring system within the body that balances a number of physiological processes including our mood, memory and appetite. It seeks to establish homeostasis.
Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids such as anandamide, derived from the Sankrit word, Ananda, that translates into joy or bliss. Cannabinoids derived from cannabis such as CBD are considered phytocannabinoids.
While we categorize them into one class, they are in fact extremely diverse in their physicochemical and therefore physiological behavior. The diversity of everybody’s individual endocannabinoid system compounds this complexity.
In topical products, what are some of the benefits of cannabis as an active ingredient?
The skin fulfills many vital functions for the body:
Research has shown that the endocannabinoid system is largely present in the skin and likely contributes to:
What are some of the common misconceptions about cannabis skincare/topicals?
One common misunderstanding is the difference between a topical and a transdermal product.
For consumers, what are 5 things they should know before buying cannabis skincare/topicals?
How do you balance self care and work?
This is a topic that is of utmost importance to me. Maintaining a mind-body-soul connection and prioritizing a work-life balance is something that I have always strived to honor.
Living and working in Europe for 10 years gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by individuals who seek this balance from a cultural standpoint and because of my time spent there, I learned how to better cultivate my regimented lifestyle.
Coincidentally, my first love is teaching Yoga and I am in fact a certified Yoga teacher. I have been practicing Yoga personally for 15 years and began my journey of teaching 8 years ago. I received my first two certificates in Brussels and then went on to receive additional training in 2016 from Asta Yoga in San Francisco.
In conjunction with my regular practicing Yoga, I also meditate and I am very mindful of what I put on and in my body. My diet consists of lots of water, fresh whole foods and mostly a vegetarian diet. I would be vegan if it were not for my love of cheese! I begin each morning with hot tea, to which I add lemon and honey and then I blend a smoothie full of fresh fruits and veggies that nourishes me until lunch.
Photo by: Ash Hobson Carr, @ashhobsoncarr
Share with us some of your favorite projects!
Via Innovations has already experienced several highs this year and we’re looking forward to continuing to soar!
What drives your passion?
First and foremost, knowing that my work has the potential to positively impact the world fuels my passion. Whether that impact is translated through a patient benefitting from my formulations or through a product manufacturer learning something new and innovative about product development safety, I am thrilled that the possibilities here reach far and wide.
Being an entrepreneur allows me to carefully curate an outstanding team of professionals, each of whom display that same desire to impact the industry and people in a positive way. Therefore being surrounded by like-minded individuals makes work feel more enjoyable and less like -- work.
Additionally, the myriad of creative formulations that can be designed using cannabis and other plant based products truly affords me the opportunity to always return to what I love most and that is channeling my creative energy. In doing so, I am able to advance my vision and my mission which supports breaking the barriers and prejudices of women in science and to inspire motivation, drive and resilience in women, especially minorities.
I have also been very active in thought leadership in education. My teaching as an adjunct professor at Loyalist College brings in the ability to extend my reach even farther. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the progress and achievement of young scientists over time.
What's one piece of advice/motto you live by?
Going back to my love of Yoga, I frequently draw on mindfulness techniques and motivation from fellow teachers and Yogi’s. One of my favorite quotes is from the autobiography of a Yogi that states:
“One’s values are profoundly changed when one is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture. And that not in it, but beyond it, lies one’s own reality.”
Referencing this quote helps guide me through the dynamics of learning and living, both on a professional and personal level. This idea helps remind me that life is beautiful and best lived with my attention focused on being centered and true to my purpose.
How did you come into the cannabis industry?
My love affair with cannabis began when I moved to California for my undergraduate studies. I quickly noticed the therapeutic benefits however such as the relief from extreme pain from my period.
Fast forward to later in my career, the more time I spent working in the pharmaceutical industry, the more awakened I was to the reality that coupling biosciences with pharmaceutical sciences could revolutionize the future of cannabis. Because of my pharmaceutical research and vast experience involving the formulation of compounds that do not dissolve in water, cannabinoids being one of those compounds, there was an immediate and obvious potential lying there in front of me to undertake. I wanted to translate all of my knowledge over to cannabis and design a caliber of products that truly seemed to be missing from the market.
Then, in 2013, I met a friend and fellow cannabis industry entrepreneur by the name of Johanna Nuding, Founder of Casually Baked, while we both were in Italy. I had been there performing a research study at the University of Bologna and by chance, we both had a strong desire to pursue careers in cannabis.
After that fateful meeting, I began giving serious thought to the idea and eventually began phasing out of my pharmaceutical industry job. Now, I couldn’t be more proud to share that Via Innovations just recently celebrated its third birthday and we took some time this year to honor our growth by rebranding.
Our initial name was Vialpando and the rebranding experience was a wonderful way to retain hold of our roots and vision while essentially blooming into a now more mature and robust version of our company.
Since our launch, we have been diligently working in the lab and behind the scenes but we are just getting started and we can hardly wait to see what the future holds for cannabis and for our company!
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