Priyanka Nalawade travelled around the world to work in cannabis, although that path wasn’t clearly defined at the start of her journey.
Born into an academically-inclined family in Maharashtra, India, Priyanka pursued science after high school, choosing engineering over medicine.
After earning a Bachelor of Technology in Polymer Engineering at the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in Mumbai, Priyanka made her way to the United States to pursue a PhD at the University of Akron. Her research focused on using soybean oil to synthesize novel compounds for the application of paint, and Ohio was the perfect place to be as it is the hub of the paint industry (and, fun fact, Akron is the “Rubber Capital of the World”).
With extensive experience in synthesizing and characterizing novel high performance polymers obtained from renewable sources, Priyanka decided to make the transition from paint to plants.
Why did you transition from paint to cannabis?
In 2016, my husband and I were looking to leave the United States so we applied for our permanent residency in Canada. We spent about a year visiting different parts of the country and also learning more about the political landscape. I read about Bill C-45 and impending cannabis legalization and it seemed like an interesting opportunity to apply my skill set to a new industry.
In India, ganja is quite prevalent but I didn’t have much personal experience with it. Once I started reading about it, I learned about its different applications and how it is truly helping and enhancing people’s lives. I read about Charlotte’s Web and about people making their own medicine. I felt like that was something I could contribute to.
How does your previous experience translate into a cannabis career?
I started working at Sherwin Williams in 2015, after earning my PhD. My department was customer complaints and root cause analysis, meaning when a complaint came in about a product, I had to determine whether it was a batch problem on our end or an issue with the customer’s application. We worked with a lot of B2B clients like automotive manufacturers, so there was a high cost to product failure. Analytical testing was the crux of my work, and every case was like solving a mystery. It was fun! I also learned the importance of quality control and customer satisfaction.
When I started looking at cannabis careers, I was looking for chemistry and chemical engineering positions and there was actually quite a lot of demand for that skill set.
What enticed you to take a job with Adastra?
When my husband and I first started exploring Canada, we visited Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton–in the wintertime. We had the opportunity to visit Whistler, BC during the warmer months and absolutely fell in love, so we both started searching for job openings in the province.
Based on the job description, I knew I would be an asset to the Adastra team. I had applied and interviewed at a few other cannabis startups but what I particularly liked about Adastra is that they had a plan with a clear timeline.
At that time, most cannabis companies were talking about cultivation, and Adastra was focused on extraction and analytical testing.
What personal experience do you have with cannabis?
Prior to entering the industry, I didn’t have any personal experience with cannabis. Once I started learning about the fundamentals of the plant, particularly on the medicinal side, I became very interested in how I could incorporate it into my life.
I read quite a bit about CBD and its anti-inflammatory properties. My dog Brownie suffers from IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] and was on a steroid treatment. I was concerned about the long term effects of the drug on her body. We found a vet who was willing to prescribe CBD and we started weaning Brownie off the steroids.
Firstly, she loves CBD! She licks it right up. But more importantly, we have been able to drop her steroid dose from 10mg every other day to 0.25 mg every other day, and plan to take her off steroids entirely.
Seeing Brownie’s success with cannabis made me believe in the power of the plant even more. I actually stopped taking prescription medication for my migraines and now use a 1:1 [THC:CBD] at night to help me sleep when I am experiencing an episode.
What do you hope to contribute to the cannabis industry?
I bring a traditional science background to the industry, something which I believe is important for establishing legitimacy, creating controls, developing safe products, and driving innovation.
However, I think it is important to collaborate with those who were operating pre-legalization. There is a lot of knowledge there in terms of quality, consumer insights, and product development. If we want this industry to thrive, we need to work together and bridge the gap between existing knowledge from grey market and best practices from conventional industries.
Specific to my role at Adastra and Chemia, I am interested in new methods to test samples, as well as establishing procedures to minimize time for in-process testing.
Here at Adastra Labs we’re creating the new standard in cannabis extracts. Our ability to understand your processing needs allows us to deliver products you can trust. It takes a touch of art, a lot of science, and plenty of data.