Dr. Michele Ross, IMPACT Network
“Cannabis is a feminine, healing plant that can help us from birth to death.”
Describe yourself and what you do.
I’m a neuroscientist and leader in cannabinoid medicine. As founder of IMPACT Network, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Denver, Colorado, I Improve Marijuana Policy and Accelerate Cannabinoid Therapeutics through clinical research, education and advocacy target on cannabis for women. A typical week for me is teaching workshops on cannabis for women, writing grants to fund our nonprofit’s research and operations, managing our staff, and seeing cannabis patients whether in the office or through Skype and collecting research data.
What is your cannabis business origin story?
I first published on the endocannabinoid system in 2006 with a paper looking at how cannabinoids could grow newborn brain cells in the hippocampus. As a young researcher, I was fascinated by the fact that cannabis didn’t act like any other “drugs of abuse” I had studied. I ended up teaching myself about the endocannabinoid system as a side hobby.
After a stint as a Chief Scientist of a nutraceutical company formulating and marketing products in six countries, I realized cannabis – or at least CBD – should be the next superfood and marketed as a vitamin. The concept for Vitamin Weed was born, and I started writing my book, met my husband Todd who had been in the cannabis industry for years, and founded IMPACT Network in 2013.
What is your personal cannabis origin story?
I grew up in a strict family, and marijuana was not part of my life. In fact, I grew up in front of crack house, and my goal was to become a scientist who could end drug addiction. My one experience using cannabis was in college where I smoked a joint after drinking and ended up cheating on my boyfriend at the time.
Needless to say, I thought marijuana was not for me. Flash forward to being a NIDA-funded drug addiction researcher working on my PhD in Neuroscience. I still couldn’t use cannabis, mostly because I worked with drugs delivered directly from NIDA like cocaine and heroin and a positive THC test would kill my career, and partly because I lived in Dallas, Texas and very few people had cannabis.
I didn’t end up using cannabis again until I moved to Los Angeles, where medical marijuana had been legal since 1996. The cannabis culture was fascinating, but being a scientist, I didn’t think that I could possibly use cannabis and still be a functioning executive.
Several years later, life gave me some struggles so I could learn my true path. One morning, I woke up and my right hand and wrist was completely limp but in pain. This lasted for two months. A doctor informed me my right ulnar and radial nerves weren’t sending messages through my arm, and I needed an expensive surgery that might not work.
After trying every alternative healthcare trick in the book, it was a combination of cannabis & hours long massage of a “cold spot” in my arm that released the inflammation and slowly got my nerves to wake up.
I now know that I have chronic inflammation and neuropathy, and that I need daily constant consumption of cannabis, in all its forms, in order to have functioning nerves in my arms and legs.
After an initial learning curve, I learned how to be a cannabis patient and not only a functioning scientist and patient advocate, but a leading one.
What is your Superpower?
I’m made of rubber! Seriously, I’m super resilient and able to bounce back from any scenario, whether it’s nearly dying from health issues twice, going bankrupt after being raided by the LAPD on false charges, or having my family disown me for going on Big Brother, a family-friendly reality television show.
My life has had a lot of highs and lows, and would make an insane book one day. I haven’t hit my peak yet, and am looking forward to staying on elevated path from here on out.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry or with your business to date – and how have you overcome it?
My biggest obstacle has been obtaining seed-funding for our clinical cannabis research institute. Federal funding for research on the medical benefits of cannabis is nearly non-existent. The cannabis industry often doesn’t see the value in researching medical efficacy of cannabis because consumers will buy recreational cannabis no matter what.
Traditional donors are hard to reach because of stigma around cannabis, location in states where cannabis is not legal yet, or the extra time convincing donors that our research is legal, and they won’t go to jail for donating to us. We’re still trying to fundraise.
Look for a future Indiegogo campaign for our WMEDS study or donate now at http://www.impactcannabis.org/donate.
What is your vision for women in this industry?
Cannabis is a feminine, healing plant that can help us from birth to death; I want to see it crafted in the hands of women. I want more women-led companies, male-led companies with women on their board or executive team, and companies led by either gender that support a healthy culture that respects and empowers women. I also want to see women of color higher in the ranks at all cannabis industry companies.
For women entering the cannabis industry, make sure the company culture is a good fit for you. Does the leadership inspire you? Are you provided ways to rise up the ladder? And is work fun? Even if you’re in an entry-level position, all three should be true for a company that values you and is in alignment with your passion.
Connect with Michele
IMPACT Network would love to get more people prequalified for clinical cannabis research, whether it’s a survey, registry, or an actual clinical trial with a new product. The form takes just 5 minutes to fill out, and when a study is available that matches your condition and demographic, IMPACT Network contacts you. You can fill it out at http://www.impactcannabis.org/mmj-research.