Banks are not your buds — If you’re thinking about starting a cannabis-related business, make sure you can obtain a bank account before starting your business. Banks are not cannabis friendly. If you already have a business account, make sure you tell your bank EXACTLY what product you’re selling. Don’t try and hide the fact that you are selling cannabis and be very specific whether you are selling Hemp, or THC. The financial industry has not caught up with the Hemp Bill of 2018, many banks will shut you down if they find out that you are selling cannabis. We went through 3 banks before we found one that was willing to work with us.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Manisha Singal is the Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of Aethera Beauty.
Manisha Singal is on the forefront of the cannabis movement. She is certified to prescribe medical cannabis in Washington, D.C., and is a member of Americans for Safe Access, Women’s Grow, and the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS).
Born in India, Manisha immigrated to the US as a child. Her family settled in Pittsburgh, where she excelled at school, eventually attending the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating with honors, she attended the George Washington University School of Treatment, earning her MD and heading several research projects. She completed her residency at Georgetown University. After working as a medical director of a critical care center in Washington, D.C., she accepted the position of Chief Medical Officer at Specialty Hospitals of Washington, D.C. in 2005. Ten years later, she moved to the same role at Bridgepoint Hospital where she continues to practice.
Manisha currently splits her time between Washington, D.C. and Miami Beach, Florida. As Chief Medical Officer for Aethera, she applies personal and professional insight into formula development. She is currently writing a book about to demystify its benefits for personal use and skin care.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
In June of 2017, I was invited to a wedding. I had hit my forties and a few gray hairs crept in. I made an appointment with my favorite stylist at the beauty salon that I always used. We followed our normal color routine where she applied the formula we’d used dozens of times before. Within hours, a rash broke out on my scalp and neck. Very quickly, it spread to my arms, legs, chest, and back and I knew then it was an allergic reaction.
In some cases, a skin reaction might calm down, but mine didn’t. As a medical professional I’m able to consult a lot of friends and colleagues, some who are extremely well-informed and brilliant diagnosticians. I was eventually diagnosed with “multiple chemical hyper-sensitivity,” which required a host of prescription medications to treat. Even though I’m a physician, I’m not comfortable taking a lot of prescription remedy, and I even avoid aspirin. My skin was scarred from constant scratching, but I decided I’d rather try attacking the problem another way and by looking at the source. I tossed out everything in my bathroom that could cause a skin reaction. No chemical additives, no dyes, no perfumes. My skin slowly improved, but it wasn’t “controlled” or “cured.”
In my search for non-toxic solutions, I wondered if might help for my own skin condition and began researching the compound. I discovered through online courses at George Washington University that has well studied anti-inflammatory properties. Putting two and two together, I experimented with topical to treat my skin inflammation. To my surprise, I received the ultimate relief I was searching for and my skin started to heal. From my medical viewpoint, I was excited to envision possibilities of topical skin care to combat every injury from UV rays to chemical exposures from makeup.
This led to a joint venture with a close friend who owns a beauty product development laboratory. It took a few years of experimentation and research, but we found a very pure formulation with other active botanicals to nourish and hydrate our skin and made it look amazing. Our company, Aethera Beauty, features a line with serums. Much of the research that went into our product development is shared in my new book “The Skincare Solution: The Power of Cannabidiol for Healthy Skin” (Llewellyn Press).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a medical doctor, and someone who doesn’t like additives, I want to know the exact ingredients in every bottle of product we sell — from the sourcing of raw materials to the bottling. Aethera Beauty products are non-GMO, phthalate- paraben-, and sulfate-free, and vegan. We use well-studied active botanicals and wanted to use the highest purity in the correct dosage.
We learned a lot about and how little information about it is available for consumers. For example, when we did competitive analysis, we noticed that many products don’t state dosage or have an exceptionally low dosage. We learned about the importance of getting a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for quality assurance and found out that you can also run your own independent testing to determine potency and what other ingredients may be in the sample.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s funnier now than it was at the time, but getting credit card processing set up was a bit of a process, with one rep from a company authorizing our account and another cancelling it, sometimes within days. I may understand how the human body works, but getting credit card processing setup was a high learning curve.
Lesson learned to researching vendors in advance to learn about their policies when it comes to doing business with .
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
When I told friends that I was developing a beauty line they immediately thought I had some inside connection to an amazing, 1960s psychotropic level version of marijuana. I get constantly asked for free samples. Sometimes I feel like it’s an endless loop of explaining that is non-psychotropic and doesn’t get you high. Even with that, there are those that are convinced that I am “holding out” in order to “keep the good stuff for myself.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Aethera Beauty is a joint venture with a high-end beauty product development laboratory, and I get a lot of support from their in-house team’s experience. Aethera’s Vice President of marketing, Noreen Moriarty, ran the prestige beauty business for Beauty.com. She has worked in the digital space since its infancy, which is especially helpful now.
The collaboration with all the women on our collective team has allowed us to create products that work for different ages with different skin types and skin concerns. Many of the nurses that I work with have tested the products and informed our pricing. I’m grateful to them for supporting this business.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve just published my first book, “The Skincare Solution: the Power of Cannabidiol for Healthy Skin.” The book was published during the Pandemic (August 2020) so I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts and virtual events as part of the launch. There’s still a lot of people who need to understand what is and its therapeutic potential. I like being able to share that with audiences.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
- We must encourage a cultural shift from the Board Room to our front line employees to include gender equality and diversity. Studies by top universities and consulting companies, such as Mckinsey and Company, have shown profitability as high as 33% across industries with simply increasing female share in the C suite.
- Education, cross-training and mentoring women by women in the cannabis industry, as seen by organizations such as Women’s Grow, is paramount to achieve sustainable success. Outpouring of support for women at all levels from seed to sale cannot be well underscored.
- Funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry is critically needed as well. Until we realize full cannabis legalization by our federal government, lack of small business loans and banking options will further prohibit diversity and inclusion into this booming industry.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- Banks are not your buds — If you’re thinking about starting a cannabis-related business, make sure you can obtain a bank account before starting your business. Banks are not cannabis friendly. If you already have a business account, make sure you tell your bank EXACTLY what product you’re selling. Don’t try and hide the fact that you are selling cannabis and be very specific whether you are selling Hemp, or THC. The financial industry has not caught up with the Hemp Bill of 2018, many banks will shut you down if they find out that you are selling cannabis. We went through 3 banks before we found one that was willing to work with us.
- Finding a installment Processor is Painful — While there have been strides made in the last couple of months, it is very tough to get the right credit card installment processor and you might have to go to a “high-risk” credit card processor that will charge you a much higher fee as well as subject you to many complicated hurdles.
- Cannabis Stinks — In its purest form, can be very sticky, and have an overpowering smell. The first time I smelled one of the initial distillates a vendor sent I almost got sick from the strong smell of weed! It takes multiple test batches to get a luxurious texture and smell. We tested many different active ingredients to work with the to ensure our product was on par with prestige brands in the beauty space.
- is Expensive — It can cost thousands of dollars for a kilo of . Due to the difficulty in working with it, you’ll burn through a lot of products before you come up with a formulation that will be acceptable for beauty consumers.
- Buy American — Experts consider United States hemp sources more reliable than other sources because there are currently no regulations on how foreign-source hemp is grown, processed, or tested prior to importation.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- Its innovation — New discoveries are emerging weekly as scientists continue to study cannabinoids. This will create exciting new business opportunities. Medical research will take time and careful analysis, but the potential for cannabinoids is undeniable. I’m excited about the prospects and potential for new product development.
- Opioid Addiction Treatment (Pain management) — I work as a Chief Medical Officer in a hospital in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, many of the patients I see struggle with opioid addiction. I founded a pain clinic that researched the use of cannabis for pain management. Although other cultures and our ancestors have used cannabis as a safe, effective painkiller for thousands of years, we are just starting to scratch the surface of using medical cannabis for pain. For addiction recovery, many studies have shown real promise and success in using to slowly detox from and eventually be free of opioid addiction as well as other addictions including, alcoholism.
- Limited Side Effects — One of the reasons why creates so much excitement in doctors and researchers is that unlike many new remedy and treatments, the risk of side effects with is extremely minimal. Evidence so far suggests that the potential for addiction or overdose with pure is minimal.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- Federal restriction of marijuana as a schedule 1 remedy. We need full legalization to allow for necessary federal agencies to set safety oversights from seed to sale. With the explosion of products on the market and after the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, a large majority of products are mislabeled and misleading. A 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed 84 products sold by 31 different online companies found that 1 in 5 contained marijuana components. Other studies have shown non-existent versus what brands have claimed on their packaging.
- Lack of state sponsored research. We are only scratching the surface in science and need to press the speed pedal for more studies to unlock potential benefits for medical illnesses. Currently we have a pill-popping epidemic and the appetite for non-toxic solutions is high. Necessary funding must be earmarked from state governments until the federal restrictions are lifted. The average individual is left to self-experiment like I did for symptom relief. Unfortunately, most doctors do not have science backed information and are reluctant to engage in any conversation let alone exploration into potential benefits from and other cannabinoids.
- Lack of Education– There is a lot of hype on anything or cannabis and I would be skeptical of overblown marketing claims. I would recommend that consumers educate themselves on how to read labels to avoid false marketing and advertising, which could cause one harm. Be curious and ask questions!
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
I would add my voice to the thousands of advocates in educating our Senators on Cannabis and its potential to save lives. There are already thousands of peer reviewed studies and position papers trending the decrease in opioid use and deaths with the advent of medical marijuana in state sponsored pain clinics. With full legalization, necessary funding of research and safety oversight will allow time to marry science into everyday use to affect both quality and longevity of life.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
As a medical doctor, I do not support smoking of any substance due to the high risk for lung disease. Having said this, I do not place recreational cigarettes in the same camp as and cannabis. Science is just at the tip of the iceberg in unlocking real health benefits as observed anecdotally for thousands of years. Our efforts should be focused on how to safely allow for access to medical cannabis as an example to those suffering from painful illnesses such as cancer. There is a reason why we have an opioid epidemic. Cannabis is proving to be a safe and effective alternative and should not be taxed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be Kind to yourself” is a quote I often recite to myself, friends, family members and even patients. Stress manifests inflammation and inflammation results in chronic illness. As a critical care physician, I have seen how stress wreaks havoc throughout our bodies and causes a lifetime of pain and reliance on remedy. Simple words of self-love and acceptance have immeasurable calming benefits on our mind, body and spirit and also keeps the doctor away. I am one to practice what I preach and as I have evolved through my own trials and tribulations, I have found these four words to be most soothing and liberating throughout my hectic days.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would create a “Treatment Cabinet Movement” to toss out toxic chemicals and remedy that often linger in our cabinets for years. We have a culture of sickness and reactive healthcare that feeds into the necessity to stock up for every possible symptom. Then we have over the counter pharmaceuticals to treat the side effects of prescribed medications. On top of that, many medications have expired. This does not touch upon all the topicals that may be stored and may further cause side effects.
I frequently request patients to package all their medications in a bag so we can go over what to keep or to discard. This is a crucial step towards preventative care, which I am an ardent proponent.
My personal mission is to partner with my patients in their quests to live long and healthy lives by incorporating the best medical tools of Eastern and Western treatment. This mission led me to co-found Aethera Beauty, which focuses on non-toxic active botanical formulations with hemp-based — another tool for self-care.