Countless people would love to have a career in cannabis. Far fewer book a one-way flight to Seattle to follow their dream.
Laurel “Lo” Friesen, the CEO and Founder of Heylo, did just that in 2015 and was hired on as research and development administrator at Eden Labs, a leading provider of extraction equipment.
Friesen has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Northwestern and worked for two years with patients with esophageal and anorectal disorders as the head Manometry Technician and Clinical Researcher at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
In her work with patients, she started to learn about their use of medical cannabis for their symptoms and became more fascinated. She was fortunate to be able to access medical research on cannabis through her job at the hospital.
Ultimately, her parents encouraged her to look into cannabis as a career, which she said fit perfectly with her other interests.
“Extraction was a perfect fit for me because it bridged the gap to all of my interests…my interest in cannabis, my love of chemistry, and caring for people and finding a way to impact people's lives.”
In Seattle, Friesen said she was “able to become a real legal cannabis customer.” In the dispensaries, she said she noticed “that there was a gap in the market, not only in the quality and consistency of the products but also the lack of information available to consumers to make a confident decision in the products they’re purchasing.”
"You have to rely on the person behind the counter"
Friesen was left to rely on the knowledge of budtenders, which left her a bit underwhelmed.
“You have to rely on the person behind the counter, and I quickly realized that budtenders are not equipped with the education to help consumers purchase the right products. So after about a year and a half or two years here, I decided to start my own company and address all those factors.”
Friesen describes the company’s mission as “to help everyone get as much as they can out of their life.”
Friesen founded Heylo in 2017. The company produces a variety of cannabis extractions and topicals, and its product list emphasizes vape cartridges and pax pods.
The company also provides third-party analytical lab results online and playlists for each cannabis strain. If you’re a fan of the Cherry Pie strain and Janelle Monae, Anderson Paak, or Maribou State, then you’re in luck.
The company also promotes cannabis education through music, cannabis, and community-driven projects called “Heylo Sessions,” which the company says “elevate the conscious use of cannabis.”
"Empowering the consumer is the best way"
When asked if she thinks recreational cannabis dispensaries should have healthcare practitioners on staff to educate customers about effective and safe products, Friesen said, “there’s very little training [on cannabis] that's provided to medical professionals, so I don't think that necessarily solves the issue.”
She added, "we don't really have a lot of information to prove what we’re offering. Everybody is different, and there's still so much research to be done. I really think that empowering the consumer is the best way to move this industry forward.”
Friesen is devoted to helping consumers expand their cannabis knowledge beyond “THC gets you high” and “CBD doesn’t get you high.” She seeks to encourage them to look past the THC level in a marijuana extract or other products and understand the importance of the other cannabinoids and terpenes.
“We empower consumers to think in that way. To set your intentions on what you're trying to do with the product, what you're trying to get out of the experience, and then the next level is understanding the chemistry of the product to try to get you there. So not just focusing on the TCH but also the other cannabinoids that can give you the experience you're looking for.”
Regarding the importance of THC by volume, Friesen made a comparison to alcohol.
“There is a difference between Everclear and craft beer, and people get that. You can water down Everclear, and it'll have the same alcohol by volume as wine, but if you drink it, it’ll taste different and feel different.”
She added, “really, it's going to take education because there are so many products and so much to learn.”
"We have a huge population that is untapped"
But cannabis education can also open up new markets for the industry, according to Friesen.
“If you look at any state that legalized cannabis, the percentage of the population that uses cannabis is not that much. We have a huge population that is untapped,” Friesen said.
She added that to get to the wider population, “we have to educate because we have decades of people saying cannabis is bad, cannabis will make you go crazy, cannabis is illegal, and you'll go to jail for it. We still have to break through that barrier and that stigma, and it's our responsibility if we want our market to grow.”
Heylo is a non-MSO cannabis company with no outside investors. Friesen is the sole owner and ultimately bears the brunt of the responsibility regarding cannabis regulations.
“In some ways, it's very nice to have [compliance regulations] because they give you like this guidebook that you have to follow.”
She did note that “makes it harder is the lack of consistency with governing bodies.”
She has also steered the company through two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the company experienced growth, despite the difficulties.
“This business has changed so often, and it’s been really fun, and it's been really challenging and fulfilling, and I would say that the best is yet to come,” she added, looking back on the past five years since she became a cannabis business owner.