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Meet the Scientist: Dr Thomson and Her Path to the Cannabis Industry

May 14, 2018 | by Jack Rudd, Managing Editor, Analytical Cannabis

Meet the Scientist: Dr Thomson and Her Path to the Cannabis Industry

Given the rapid growth of the cannabis industry, and the upcoming legalization of recreational cannabis set to occur in Canada this summer, competent cannabis testing is now essential for ensuring the safety of medical cannabis patients and recreational users alike. First introduced to the cannabis industry in 2014, Dr. Jaclyn Thomson has utilized her extensive background and experience in regulatory compliance and chemistry to shape the standard operating procedures at Northern Vine Labs. Her work has helped to ensure their cannabis testing methods meet or exceed the regulations mandated by Health Canada.

We recently spoke to Dr Thomson to find out more about her career and what led her to work in the Canadian cannabis industry at Northern Vine Labs. 


JR: When and why did you first get interested in science?


JT: My interest in science developed at a very young age. I distinctly remember giving a presentation on the digestive system to my grade 5 class and being fascinated by the way the esophagus functions. Thereafter, I was keen to learn anything and everything related to science, from reading books and conducting experiments, to watching Bill Nye the ‘Science Guy’. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered my love of chemistry. Not only did I have engaging teachers, but chemistry just made sense to me. I suddenly had a new way to explain the world around me, and I was always excited to learn more. Given my newfound love of chemistry, it was a pretty easy choice to join the chemistry program when I started my studies at the University of Victoria (UVIC). 


JR: What did you choose to study and why?


JT: I obtained a B.Sc. Honours in Chemistry from UVIC, specializing in synthetic and analytical chemistries. After completing my B.Sc., I further pursued my education in chemistry, completing a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia (UBC). During that time, I did extensive research into the development of “green” organometallic catalysts for the synthesis of biodegradable plastics and polymers, and for small molecule transformations. Throughout my synthetic chemistry research, I also continued to expand my knowledge of analytical chemistry techniques and research. During graduate school, I attended and presented at numerous conferences, and published a number of manuscripts in peer-reviewed academic journals.


During my time at university, I chose to study a combination of analytical and synthetic chemistries because it represented the best of both worlds. It provided a better base of knowledge, allowed me to learn a wider range of techniques, and was particularly satisfying to be able to make new molecules and analyze them, while simultaneously learning how those analyses worked.


JR: Tell us a bit about your career. Where have you worked and what achievements are you most proud of?


JT: Following my B.Sc. at the University of Victoria and my Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, I began my career working as the Quality Assurance Manager at a leading Canadian natural health product manufacturer. My responsibilities there included undertaking the complete review, update, and creation of policies and standard operating procedures, as well as general quality assurance practices to ensure compliance in a highly regulated industry. In addition to quality assurance activities, I was involved in regulatory affairs, new product formulation, and research and development. I worked closely with numerous certification and licensing agencies including: the Canadian Health Food Association, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, and similar agencies in the US. One of the achievements I am most proud of is the completion and publishing of a ground-breaking academic manuscript in the journal Phytomedicine, regarding the extensive worldwide problem of Ginkgo Biloba adulteration.


Next in my career, I worked as a scientific consultant to the natural health product and cannabis industries. I was responsible for worldwide quality assurance practices, lectures, research and development, communications with regulatory bodies, and assisting in facility licensing and other scientific and quality assurance protocols.


I am hugely proud of leading a team that has successfully developed analytical methodologies for the testing of cannabis, arguably one of the most complicated plants in the world!


JR: What does your role at Northern Vine Laboratories involve and what inspired you to get involved in cannabis testing?


JT; Since working as a scientific consultant, I have worked for Northern Vine Canada Inc., where I organized and set up the cannabis 3rd party testing facility, including developing and validating methods to meet all cannabis quality control testing requirements. I was initially responsible for implementing quality assurance systems for the tracking and security of cannabis in the pertinent areas of the facility, in accordance with Health Canada regulations. I currently supervise, monitor, and train laboratory staff; manage laboratory testing procedures; act as the primary resource for method development and enhancement, and regulatory/compliance matters; provide scientific consulting services for clients; and direct the Research and Development program.


I was first introduced to the cannabis industry in 2014 by my friend and Northern Vine colleague Katie Maloney, MSc who had just started working with one of our parent companies. She had so many interesting things to say, that when I was given an opportunity to consult in the industry, I was more than happy to get involved. A few years later I was approached with the opportunity to work with the team at Northern Vine, and I was really keen to set up their quality control testing lab, to service the industry in Canada and ensure access to safe cannabis. Given the increasing prominence of the medical cannabis industry, and the legalization of recreational cannabis set to occur this summer, it was apparent that a method of ensuring a safe supply for all users was going to be needed.


Since working in the cannabis industry, I have been able to see first-hand the positive effect that safe and effective cannabis has had on the quality of life of many individuals, including close friends and family members. It is the positive feedback that we receive from individual patients, and from growers who utilize our testing and consulting services, that drives us to continue our research into the unique and fascinating plant, cannabis.

JR: What can be done to encourage more women to get involved in science?

JT: Thankfully, there are a number of programs available today which encourage girls and women to develop an interest in science. Teachers at all levels are in a unique position to make students aware of these opportunities, but parents, family members and others can also play an important role. I believe that we all need to use every opportunity we can to inspire woman of all ages to continue the work of so many remarkable female scientists. I know that my amazing team of female scientists and I, would love to continue to encourage women and girls alike to pursue their passions and get involved in science. From motivational speaking at schools to performing science magic shows at University alumni weekends, every little bit helps.


This interview was originally published in the Women in Science eBook from Technology Networks. You can download the full eBook here - http://go.technologynetworks.com/women-in-science-ebook 

Jaclyn Thomson, PhD,  Director of Research and Development, Northern Vine Laboratories was speaking to Jack Rudd, Managing Editor, Analytical Cannabis.