Tampa-based entrepreneur Angela Ardolino is the founder and CEO of House of Alchemy, LLC d/b/a CBD Dog Health, makers of all-natural, full spectrum hemp extract products designed specifically for pets. Ardolino is a medical cannabis expert and a graduate of the inaugural program offering certification in the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis from the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. 

Ardolino has served with CannaMoms, United for Care, and Women Grow, and was the host of the 2016 Canna Conference in Tampa, FL. She worked on the front lines of cannabis legalization in her home state of Florida, advocating for Floridians to vote YES to pass the amendment legalizing medical cannabis. Together with her business partner, Hernando Umana, Ardolino launched CBD Dog Health in 2018, providing all-natural full spectrum hemp extract for dogs, cats, and horses. 

In her ongoing effort to share cannabis education with the public, Ardolino is a sought-after speaker for major conventions, including the Raw and Natural Dogs Summit and the Pets Plus convention. She also regularly contributes and appears in magazine and news articles, television interviews, and radio segments. As the host of It’s a Dog’s Life, a podcast on Cannabis Radio, Ardolino interviews the nation’s top holistic veterinarians, and natural-minded pet professionals. 

Ardolino has partnered with other female business owners to promote holistic care for pets and continues to speak out against pet food and pharmaceutical companies who do not hold pet’s interests at heart. Because of her dedication and commitment to helping animals, she is the owner and operator of Fire Flake Farm, an animal rescue based in Lutz, FL and has cared for animals for over 20 years. Additionally, Ardolino owns the all-natural grooming salon Beautify the Beast, with two locations in the Tampa Bay Area. 

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I was a successful entrepreneur who founded the Miami Children’s Theater as well as Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, and I was running my animal rescue, Fire Flake Farm. I was living an intense lifestyle and stress was the norm for me. In 2015, I had been running myself ragged and was living in constant pain. I was diagnosed that year with rheumatoid arthritis and anxiety, but I didn’t want to pump myself full of medications with harsh side-effects that only treats the symptoms and not the real problem: inflammation. I had heard a lot about medical cannabis and CBD, so I decided to give it a try. It changed my life completely. 

At the time, my beloved miniature Schnauzer, Odie, was suffering from extreme joint pain and anxiety of his own. His once puppy-like personality changed as he was no longer able to go up and down the stairs or run around the yard. I knew that CBD had helped me so much and I felt that this medicine shouldn’t be withheld from our pets. So, I threw myself into learning everything I could about medical cannabis and CBD. I was part of the inaugural class of the program to learn the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis at the University of Vermont School of Medicine and soon after earning my certificate, hosted Canna Conference in Tampa, where I invited doctors, veterinarians, and the general public to learn about medical cannabis. I also became active in Women Grow, United for Care, and Canna Moms, where I worked hard to advocate for the passage of constitutional amendment two in Florida, which ultimately passed and legalized medical cannabis. 

After traveling the country looking for the safest ways to grow, cultivate, and process cannabis—learning from the industry’s best—I founded CBD Dog Health.  

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?

I have quickly risen to become a leader in medical cannabis for pets because so few people actually know anything about using cannabis to treat pets. In the last year, I have been invited to speak at major conferences including the Raw and Natural Dogs Summit and the Pets Plus Summit. I also was invited to start my own podcast with Cannabis Radio, which was exciting in itself. But the most interesting and exciting story has to be the time I was invited to do a lunch and learn at a vet in a small Florida town, called Crystal River Animal Hospital. I had never heard of a lunch and learn and my company was just starting – I didn’t even know we were supposed to bring lunch, but their staff had called my team and arranged for me to come speak to them about CBD. The staff was young and very interested in using CBD to treat their patients, but the veterinarian herself was very skeptical. Her husband had done a lot of research and was terrified that it wouldn’t be legal, and I knew that they needed to be informed but also that they needed to see the medicine work for themselves. So, after my presentation, one of their staff members said “hey, we have this really sick and anxious dog. Can you give her some CBD and see what happens?” So of course, I gave the dog our CBD tincture. The vet took him to the back, and within minutes she literally ran out to the lobby where my team and I were packing up and said she wanted to place an order and asked if we had some CBD we could leave with her that day. That day, I learned that the best way to explain how fast and effective it is, is to SHOW people. I have never met someone who has seen the medicine work who has not become a believer in it. 

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?

When I was first starting out, I was doing a lot of TV appearances to talk about using cannabis for animals. I was hosting what I call CBD Sessions, and doing them on the air as well. One day, I was completely dressed up, hair and makeup done, looking camera ready, and I decided to go out to check on the chickens on my farm. Long story short – I got myself completely locked in the chicken coop minutes before I was supposed to leave, and I didn’t have my phone to call for help. I ended up climbing out, but by the time I got to the interview to talk about cannabis I realized I had chicken poop and dirt caked under my nails. But people still tuned in and learned a lot!

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 decided to get into the cannabis industry, I was still the owner of a parenting magazine. People reacted one of two ways: thankful to have someone they trust teaching them about cannabis OR sheer outrage. I got letters, angry calls – even the writers at my magazine were getting bombarded with messages about it. I had people from parenting organizations, who knew that my mother had passed away, call to tell me how disappointed in me my mother would be – which to be honest was such bullshit. But I would say the funniest reaction would be when I told a local reporter about it. I was accepting an award for being a female leader in publishing and a businesswoman of the year, and I mentioned to the reporter that I was leaving the magazine to work in the cannabis industry. She told me to hold on, then walked right over to her editor who also happened to be there and pitched a story about me leaving parenting to work in weed. I think people were so shocked because they thought I was the wholesome version of Martha Stewart – like I was some 50’s housewife doling out parenting advice and rules on making a perfect table setting. When in reality, I was much more like current-day, Snoop Dogg-loving, pot smoking, but still able to rock a mean table setting Martha. 

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?

My business partner and best friend, Hernando Umana, has been with me the whole way. He came to me to learn about CBD because he was a Broadway actor suffering from severe anxiety, and from the minute I told him I could help his beloved dog, Blanche, with CBD, he was in. He has built this company with me from the ground up. He tells me when my ideas are great and tells me when they are not quite right. Aside from being my business partner, he is a kick ass performer on Broadway and he reminds me all the time that I can’t ever give up on my dreams. 

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? 

I am working on continuing my efforts to educate the public about cannabis. I am also really excited to announce that we are making CBD products formulated specifically for horses which will be available in 2020. 

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?

I am surrounded by incredible women in cannabis. I joined Women Grow and got to meet so many driven women. But I can definitely see that there is a disparity, and I think the changes have to come from everyone. Individuals have to look for companies run by women, not old white men in stiff suits. Companies of all kinds—not just in the cannabis industry—need to embrace women in the board room and stop penalizing us for being too ambitious, or “too” anything. And they need to stop penalizing mothers for having families, which is a whole other issue that we all must work to remedy. AND society as a whole needs to stop looking at women, especially women in cannabis, and seeing some meek, lost, little girl. We are fierce women. We are here to stay. And society needs to tell little girls that it is not only just okay, but AWESOME to work in cannabis one day. 

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? 

Nothing about the cannabis industry is cut and dried. Your intuition is really the most important thing you can rely on in this business. Trust your gut. I have had to trust my gut on so many things because we are pioneers in a new industry, and if I had not listened to my intuition when it said not to work with certain people, I would be in a world of trouble. 

To succeed, I would recommend that people come into the cannabis industry with no expectations, or to at least adjust your expectations. Things change so fast – for example, a few months into my company being open we lost our payment processor because they didn’t want to touch anyone making hemp products. Trying to find a new processor was a nightmare. I had expected that things would be a little easier, but that is an adjustment I had to make on my part, which leads me to my next point.

Understand that right now, the industry is a free for all and especially with pets, it is a brand-new category—so there are no rules. This does not mean that you can do or say whatever you want, but that you need to hold yourself and other companies in your category accountable. When there are no regulations, you have to self-regulate. You have to be picky about who you work with and the things you do, because one day there will be rules and you have to establish that you are legit. You have to believe in the medicine, not the money. You have to want to help people. You have to be the real deal. And if you aren’t in it for good reasons or aren’t the real deal, it is not the industry for you. 

I also would tell anyone who wants to be in this industry to stick to your beliefs and not let anyone try to scare you or change you. If you are making a product with cannabis, only use ingredients you believe in and do not let anyone convince you otherwise. When I started my product, people tried to convince me to white label (sell them my product without the name), take out the essential oils, use cheaper hemp that had pesticides, and change pretty much everything I knew made it unique. If I had listened, I wouldn’t have a product I love and believe in and would have been just like every other run-of-the-mill company out there. 

In this field, especially as a woman, there will be so many people trying to scare you away. They will tell you that you can’t do this. That there are too many unknowns. That you are not meant for this. But you have to remember that they are trying to scare you away because they know you are onto something. Ask yourself, are you intimidating, or is someone else just intimidated by your ideas. 

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

I am the most excited to know that medical cannabis will be federally legal one day. It is only a matter of time before everyone has access to this incredible medicine. I am also excited that with legalization, everyone can get a premium, regulated, medicinal product for any ailment they need. And I am most excited that as the cannabis industry grows, those who have gone to jail for cannabis offenses will one day be free. 

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? 

I am concerned about the future of regulation of the cannabis and hemp industries. I think we need proper, common sense regulations but I also don’t know that the FDA is the agency who will do this properly. The FDA can be slow moving and tends to be controlled by those with interests in big pharma, so having a natural medication approved or regulated properly can be a long shot. I don’t necessarily know what the answer is to the regulation issues in the FDA except that they need to be conducting more research and creating rules that will keep more people and pets safe from synthetic products. 

I am also very concerned about people who make a cheap product or white label a product that is a human tincture with a paw print on the label. These are people who don’t actually care about the medicine, what it does, or the purity or potency of the product they make. These people sell their cheap CBD isolates in the form of gummies or tinctures that you might see in places like gas stations, and they do not make a quality product. But, because their product is so cheap, people are more willing to give it a try, and then when it doesn’t work (because it not actually full spectrum hemp extract CBD, and it doesn’t have high enough mg of active CBD) the consumer thinks it is ALL snake oil. It convinces people that CBD doesn’t work at all, for neither themselves nor their pets, when in reality, the problem was the cheap product and not the cannabis plant. This could be changed with simple regulations or at least educating the public about how to request and read a full third-party lab panel or certificate of analysis. 

My last suggestion to improve the industry would be to have every company, every dispensary, and every maker of a cannabis product to be required to provide a certificate of analysis of every single product they make. This can keep everyone honest. It ensures that the buyer is getting what they paid for. 

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 think with the government, money tends to talk. But everyone has heard the argument for recreational cannabis that legalization is lucrative for the government as a whole. You often see Colorado as the example: you can regulate cannabis, tax it, and actually make enough on the taxes to improve entire cities. You create thousands of jobs and better the lives of farmers – those farmers who may have had to leave their family businesses because of ridiculous pricing of food can now farm again because hemp is such an easy and lucrative crop. 

But if we remove that argument, because that is something we have all heard a million times, the next argument is that by federally legalizing cannabis, you are providing a way for people all over the country to get the medicine they need without forcing them to rely on opioids. Cannabis has completely changed my life – it gave me a way to function when rheumatoid arthritis was taking over my life. It took away my anxiety. It stops seizures in kids, it treats tumors, it improves so many lives. It saves animals every single day. I think if we could show videos to our representatives of children having seizures who immediately stop seizing when they take CBD, they would understand why it is so important. I fully support recreational cannabis laws, but my main goal is the legalization of medical cannabis because I have seen it give hope to those who would have no other options, and I know that if our senators could see that, they would agree. 

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?

Sure, for recreational yes. Cannabis is healthier than cigarettes and alcohol. People die every day from alcohol poisoning and smoking cigarettes, but you literally cannot die from too much cannabis. By taxing recreational marijuana, you have the ability to invest in social programs that can change cities. Just look at Colorado – their education system is thriving because of cannabis tax. 

But, I am more interested in the medicinal side of things. Everyone should be able to access the medicine. So if you legalize medicinal cannabis, it should not be highly taxed, at least not more than any other medication you would purchase. 

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

My favorite quote is that I am just a regular person with nothing to lose. Any time I start something new, or release a new product, or do something even remotely risky I always try to remember that. I am just a regular person with nothing to lose, but if I succeed, I can help so many people and their pets. 

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 love to inspire a movement to normalize the idea of who is a cannabis user. Cannabis users are not all thugs on the street corner, or teenagers in someone’s basement. They are mothers, fathers, businesspeople, employees, bakers, chefs, artists, and they are every age, size, and race. I would love to inspire people to “come out” as cannabis users and not feel the pressure to hide or be perfect. It is okay to be a mother and a cannabis user. It is okay to be a businesswoman and a cannabis user. We wouldn’t judge anyone for drinking wine, so why do we have such a stigma around people who use cannabis? 

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!