Carranza (second from left)
ChBE Undergraduate Franz Arturo Carranza is applying the expertise he’s gained working with cannibidiol (CBD) as an undergraduate researcher at Georgia Tech to opening his own store on Atlanta’s trendy, burgeoning Beltline development.
Carranza, 22, started his company, TheraSolv Botanicals, in 2017 as an online CBD-focused retailer. Now his brick-and-mortar location is due to open in early 2020 near Piedmont Park, offering a variety of CBD oil products (the market for which could reach $20 billion in sales by 2024, according to research reported in Forbes).
Due to the passage of the U.S. Farm Bill in 2018, CBD is legal as long as its level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does not exceed 0.3 percent. THC is the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, but consumption of CBD oil produces no “high.”
While Carranza is careful to adhere to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules prohibiting unsubstantiated medical claims for CBD in his marketing of TheraSolv’s products, industry reports show that use of CBD oil ingested in various forms has exploded in recent years as users seek alternative methods to alleviate a variety of physical and mental conditions.
According a review of the latest CBD research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a growing body of pre-clinical and clinical evidence indicates that CBD oil could be effective in treating chronic pain, inflammatory conditions, opioid addiction, and other afflictions. But more research is needed to establish efficacy and safety, researchers say.
Carranza personally believes that CBD has been highly effective in helping with his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for which he’d taken the prescription drugs Ritalin and Concerta since age six. “They made me feel like a zombie,” he says. But CBD has helped him greatly ease off from those drugs. “CBD helps reduce my anxiety to point where I have the mental and emotional capacity to focus on my studies.”
Carranza’s interest in exploring healing alternatives in nature grew while working as an undergraduate researcher on an algae-related study in Biological Sciences Professor Julie Kubanek’s Research Lab. There he helped discover certain bioactive compounds, which earned him a co-author credit on a study, “Iodinated Meroditerpenes from a Reg Alga Callophycus sp.,”published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.
That accomplishment brought Carranza to the attention of Peter Ludovice, an associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who began research into medical cannabis about five years ago and recently co-organized the “Hemp: Plant for the Planet” conference at Georgia Tech, focusing on the therapeutic, agricultural, processing, economic, and materials aspects of this rapidly growing field.
As an undergraduate research assistant, Carranza is now helping Ludovice on improving methods to extract CBD from the hundreds of other cannabinoids present in hemp plants (varieties of cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less THC content).
Carranza explains that they want to improve the supercritical CO2 extraction technique that has been used for years in the food and beverage industry (e.g. decaffeinating coffee) by using a co-solvent that would increase the CBD yield. Other CBD extraction methods are more cost effective than supercritical CO2 but involve solvents that pose toxicity and safety hazards that could also damage remaining parts of the plant, which could be repurposed into other useful products such as particle board.
At TheraSolv, Carranza is already able to repurpose remaining hemp into products such as facial scrubs and soaps. The company’s main product line includes tinctures, lip balm, salves, and rice crispies.
Growing the Business
Carranza credits Ludovice for really pushing him to start the company two years ago, and it has evolved into a family business as he continues his studies part-time at Tech.
A junior by credit hours, Carranza started at Tech in 2015 but withdrew two years later after the deaths of an uncle and a couple of classmates led him into deep depression that resulted in his first D grade in a class, Numerical Methods.
That near failure shook his confidence about returning to Tech, so he channeled his energy into developing TheraSolv with the paid help of a business major and a few chemical engineering students from Tech. He says he’s likes ChBE students working on the extraction and packaging processes because of their lab skills and dedication to cleanliness and safety (goggles, gloves, etc.).
“We make everything in-house” he explains. “Every product we have is handmade by us and tested by a third-party lab. We are not a white-label. We don’t purchase our product from a major corporation and then stick our label on it. We personally hand pick our hemp from our farm partner Unique Botanicals in Oregon. I have shadowed the farmer and seen the nutrients he uses.”
Returning to Tech
To help take his business to the next level, Carranza enlisted his initially wary mother and father. They agreed, but only on the condition that he complete his degree at Tech, which he is doing two courses per semester.
Shaken by his earlier struggle with Numerical Methods, Carranza was relieved to find that his mentor Ludovice was the teacher upon returning to Tech and repeating the course. They resumed working together in Ludovice’s lab again as well.
After he re-enrolled, his mother, Michelle Bishara, began supervising legal and operational issues for TheraSolv. Meanwhile, his father, Nami Bishara (retired from the construction industry), is focused on the build out of the store as well as outfitting a trailer dedicated for CBD extraction on a 10-acre family farm in Ball Ground, Georgia.
Until now, they have done most of the processing in the huge industrial kitchen of his mother, who used to run a Mediterranean bistro. With the farm, they hope to expand into growing their own crop. Medical cannabis dispensaries will become legal in Georgia in 2020, and that is also an opportunity they might pursue, but the cost of entry will be high.
For the time being, a CBD dispensary offers them much more flexibility, Carranza says. The TheraSolv store will be on Monroe Avenue, near the Virginia Avenue intersection, with nearby neighbors such as Midtown Butcher, Mint Salon Atlanta, and Arden’s Garden.
His mother is taking the lead on store display while his fiancé, Catherine Allen (who earned her BS in computational media from Tech in 2017), contributes graphic design.
In addition to CBD, they plan to sell local art and a greater variety of products, such as coffee imported from plantations in El Salvador, where he has family and spent the first few years of his life soon after his birth in Miami, Florida.
They also plan to host DIY classes and events. “We want to educate and empower people to understand what they’re putting into their bodies and make the best decision.”
Carranza hopes he can inspire more chemical engineering students to explore the possibilities of hemp, now that it is legal in all 50 states, because it reduces our carbon footprint. It grows much more quickly than timber and can be processed into paper, insulation, textiles, biodegradable plastics, and biofuel, among many other uses.
Because the CBD market is currently unregulated, consumers can’t always be sure what exactly they’re getting. Therefore, Professor Ludovice says the involvement of chemical engineers like Carranza is “exactly the right thing” to ensure quality standards. “More chemical engineers should get involved with this industry,” he says.