Arno Hazekamp, Ph.D.: Medical Cannabis Rock Star

Do you know the story of one of the cannabis science community's most decorated rock stars?
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By Heather Ritchie, Staff Writer for Terpenes and Testing Magazine

Dr. Arno Hazekamp knew as a child that he was born to be a researcher and understand how things worked. When asked to introduce himself in a “Meet the Experts” interview with Fundación CANNA, Hazekamp divulged that he’d always liked biology, chemistry, and physics but chose to study plant biochemistry because of a high school biology teacher.

Today he considers himself an expert in the field with a Bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, a Master’s degree from Leiden University in biopharmaceutical sciences, and his doctorate research concentrated on the cannabis plant’s therapeutic benefits. Hazekamp also helped create the Dutch medical cannabis program.

Ph.D. Research

Hazekamp said that when he was working on his Ph.D, he didn’t want to work on a project that was so specialized that people wouldn’t relate to his thesis [1] and he wanted to work with cutting-edge analytical instrumentation. His decision to research medical cannabis came after his adviser asked if he would be interested in the topic because the Dutch government wanted the Netherlands to be the foremost country to develop a medical cannabis program.

Hazekamp wanted his Ph.D. research to address the cannabis plant’s medicinal properties and how it could be used to effectively treat illnesses. It took him two years, but he unlocked all of the chemicals present in the trichome and isolated the pure cannabinoids.

When he became interested in plant-based medicine, he never dreamed that it would lead to medicinal cannabis. Between 2010 and 2013, Hazekamp further concentrated his expertise in medical cannabis while he worked closely with pharmaceutical companies, universities, and government agencies. He also served on the board of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines.

The Chemistry is the Key

Part of Hazekamp’s impressive body of research is the discussion of a new term for the cannabis plant. “Strain” isn’t an accurate word for these plants, so many people have begun switching to the term “cultivar”, short for cultivated variety. Hazekamp and his co-authors pitched the term “chemovar” for the unique cannabis plants. [2, 3] Their research investigated whether certain chemical constituents among the cannabinoids and terpenes could be used to classify a specific grouping of plants. Thus, plants could be better categorized by their chemistry, as opposed to meaningless, yet sometimes fun marketing names.

Many people that use cannabis are employing trial and error to identify products that work for them, don’t cause anxiety, and permit them to be functional. Once they locate a product they like, they have no guarantee that the same product at a different dispensary will result in identical physiological effects. Thus, there is no reproducibility in the experience. When combined with re-branding of plants not selling to appear as more popular varieties, what hope does a cannabis user have of replicating positive experiences?

So Hazekamp and company sought to look at the main chemical constituents as a whole, and better classify the similarities and differences between different cultivars based on their chemistry…hence the name “chemovar”. If a user finds that Golden Goat, for example, works great for them, but the dispensary is out of that product, patient care specialists (budtenders) could then use chemovar information to suggest a plant that mirrors the chemistry of Golden Goat. And thus, reproducing positive experiences can be a reality!

The Myth Buster

Hazekamp often refers to himself as a “myth buster” regarding cannabis so that people can learn the truth about the plant. While he doesn’t see cannabis as a cure-all for everything, he recognizes its therapeutic potential.

In a December 2016 interview on YouTube, Hazekamp discussed his philosophy that learning from patient experiences was important but that we shouldn’t get lost in personal stories from one specific cancer or epilepsy patient. What one patient cares about should inspire research, not shape it entirely.

It’s vital to think about the big picture and look at broader statistical needs. Looking at the general needs of patients as a whole prevents physicians from focusing on the most vocal patients. There needs to be a happy medium however so that doctors don’t end up making all of the decisions for patients.

Hazekamp admits that substantial clinical trials are required to establish cannabis’s medical efficacy. Relevant chemical trials require established standards and measurements like the comprehensive chemical profiling of cannabis chemovars as well as a standardized classification system. Hazekamp also says that there needs to be a consistent system for summarizing and analyzing patient experiences and theories.

“It is the responsibility of researchers in this field to contribute to the education of consumers, physicians, and policymakers alike, for this is sorely lacking at present. Leaving cannabis education in the hands of commercial parties turns information into mere advertising,” Hazekamp said.

Today, Hazekamp is a consultant through his company, Hazekamp Herbal Consulting. His position as the head of Education and Research at Bedrocan BV, a Dutch GMP medicinal cannabis grower, has been symbiotic, since they grow the plant and he analyzes it. Currently, Hazekamp is focused on setting up the DECC, the Dutch Expertise Center for Cannabis.

References:

[1] Hazekamp, A., “Extracting the Medicine”, 2007, Doctoral thesis, Leiden University.

[2] Hazekamp, A., and J. Fischedick, “Cannabis: From Cultivar to Chemovar”, Drug Test Anal, 2012, 4(7-8): 660-667.

[3] Hazekamp, A., et al., “Cannabis: From Cultivar to Chemovar II—A Metabolomics Approach to Cannabis Classification”, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 2016, 1(1), open access.

To read more articles like this, visit www.terpenesandtesting.com and www.extractionmagazine.com.

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