Dr. Linda Klumpers discusses her interest in neuroscience, her most significant work, success stories from Cannify—an online science-matching tool—and more.
Linda Klumpers, PhD, founder of Cannify and co-founder of Verdient Science, has been studying cannabinoids in humans for 14 years. As a cannabis research scientist based in Colorado, her work focuses on the clinical pharmacology of cannabinoids. She is also a 2018 recipient of the ElSohly Award. Cannabis Science and Technology sat down with Dr. Klumpers to discuss her interest in neuroscience, her most significant work, success stories from Cannify, an online science-matching tool, and more.
Can you talk about your interest in neuroscience—how it developed, what were your original goals?
Klumpers: Neurosciences and its sub-fields are endlessly fascinating due to the nature and the incredibly wide variety of areas to explore—I am not using the adjectives loosely. The core of our being, our consciousness is housed inside of our brains. Some parts of neuroscience study our behavior or how we make decisions; it investigates the mechanisms of action: how do the cells work and communicate? How can you influence their workings? Is it possible to map the interactions of these billions of cells mathematically? How do findings translate from one organism to another?
All these aspects attracted me during my high school years and made me decide to take the route of neuroscience. I was particularly interested in consciousness and artificially manipulating the nervous system, for example, by developing new types of input that enable humans to observe stimuli that we would usually not be able to catch.
And how did the clinical pharmacology of cannabinoids fit into that?
Klumpers: It seems far-fetched, but pharmacological manipulation is closely related to that. In clinical neuropsychopharmacology, scientists also focus on developing compounds that manipulate the nervous system. In this case, they focus on treating psychiatric and neurologic disorders pharmacologically. The potential of cannabinoid treatments goes beyond psychiatry and neurology: the compounds that I started working on in 2006 were also addressing metabolic dysfunctions like obesity and associated disorders.
What are some of the most significant findings during your 14 years of studying cannabinoids in humans?
Klumpers: With so much current focus on the plant and its recreational use, people might sometimes forget about the potential of targeting the endocannabinoid system in alternative ways. Our findings have supported the analysis of the therapeutic potential of cannabinoid antagonists (compounds that can block the effects induced by the cannabis compound tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) that were developed to treat obesity and metabolic disorders, cannabinoid toxicity, substance abuse, etc. We predicted that these findings would coincide with limiting severe side-effects of THC. Only recently was this research picked up again after a good 10 years of a disappointing hibernation. Next, we found a correlation between feeling high and a potentially related brain area using brain imaging, and we unintentionally spotted plasma (blood) concentration and effect differences between males and females after using THC. We also found that the sublingual THC-tablets that we studied did not have a superior absorption and plasma concentration profile compared to the oral THC-tablets. These oral THC tablets are now undergoing patient studies with the goal of regulatory approval for treating disorders.
Can you talk about the awards and honors you’ve received and the significance of your work—how has it advanced the science of cannabinoids?
Klumpers: I am very honored that people that I look up to have spotted our work and awarded it. While I was still a Ph.D. candidate, our work on the pharmacological brain imaging with the cannabis compound THC earned an award from the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology awarded me its publication prize for a study that our team performed in collaboration with a Danish company. That study was quite complex. We stimulated the cannabinoid system in volunteers by giving them THC while testing two different cannabinoid antagonists. The volunteers had to come to our site more than five times. Of the two compounds we studied, only one was supposed to act on the brain, meaning that the investigational product should decrease the THC-induced heart rate increase while keeping the volunteers feeling high if it worked as intended. It turned out that the product worked very well.
The most recent award, the ElSohly Award, was handed out by CANN, the cannabis chemistry subdivision of the American Chemical Society. I find it gratifying to have received this prize, as I tend to feel a bit different, being a clinical pharmacologist among hardcore chemists that are associated with CANN, even though they try to convince me otherwise. This cross-pollination of complementary disciplines is especially valuable for mutual understanding, education, and the advancement of the science field. It is not just a theoretical concept, as my presence there has resulted in collaborations that extend beyond the reach that, otherwise, other companies and we are not able to accomplish alone. Now we can all achieve more as a team.
Some scientific findings have an enormous immediate impact on their field, or even society, whereas many others can take centuries before they get applied, such as the knowledge that vitamin C prevents and treats scurvy. From the hundreds of scientific articles that have cited our published studies, I see our work can be a solid foundation for others to build on and have a substantial impact. We have contributed to the understanding of what our bodies do with cannabinoids and how cannabinoids affect our brains and other organs. How this can further develop, especially with the revival of cannabinoid antagonist research, is yet to be seen.
What type of success stories have come out of Cannify? And what are your future plans for this online product + science-matching tool?
Klumpers: For many entrepreneurs, it is tempting to dive into the business aspects, but real success to me is observing how much our work is appreciated. It is empowering to start with nothing other than an idea, decide to make it into something tangible, and end up with a product, the Cannify tool, that companies buy and thousands of people all over the world use! It is a unique experience that I cherish deeply. I am proud that we have recently expanded our features and education efforts to a variety of Cannify Quizzes that can be applied online, in stores, or for marketing and raffle purposes. We also made a Cannify account in which you can track your results, save your favorite products, and explore our more than 1,500 product database.
We are now carefully starting to roll out our specialized cannabis tools for application in clinics, but we take our time, especially with the current coronavirus crisis.
What do you have planned for future research?
Klumpers: In 2020, we were planning on presenting new analyses and modeling what we did on Cannify’s database during the conference season, in collaboration with a research institute in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus crisis, this will not be happening. However, we are happy to be co-authoring a sleep survey study with physician-researchers from a sleep expertise center that should get published this year. Later this year, I hope to be part of the research that studies various THC and cannabidiol (CBD) ratios in relation to pain, as well as a deep dive into CBD breakdown compounds, which we should perform in collaboration with a research institution and an academic hospital. Due to dependencies on grants and company funds in some cases, you can never be sure you will finish your research until you carry it out to the end and obtain the data. After 2020, I plan to contribute to more research in the realm of psychiatric and neurologic disorders and polypharmacy, and take deeper dives into personalized medicine.