Article by High! Canada
High! Canada Magazine had the extreme pleasure of sitting down with Alex the Chemist also known as Alexzander Samuelsson. He works for NextLeaf Solutions as lead chemist out of Vancouver BC and we were lucky enough to catch him between meetings recently in Toronto.
Tell us Alexzander, you’re a chemist, what led you down the path into the cannabis industry?
After I graduated university I tried to get a job for about a year and a half. I sent over 400 applications with cover letters, resumes with no response. After, I went through a period of depression I was on SSRI’s, anxiety medication and Aderall just to balance it all out. I was with my dad on his 50th birthday, and I decided to share a joint with him after not trying cannabis for many years. After I shared that joint with him , it literally opened up a new horizon. I felt like me again, I was giddy, I was happy; I was positive and curious again. All these things came rushing at me intensely. When you’re on pharmaceutical drugs it can really dampen down your emotional state and your ability to think and experience reality. My dad had always been cannabis friendly and it was just a random act of sharing that I impulsively decided to try cannabis again after it had negative effects on me in the past. This was overwhelmingly positive and as a bored out-of-work chemist with the internet, I needed to know how does this work for me and what mechanism arises to give me this kind of relief?
Fast forward 5 years – you’re considered one of Canada’s top chemists when it comes to all things cannabis. You’ve built yourself a phenomenal social media following. You are a valued and a very respected member of the cannabis space. How did you go from sharing a joint with your dad and doing some research to who you are today?
Thank so much for the kind words! I still have a hard time processing how fast we can grow in this space. I started researching online and reading the academic papers on what mechanism makes me feel this way. Then I learned about the endocannabinoid system and learned about the compounds that the cannabis plant produces, which hit these cannabinoid receptors that are in our brain and body. Then I learned about terpenes and all the other compounds in the cannabis plant. It sparked an intense interest in this world I was never privy to before. After reading for about 6 months I have a good friend named Steven Naraine, he’s been a great mentor to me in the space. He basically showed me the ropes, he brought me to my first cannabis conference in the cannabis space, he brought me to a social networking event and eventually helped me figure out a way to become an independent consultant and get contracts. One of the best aspects of the industry is the ease at which we can be mentored and to pay it forward mentoring and helping others.
Do you remember what your first contract was?
Yes it was Agmedica. Helping them write their business plan, and technical documents for Health Canada application. It was a success and then I worked with Beleave on their Health Canada response letter where they needed SOP’s and other technical documents written. I had also written the science chapter for Lift’s retail training course as well as other minor contracts along the way.
What other things have you been up to for the last while?
There are some definite highlights; I have to give a shout out to Dessy Pavlova she has been an incredible supporter. She gave me my first speaking role at the Edmonton Cannabis and Hemp Expo in 2017. Then I received another opportunity to speak in Calgary as well as the Toronto Lift Expo. Since then I have spoken at over a dozen conferences, events, trade shows, and been fortunate enough to be featured on several podcasts. Stay tuned there’s a lot more fun science education I’m planning for the community in the coming months.
What was Lift Toronto like for you this year?
This year was great; the previous year was probably the better one because that’s what launched my career in a sense. I, with John Prentice and Scott Walters sat down and they have been incredible mentors in the space as well. We were trying to figure out a way for me to advertise myself, to get myself out there and we were thinking of different names or little gimmicks and we just decided Alex the chemist. It’s simple, fun, and people seem to enjoy it.
You have a built great support network on social media; can you tell us a bit about that?
This is pretty surreal to be honest. I never thought that I would have the kind of following that I have or the respect from people in the industry. To me I’m still just, Alex. It happens more frequently, I’ll be at conferences and people come up and congratulate me on an article I’ve written or a presentation they’ve seen, it’s hard to process sometimes as it can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it. I’d say that twitter is my real game, my best advice is to let your personality shine through. People like to be entertained by witty remarks; they like to know who you are.
One of the things I love about the cannabis space is that it is always evolving. Right now I’ve been talking about terpenes and I recently talked about how cannabis science will inform product development by looking at the compounds the plant produces, the receptors in the brain and the body which those compounds will interact with and then isolating those compounds into a formulation so that you have specific and desirable effects. I can’t fully describe how amazing it is to be able to speak to people about what I love through social media.
You’ve had quite a number of successes in the cannabis space, have you run into any challenges or adversity that you have had to overcome?
Let me rewind a little bit to when I first got in as a consultant I struggled pretty hard actually, I went through a lull after the ACMPR’s released in August of last year where I had a couple of contracts I was negotiating and all of a sudden they just dried up. For about 3 months it was pretty hard just trying to make ends meet. It really challenged the thought that I could do this all on my own. Shortly after that I got a contract to go out to BC and work with some growers out there, trying to bring some science and awareness to what they were doing with their crops. It gave me a lot of experience learning the plant cycle, really understanding some of the issues in growing; it was a great learning experience. I took a contract that I wouldn’t normally and I was able to get a wealth of experience. When I was in BC I also met my current CEO Paul Pederesen at a social networking event after the 420 party in Vancouver. We struck up a conversation, he liked my attitude, when he saw my talk at Lift Toronto 2017, he was like you know what we have to do a contract together and we did 2 subsequent contracts in that summer. At the end of the second contract around September of last year he said you know what Alexzander, we need someone with a scientific expertise; we love your attitude we want you to join the company full time. That to me was my biggest break and my biggest success. I came on as lead scientist at Nextleaf Solutions.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to enter the industry?
I would just like to explicitly state that if you are ever struggling or ever in self doubt, if you know that you have a skill, you feel it inside, persevere, ask for help do whatever you can because this industry is a dream factory. All the pieces are just moving around you just have to go meet with them talk to them and put them together. Its not for the faint of heart or weak stomach because sometimes you’ll really struggle. In that struggle if you stay true and you talk to people and are open with your needs and desires eventually something will click. I feel like I understand the saying ‘If I can do it anyone can’ as I never thought I’d be doing what I am today.
Let’s talk about what you’re doing right now?
Right now we are in the stage of building our central processing facility out in Coquitlam, BC where we will process trim and low grade bud for licensed producers. We have applied for a standard processing licence and we have a goal to be the extractor for anyone who wants cannabis oil as a base product for development of oils in the current regulations or in the future regulations we’ll have beverages, concentrates, vape pens, topicals, edibles, any kind of infused product you’ll need distillate oil. It’s tasteless, odourless and you can add it in a standardised way. I think the thing that excites me the most is that were at the beginning of this brand new industry which our central goal is to separate, isolate, and purify different compounds, terpenes, cannabinoids and to have these all on the shelf in bottles. Then formulations comes into play where if you want something more stimulating you can add the terpenes and cannabinoids and the right ratios if you want something sleepy or something to help anxiety or even medically relevant these are going to be the products of the future.
We are leading up to legalization; do you have any predictions you’d like to share?
I think that there is going to be a massive shortage of cannabis once legalization comes out. When you look at the current rates of consumption from dispensaries from across the country and the current rates of consumption from medical patients across the country and then add in the boost from people who are curious, who had never tried cannabis because it was illegal and that was the only reason they never tried it, you’re going to have a huge run on supply. There will be shortages within a couple of week’s tops.
I think what everyone is looking at in terms of evaluations on why these stocks are so high is based on future potential, if that potential isn’t realized through a run on supply then it might indicate that maybe cannabis isn’t so popular and I think there will be a huge sell off. However I don’t think that is the case. I’ve got some intel from some LP’s saying there will be some new products out that haven’t been seen on the ACMPR yet that might stimulate more investments in the space.
Is there any new research and development out right now that you’re excited about?
The thing that excites me the most is when the new regulations will come in for concentrates and that will open up consumers to what is already available in the recreational market in dispensaries. Shatter, waxes, vape pens, edibles, topicals, suppositories, slow release patches, I’ve even seen THC infused sugar.
I’m really excited for vape pens. I found when I started smoking after 3 months, because I was a non-smoker I was starting to cough up grey stuff and that shocked and kind of scared me so I moved almost entirely to vaping and I appreciate them more because you get the desired effects. That’s also what we are excited for with our extraction technology, for separating, isolating and purifying different compounds so that we can formulate different kinds of pens.