How Weed Tech Companies Are Letting Smokers Control Their High - Rolling Stone
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How Weed Tech Companies Are Letting Smokers Control Their High

From the medical community into the recreational market, tech companies are tackling an age-old marijuana problem: How can cannabis users get the consistent high they want?

(GERMANY OUT)   DEU Deutschland Germany Berlin Der Rauch einer E-Zigarette umhüllt den Kopf eines Mannes auf dem Kudamm.   (Photo by Thielker/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Tech companies are trying to give cannabis consumers a consistent high — every time.

Thielker/ullstein bild/Getty Images

The Gofire vaporizer looks like a walkie-talkie with a mouth groove on top. Hardly as sleek as other, more discreet weed vapes, it packs weight, literally: It’s over half a pound, about five inches tall, and nearly an inch thick. And at $349 (a preorder special deal) it carries a much heavier price tag than many other devices. But the result, the company believes, is worth the cost. Not only does it tell you exactly what’s in the cartridge — information that’s especially important as the industry grapples with a wave of mysterious illnesses that have led to at least three deaths — it’s designed to give you accurate dosing, so you know exactly what you’re getting every time.

With the Gofire, consumers load a cartridge of oil into the side of the inhaler, under a dial wheel. Inside the device, a spin of the wheel triggers the release of oil concentrate into a heating chamber, turning product into 2.5 milligrams of THC vapor. According to the company’s CEO, Peter Calfee, the flavor is quite nice.

The key here, Calfee says, is the dose. Just as drinkers know how much alcohol is in a jigger — and, after some trial and error, how such an amount of liquor will affect them — Calfee hopes to standardize pot dosing.

For years, brands like Dosist, LucidMood, and Sunday Goods have marketed pens loaded with specific oil formulas designed to inspire feelings of calm, relief, or passion. But now, companies are taking the mood formula mindset one step further, using lab testing and app-driven databases to give consumers an accurate look at the composition of what they’re ingesting — and how each specific chemical compound will make them feel.

The Gofire vape has a hefty price, but aims to give you a consistent high.

If proper dosing is one part of the equation, another is determining an accurate read of an oil’s chemical makeup. Each Gofire branded cartridge is loaded with a chip containing information on the chemical makeup of the product, which has been analyzed by an outside lab and loaded into a database. The app then tells users the specific breakdown of cannabinoids and terpenes in their oil — and more concretely, how many hits they should take to achieve a desired effect, like pain relief or sleepiness.

“When we look at the pharmaceutical space and how a doctor interacts with their patients and recommends a prescription, there’s three things on that prescription pad: dose, chemical profile, and regimen,” Calfee says. “As we started to develop our smartphone application we wanted to focus on [that].”

Like Gofire, other startups are using technology to standardize a session. Because federal restrictions still heavily inhibit cannabis research, tech companies are hoping their devices will help consumers adequately track and monitor their own doses — creating personal cannabis data in the process.

“We’re trying to give a precise toolset to users so they can control their experience, and not be obliterated and have a really bad night,” says Mladen Barbaric, founder and CEO of Airgraft, a tech company producing vapes, oil pods, and a dosing app. Like Gofire, Airgraft uses a third-party lab to analyze the product. The app also measures the amount of product consumed per draw.

Airgraft clean vaporizer and app (PRNewsfoto/Airgraft)

Airgraft clean vaporizer and app (PRNewsfoto/Airgraft)

The benefits of being able to pick and choose ingredients, amounts, and desired effect is sending customers to higher-end inhalers, says John Gorst, CEO of Ionic Brands, who are developing a vape and app which calculates proper dosing. “You may have a specific strain, and you might want a combination of THC, CBD, with a limiting terpene,” Gorst says. “That dosage needs to be specific and maybe that requires three-to-four hits that are the specific dose. This is the device that can do that.”

Ionic’s vapes — which they hope to release by the end of the year — can be personalized via the app, tailored to consumers’ specific needs. For instance, a user can limit their intake to 20 hits a day, or program it to only allow a 10-second draw. Users can also input the cannabinoid ratios of the oil they’re loading into the device and the app’s algorithm purports to predict how a specific dose will impact you, based on their height, weight, and BMI. “You can go into a dispensary in California or Las Vegas and you can buy a gram but the ingredients are always going to vary,” Gorst says. “This allows the consumer to take control a little more and refine the experience.”

Ethan Russo, MD, the director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, is skeptical of any device supposedly providing a dosing suggestion based on any biological factors. Cannabis isn’t usually prescribed to a patient based on their weight, he says. “Repeatedly, we’ll see a situation where a small person might need a high dose and a big person might get by with a tiny dose.”

In a 2018 paper, Russo recommended basic guidelines in the first peer-reviewed scientific article on cannabis dosing. He says a 2.5 milligram dose of THC is the baseline amount for most people to feel an effect, while 10 milligrams of THC per dose tends to result in adverse psychoactive effects. Russo suggests no more than 20 to 30 milligrams of THC per day. But because each person’s body reacts to cannabis differently, Russo says, a trial-and-error approach to dosing is still the best method. In the meantime, Russo remains cautiously optimistic about high-tech dosing vapes until there is hard data to prove they are correctly dispensing, tracking, and predicting effects. “I see this as a welcome development and I want to see more data show that this is a practical technology,” he says.

Still, technology has been used for nearly a decade to help medical cannabis users dose properly. Syqe Medical, a pharma-tech company based in Tel Aviv, Israel, began development on their selective dose inhaler in 2011 with the goal of delivering swift therapeutic effects to medicinal consumers without psychoactivity. For the device to be accepted in the medical community, Syqe needed to determine an appropriate dose amount, says Perry Davidson, the company’s CEO.

Syqe Medical’s vape isn’t available for recreational use, but could change the way people approach pot.

Over the course of four years, researchers not only performed clinical trials on the inhaler, but worked to designate a standard dose. The sweet spot, Davidson says, is between .25 milligrams and .5 milligrams of THC per one inhalation. “That’s the dose patients find that therapeutic window between relief and psychoactivity,” Davidson says. Their device was recently approved by the Israeli Ministry of Health for physician prescription; doctors can even remotely change the dosage on a patient’s inhaler. Davidson says the company is working to get the device approved for medical use in other countries.

While Syqe appeals to medical consumers, Davidson isn’t ignorant of the devices currently marketed to recreational users touting the spec of delivering an accurate dose. “All these marketing claims are nice to cater to the wellness market so people can feel like they’re choosing the toppings of their pizza as opposed to something pharmaceutical in nature,” Davidson says. “But sometimes I’m worried they’re muddling a bit of the medical terminology.”

But in the meantime, these high-tech vaporizers continue to fill the space between a medical approach and a recreational application. Companies like Gorst’s Ionic Brands want to provide recreational consumers insight into their consumption habits.

As for Calfee and Gofire, Colorado State University is in the midst of a three-stage research project utilizing their device to determine the tech’s efficacy. Because the inhaler produces a replicable experience — necessary in a clinical trial — it made perfect sense to examine its functionality. The first phase of research just wrapped, Calfee says, and saw 20 participants using the inhaler and app to record their consumption and results.

Calfee says the company is working with 14 other universities across the United States and Europe to study accurate dosing.

“It does come all down to control,” Calfee says. “If we want mass market adoption we have to remove the fear. Without creating a consistent and repeatable and reliable means to deliver a dose of a consistent chemical profile on a consistent regimen, we’re shooting in the dark.”

 

Update: This story has been changed to clarify that the Gofire measures 2.5 milligrams of THC vapor when using oil. Though it can also vape cannabis flower, the measurement is not the same. 

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