One unique aspect of the cannabis industry is that it is sprouting in high-tech times, unlike many other industries that have come before it.
This allows the cannabis industry to be imbued with tech in all of its facets, from operations to products — and young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs are leading the way.
To get a sense of how tech is transforming the cannabis industry, Greencamp spoke to three cannabis companies that are using tech in big ways.
Big data goes green
It is hard to talk about tech without mentioning big data.
Now that practically everything is quantifiable and trackable, all of that data is providing insights that can be virtual gold to companies looking to become more efficient.
Enlighten is one company that is marrying cannabis and big data to help dispensaries get ahead.
The Kentucky-based company, headed by CEO Jeremy Jacobs, provides content to dispensaries to educate customers on different strains available via digital menus — similar to ones you might find in a McDonald’s.
However, unlike McDonald’s, keeping dispensary menus up-to-date is a much more complicated affair, Jacobs explains.
Cannabis has the largest turnover of inventory of any industry I’ve ever seen, because they’re all small batches,” he said. “So just keeping a [cannabis] menu up to date with stuff you have in stock is an enormous undertaking.
That is where tech comes in to help.
In order to accurately show customers all the information they need when making purchases at a dispensary, such as THC and CBD percentages or which strain is in stock, Jacobs says Enlighten’s software automatically takes data out of Point of Sales (POS) systems to update the displays in real-time.
This saves dispensaries time and the extra cost of doing it manually, according to Jacobs, and can actually drive up sales at dispensaries.
“People spend more money when they get more information,” he said.
Another somewhat more contentious use of data that Enlighten takes part in is the monitoring of dispensary customer traffic using its own device, called TrafficWise.
TrafficWise is a small box that dispensaries can place in their stores that will catch signals nearby cellphones emit.
Jacobs explains that cellphones are constantly sending out signals in order to function, such as Bluetooth, WiFi, cellular signals or Near Field Communication (NFC).
TrafficWise can pick up those signals up to 300 feet away from the device and can tell how close someone is to the store.
That data can then give insights to retailers about customer traffic flow, such as whether people enter the store or walk right past it, how long they may spend in the store, or even if they are repeat customers.
“The magic is we take all these random cell phone signals, and we make them make sense,” Jacobs said.
He explains that this extra data can help retailers make smarter decisions than they may have made in the past. For example, while one store may have more sales than another, data from TrafficWise can show that the store with fewer sales actually had a higher customer capture rate, and so marketing dollars should be spent on that store rather than the store with higher sales.
Privacy is one concern of this kind of tech, but Jacobs says people’s identities are hidden by encrypting the data. It is more like understanding how a herd acts rather than a specific individual, according to Jacobs, and using cellphone data is a practice that cellphone carriers take part in as well.
Not only is tech touching on cannabis companies’ operations, but it is also being incorporated into innovative and useful consumer products.
One of those products is the Gofire Inhaler, a cannabis vaporizer that uses tech to allow precise dosing.
Since cannabis can be taken medically as well as recreationally, the dose is an important factor to consider but can be tricky to get exact— simply taking a puff of a joint or a vaporizer is not really a precise dose.
Denver-based Gofire recognized this problem and so created the Gofire Inhaler, a “medical-grade piece of hardware,” explains the company’s COO, Joe Hodos.
When looking at the current market of vaporizers, Hodos says Gofire found most dose control technology was based on a “timing mechanism,” which he says is “extremely imprecise.”
“What you inhale in three seconds may be completely different to what I inhale in three seconds,” he said.
To counter this, Gofire dictates the exact dose you can get upfront so it is “less about the number of inhales and more about the total amount of medicine being delivered,” according to Hodos.
The Gofire Inhaler provides a minimum dose of 2.5 mg of custom-made cannabis concentrate, which can be increased in 2.5 mg increments with its “dose wheel.”
“[The dose wheel] gives the consumer far greater control than any other methodology,” Hodos said.
In addition to more accurate dosing, the Gofire Inhaler also separates the cannabis oil from its heating element and doesn’t use any metals in order to prevent any kind of leaching into the medicine, which Hodos says is a concern with other vaporizers.
“It creates a nice protection for the consumer so they know that they’re consuming only what was intended to be in the cartridge,” he said.
By providing protection against leaching and more accurate dosing, Hodos hopes that Gofire can make physicians feel more comfortable prescribing cannabis just like any other medicine.
Hodos says that as alternative plant-based medicine gains popularity, the hardware used to consume it will play bigger roles.
As regulations in the U.S. are loosening, cannabis R&D is also increasing, according to Hodos, which is allowing “leapfrog technologies” to emerge that can even be applied to other industries to better manage health and wellness.
Gofire can also pair up with an app that can help you keep track of what strains and doses are working for you and other people. That data is shared anonymously to cannabis suppliers so they can understand what is effective and what isn’t to improve their products, and to physicians so they can better help patients.
Cannabis is complex, but there’s an app for that
One person who knows the value of software in the cannabis industry is Franco Brockelman.
He is the CEO and founder of Releaf, a cannabis software company with an app of the same name.
Releaf is a cannabis journaling app that allows you to record how each strain you try makes you feel and how effective it is at treating a specific ailment. That data is then aggregated and organized to provide you helpful insights into which strains are working and which are not.
Studies have shown that cannabis can have different effects depending on who is taking it, which makes personalized information on strains’ effects all the more important, especially if weed is being used as medicine.
Brockelman created Releaf after his mom was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which can cause extreme pain and inflammation. He recommended she try cannabis as a treatment, but she was overwhelmed by the options and how to approach the drug. Hence Brockelman began Releaf as a way for her and others to understand cannabis and how it affects them.
“Cannabis is pretty complex, and it doesn’t even get more simple as the time goes on, it gets more complex,” he said. “How do you approach it? Doctors don’t really know what to tell you today and dispensaries don’t really know much more.”
Brockelman envisions crowdsourced data as a solution to unlock cannabis’ mysteries.
So far Releaf has gained around 20 million data points from users to better understand cannabis’ complexities, such as how the plant can differ depending on where or when it was grown, or what nutrients were used.
To sort through this data and gain insights from it, Releaf has teamed up with a handful of universities who have already published four papers based on the info, according to Brockelman.
Releaf is also pairing up with dispensaries, clinics and doctors so they all can recommend strains based on data, not guesswork. Soon the app will also be able to recommend strains based on the data too.
I think software and cannabis is pretty much the perfect marriage,” he said. “There’s just so much about cannabis to keep in mind and to track and analyze. Without software, that’s a mighty challenge.