Otha Smith III has so much energy he would bottle and sell it if he could, so when he uses cannabis he knows to avoid plants which have been bred to contain a lot of alpha-pinene, the energy-promoting compound that is also found in pine trees and rosemary.
He looks instead for plants heavy in myrcene, a supposedly sedating compound also found in hops, which are used to flavor beer.
To help others keep track of what products they have used, how they felt and what the chemical composition was, Smith developed the idea for a phone app called Tetragram, which allows users to log 22 compounds listed in percentage on the side of medical cannabis products in Maryland.
The mission of Tetragram is to use that aggregate data to help patients and medical professionals better understand the positives and negatives of cannabis use, he said. Giving patients more information also reduces their need to rely on recommendations from budtenders in stores, Smith said, and reduces the risk of trying a strain that causes a negative reaction and makes that person think they hate all cannabis.
Smith, a Bowie resident, entrepreneur and graduate of Bowie State University, teamed up with Towson University graduate and visual designer Lucas Roe and University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate and computer programmer Julius Moore to officially launch Tetragram on July 10.
Smith said in the month since they have accumulated more than 400 app users. The biggest challenge caused by COVID-19 to the launch of the app has been the way it has affected Smith’s ability to “pop up” at various dispensaries to talk directly with consumers about the app, he said, similar to how some cannabis brands “pop up” to encourage sale of their products.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the compound that gives patients the cerebral “high” feeling, Smith said, but the way a strain affects an individual is also determined by compounds called terpenes, which can promote attention or relaxation, stunt hunger, sedate and provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Smith says it is very important for patients to understand the effects of different terpenes, but the list on the side of the bottle can be dauntingly long.
Terpenes are present in cannabidiol or CBD products as well, Smith said.
While a strain name is passed from plant generation to plant generation, the chemical composition of the new plant can differ from its parent. And the market is also constantly changing –– a patient could find a strain they like, but once it sells out it could be weeks before it returns to the store again, as a new batch must be grown and harvested, Smith said.
Smith said he was overwhelmed by variety of cannabis products when he first became a patient registered with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission as an alternative to using opioids to manage pain that stems from a car crash in 2003 in which he was ejected from the vehicle.
“One of the things we lack in the cannabis industry is reliable and valid consumer data on usage and effects,” he said in an email. “Many who consume cannabis are unwilling to speak about it and when they do, they tend to exaggerate or minimize their usage.”
Ewart had two caveats –– the need for accurate data and many, many app users. If a person is putting information into Tetragram based on a medical product with the composition on the side that’s good, he said, but if a person is guessing what the make up of a product is without knowing that could be an issue.
“The impacts of each strain is highly dependent on the user, so you need a significant number of comments to weed out the outliers,” Ewart wrote.
Smith said they hope to provide dispensaries and cultivators with consumer information to help them figure what products people prefer and why. Tetragram also allows the user to say what they are treating, which could provide insight into what strains are the best for what conditions.
There are other cannabis-focused apps on the market such as Leafly and WeedMaps, through which users can see a dispensary’s menu and place an order, and also research different strains and their reported effects based on reviews. Smith said his app takes a deeper dive into the data.
They will be rolling out new features soon, he said, such as the ability to share a review with a friend or doctor. They would like to create a way for users, who don’t put a name down, to interact, and are also working on advertisements for the site.