04.07.2016
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Releaf: Two Guys Built an App to Track What Weed Does Inside You

Releaf app is more about spreading information than collecting "big data."

We don't know as much as we should about cannabis. 

This is a problem. Much of the opposition to cannabis legalization and drug-policy reform cites a “lack of research” on the long-term health effects of cannabis on users as the fuel burning the anti-weed fire. 

Furthermore, funding, and actually completing, scientific research on cannabis is an arduous process often steeped in bureaucracy. Because of prohibition, even government approved researchers can have trouble finding weed. Until now, that left much of “what we know” about cannabis and its medical properties to be sourced by anecdotal experiences from the elevated and enlightened, or, on the other end of the spectrum, propaganda promulgated by misinformed and bitter lawmakers

One canna-tech endeavor attempting to expand our store of weed wisdom is Releaf, a mobile app that exists at the intersection of pain-tracking, harm-reduction, technological solutions, and medical weed. 

Releaf is seemingly the scientific approach to compiling a full spectrum of cannabis-user data. According to Releaf creators Branden Hall and Franco Brockelman’s model, the data will come straight from the source: The modern cannabis consumer. 

"We want to be the opposite of Just Say No!" 

The pair, who have been building apps and developing technological solutions for major brands for more than a decade, hope medical-cannabis patients will use the Releaf app (currently in development) to monitor their cannabis intake; the variance in effects elicited from different strains; and the frequency and methods of consumption with which the user medicates to “discover, track, and analyze what works best in treating their ailments.”

Releaf, Hall and Brockelman’s first foray into the weed world, relies on an emoticon-like rating system that users employ to report findings. The duo explain the user experience as an almost interactive smoke session, in which the user actively updates the app with responses and reporting, while actively consuming medical cannabis.

Image via Releaf 

The KIND reached out to the Releaf creators at their studio in Washington D.C. —a city entrenched in the struggles of the marijuana movement.

Despite the herb being legal (the confusing kind) for consenting adults within the District, Washington D.C. is “a very challenging environment, to say the least,” Hall tells The KIND.

“That being said, there is a fairly robust group of advocates and people working to change things here, such as the National Cannabis Festival and NORML.”

The KIND: What inspired you to enter the cannabis industry?

Branden Hall: We were initially looking to create something to help dispensaries dealing with bureaucratic red tape. At first, there were only three dispensaries and three grow-operations in D.C. When only one of the grow operations ‘passed the muster,’ it created an environment where three high-volume dispensaries were relying on only one grower.

Franco Brockelman: Around the same time that I was introduced to medical cannabis here in D.C., my mom’s health was changing a bit. She was trying to deal with chronic pain. So, watching her trials and tribulations with her doctor, I suggested that she might try cannabis. After about six months or so, she called me and said she wanted to give it a try. So I helped her get all set up and answered some of her basic questions. Through that experience, I realized how scary that situation could be for someone who is new to cannabis. Information about cannabis and strain types are changing so rapidly. It’s not even about learning something once anymore. It’s more about keeping up as things change on a daily basis. That really is where the app was born from: Marijuana is a very personal experience. Without some sort of tool to guide people along, its going to be a tough climb.

The KIND: How did Releaf evolve into what it is now, which seems more beneficial to the consumer?

Branden Hall: There isn’t necessarily a lot of data behind what bud-tenders tend to recommend. People mostly only recommend things that they also like. My insights pointed me in the direction of helping people approach this [cannabis consumption] scientifically. Let’s record their information and make it fun and easy for people to experiment—yes experiment—with cannabis to see if it improves their quality of life. Cannabis presents us with a unique position. It's safe enough for patients to figure out what works for them.

Unfortunately we’re at the tail end of prohibition. Plants have not necessarily been bred to medical standards. They’ve been bred for what gets people the highest. There is a total lack of formal studies of pure-bred cannabis genetics––even two of the same strains from different growers can have different amounts of cannabinoids. [Cannabis] is a total weirdo when it comes to our normal approach to health, and people need help.

By making it easy to track this stuff in the app, we empower patients to narrow down a course of treatment that works best for them.

The KIND: So how does the app work?

Branden Hall: In the app, we’re gathering data about what people are doing, fully anonymously, to aggregate that information, and then feed it back out to the users of the app. It's not just looking at strains, but also how the consumer actually consumes the weed. The culture around illegal cannabis is sort of: “4/20 bro,” and the point is to get inebriated. Where as, on the medical side, sometimes less is more. If your approach is to try to integrate cannabis into your life, there’s a lot of variables to take into account. In addition to the simple tracking function, we have an essentially emoticon-based way for people to track their primary “feels” that come along with cannabis use. Anything from negative things such as dizziness, drowsiness, to potentially positive things such as increased appetite. By making it easy to track this stuff in the app, we empower patients to narrow down a course of treatment that works best for them.

Franco Brockelman: Data can be also be saved for patients to share with doctors and caregivers. Releaf is like a usage journal that doctors sometimes ask patients taking powerful medications to keep. Not only are there a lot of doctors that seemingly don’t know the right conversations to have about cannabis with their patients, on the patient side, it can be a little intimidating to divulge that information to someone. With the reports we’ll be building from the data collected in the app, patients can have actual information to present to their caregiver or budtender when seeking treatment options.

The app could even be useful to breeders looking to meet current market demands. It’s an example of the power of useful data. We can show trends around cannabis use that we’ve never been able to do before. Releaf can be very informative in the supply chain.  



The KIND: How does Releaf function for harm reduction purposes?

Branden Hall: I had an uncle that passed away recently, who suffered from chronic pain related to his job as a construction worker. For the last five or ten years of his life, he was on various opioids. My teenage cousins got into that. They would steal the pills from him, and are now in recovery for heroin addiction. Our approach to dealing with pain in this country has been deeply broken, for a long time. If more people are using cannabis to deal with pain, and we can promote that, then perhaps less people will be using destructive drugs such as opioids.

The KIND: What are some of the challenges you face, being a startup in the cannabis space? Do you have any competitors?

Branden Hall: It’s difficult for us, because we’re not only selling the idea of medical cannabis, which is enough of a hard sell to a certain extent, we’re selling the idea of mindfulness. It’s almost like selling meditation. We’re telling people to think about themselves and how they feel. That being said, there is a huge push of startups in that space. We feel in many ways that maybe we even fit in more in that space, than with anything currently in the cannabis space. A lot of the startups within cannabis right now remind me of the first dot-com boom. Our strategy isn’t “let’s get big in this [cannabis] space and figure it out later.” We already know what it is that we want to do—to continually help people—and we’re working really hard to do it.

 

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