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This article was published 15/3/2018 – that’s before recreational cannabis was legal in Canada, so language and information in the article may be dated.
Whether its for medical purposes or just for pleasure, using cannabis can be a highly subjective experience.
With an enormous number of different cannabis strains available under a plethora of perplexing names, users can be hard-pressed to figure out exactly how using Granddaddy Purple differs from using UK Cheese or Bubblegum Kush.
The cannabis industry is trying to solve that problem, in part, with mobile apps that can collect and distribute information about the effects of different strains. Two such apps, U.S.-based Leafly and Canada's own Strainprint, take two very different approaches to the dilemma.
Leafly is already a big name in the weed sector. Owned by U.S. firm Privateer Holdings, which also owns Canadian licensed cannabis producer Tilray, the Leafly brand is built around a huge online database of marijuana dispensaries, as well as cannabis strain ratings and reviews.
The free Leafly mobile app has more than three million active users, according to Will Hyde, a senior subject matter expert with Leafly. Those users can submit their own strain reviews, much like Amazon shoppers can give feedback on their purchases.
"We see everything from very detailed, multi-page reviews of people really going in-depth on their experience with that strain, or how that strain has affected their symptoms or their life in general," says Hyde.Advertisement
"But then we also see a lot of stuff that doesn't really add much to the conversation, things like 'Oh that's dank,' or, 'Oh, this is fire,' things like that, that (don't) really help someone trying to make a purchasing decision or trying to solve a medical ailment."
App users are prompted to upvote and downvote reviews, which Hyde says helps Leafly highlight the best content.
Leafly app users can also use a "explore strains" function to filter different varieties of cannabis by user-reported effects, like "lift your spirits" or "conquer social anxiety."
"If it says it's 'euphoric,' that's because we've had multitudes and multitudes of reviewers say 'this is a euphoric strain,'" says Hyde.
Leafly users, Hyde says, are happy to provide the reviews that power the platform because "people love talking about cannabis and love talking about their experience."
Right now, Leafly earns revenue "through dispensaries paying to list their menus and have their site listed on our finder," Hyde says. The company, which has an office and staff in Canada, will "only be working with legal retail locations in Canada" after legalization, he adds.
Ultimately, says Hyde, Leafly's user-submitted reviews are meant to resolve "years and years of stigma and misinformation being spread" about cannabis.
"A lot of people have the old-school thought of, 'Cannabis is green and I smoke it,' and that's the end of it," says Hyde. "The reality is that cannabis is a highly nuanced plant with many different applications for many different reasons, whether it be medicinal or adult use for recreation."
"And really, we just want to inform, educate, and provide some form of standardization to a nascent industry and to a consumer base who is often confused and doesn't have any true north to point towards."
Canadian cannabis technology startup Strainprint was founded in 2016, but its app is already making waves among the growing number of Canadians who use cannabis for medical purposes.
Strainprint co-founder, president and chief technology officer David Berg says the app has "tens of thousands of users."
"The initial premise of the product was it was a digital cannabis journal that would allow patients to easily record their experience with cannabis for a variety of conditions," says Berg.
The free Strainprint app is specifically designed to work within Canada's legal medical cannabis system, although users can track cannabis of any kind. Participants record their symptoms and feelings before using cannabis, then enter data about what kind of cannabis they used and how they ingested it.
After the effects kick in, the app reminds users to document their experience and rate their symptoms. Novice cannabis users can use the app to search by symptom and find strains that have been effective for other users.
"Ultimately what it's going to do is, it's going to teach you what is working for you, how much you should be dosing, and also give you the recommendations based on other people in your peer group to understand which strains you should be looking at," says Berg.
"So it's all about a very personalized experience."
Strainprint uses a loyalty points system to incentivize participation, and accumulated points can be redeemed for swag, including T-shirts, rolling trays, vaporizers or coupons for legal cannabis purchases. User-submitted data, says Berg, is treated as "confidential patient records" and, ultimately, owned by the users.
"They're giving us a right to use their data for a medical study, and in exchange for that we provide them with an app and a loyalty program," he says.
Legal producers of medical cannabis can also give their customers special activation codes for Strainprint, branding the app for their products and paying Strainprint to serve as customized customer-loyalty tool.
Berg says Strainprint has "over six million data points collected and over 300,000 validated sessions," describing that database as "the largest longitudinal study on cannabis in the world." He says that information can address the dearth of knowledge about the medical effects of cannabis.
"In talking to doctors, the knowledge is pretty abysmal in terms of understanding the interactions, and there was no real good place to get the data that was required by me or by anyone that was perhaps cannabis-naive."
The data will also be useful, says Berg, in building the future legal recreational cannabis industry.
"When you are looking a retail environment, and you have a customer that comes in and wants a designer experience where they want a product that's going to make them happy, not make them couch-locked, and is going to also make them creative, we have the data that can help point them towards the right strain selection."
Updated on Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 5:47 PM CDT: Changes photo order