Cannabis consumption's tech update
Gone to pot: Weed tech is flying high
Words— Odessa Paloma Parker
With Canada’s legalization of marijuana coming into effect this month, we thought we’d explore the issue in a four-part series on Canadian cannabis. First up, is the weed wave leaving analog behind?
While the days of glass pipes and rolled joints might not be entirely numbered, the ways in which people consume cannabis have evolved rapidly in the last five years. The growing shift from paraphernalia existing in an entirely artisanal realm over to products that were developed by engineers reflects how reliant we’ve become on experiences that are discreet, customizable, and presumably safeguarded. It’s also leading to a better understanding of the plant and its properties and effects – perhaps the most important result of weed going digital.
The most talked-about advancements coming out of this current period of so-called ‘cannabis enlightenment’ have to do with how it’s consumed. Now that we have access to pretty much any product we want when we want it – not to mention food grown and raised sustainably by trustworthy sources – a low-fi weed experience (i.e. flower from who-knows-where rolled into a Zig Zag) seems as quaint as a crocheted blanket. Not to knock it – a well-rolled doob is certainly one of life’s great pleasures. But we live in a fast-paced, “Oh I’ve just been soooo busy lately” environment, and our stash needs to rise to the occasion.
Ganja game-changers like the PAX vaporizer have emerged on the scene all sleek and tech-savvy, developed by people who attended prestigious design programs at schools like Stanford University. Using unique technology to vaporize dried cannabis flower or cannabis concentrates*, these D-L devices make stealthy tokes possible pretty much anywhere. And now, new iterations of vapes come with apps that manage flavour, temperature controls and more. (Think Apple Watch, not apple bong.)
Pens like those from Dosist use cartridges filled with pre-measured cannabis oils (disclaimer: these kinds of products won’t be legal in Canada on October 17th) and can offer a more precise cannabis consumption experience to users. Because they too use vaporization technology, pens minimize scent and are also said to reduce the harm associated with inhaling pot (Need more info on this? Check the text at the bottom if you didn’t follow the asterisk earlier…).
However, there’s still not much clarity in terms of how much – if at all – better for us vaporizing cannabis is than smoking. Because of its century-long prohibition, studies on cannabis, its consumption methods and its effects are limited.
For those who are concerned about the effects of inhaling their green, edibles have been a precarious go-to for years. Precarious because until now, dosage control has been tricky, preparation lengthy (and very, very smelly), and the on-set time for an edible – which is much longer than when cannabis is inhaled – has caused many green outs from overdoing it.
Enter LEVO, an oil infusion machine made for anyone who likes the sound of not only pot brownies, but cannabis-infused salad dressing, smoothies and Matcha energy balls. Developed by Christina Bellman, this slick counter-top device looks like a high-end espresso maker and can be used to infuse any oil, butter or ghee with herbs of all kinds (wink, wink). “We have customers young and old, men and women, from all over the world. Our goal is that anyone can use LEVO, no matter your experience level,” says Bellman, who had her “lightbulb” moment for the LEVO machine in 2011. “That said, we think those with a slant and curiosity about DIY and homemade food and skincare are the most excited to integrate LEVO into their routines at home.” (That’s right – in addition to infusing food and drink with the machine, cannabis topicals like salves and creams can also be crafted).
While swiftly satisfying curiosity might be the spark for some when it comes to tech-driven cannabis consumption, there are many practical reasons that it has become integral to the industry’s future. For example, dosage control is very important when lighting up or chowing down, and some individuals have seized an opportunity to develop tech-based solutions to this decade-old dilemma.
From Strainprint to MyDX to Releaf, there are plenty of computer-based programs popping up that are dedicated to taking the surprises out of a session. Branden Hall, CTO at Releaf, highlights that the app is innovating in multiple ways through its ability to allow consumers to catalogue their cannabis experiences. “The most important thing to me is that we're bringing real feedback loops to both patients and the industry as a whole,” he says. “Every doctor and every budtender tells their patients to journal their cannabis experience but it's hard to know what to write and it's even hard to turn those scribblings into real knowledge. Releaf helps fix that, while also gathering data that helps doctors, dispensaries, and product manufacturers find out more about the medicine they're providing.”
It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of cannabis’ techy takeover will be, but for now, consumers can relish the flexibility and connectivity it offers, not to mention the promise that it could lead to more definitive scientific evidence around the plant’s reputed benefits finally being brought to light.
*Quick science lesson for you, if you’re not sure what the difference is between smoking and vaping, here’s the deal: Smoking involves the processes of combustion and decarboxylation. Combustion is what heats the cannabis flower or concentrate, causing decarboxylation to activate the cannabinoids (the compounds that give cannabis its reputed effects from relaxation to giddiness). It also has a distinct and pungent scent. Vaporizing cannabis means it turns into vapour, not smoke, before inhalation. This process is odour-minimizing, and it’s said that vapour is less harmful to us because it doesn’t contain the toxins and carcinogens produced during combustion. Got it? Cool!
Odessa Paloma Parker is a Toronto-based writer, stylist and contributing editor to the Globe and Mail. You can also find her on Instagram.