Finding the right cannabis product can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a new medical patient without any guidance.
When you walk into a hardware store, pharmacy, or even a liquor store, if you don’t know exactly what product will meet your needs there’s someone educated enough to point you to the right product and the data to back up that recommendation, says Tyler Dautrich, COO of Releaf.
“That’s not really available in the cannabis industry,” he explained on the Cannabis Enigma podcast. “That’s where we’re trying to fill that need and plug that gap and help individuals inform their purchase decision.”
The Releaf app allows users to journal and track what cannabis products they are using and what effects they have in order to build an evidence-based treatment regime.
Anonymized data also helps scientists better understand the cannabis plant and what products and chemical profiles are most effective for treating different conditions and symptoms.
Produced by Elana Goldberg and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Edited and mixed by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Music by Desca. The Cannabis Enigma podcast is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access.
Elana Goldberg: Hi, Tyler. Thanks so much for joining me here on the podcast today.
Tyler Dautrich: Yes, thank you for having me.
EG: Really happy to be talking about the Releaf app. So Tyler, I’m just gonna let you get straight into it. Why don’t you tell us what is the Releaf cannabis tracking app?
TD: Sure. So Releaf app is an app that we released back in 2016. It comes from my four partners who are the developers of the app that are based in the Maryland, Washington DC area. These guys come from a background of owning their own boutique software and technology consulting firm for about 15 years before doing this project where, just a quick background, they built the face of IBM’s Watson, did a lot of client work for NASA, Microsoft, Adobe, some private work for some government entities, so really versed in the area of software and technology.
TD: Releaf app was developed out of a passion project that one of the founders had to help his mother navigate her use of medical cannabis for the first time. And after developing the app for his mother, we quickly realized that there’s probably a lot more people that we can help then just his individual mother. So fast forward to where we’re at today, and we have the highest rated mobile app for individuals to track, learn from and improve their use of cannabis. So how the app works is individuals go in and they track the specific product that they’re using, where they purchased that product from, the specific symptoms or reasons that they’re using that product for, and then the outcomes that they experienced during and after using that particular product. So what the app will do for each individual is generates personal reports and analytics to help that individual identify what product and administration form they found to be most beneficial for them, based on what they’re saying they’re commonly purchasing and using products for it to begin with. So the app is really meant to help that individual hone in on what works best for them and kinda shorten the amount of time and money that they spend in that trial and error process.
EG: That’s really so important, having these tools to help guide users through the trial and error, like you mentioned, because that’s the real only way to kind of get yourself on a proper dosing regimen, I suppose.
EG: So it sounds like it’s kind of more geared towards medical users. Does it have a recreational user use as well?
TD: Yeah, so it does, and some of the more active states that we see the app used in are markets like California and Washington, where clearly those states, you would assume lean more towards the adult use side of things than not. So the reason, and we get that comment a lot, where some assume that it’s very much medically driven, and if you open up the app and you look at it, there’s 50-some different reasons that you can indicate why you’re using a product for. And some of those can be very specific, like medical symptoms that are the symptoms from a specific disease or condition that an individual can be suffering from. But others in there could be very much overall health and wellness reasons. So like example, anxiety or stress. You don’t really need to be a medical cannabis patient to experience anxiety and stress, especially in today’s world. And same with pain, pain is a pretty common thing.
TD: But we also have reasons in there just as like… That’s just overall wellness as well as just an “other” category where, again, that’s where individuals more so are focused on just the overall experience that they have with using a particular product rather than the effectiveness of that product in relieving a specific symptom. Because at the end of the day, regardless if you’re a very regimen medical cannabis user or if you’re just an everyday cannabis user, you’re usually using the product or a product because you’re looking to experience something very specific, and you wanna be able to hone in on what’s going to help you have that experience because you wanna get the best outcome, you wanna have the best experience overall. So the app is really just, again, more of an intuitive personal journaling tool to help you really have the best relationship that you can have with cannabinoid-based products.
EG: Right, yeah. It really felt intuitive to me when I was having a look around the app just before our call. One of the things that stood out to me as a writer, my background is in content production, is the language that you chose to use on that app and symptoms or mind states, such as “thinky,” I noticed on there, it certainly doesn’t sound like hospital terminology.
TD: Right, right. Well, yeah, what’s funny about that is… So what you’re referencing there is, I think we have like… I think it’s 48 different feelings, side effects or emotions, both positive and negative, that individuals can indicate that they’re experiencing during using a particular product. And then we break those down into four categories, which are mind, body, mood and other, and then they’re represented obviously via the term you just used, “thinky” is an example of one. And then we have a little emoji-con image that, again, people can just click on and off like a button as the experience or don’t experience those specific experiences. But yeah, actually what’s funny about some of those is they actually come directly from our users, so there’s a few of them on there where we get emails from our users and saying like, “Hey, I feel… ” Let’s just use thinky for an example, “I feel thinky. Can we add that into the app?” And again, there’s a number of them that are in there right now where those weren’t ones that we originally created, but we had enough requests from our users, we’re like, “Alright, well, let’s add it in there.” And that’s where some of those feelings and sides effects and emotions come from.
EG: I love that. Okay, so apart from tracking the experience of symptoms, I suppose, and dosage and product, are users able to get any kind of output from the app? Can they identify specific products or chemical profiles that might work better for them?
TD: Yeah, so right now, what a user is able… How a user is able to learn from data in the app is strictly based off of their own use, so the more they input in the app, the more the app is able to give back to them. To not give away too much, but to give everybody a sneak peek, I would say check back within the next three to four weeks, and that’ll change and there’ll be some new features and functionalities in there that’ll expand how individuals are able to learn from data being inputted into the app and really going down the path of leveraging the power of the crowd and the community. This industry was very much built off of community knowledge and community engagement. And even still today, if you go on Facebook, for example, and go into here in the States where I’m based at, specific medical cannabis markets have very active patient groups on Facebook, where patients are going in and just asking each other for advice, feedback or experiences so that they can help inform their own decisions. And we really want to open up the app to empower, again, crowdsource knowledge and community learning.
EG: Yeah, super interesting. That actually feeds right into what I wanted to talk to you about next. So on The Cannigma, we’ve just kind of launched a couple of months ago our strain section, and we really had a lot of deliberation when putting this section of the website together. Because we are an evidence-based site, we struggled with the idea of talking about strains at all because what is a strain anyway? You can grow something called skittles and whatever. I don’t need to tell you the story here. However, we’re a cannabis site and people are interested in strains, so we did feel that you needed to speak to the issue. So what we ended up doing was creating a database of certificates of analysis and then taking an average for each strain that we look at and speaking about that specific chemical profile.
EG: So if I say, “This is the White Widow, we know we’re talking about a strain that has THC levels of around 20%, CBD under 1%, this particular terpene profile, whatever it is, this particular profile might help you with these symptoms based on mainly pre-clinical data, but also clinical data. So that’s how we decided to tackle it, so I’m interested to hear from you how you tackle that inconsistency between strains or strain-based products from different producers, since we’re not really comparing apples and apples or skittles and skittles, as the case may be.
TD: Right. So the first thing that we did… And again, this is right now, so I’ll just use how we’re working with some of the businesses in the States, so whether that’s a cannabis dispensary, a cannabis retailer or a brand, whether that’s a grower, processor, manufacturer, etcetera. So looking at… Let’s just look at a state like Maryland, ’cause that’s where we were developed at. Looking at a state like Maryland, there’s very specific growers and processors who are able to grow, process and then put products on the shelves at these retailers. So what we did and what dispensaries who we work with are able to see is we wrapped products up to a specific brand, so that way we could always tie a very specific product back to a very specific brand and try to wrap all the data around that product back to a specific brand.
TD: So if you look in, again, Maryland, where you have company A who grows Blue Dream, but then you also have company B who grows Blue Dream, we’re able to separate those two “Blue Dream strains” because we’re tying back to a very specific producer who is making those products. And then that’s the same for that entire product catalog of that company. If there’s products that have the same name or a similar name on the market that are coming from different grower/processors, we’re always tying that back to, again, a product name is the first level of the roll-up, everything goes back to a product name because you could think about it, you could have specifically with flour, multiple different “products” out there because flour is sold by weight. So you could have someone who’s using Blue Dream in a gram, someone who’s using Blue Dream from an eighth or someone who’s using Blue Dream from a quarter because that’s how the dispensaries are transacting it. It’s based on the quantity that you’re buying.
TD: But really as long as all of those different, the gram, the eighth and the quarter came from the same company, that’s really the same flour at that point. So grouping all of those weights together into one product, which would be Blue Dream, and then tying that specific Blue Dream back to a specific grower/processor is how we’re trying to organize that data because, again, what is a strain name at the end of the day? And it really comes down to how that product is grown and then what’s the formulation and the ratio of that product? And then based on that, what are the common outcomes of that product? And that’s how we feel you can really get an understanding on that product’s performance is looking at that testing info, looking at data around the use of the outcome, and using both of those data sets to, again, really get an understanding on that product’s performance.
EG: Yeah, it makes sense. So from, again, from the user perspective, when the user inputs their location, they’re gonna then have access to the products that are available in their area?
TD: Right. So for a user who goes to… I’ll just continue to focus on Maryland ’cause that’s just an easy market to focus on. So for a user who goes to a dispensary in Maryland, where we’re currently working with that dispenser and integrated with that dispensary, we’re trying to… Back in when we first launched in 2016, as you could imagine, the information that was available to an end consumer in regards to label details and whatnot was very limited. So we had to rely on really what individuals, one, felt like they wanted to enter about the product that they were using and, two, just what was available to them. So that was very sparse data. So as the industry has continued to mature, we’ve just continued to try to mature alongside of it in regards to continuing to build out B2B integrations that we have to pull in product info so that we could streamline and improve the process for the user and just limit the amount of stuff that they had to enter. But in that same respect there, limiting the amount of what they have to enter, because when you’re relying on humans to enter anything, there’s always the room for human error.
TD: So If a user goes in and uses the app and they’re purchasing a product based on a company that we’re integrated with, whether from a dispensary level or a brand level, all that person has to do who’s using the app at that point is say, “Oh, I went to this dispensary,” and then instead of manually typing in all of the details of the product, then we will have that dispensary’s menu fully integrated in the app, and then they’ll be able to just start to enter in the name of the product, we will smart filter out options that are matching what they’re typing in, and then all they have to do is click that product name, we will pre-populate all those product details for them and allow them just to go right into recording their use and their experience with that product, rather than having to manually type in full testing info.
EG: Right, yeah. It’s quite an involved process. I was thinking as I was kind of, like I said, playing around with the app, that for a lot of people kind of putting in all these details and then they have one path and then they note down all of their, like you said, their mind experiences and their body experiences and their thinking experiences and all of the different categories, you kind of get to the point where it’s like, “Okay, now the effect has worn off and I need to start all over again.” How long does it actually take a user on average to be able to input all of this information, let’s say, during one session?
TD: So there’s really no average ’cause it varies. It just… There’s a lot of variables there, ’cause the user can do what you just described, and they can do a very detailed second-by-second, minute-by-minute journaling session is what we call it in the app, a session. And at that point they’re, again, really, they’re doing a real detailed journal. However, that’s pretty intensive and not necessarily needed for everybody and/or not necessarily ideal for every time you’re using a cannabis product. So in addition to a real-time journaling session ability that we have in the app, we also have what we call a quick log journal, where in a quick log journal, you could go in and record your use and experience of a product in 30 seconds or less. So it really depends on you as a user, what you’re looking to get out of it and why you’re looking to journal.
TD: So there’s some patients and/or caregivers who they’re journaling very detailed, regardless if they’re using this app or not. Whether it’s on a piece of paper, whether it’s on a Google or Excel spreadsheet or whether it’s in a mobile application, they need to be very detailed and mindful about what they’re using because they’re using that to improve their quality of life on a day-to-day basis. So they’re going to be very detailed and do a real-time journaling session all the time. Others, they just wanna know what works best for them, they wanna be able to just really easily keep track of their different product log or their different strain log, and they wanna be able to go back on an occasional basis and see what they really liked, why they liked it, what they experienced, and just continue to help keep a central location of all their products, but then maybe help inform some purchasing decisions that they’re really looking to go back and experience something specific.
TD: So maybe in a situation like that, the quick log is more applicable for them because, again, they may be more of your casual user. So that’s why, again, when you ask what’s the average time, it’s so variable because there’s so many different types of people using the app, and it just depends on what you as an individual are looking to get out of it.
EG: Yeah, I guess it’s kind of par for the course in the cannabis world, that there’s such a variance. One of the things I think that’s fantastic about this product is that it’s really empowering for the user to be able to take control of their treatment, but I assume there are also some patients who are kind of working in conjunction with an experienced healthcare provider. When I say experienced, I mean experienced in the cannabis space. Do you hear a lot about people using the data, sharing it with their physician, using this as a tool, really integrated into their treatment?
TD: Yeah. So we actually work with doctors, clinics, healthcare professionals, nurses and/or caregivers, so we’ll call it healthcare professionals as an umbrella term, but we work with those individuals specifically for that reason, so that they can have more of an educated and informed conversation with their patients on that patient’s treatment regimen, what products that patient is using, how often they’re using them for, how much they’re using and the outcomes that they’re experiencing. One, to help the doctor hone in on the change in that patient’s symptom severity or condition severity, but then also try to help that doctor get insight on the overall quality of life changes that that individual may or may not have experienced during and after using a particular cannabinoid-based product.
TD: So that was actually one of the first, I guess, industry groups that we got involved with outside of just providing the tool to the patients and the consumers. One of the first groups we started working with was doctors and healthcare professionals, because, again, back in 2016, where outside of the West Coast states, it was primarily medically-driven markets across the US, and patients or individuals had to go see a doctor to be able to get access to medical cannabis. And now in some states, there’s pretty specific laws around doctors needing to have some type of specific relationship and/or keep track of their patient’s use to some respect.
TD: And that was an area where we really felt we could and still do bridge the gap and provide doctors with unique data sets around the use and the effectiveness of specific products so, one, they can have better and more informed follow up conversations with that patient and help that patient just continue down a purchasing in a treatment route by identifying, “Hey, this treatment regimen and this product type that you’re using seems to work well for you, so let’s continue down this path,” or, “After looking at some data over the past month or two, it looks like your symptom severity is not really changing, and there are some quality of life metrics here that don’t look like they’re being super beneficial, so let’s… We need to try to switch your treatment regimen and try something different.” So yeah, that has been a space that we’ve been active in since the beginning and probably becoming more and more active in as we move forward here.
EG: Yeah, for sure. So talking about data. Basically, as I understand it, ultimately really this is a big data effort as well as the patient-facing and user-facing side. So as I understand it, you’re using this data to help us as an industry better understand the efficacy of cannabis as a therapeutic treatment, so I’m interested to hear if you can share some insights that you’ve gleaned from this data so far over the past few years.
TD: Yeah, so just a couple of things to call out about the data first because specifically on the user side, that’s always one of their primary concerns is what data is being collected and how is that data being used? Which is understandable. So first off, we’re not collecting or sharing any type of patient or personal identification info. If you don’t wanna enter any type of information about yourself when you’re using the app, you don’t have to. The only thing that we need from you is if you want to create an account and you want to be able to back up your data and move your data around from a mobile device to a different mobile device, etcetera, then we need an email address because we need to be able to tie that data back to a specific account. But again, that email address is never shared outside of just creating that account, and the data that we share with the different groups that we’re working with outside of the app is, again, anonymous and aggregated product and outcome data. We’re never sharing any information about you as a specific user. And you as a specific user always own your data, so you could come back in and delete all of your data from the app whenever you wanted to.
TD: So with that being said, there are some pretty interesting things that we have been learning. About three years ago, we partnered… We had our first research partnership with the University of New Mexico, and now we have a network of universities throughout the world right now, but anyway, with the University of New Mexico, we have six published studies currently live right now in different medical journals, and then a seventh one that we’re really just waiting on hearing when it’s released. It’s been accepted into the journal. We’re just… They just kinda never tell you when it’s gonna be published. They just eventually send you over a link and say, “Hey, it’s published.” But anyway…
TD: Yeah, right? It’s very fun for planning purposes. But anyway, in some of these studies that we have that you can find on our website, what’s really interesting is that UNM has found that the THC percent in products has been the biggest indicator of symptom relief in some very specific symptoms as compared to THC, which is very interesting because THC is often demonized and people look at that as the bad part of cannabis, but again, when we… I know two specific ones have been pain and cognitive issues, or symptoms, I should say. And in both of those studies, based on the data that UNM looked at that’s coming from the Releaf app, individuals tracking their use and their outcomes of products specifically for those symptoms and reasons, the biggest indicator of symptom relief and change in symptom severity has been the THC level in those products, rather than the CBD level in those products. Which is, one, just interesting in and of itself, but then also opens up the door of, well, how do we follow up on that and how do we do more structured studies around that to further validate or invalidate that initial trend that we’re seeing in the data? And that’s something that we’re currently working on doing.
EG: Yeah, super interesting. What about terpenes? Can you get into terpene levels in the data as well?
TD: So that I would not be able to give you some specific insights on yet. We don’t have anything out right now that hasn’t answered that question. That’s currently where we’re spending some time trying to glean some insights from. But again, as you can imagine, where up until probably the past year or two, when we were relying on a lot of individuals to enter that information in, one, there’s just… That data was very sparse and that data was very… We didn’t have a lot of reliable sources to tie that data back to. So we always wanted to be careful of what type of research studies we do, because the research studies we do have to be tied back to the data and we have to be confident that that data has some level of accuracy to it. So we could always be fairly confident of the THC and CBD levels because even back in 2016, those were the two predominant ratios that you got in your products. And now as the industry has continued to evolve and more of that terpene info is becoming available on labels, we’re doing more integrations to pull that information in automatically. Now we’re starting to get more of a robust data set where we can start to do those studies, and again, that’s where we’re trying to prioritize spending some time here.
EG: Alright, so it sounds like we’re gonna need to do a follow-up interview in a couple of years’ time and be able to dig into it again.
EG: So there are a lot of different directions, obviously, in cannabis product development. I’ve been speaking to people recently who have been telling me about developing sensation-based products, more balanced strains, different formulations. Obviously, there’s new innovative delivery methods popping up all the time. I’m interested to hear how Releaf can potentially help producers make smarter development decisions.
TD: Yeah, so we’re currently working with, we call it brands just as a lump sum but it can be producers as well, to do just that. So we have two technologies, one being the Releaf app, and another technology that’s a little more of a custom research tool that allows a brand to collect two unique data sets around the use and the outcomes of their products, where a brand then is able to hone in on specific reasons that their customers are using those products for, and then the effectiveness and outcomes that individuals are experiencing from that product based on those reasons. It also allows a brand to do very specific AB tests with product formulations and or molecules that are in a product to identify what product formulation, what ratio or what molecule combination is being shown based on patient or consumer reported outcomes, to provide those individuals with the best specific outcome or experience that we’re looking for, or the best symptom relief, or what you said, it depends on obviously what the brand is looking for.
TD: If they’re looking for really to be a very specific product for symptom relief, or if they’re looking for more of a sensation-based product. But again, that’s really where our focus has been within the past, I would say, six months or so, and moving forward is we started providing this information to retailers because that’s where individuals had to go, whether in a medical market or an adult use market, they had to go to a dispensary or a retailer to purchase their product. But now looking at the other end of the industry are the people who are actually making these products, as the industry continues to mature, competition continues to increase and brands are continuously looking how to differentiate themselves and make themselves stand out, and it’s gonna come down to, one, is what people are trying to do right now is they’re branding and marketing, but what we believe it’s quality products and data behind those products that really show those products are quality and effective for specific reasons that you’re trying to say that they are.
TD: And that’s where we just feel our technology, again, provides two data sets that you really can’t get, where you can start to hone in on, well, how can I do the best product innovation based on where my goals and objectives are? So let me do some very specific tests with as many individuals as I feel I need, get that data back, and then now I can go into the lab with my partners and do better decisions on our product development, innovation, etcetera.
EG: Yeah, it really sounds like it’s kind of helping the cannabis industry get on par with so many other verticals within the CPG space as well where, in a lot of ways, we’re kind of way behind.
TD: Right, exactly. Yeah, you think about it, and even from the consumer perspective, you walk into a grocery store, a liquor store, a hardware store, or whatever, you walk in because you have a very specific need or desire that you’re looking to buy a product for, and you know with almost 100% confidence that when you walk in, there’s a very specific product that you know to go buy that’s going to provide that solution or match that need that you have. And if not, there’s probably someone who’s educated in the store that has the data to back up, “Well, this is why you should buy this product.” Right now, that’s really not available in the cannabis industry. You walk into a store and unless if you’re someone who has spent years using products before and then has figured out what works for you, or you have a pretty extensive network of individuals in your area that have gone through that trial and error process, if you walk in and you’re not educated on what you wanna buy, what you’re getting is recommendations from a budtender in that store. Regardless of how experienced or how educated that budtender is, that’s what you’re going to get. And then you’re almost left to make your decision based off of that information and that information alone.
TD: And again, how… We just feel like, again, looking at other CPG industries, that’s just not up to par where you make decisions with every other consumer good that you purchase. And that’s where, again, we’re really trying to fill that need and plug that gap and help individuals just inform their purchase decision. On our end, it really doesn’t matter to us what product you buy, what you’re looking to buy a product for, or what brand stands out compared to the other. All we wanna do is just empower you as an individual and as a company or an industry professional to make more informed decisions. Whether that’s a more informed purchase decision at the retail level, whether that’s a more informed product innovation decision at the grower/processor level, again, it really doesn’t matter. It’s just now we can provide data to help make those decisions more informed.
EG: Yeah. Hear, hear. So important. So Tyler, just before we wrap up, I know you kind of mentioned before some updates that are coming up on the app and you didn’t wanna give any spoilers, but I’m interested to hear about the path forward. What are the next steps for the Releaf App and I suppose for the company in general?
TD: Yeah, so again, check back in three or four weeks and there’s gonna be some pretty significant updates in the app that just really, really add more value to the individuals using it and help them gain more answers and learn more, and it’s really just all wrapped around empowering the crowd, empowering the community and crowdsource knowledge. But as far as our company goes, what I just mentioned really wraps up where our company’s focused at, and is informing those products or just informing decisions in the industry. Again, going all the way through the supply chain really, help patients and consumers inform their purchase decision. Again, it doesn’t matter to us if you’re a medical cannabis patient and you need a product to help you on a day-to-day basis, or you’re an adult use consumer and you’re just looking to have fun on the weekend, we wanna help you make an informed decision. On the healthcare professional level, we wanna help you make an informed decision on how you can best navigate your patient down a path towards better health and wellness.
TD: Patients always come to doctors right now in traditional medicine to help them navigate dealing with certain symptoms or conditions that they have. And right now in cannabis, when a patient leaves the doctor, again, they’re very much left to fend for themselves and they’re very much left to really make a purchase decision based on what that dispensary tells them. So empowering the doctors with data so that they can, one, have better conversations upfront, but then have better means to track treatment regimens and use after a visit, just empower them to have better conversations with their patients and send their patient down a better path to health and wellness.
TD: On the retailer side, allow them to better market and sell their products. Right now, it’s really just based off of marketing and branding propaganda that brands are wrapping around their products, and there’s no real data backing up what these products are being used for. So put data in the hands of retailers and let them do better sales and marketing so that they’re informing the purchase decision of their customers and when a customer walks into their store, they’re providing that customer with data on, “Hey, this is what you’re coming looking to buy a product for. Here’s data we can show you on these products that match what you’re saying you’re looking for.”
TD: And then going to the brand grower/processor level, providing them with the ability to actually collect direct from consumer data on the use, the effectiveness and the outcomes of products so that they can do better product development, innovation and research, but also then so that they can better sell their products back into the market, whether on a retail level, whether to health care professionals or whether direct to consumer, depending on the market that they’re in. So that’s really where our company is focused at here heading into 2021 and beyond with the two technologies that we have, is leveraging this data to help make, to help the industry make more informed decisions. And that means, again, like I just laid out, all across the supply chain.
EG: Alright, so lots to look out for there. Where can people find the app? Just before we finish up.
TD: Yeah, so the app is a free app in iOS and Google Play store. So you go into either one of the app stores, depending on what type of device you have, search Releaf App, and that’s R-E-L-E-A-F. You can also go to our website, which is releafapp.com, and we have buttons right on the website that’ll help you download the app. And it’s Releaf App on all social media channels as well.
EG: Alright, fantastic. Shouldn’t be too hard for people to find.
TD: No. We try to keep everything very simple and straightforward.
EG: That’s the way we like it. Alright. Well, Tyler, thanks again so much for joining us today and have a great rest of your day.
TD: Yeah, thank you for having me. This was great.