HEALTH-TECH AND BIG DATA: SHAPING THE MODERN CANNABIS INDUSTRY
Medical cannabis has the opportunity to be the first modern medical industry that is built with a digital-first approach. Technology is already providing ways to educate people, empower patients, fuel innovation and feedback into the product development cycle.
For example, while governments struggle to develop the infrastructure for a medical cannabis industry - or indeed even drag their feet in terms of acknowledging the medical benefits of cannabis-based products - the Internet can provide information and education.
In the UK, patients are struggling to access medical cannabis partly due to a lack of training and knowledge in the medical community about cannabis-based medicines, but with the use of technology and information networks, there are solutions to help overcome these issues. A range of websites are helping to inform and educate doctors, patients and the public about what medical cannabis is, the health benefits and risks, how to access it and even inform them about specific products.
Meanwhile, websites like Lift & Co. and Strainprint allow patients to record their experiences to help inform other patients, but also feedback to medical professionals and cannabis companies. Strainprint has a system of journaling for patients to record how their medicine is working for them at various points in their day or week, while Lift & Co. offers product reviews.
This has been especially useful in Canada where, due to the intricacies of the law, patients that are prescribed medical cannabis are allowed to access medicine from a specific provider, but the company is not allowed to give them specific information about the medical benefits of their products themselves.
Vice President of Strategy at Lift & Co. and speaker at the upcoming Cannabis Europa in London Nick Pateras explains: “Lift & Co. started as a product review website helping patients decide what products are right for them based on the collective experiences of other patients. Think of like a Yelp for cannabis, but in a world where the restaurants cannot talk about what is on their menus.”
These websites and apps help patients have a better understanding of what products are on offer, but the data it provides has another use. “Because the reviews are quite detailed it serves for us as a data collection tool and we have a data dashboard that our partners can pay to access,” explains Nick.
“These data include demographics such as age, gender and postcode, as well as what products people bought and for what reasons, what they liked and didn’t like about it, how effective it was at treating their condition and whether they would buy it again. In this way, the data feeds back into product development teams to help improve and diversify the products on offer. It also aides marketing teams to effectively target the right consumers.”
Emily Paxhia, co-founder of Poseidon Asset Management, who also will be speaking at Cannabis Europa this June said: “The technologies that are changing the industry are the ones that are pulling data and generating key insights. In the past, much of the new product development and business decisions were driven by a hunch or observation. One way in which technology around data is critical is in changing the understanding of the preferences and purchasing trends of consumers.”
Another example of this is Headset, a slick analytics service provider for the cannabis industry. It ties into the point-of-sale systems in the US and Canada and provides data back to consumers and retailers, as well as broader CPG companies and investors. Data can even be harvested from how people are interacting with software-connected devices. For example, PAX has an app connected via bluetooth to a vape device so that they can understand the behaviour of their consumers and enhance their offerings.
Empowering the patient
However, how people interact with technology not only generates data but also empowers patients to become part of the research process to better understand cannabis as a medicine.
Rebecca Brown, founder of Crowns Consulting and speaker at Cannabis Europa London said: “Strainprint is basically a massive longitudinal study where patients log their usage, their symptoms and how they were impacted and then that helps medical professionals understand what the patient experience is and that is very useful, as well as empowering for patients.”
Patients can also be hugely empowered via telemedicine, which allows patients to connect to a physician who is ‘cannabis positive’ and willing to discuss cannabis as part of a treatment programme. For those who do not have local access to cannabis-educated physicians, this can be liberating.
Research and development
Much of the R&D in medical cannabis is honed in on form factors and methods of consumption as cannabis be consumed in many ways from gel capsules and vape cartridges to sublingual wafers and oral sprays.
Emily adds: “Technology is empowering patients through a number of ways. The more we can understand and track the way we interact with the plant, the more we can refine our wellness plans around cannabis. This includes the terpenes and cannabinoid compounds in the strains of cannabis that we consume, as well as the form factors and dosage of the product. The coolest changes driven by technology are definitely in the form factors with products such as transdermal patches, fast-acting drinks or sublingual drops and vaporisation or other vape-tech solutions.”
Technology is proving to be an extremely useful tool for education, patient empowerment and generating data that can feedback to medical professionals and product development teams. The data also provides information that fuels the research and development that drives the industry forward.
Nick Pateras from Lift & Co, Emily Paxhia from Poseidon and Rebecca Brown from Crowns are all speaking at Cannabis Europa London. The conference will explore health technology and big data in the context of research and development innovation, along with a diverse range of other topics.