Here, Otha Smith discusses the Tetragram app, which allows users to track cannabis products enabling them to find the best products that suit their needs.
Following a traumatic accident, Otha Smith was inspired to venture on a medical cannabis journey to treat his ailments. Due to its illegal federal status, there aren’t many guides available to users to provide insight on the best cannabis products. Another issue facing patients is that everyone reacts differently to the various cannabinoids, terpenes, and other ingredients found in cannabis and cannabis products. These issues motivated Smith to create a mobile application—Tetragram—that allows users to anonymously track cannabis products enabling them to find the best products that suit their needs. Here, Smith discusses the app and his experiences with cannabis.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How you got interested in using medical cannabis as a treatment option?
Otha Smith: I’m originally from Southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland, located 20 minutes south of Annapolis, Maryland. I started my first company, Aggressive Detailing LLC while in high school. We provided car, boat, and motorcycle detailing services for residential and commercial customers and I was able to finance myself through college. In 2003, I was involved in a serious car accident that nearly took my life, resulting in a six-inch, 34-plus staple scar on the top of my head. After being released from the hospital, I was prescribed several different opioids to address my neck and back pain. After three years of using prescription pills, I decided I wasn’t going to use pills every day for the rest of my life and completely stopped use. Meanwhile, I had always been a fan of cannabis throughout high school and college, so I decided to put all my faith into cannabis to self-medicate rather than use pills. Once Maryland legalized cannabis for medical use, I hurried up and got my medical card, but I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt during my initial visit to a dispensary.
Did you have anywhere that you were able to reach out to for educational purposes on cannabis? Was there a lot of trial and error in finding the right products?
Smith: Luckily for me, a dispensary opened literally five minutes from my house, I could ride my bike there. In Maryland, each dispensary is required to have a clinical director on staff, which was super helpful for me to learn more about cannabis. I became good friends with the clinical director at my local dispensary, Barbara Orchester, and she was instrumental in educating me on the medical benefits of cannabis. Barbara was the one responsible for making me aware of terpenes and cannabinoids and the effects associated with each. But consequently, since cannabis affects everyone differently, I didn’t feel comfortable with other people’s recommendations. Therefore, through a lot of trial and error, I eventually found the right product to address my needs. But the process of finding the right product for me, was a long and, at times, frustrating process due to the huge selection of products to choose from.
Can you tell us about your new app, Tetragram? Is it free for users? What inspired you to launch this digital journal? Are there any plans to expand it in the future?
Smith: Tetragram is my baby, a true labor of love. As a patient myself, I can remember how frustrating it was to find the right cannabis product to address my medical needs. More importantly, I’ve worked in dispensaries and understand how challenging it is for doctors and dispensary staff to make accurate product recommendations to customers. Therefore, I built Tetragram. I vividly recall everyone I spoke with, whether they were a patient, worked at a dispensary, or a doctor; one thing that was constant in all my conversations was people recommending that I keep a journal. I noticed dispensaries would sell paperback journals and I met a few people that went as far as creating detailed excel spreadsheets to keep track of products they purchased and how it made them feel. That’s when I said to myself, there needs to be an app that makes the process of recording my experience with cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) fun and engaging. Boom…Tetragram was born! Since cannabis is federally illegal there isn’t sufficient data or published studies for people to rely upon for guidance and since cannabis effects everyone differently the process of finding which product works best for you is a lonely road of self-discovery.
Tetragram is a smart, digital journal that empowers medical cannabis patients and recreational users with the ability to track, rate and share their personal experiences with cannabis through our mobile app. Tetragram is free and will always be free for consumers to download from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Currently, we are developing V2 of Tetragram that will provide a host of new features and functionality not only for consumers, but for dispensaries, cultivators, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies as well as the medical community.
How many users are now signed up on the app? Are users able to remain anonymous or do they have to share personal data?
Smith: Currently, we are close to reaching 8000 users, which is incredible considering we haven’t spent any money on marketing. Our growth has been solely organic. Myself, along with my two business partners, Julius Moore (CTO) and Lucas Roe (CDO), are each medical cannabis patients. Therefore, we take privacy extremely seriously, which is why Tetragram is HIPAA-complaint as well. Users will always remain anonymous on Tetragram unless they choose to share their reviews with others.
Did COVID-19 affect your plans for the app? Were users affected?
Smith: Covid was good and bad for Tetragram. During Covid, people were placing a lot more attention on their physical and mental health. Cannabis consumption rose dramatically during the epidemic. Consequently, people were buying more products and paid closer attention on the effects associated with each product purchased. The only downside to launching Tetragram during the Covid-19 pandemic was that there were very limited options to make consumers aware of Tetragram. Cannabis companies have very limited options for marketing their products and services to consumers due to cannabis being federally illegal. Most cannabis and CBD companies rely heavily on conventions and tradeshows to reach consumers. As a country, we had to close all in-person events during the pandemic, which made it a lot more challenging to reach consumers.
Can you explain a little about what terpenes are and how they are important with medical cannabis treatments?
Smith: I personally think terpenes are the most fun aspect about cannabis. Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants. They’re responsible for the aromas, flavors, and colors associated with each strain of cannabis. There are 10 top terpenes, and each provides a unique smell and effect. Some terpenes are known to promote energy while others are known to feel sedative. It’s refreshing to see more consumers shopping for products based on the terpene and cannabinoid profile rather than by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.
How can Tetragram benefit medical cannabis patients, both novices and experienced?
Smith: With each dispensary providing a Walmart selection of products to choose from, even the most experienced consumer still doesn’t know where to start in choosing a product. With Tetragram, we empower the consumer to take control of their personal journey with cannabis by providing them with a platform that makes it fun to keep track of each product purchased and its associated effect. By doing so, consumers will be able to draw conclusions more effectively on not only which product but understand which terpenes and cannabinoids and consumption methods are providing them with the most relief.
Is Tetragram adaptable to other states? Or is it only able to be accessed in one specific state? Does the varying state-by-state legislation affect the app at all?
Smith: Yes, Tetragram is available nationwide. Luckily, we are not held to state-by-state regulations like plant touching companies.
How do users log their information about what strains they are consuming?
Smith: After downloading Tetragram from the App Store or Google Play store, you will be prompted to create an account. After initially creating an account, you will be asked to verify your email. After verifying your email, you can login and start logging product information. We placed a lot of time on the user experience to make sure Tetragram would be easy to navigate. Once you open Tetragram, simply click on our logo and you can start logging away by first entering in the product information, then where you made the purchase, and how you consumed the product. From there, you can choose a medical condition from a list of default options or create your own symptom, rate the symptom before and after use, and leave any detailed notes associated with product.
Medical cannabis patients are very diverse in their options to take medical cannabis, whether it is smokable, edibles, tinctures, and so forth. Is Tetragram exclusive to one method of intake?
Smith: Absolutely not, Tetragram provides consumers with the ability to choose from several different consumption methods, such as: inhaling, topical, or orally. After a user selects one of the three methods on consumption, sub-categories are listed below that allow the user to provide more detail regarding how the product was consumed. For example, after choosing inhaled, the user can select the device used “bong, joint, vape pen, etc.,” then another sub-category allows the user to select the form of the product “flower, hash, shatter, etc.,” and the unit of measurement under “inhaled” is measured in the number of “hits”.
Since the cannabis industry is unregulated, have you seen poor products that claim they have specific terpenes and cannabinoids but do not really include accurate information on them in their products? How does Tetragram deal with accurate product information? Is there a requirement for products to be third-party laboratory tested?
Smith: I personally haven’t witnessed products that state a certain amount of THC or terpenes and cannabinoid content that was false. But I’ve heard stories of people who have had products retested and the new test results don’t match what the label states. It’s unfortunate to know there are some bad players in the industry making false claims. Each state that has medical or adult-use programs require each product to be tested by a laboratory, but the testing requirements vary from state-to-state. This is the reason why we aim to get the Certificate of Analysis (COA) directly from the cultivator to make sure the information presented on the label matches the COA. But the problem is much bigger than just blaming the manufacturer: for example, testing facilities have been caught taking more money from companies to increase the percentage of THC on the COA. This is why we need standardization across the country to ensure each laboratory across the country is following the same testing requirements.
Where can interested users find Tetragram? Is the app available to both recreational and medical cannabis users?
Are you involved in any educational efforts for those looking to use medical cannabis?
Smith: Often, I give presentations on the benefits of cannabis and CBD consumption at the University-level and with multi-state operators (MSOs) that provide education webinars for their customers.
Do you have anything further you would like to add?
Smith: I would like to say that I feel blessed in knowing that my partners and I have built something that is improving people’s quality of life, and that means the world to us—which is why our slogan is “Built for patients, by patients.”