Brain and Body

PotBotics Hopes to Take the Guesswork out of Medical Marijuana

November 17, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Medical marijuana leaves. Grape Crush, Indica-4
Photo credit: Dank Depot/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Blackberry Kush or Amnesia Haze?

Different marijuana strains offer a range of physical and psychological effects, from boosting euphoria to filling your body with relaxing tingling sensations. But when it comes to medical marijuana, it gets a lot more complicated. Is Granddaddy Purple or Bubba Kush better for multiple sclerosis? Or maybe some Super Lemon Haze would do the trick? PotBotics, a new startup, wants to make it easier than ever before for marijuana patients to know exactly what they’re getting before they take a puff.

“We wanted to give patients a more quantified means for understanding what they’re purchasing,” David Goldstein, the co-founder and CEO of PotBotics, told Popular Science. How? Two different ways: PotBot and BrainBot.

SEE ALSO: Genetic Analysis of Marijuana Finds Little Evidence of Distinct Strains

PotBot is a free online tool that hopes to bring the science of medical marijuana to the forefront. Users will enter age, weight, medical condition, and frequency of marijuana use, and then the site will determine which marijuana strains and cannabinoid concentrations are best for the individual. Each recommendation includes links to supporting peer-reviewed studies, and if information is scarce or the supplementary studies were conducted on mice instead of humans, a pop-up window will appear with clear indications of such.

“If you were to go to some of PotBot’s competitors, they focus on a strain’s recreational attributes: taste, flavor, smell,” said Goldstein. This information isn’t very useful for medical marijuana users. Plus, a lot of the information circulating about pot is largely based on people’s opinions and personal experiences rather than scientific research.

However, even if PotBot spits out an accurate recommendation, there’s no regulatory body that ensures each strain is the same in all dispensaries. So a user could purchase Blue Dream at one dispensary with a completely different level of cannabinoids than the Blue Dream at another dispensary. To try and help, the PotBotics team tested several samples of different marijuana strains to compile an accurate cannabinoid range for each strain. With that information, users can ask the dispensary budtender about a particular strain’s cannabinoid level to make sure they’re getting the most suitable weed for their medical conditions.

The second part of PotBotic’s initiative, BrainBot, takes it up a notch by using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to record the brain’s electrical activity in order to determine the best marijuana strain for a patient. The patient must receive a doctor’s recommendation for the brain scans, and would then visit the PotBotic’s facility in California three to four times. During each visit, the patient would test out a specific strain of marijuana while hooked up to the EEG. Then, PotBotics would send the EEG readings back to the doctor to assess.

Since medical marijuana hasn’t been extensively researched, there’s a lot of guesswork in finding the right strain for a patient. Plus, it can be timely and costly to go through a number  of strains before finding the right one. But before expanding BrainBot to states outside of California and investing in additional BrainBot facilities, the PotBotics team would like to see more developed laws surrounding medical marijuana.

However, BrainBot has been met with some serious skepticism. “I am certainly skeptical of the device you describe,” Ryan Vandrey, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University who has studied medicinal marijuana, told Popular Science. “There is currently little/no scientific data that exists to link specific strains to certain medical conditions; in most cases, there is variability of plant constituents within a given strain."

Vandrey adds that different strains of marijuana haven’t been shown to produce different EEG results, so BrainBot could turn out to be a huge flunk anyway. "All in all, I think this is a bit far fetched, but good data is the best way to make a case for something like this," he says.

However, it can’t hurt to provide marijuana patients with more information, as long as they’re aware of the limitations of the science behind medical marijuana. Goldstein is confident that more laws will continue to be developed and that further research could, “make cannabis use more scientific with less guessing, and that’s our mission statement — to create a place where cannabis is treated like any other medicinal substance.”

Learn more about PotBotics in the startup’s video below.



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