David and Baruch Goldstein want to help New York’s medical marijuana patients find exactly the right strain of cannabis to suit their needs.
In early 2014 the father-son duo from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, founded their tech startup, named PotBotics, to, as they put it, “elevate the cannabis industry to higher medical standards.” That means using what they say is a more scientific approach to picking a strain than, as is the case in other states, peering through the glass of a case at a dispensary and taking the advice of a “budtender” behind the counter.
In the past eighteen months, the Goldsteins have quickly opened offices in both Manhattan and Palo Alto, California, to bridge the tech talent in Silicon Valley with New York’s forthcoming medical marijuana boom and biotech industry.
And while many have criticized New York’s Compassionate Care Act for being too restrictive — it bans smoking and edibles — 23-year-old David Goldstein says the law shows a lot of promise. “These kinds of strict regulations make sure New York is indeed a medical state,” says Goldstein.
In the past, Goldstein says, he heard a lot of skepticism about marijuana’s medicinal benefits: “Like, ‘Oh yeah, medical, shmedical, these are just patients wanting to get high,’” he tells the Voice. But when medical marijuana vastly improved a sick family member’s quality of life, he felt galvanized to get involved in the industry. After much convincing, his father Baruch, a doctor of mathematics who works with Alzheimer’s patients, agreed to partner with David.
PotBotics products function within a pharmaceutical framework to provide a more transparent approach to medical marijuana, Goldstein says.
Its name sounds straight out of a Fifties science-fiction movie, but PotBiotics’ “BrainBot” device is designed to help patients determine their individual responses to different strains of cannabis, so that doctors can customize their medical marijuana recommendations. “A lot of drug companies use EEG to validate performance,” Goldstein says. “We wanted to take a similar approach, to help show validation on a cannabis level.”
With more than 1,000 strains of cannabis on the market, the options can be dizzying. A generic recommendation for “medical marijuana” doesn’t go far enough to help patients delineate what kind of cannabis to buy at a dispensary. “Rather than focusing on strain names,” — “blue dream,” “sour diesel,” “Girl Scout cookies” — “PotBotics focuses around cannabinoid levels,” Goldstein explains.
The most well-known cannabinoid, or active chemical compound in the cannabis plant, is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but there are several others that have medicinal properties. CBD (cannabidiol), for instance, has been found to be useful in alleviating epileptic seizures. While THC is the main component behind feeling high, other chemical compounds may influence its activity. This is known as the “entourage effect.” Moreover individual patients may react differently to the same combination of cannabinoids in a particular strain. So for instance, while “Charlotte’s Web” — a strain of high CBD cannabis — can be useful to treat seizures, it might not work for every patient. And depending on cultivation, each batch of the same strain may have slightly varied cannabinoid levels.
BrainBot helps doctors recommend strains with higher values of the cannabinoids to which a patient reacts best. The EEG works while patients ingest cannabis extracts from an inhaler to determine their reactions. Inhaling extracts, says Goldstein, as opposed to smoking combusted cannabis flower with organic material and nuance, serves as a controlled medium to show the most promising relief: “Patients and doctors will have a means of following up on care in a quantified format.”
He compares the BrainBot method of cannabis recommendation to prescribing a Schedule II drug like Adderall. Patients and doctors periodically evaluate whether the drug and dosage are working. “I would see the future of New York’s [medical marijuana] law reflecting stronger patient follow-up,” says Goldstein. “Having devices to validate that treatment is very important.”
The Goldsteins plan to launch BrainBot by the end of November but will likely introduce it in states like California before New York. Only five strains of medical marijuana are currently allowed under New York’s Compassionate Care Act.
Dr. Jack D’Angelo of Citiva Medical, one of the companies that applied for a medical marijuana growing license in New York, says recommending cannabis is still not as simple as using an EEG device. Doctors, especially in New York where the state provides only a single four- to six-hour training course, need to educate themselves more thoroughly on how different kinds of marijuana interact with treatable conditions.
“I think we’re going to see a huge learning curve,” D’Angelo predicts.
The field of medical marijuana still needs guidance and a systemic approach like PotBotics offers, adds surgeon Dr. George Anastossov. To help doctors and patients begin to understand the basics of these these cannabis-condition relationships, the Goldsteins also came out with PotBot, which they will launch at the end of September.
While not as personalized as BrainBot, PotBot is an app that educates patients on medical cannabis. The app describes which strains and cannabinoid levels correspond best with which ailments. (It doesn’t evaluate the specific cannabinoid levels a patient reacts best to, like BrainBot does.) It then tells patients where they can buy these particular strains. While PotBot may be similar to the crowd-sourced website Leafly, it doesn’t provide information about the recreational effects of cannabis. “Inspirational” or good for “wake and bake” won’t be part of the strain descriptions, Goldstein says. PotBot’s information comes from scholarly sources and scientific journals that he thinks doctors would appreciate.
What works in a recreational market doesn’t always work for a medical market, Goldstein argues. He believes patients shouldn’t have to experiment with their reactions to cannabis medicine after visiting the dispensary but should have a better idea, going into it, what kind of medical relief to expect.