Authored By: Arundati Dandapani
If you thought there was no relationship between cannabis use and technology, consider these stats: the average number of mobile apps being used in a day by current cannabis users are 4. Moreover over half of current cannabis users (52%) used apps on their mobile phone/tablet yesterday, with 66% reporting mobile app usage in the past week, and 74% reporting use in the past month, according to Vividata’s Spring Cannabis Consumer Study 2019. It is no surprise hence, given the relationship between cannabis users and heavy mobile app and internet use, that the cannabis industry is leveraging the next wave of technologies to fill knowledge gaps and accelerate awareness of research insights about consumers in adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis markets, in what is being referred to as Cannabis 3.0. A Windsor, Ontario-based company Audacia Bioscience is especially focussed on three patented technologies that deliver consumer and patient insights to the industry to close the knowledge gaps in the supply chain.
Virtual Clinical Trials transcend geographic, mobility and economic barriers
Clinical trials are medical research projects involving human participants. The main goals with conducting clinical studies, which could include observational studies or clinical trials, are to explore the causes of a disease or its symptoms, test a treatment, and learn how a certain behaviour affects patients’ health. However, the costs of conducting a full-scale clinical trial can be prohibitive, posing barriers to research for cannabis companies. Companies today need a more viable business model, one that transcends geography, mobility challenges faced by certain demographics including seniors, improves patient engagement and creates real time data scalability. The opportunity of virtual clinical trials appears to meet all of these criteria.
Audacia’s Virtual Clinical Trials (VCT) thus aims to investigate the impact of a cannabis product via clinical trials. With a smartphone and a few minutes – participation in a virtual clinical trial is possible. By incorporating electronic and mobile Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO) tools into clinical trial protocols, and hosting a library of validated and custom designed ePROs for studies within each iOS and Android patient-facing app, virtual trials can be delivered swiftly, accurately and with rigorous protocols.
AI-Powered search platform maximizes access to publications
Cognizance VCT enables the generation of cost-effective quality data with ethical consent, on par with academic studies. The trials focus on correlations between treatments and outcomes in real-world settings. The advantage of this approach is that it provides causative explanations for outcomes, and therefore, the trial results are more relevant to real-world users perhaps seeking to get better sleep, manage stress, know their limit or manage pain, given the top motivation for cannabis users is to unwind, have fun, and use as remedy/treatment according to Vividata’s Vivintel.
The focus here is on the integration of trial protocols, ethics and consent in a mobile platform, and the use of blockchain to employ smart contracts ensure data integrity. The integration of wearable and phone sensors which record data such as movement, body temperature, sleep, which are transmitted directly to a study’s record, opens up a new insight into cannabis use at a clinical level. Privacy and blockchain enable smart contracts, which counter some of the challenges of obtaining ethical consent in the cannabis space.
Virtual trials combine a cultural anthropological approach with a cutting-edge AI engine to create something that can be tested in a clinical setting, peer-reviewed and actually help educate people about cannabis and its beneficial and harmful properties. Their virtual clinical study on the relationship between cannabis use and the influence on driving, for example, has proved that there are potentially very significant differences in assessment findings between medical cannabis users and less frequent or recreational users. Conclusions for the general population may not apply to more regular medical cannabis users, according to their lead researcher and CEO, Phillip Olla. Such critical medical research findings can only be quickly disseminated with the use of AI-powered search platforms that index the publications by relevance to the user.
Cognizance AI, for example, uses a customized version of IBM Watson, IBM’s AI platform, allowing users to internally sift through published clinical studies and other scientific literature on a given topic using AI, data analytics, and social media sentiment analysis. The Cognizance AI platform is targeted towards clinical practitioners to support treatment recommendations and evidence-based knowledge generation via scientific literature, patient generated data, and clinical trials.
Mobile communities advance consumer research
Broccoli offers the secure crowdsourcing of research data via a secure blockchain using a mobile community app that connects cannabis brands with users. It offers a simple model, paying users for participation in a survey. However, the simplicity and efficiency of Broccoli lies in how fast the data can be returned. For example, in closed-loop ecosystems, where a company or group provides the participants in the survey and a company wants to know something from a specific set of users — employees, testers, specific groups, etc.), the data is returned within 2 to 3 days of receiving surveys. In open-loop ecosystems (where anyone can participate), a company or group wants to know things about its product, or the effects of a product on the general public, it would be a basic longitudinal observational study.
Broccoli is a cannabis immersion knowledge-sharing community app. Several non-profits are working with Broccoli to gather data on specific groups. They are working with schools, mental health associations and others to culturally crowdsource meaningful data on closed-loop surveys.
Some of their non-profit work includes for example, developing a tool that can help analyze risk profiles for Cannabis Use Disorder, and then providing some steps toward reducing cannabis usage into a safe zone. They’re also working with colleges and universities to bring their technology into cannabis programs that are being developed. For example, in their academic program, students submit protocols and Broccoli offers their suite of tools to create the best protocol, and mentor students through a full clinical trial study.
As we have seen, interoperability among the patented technologies is a key differentiating factor in delivering value at the beginning of the cannabis knowledge supply chain. As with every useful technology platform, Broccoli is designed so that researchers can seamlessly move from longitudinal observational style surveys, and port the same users or demographic into the Cognizance VCT tool, and elevate the survey into a clinical trial as needed. Once the data is gathered, scholarly articles are generated, and other academic publications, with the sponsor of the survey as a co-author, researchers can in turn reference those publications in claims and marketing. This is the only all-in-one solution for digital cannabis data that exists today in the world for individuals and institutions.
Virtual clinical trials, Artificial intelligence and secure crowdsourced cultural mapping have all helped fill the research knowledge gap quickly, bridging access to product knowledge like never before as Cannabis 3.0 takes speed. Equipped with these powerful tools and technologies, Audacia Biosciences are looking to create a common language of cannabis that is understood quickly across all segments of users, non-users, patients, consumers, physicians and researchers.