Like so many others, this startup starts with a story.
After many months of fighting her chronic arthritis pain with all manner of medications, Franco Brockelman’s mom gave him a call. “Alright, I’m ready to try,” she said.
He didn’t immediately know what she was talking about, he admits, but then remembered that, a few months prior, he’d suggested that perhaps she could use medical marijuana to manage the pain. At the time, she’d brushed him off immediately. I’ve never done that, and I’m not about to start now.
But the pain was bad and “her lifestyle was slipping away from her,” he said, and she was scared. Perhaps for a combination of all those reasons, Brockelman’s mom decided to give marijuana a shot.
Brockelman flew home to Massachusetts and together he and his mom researched different strains and the dispensaries nearby. They used the website Leafly to select a popular strain. “We chose Master Kush,” Brockelman said. “I still remember.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t go well.
After ingesting, Brockelman’s mom felt her pain get worse, not better, and she was awake all night. This, understandably, did not help her get over the fear and stigma she had attached to the drug. It was frustrating for Brockelman, too, because he realized that there really wasn’t any way, besides careful trial and error, to know what might work better for his mom. This is partially because the effects of medical marijuana aren’t completely understood, and partially because the data just doesn’t exist.
I can solve one of these problems, he thought.
So Brockelman, who lives in D.C., and a small team of eight came together to develop Releaf — a mobile app that allows users to track what kind of medical marijuana they ingest, how much and, throughout the “high,” how it makes them feel.
This kind of information is valuable on a personal level in allowing users to, over time, more closely control the type of experience they have. As Brockelman explains it, if you don’t want to feel sleepy you can stay away from the strain that makes you, personally, feel sleepy.
But this data, gathered anonymously, is valuable on another level, too. Brockelman hopes that, over time and with enough users, Releaf will actually be able to generate suggestions on strain and dosage for new users, using data rather than anecdotal information.
The app, released for iOS in June and for Android just a few days ago, is free. For now Brockelman and his team are focused on getting as many users as possible, and early numbers are heartening. Over time, though, he sees partnerships with clinics or product tracking capabilities as a way toward monetization.
“It’s about helping people,” Brockelman said, adding that he and the team are motivated by the “heartwarming” stories they hear, every day, from new users of the app.
Of course, the OG user is mom. Yes, she’s still using medical marijuana, and pairing it with Releaf for a sense of knowledge and control. “She’s much happier,” Brockelman said.