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April 18, 2011, 12:42pm

If you’re as old as me you remember when webcams first came around. They were terrible toy-like things. The images transmitted were super-pixelated, and the frame rate was probably closer to slow motion stop motion than any familiar standards of video. The connections were way slower then too, so the whole experience was different from today. I’d say that was probably around 1995 or 1996. These days there are high quality webcams built into the screens of laptops. But that’s the standard for consumer technology products. When they’re rolled out the primary concern is that they function consistently. Efficiency and form are afterthoughts. But, as the technology develops and use becomes more widespread, devices are refined—they become more efficient, and their design begins to account for the ways that consumers utilize them. That’s why webcams are built into the screens of laptops—designers realized that they were primarily being used right in front of computers.

So, what does that have to do with anything? If you’ve been following the column then you may have picked up on this idea of a second wave in the cannabis industry. It’s characterized by maturation, refinement, and diversification. It’s not just about stoners anymore, there are cannabis users in just about every demographic you might imagine. And the model image of the cannabis patient is becoming more sophisticated. The groundwork has been laid by industry forerunners, and now we’re refining how patients are served by the medical cannabis industry: the market/industry is beginning to adapt to the behaviors of consumers. It’s a theme that is embodied in any surviving business endeavor in these times. From the music industry to grocery retailers, everyone is updating how they interface with consumers.

Last week I had the good fortune of speaking with someone who is not part of the cannabis industry per se, but his business—which is peripherally related—seems to be running in tandem with the industry’s second wave. There are three gentlemen behind the Cloud 9 Firefly: a product designer, a computer scientist, and a mechanical engineer. They’re not growers or dispensary owners, they’re just accomplished professionals who saw the evolution of vaporizer technology as an opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ need for a product that was more accurately tailored for them. Vaporizing is a preferable way to administer not only cannabis, but also tobacco, and most likely any other smokable plants when compared to combusted smoke. It still allows the patient to have a rapid response, but it eliminates the harmful byproducts by administering indirect heat that is hot enough to burn cannabinoids, but not hot enough to burn plant matter.

If you’ve never used a vaporizer, they’re somewhat archaic. While the result is great (the “smoke” you inhale contains three compounds, as opposed to combusted smoke, which contains 110, it's far less detrimental to your health, and the taste is much nicer) the tool itself is rather clumsy. Some work better than others, but as far as I know they’re all ugly, and they’re not convenient. You have to wait for them to heat up, and loading/unloading them is not necessarily conducive to ease of use. We’ve reached a point where although the technology is there, no one has taken the initiative to update the form.

So, the gentlemen behind the Firefly did what they do best, and set to work figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and where it all falls shorts of consumers’ needs. They’re no hacks. Between the three of them they’ve worked with Apple, Zune, NASA, Nike, and so on. I’m waiting on an opportunity to try out one of their prototypes, but the rundown they gave me is very straightforward. It’s less a matter of daring innovation than it is one of analyzing human beings, and facilitating their natural behaviors.

What makes these guys so special? Their device has an instant ‘on’ feature. Meaning you pick it up and press a button, and it vaporizes. Most vaporizers take three to five minutes to heat up. That isn’t a terribly long time, but it means that the mindstate for using the vaporizer is completely different from smoking. In order to use the vaporizer you have to heat it up, so the act of using it becomes more of a drawn-out process. Many of the vaporizers on the market right now are not designed effectively, and actually wind up combusting material. I’ve been assured that the Firefly will not be a victim of such circumstance. Finally, the form is sensible: it’s portable, and consideration has been given to its shape and appearance. All very simple things, although it’s taken two years of development thus far in order for these gentlemen to realize their product.

The idea is a basic one, but no one else is doing it. It may sound cheesy, but they’ve created a vaporizer that works. The thing is, there are still tons of unpaved paths like this one, which are on the periphery of the cannabis industry. While the Firefly isn’t a cannabis product, it presents an interesting situation. After much research, most people are aware that smoking is not the most effective means to administer cannabis, and vaporizing is a preferable method. However, there are no vaporizers on the market right now that can replace the utility of combusted cannabis. There simply isn’t a product that is convenient enough, or effective enough. But, if the Firefly winds up being a product that lives up to the reputations of its inventors’ collective expertise it could very well play such a role. If designed effectively, it could become a necessity for medical cannabis users.


Previously on Weed Dealings, Golden Nugs