Member Spotlight: Tetragram
“We Have to Bring the Attention Back to the Medicine”
“I saw the unity of the people who were embracing the plant and realized this was the industry I wanted to be in,” says Otha Smith III when he speaks about his early desires to enter the cannabis industry. Otha is the Founder and CEO of Tetragram, a digital platform that helps cannabis users get the most out of their products and experiences.
Tetragram is an app that invites cannabis users to log the details of their sessions. Consumers input their products, the dispensary it was sourced, methods of consumption, medical condition symptoms to target, and the overall efficacy of that session to help manage those symptoms. What results is an informed consumer who is empowered by their self-generated data on their medical cannabis journey, and an invaluable data set for medical cannabis practitioners that show how certain products are impacting people’s health.
A Life-Saving Re-Introduction to Cannabis
Otha Smith III is no stranger to cannabis. He grew up in a rural part of Maryland that was notorious for growing cannabis, so he was exposed to it at a young age, had long moved past its stigma, and understood that it had medicinal benefits.
Born to a family of entrepreneurs, Otha enjoyed his own foray into entrepreneurship while still in high school. He started a car detailing business that skyrocketed in success while he pursued his degree in Business Marketing at Bowie State University.
Otha’s rise in his career suddenly came to a pause after a 2006 car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Whether it was a miracle or a result of the work of the responders and his now-doctor friend who was in the crash with him, Otha’s time on this earth wasn’t up. He was revived but was left with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), for which he was prescribed what he describes as a “deadly cocktail of prescription opioids.”
For three years, Otha took the opioids as prescribed, but he wasn’t finding the relief from the TBI symptoms such as increased anxiety that he needed. “My anxiety went through the roof,” he says, “Xanax was what I was using most.” One day, he decided “enough is enough” and reminded himself that he had always had a holistic approach to health, and recalled the benefits of cannabis he’d known about growing up. With the help of cannabis, and throwing himself into physical exercise, Otha began coming off opioids one-by-one, to the point that he was pharma-free.
“This is the Industry I Want to Be In”
Because of cannabis, Otha finally had his life back and was ready to get back into building his career. Following the 2008 recession, he closed his car detailing company and went on to solar energy sales, where he achieved several accolades, including a promotion to leadership roles.
Throughout this time, however, Otha felt that pull back to entrepreneurship that he’d thrived on at a young age, and he had a new-found appreciation for cannabis after his experience getting off opioids. When Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012, Otha was one of the state’s early visitors, where he had the opportunity to attend the state’s first legal 420 celebration. It was the feelings of togetherness, advocacy, and being united because of the plant that solidified the path that Otha would take to begin his career in cannabis.
Recognizing a Big Gap in Patient Care
When Maryland finally implemented legalized medical cannabis sales in 2017, Otha quickly recognized a big gap in patient care. “I was completely blown away,” Otha recalls as he saw the array of products available, “As a consumer there is no data for me to rely upon to make smarter decisions about what will work for my medical condition.”
While he valued the experience of the cultivators and budtenders, he quickly recognized there had to be a better way for the medical cannabis industry at large to drill down why certain cannabis cultivars worked for certain conditions, while others did not.
“A major component of education is documenting consumption,” explains Otha, “So, I took the idea of the paperback journal and made it an app on the phone.” And so, Tetragram was born.
The app is now in 132 dispensaries across the country. Otha believes that Tetragram will reshape the entire cannabis industry due to the aggregate, anonymous data the app is designed to collect. In addition to patient journaling, each product that is entered into the Tetragram app receives tens of thousands of patient reviews that demonstrate the products’ efficacy for certain medical conditions. The app also has a built-in ranking system for popular cultivars of cannabis. For instance, if a consumer really wants to source the best “Blue Dream”, they can find which brand, product, and phenotype of Blue Dream that customers are raving about.
Otha credits Tetragram’s success to the plant herself. “Cannabis is the most communal plant in the world,” he says, “People love sharing their experiences, and through Tetragram, people can learn from each other and find other people’s experiences.”
Tetragram also provides doctors, cannabis brands, researchers, and universities a white label version of the app wherein they can conduct their own research on cannabis. The app can be customized towards the research questions under investigation to help researchers secure quantitative data about cannabis. Tetragram has also been adapted for the study of psilocybin mushrooms, with plans for the app to soon cross other plant medicines.
Otha was honored for his work with Tetragram by being recognized among Marijuana Venture’s “Top 40 Under 40”. In 2021, Tetragram was named one of the best cannabis apps by Cannigma. Tetragram has received acclaim from beyond the industry, recently receiving a Silver w3 Award for “best user experience” by The Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA).
Advice to Emerging BIPOC Cannabis Entrepreneurs
Otha would be lying if he said that his path to making Tetragram fully operational was completely smooth. “It was originally hard to get engagement with people. There’s another level that’s added when you’re getting something started when you’re BIPOC,” says Otha, “When we initially came out with the platform, it was tough at first for people to take it seriously,” he recalls of his journey of foraying into cannabis as a person of color.
Otha found it extremely difficult to raise capital as a person of color in the cannabis industry despite the promise of the app. “Once we could show people the power of the application, the technology spoke for itself,” he says. Finally, Tetragram began to take hold and the app went from prototype to something that people can download for either iOS or Android.
For emerging BIPOC cannabis entrepreneurs, Otha imparts tough, but true advice: “You’re going to hear more No’s than Yes’s” he says, but urges the emergent entrepreneur to use this as fuel. “The industry is wide open and there are multiple areas to be successful. See what you’re good at and apply that to the industry.” As for timing, “There is no such thing as the right time, you just have to do it.”
Otha underscores that people will be most successful when they do what they love and what they’re good at. “People try to get into parts of the industry where they have no skill sets, and that’s a critical way to die.”
Otha’s Hopes for the Future of Cannabis
Otha Smith III has high hopes for the future of cannabis, and it involves going back to the industry’s roots. “We need to get back to where we initially started with the industry. People lost touch on why we created legal cannabis in the first place,” he states, “It was based on medical cannabis and that has been lost and is now a commodity. With the data collected through Tetragram, we can bring the industry back full circle to bring it back to the medical.”
“Tetragram is for patients by patients,” says Otha in closing, “Anyone who uses cannabis is a patient at the end of the day. We have to bring the attention back to the medicine.”
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