It’s rare that you find a company that specifically wants to help you use its product less, especially in the marijuana space. But that’s just what vaporizer maker Pax Labs is delivering in an update to its Pax Era device and app Tuesday: the ability to inhale cannabis in truly tiny doses.
This is unusual, because the era of pot prohibition was all about more: growers with limited space competed to give you a bigger and better high, packing their strains of weed with ever greater amounts of THC (and more recently the other major active ingredient, CBD).
In the first flush of pot legalization, this extreme potency trend continued. Edibles were enormously strong (as columnist Maureen Dowd famously discovered to her chagrin), and the fashionable thing among some stoners was “dabbing” — superheating concentrated cannabinoid oil for a fast, insanely strong high.
But with legalization spreading rapidly across the country — just yesterday, New York state got behind it — times have changed. The frontier of middle-class consumerism has opened up. Stressed suburban moms and busy executives are the new target audience, not stoners with high tolerance levels.
Microdosing has been a thing for some time; it’s also an increasingly popular therapeutic way to take LSD. But when it comes to marijuana, establishing what doctors call the minimal effective dose has involved experimenting with tinctures or taking tiny amounts of edibles — not necessarily something a newbie has the patience or the gumption to do.
Enter the Pax Era. Launched in late 2016, this $30 flash drive-sized vape uses concentrate-filled “pods” made by third parties (more than 250 kinds of pod are now available at dispensaries across the U.S.). If it looks just like the popular nicotine vape called the Juul, that’s because Pax Labs was spun off from the company that became Juul in 2017.
Pax has been busy post-Juul. It brought on a new CEO, Bharat Vasan: steeped in Silicon Valley, Vasan was an executive at Electronic Arts, then co-founded a wearable device company that was bought by Intel for $100 million, then sold a smart lock and doorbell company before Pax came calling. The Era’s new microdosing ability comes via an update to its Bluetooth-linked app (iOS or Android) called Session Control. It marks Vasan’s first major impact on Pax’s direction.
“Session Control make the vaping experience more predictable for people, especially those who are new to cannabis,” says Vasan. He and Jesse Silver, who is both Pax Labs’ VP of product and a prolific Burning Man artist, gave me an advance look at how it works.
Up until now, the Pax app has allowed you to set the temperature of the vapor, allowing either for more subtle flavor or larger clouds from the Era. If that’s the horizontal axis (literally, on the app) Vasan and Silver see Session Control as the vertical axis controlling how much you get.
Turn the feature on and you have the options of micro, small, medium or large doses. A bar appears on the screen. Once you fill the bar with green by inhaling on the Pax Era, you’re done — or rather, you’re locked out of using the device for 30 seconds.
Of course, you can just keep hitting the Pax again after 30 seconds if you want to defeat the purpose. (Or, if you’re not in the app, take the pod out and put it back in to disable Session Control.) But for those who are actively seeking moderation, or looking to eke out the contents of those expensive Pax Pods (which sell for anywhere between $30 and $100, depending on the strain), it’s an excellent constraint.
The microdose is truly micro, and provides probably the most discreet, extremely low-level buzz you’ll ever feel. You could probably take a hit in the middle of a meeting and no one would notice. (Not that we’re recommending that.)
How did Pax decide what a micro hit was? Technically, it’s all about the number of joules (not Juuls) of energy applied to the Pod by the Pax’s USB-chargeable battery. This is why you shouldn’t expect to see Session Control on Pax’s larger and more expensive vaporizer for cannabis flower, the $200 Pax 3; it’s harder to control the amount of energy provided to the Pax 3’s oven. That thing gets so hot, you can get high from it immediately after it’s turned off.
But how did Pax decide how many joules were necessary? With the help of feedback from a large and enthusiastic beta testing community. This kind of feedback will determine where the company will go with Session Control technology in the future — possibly providing an “Extra Large” option, Vasan suggested, or an even more micro microdose. Or maybe allowing users with poor impulse control to change the amount of time they’re locked out of the device.
Regardless, it’s an intriguing strategy that helps Pax in its goal to become what Vasan calls the iPhone of vaporizers: it just works, however you want it to work. Technically, encouraging people to use the product less (or in smaller doses) doesn’t affect Pax Labs’ bottom line, since the Pods are all filled by third parties. Pax just makes empty Pods and licenses their use.
And if more people have a better, low level, more manageable experience while vaping weed, perhaps they’ll become long-term customers. And perhaps they’ll sample more Pax Pods now that they can effectively sip them. In this, as in so many other areas of consumption, less is more.
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