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Pax’s clever new app stops you from getting too high

Pot is increasingly legal, but newb smokers need help. Enter the power of good design to get you high with less risk.

Pax’s clever new app stops you from getting too high
[Image: courtesy Pax]

Pax, the pocket vaporizer company that’s sold more than 2 million units to date, is announcing a major update to help its customers get high. Called Session Control, it’s an update to the company’s app that lets you set how much you want to vape at once. Previously, you could vape limitless amounts of pot until the cartridge was empty.

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Once you set it, your Pax is programmed with your preferences. Once you exceed that quota, the Pax vape pen just stops pumping out the vapor for a 30-second cool down while you let the substance hit your senses.

“We’re in this weird space where you have such a powerful set of compounds in cannabis, but in general or recreational use it’s impossible to know how much you’re getting,” says Jesse Silver, the company’s new VP of product who hails from Ideo. “This is one of those first steps to making sure people know how much they’re getting.”

[Image: courtesy Pax]
Pax’s update comes at a crucial time. Cannabis is slowly becoming various shades of legal across the U.S., and along with it, a sometimes potent drug is being packaged as a consumer-friendly indulgence. A loosely regulated market, full of scrumptious edibles and weed strains bred for maximum THC, is crashing up against a society that’s experimented with pot mostly casually, in the shadows. And sometimes, chaos ensues.

As a result, we all know a friend who popped a few innocuous-looking gummy bears only to get psychedelically high, and self-regulation is just as tricky with vaping. The smooth air of vapes doesn’t burn your throat, so it offers no natural titration point convincing you to stop like the smoke from cigarettes or pipes do. So you can suck down a forest of marijuana as easily as inhaling oxygen.

[Image: courtesy Pax]

“With wine, you have a sense of how many glasses you had–and you know, ‘I’m a one-, two-, or three-glass person,” says CEO Bharat Vasan. “It’s really hard to tell that with vaping.”

In response to this design problem, Pax Era is the device getting the Session Control update. What’s different about the Era than many vape systems is that it doesn’t vaporize actual flowers. Instead, you load it with a pod of cannabis oil. These cartridges are tiny and projected to become insanely popular, but their concentration means they can be loaded with hundreds of doses of marijuana extract. The size of a single fat blunt, the Era can get you high for a month, requiring just a couple of charges along the way. It’s the iPod of vaping, but 1,000 hits in your pocket is not always a good thing. Pax had built a completely polished, mindless device to get high. Now, it needed to create a limiter.

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Session Control is a single screen in the Pax app that lets you choose two simple options: You decide the temperature of your vape. And you choose, from a basic menu, if you want to inhale micro, small, medium, or a large amount while you vape.

These settings are saved to your device like invisible training wheels to vaping. Meanwhile, you can actually puff however you like–no need to actually take tiny or large inhales if you don’t want to at any moment. That puff classification is just for your own ease of understanding. Because on the back end, Pax is working on a measurement of total volume. It can track how much you’ve inhaled of your pod, no matter how few or many puffs it takes. Then whenever you hit the volumetric threshold, the vape stream cuts off for 30 seconds.

[Image: courtesy Pax]

Testing it with a THC-free blueberry pod (Hunter S. Thompson, I am not), I was able to set my session (medium!) in seconds. I could put my phone away and puff at will, or pull out the app to actually watch a bar fill to my 100% max. As the bar quickly filled, my conclusion was, yes, I could overdo it on this device easily! And puffing after the limit was reached, the Pax had just a bit more resistance, and no vapor. That means there were no kitschy beeps or alerts involved, just a somewhat unsatisfying result of the Pax turning itself off. It went inert like a dead smartphone. In my opinion, it was a case where zero feedback was the perfect feedback. I was ready to be done.

Of course, Pax has made its name in a competitive landscape as more than just a vaporizer. Its Pax Era system is a whole platform, with dozens of partners who make cannabis oil pods of varying strengths and strains. In this sense, Session Control doesn’t offer nearly the customizability you’d think might be possible. For instance, I would love to see a future update that could take full advantage of the closed pod-to-device ecosystem. I imagine plugging a pod into the Pax, maybe Cheetos Kush from Frito-Lay (a man can dream, can’t he?). The software would see that it contains 500 mg of THC. And with that info, it could allow me to set my sessions, not by volume of vapor, but by pharmaceutical dose. I imagine this would be especially helpful with medical marijuana users. Instead of a 2.5 mg THC pill each day, they could know that their Pax would offer the same ration with a puff.

When I run this scenario by Pax, they’re enthusiastic but guarded. “I think we have a ways to go, to be honest, before we get to a place that’s more prescriptive,” says Silver. At minimum, Silver says, someone who uses the same pods over time should be able to quickly dial in, and lock down, a comfortable level of treatment. And it’s a first update of many to make sure that when millions of new people get into marijuana through vaping, the technology will empower them to do something other than get wayyyyy too high.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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