Measuring the cannabis consumer experience: Q&A with Israel Gasperin, CEO, Zentrela
August 22, 2023 By Haley Nagasaki
Zentrela, the Ontario-based neurotechnology company that quantifies cannabis consumer experience, is launching what is described by founder and CEO Israel Gasperin as “a cannabis effect education program,” stating that their mission is “to become the most trustworthy provider of cannabis effect information for the consumer, the retailer and the producer.”
Zentrela’s neurotechnology platform is the first scientifically proven test to objectively quantify cannabis psychoactive effects. The company is providing a brain wave monitoring technology to assist licensed producers make scientific claims about products and to help retailers educate consumers.
GO: Israel, describe the process in founding Zentrela.
IG: My background is in software engineering. I used to work in the financial sector back in Mexico, which is where I am from, and I always wanted to start a business.
I have always been passionate about neuroscience, meditation, mindfulness. When I combined all of that, I decided to study a Master’s in Entrepreneurship here in Canada to transition from working in the financial sector to starting up a business.
The wearable brain technology or EEG was initially designed for the detection of driver fatigue. I graduated with my master’s degree in 2016 and was told that cannabis would be legalized and there was nothing that could test actual impairment.
So that was the kind of ‘aha moment’ to focus on cannabis impairment detection rather than driver fatigue detection. During 2016 and 2018, we focused on building this technology. In a nutshell, what we are doing is conducting research by recording the brain activity of research subjects and then scientifically characterizing what consumers or test subjects are experiencing.
Based on these large data sets of electrical brain activity, we are using machine learning to detect specific brain activity and alterations that happen when the THC gets to the brain and creates that psychoactive experience.
GO: When did you begin working with the cannabis industry in Canada?
IG: In 2018, we started meeting with licensed producers, including Alex Revich who I reached out to and since then he has been supporting us and today is officially a part of our advisory board.
Based on the format and different amounts of THC, and combined with other cannabinoids, all of these variables are impacting the speed, the potency and the duration of psychoactive effects. So, in 2021 when we published the results and I learned about this potential commercial application, we also had the opportunity to raise close to one million dollars from our existing angel investor who supported this commercialization strategy, which consists of focusing on the recreational market and building more research evidence about our EEG approach to characterize cannabis effects.
The vision here is that if consumers, retailers and producers from their recreational market adopt this approach, as an objective and reliable way of describing products’ effects, then we believe that the next organic or natural adoption will be the other markets maybe for therapeutic and medical research, workplace safety and law enforcement.
Right now, there doesn’t exist science-backed product information that consumers can use to make purchase or consumption decisions. Budtenders are limited in how they can support consumers at retail.
Many people still believe that the government prohibits speaking about product effects, and while that’s not entirely true, the government has imposed or specified strict regulations. If you want to make a product characteristic claim, it must be backed with scientific research – you must prove that it is factual.
GO: Are licensed producers already making claims about their products through Zentrela’s data?
IG: Yes, we are already doing it.
In the Cannabis Act, there is a section for “Information Promotion” of cannabis products and then they outline what are what is the criteria that you need you need to meet in order to make such claims. So we’ve been working with producers and this has already been happening since almost one year and a half ago.
And now, what we just recently announced is an independent initiative from Zentrela to say, okay, we are the ones funding the research and we have all these results. We can share them with the producers and we can share them directly with the retailer, so the retailer meets their mandate of educating the consumer and supporting them to make informed decisions while at the same time they benefit by moving products faster.
And then also by posting these results through age gated media magazines or our Instagram account, etc., we are creating a new line of communication between Zentrela and the consumer.
GO: What is the timeline before we are seeing someone like the OCS helping consumers make decisions based on Zentrela data?
IG: That is a great question because are looking for a big collaboration or partnership with the Ontario Cannabis Store in order to see how we can also share our data through their platform. We are looking for that kind of collaboration with them. All of this information could become accessible to the consumer and the OCS can help us to distribute this kind of content if they want to participate.
As a startup, we’re exploring whether there is any other interest from other provinces or internationally.
I think that the interest or the value here, really, is directed to the Canadian market – that they have access to the products that we are studying. For example, we just posted an article about three fast acting beverages and every province has access to these products, we welcome the opportunity to partner with the with the provincial stores and equip them with this content.
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