Can a tech startup change the way people think about medical marijuana?


A California businessman says he has invented a new way of consuming marijuana that could change people’s attitudes and habits when it comes to the increasingly popular herb.


The pro-pot movement has made leaps and bounds in recent years. An October Gallup Poll for the first time found a majority of American voters favoring legalization of marijuana. Even former Microsoft executive Jamen Shively recently announced he wants to get into the medical marijuana business.

Still, not everyone is convinced.

The world of weed, including medical marijuana, remains largely shrouded in mystery. Even potential medical cannabis patients say they are denied potential health benefits, because their health conditions prevent them from ingesting or smoking it.

But what if there was a way to use medical marijuana without the negative physical side effects of smoking?

“I like to think of myself as a progressive person that’s always trying to become a better businessperson,” VapeXhale CEO Seibo Shen told Yahoo News in a recent interview.

Shen says a sign outside the University of San Francisco campus, which reads, “Become wildly successful without becoming a jerk no one likes,” has inspired him in his new business venture.

It’s become a mantra for the startup veteran and family man who decided to combine his experience in the tech world with the rapidly growing medical marijuana industry.

“I’ve always been into technology and health,” he said. “I wanted to create something that not only functioned the best but also has a health benefit.”

In December 2012, SF New Tech held its monthly showcase for emerging technological innovations. The offerings included a device to take pictures from space and even a brain-operated helicopter.

But perhaps the strangest entry was from Shen, an unassuming entrepreneur who entered his new invention, the VapeXhale Cloud, into the competition. And perhaps even more surprising, he won.

Technically, vaporizers have been around for years. They work by extracting the active ingredients from herbal materials, including cannabis. A number of scientific studies have found they offer a healthier alternative to combusting plant material, eliminating the vast majority of harmful material, such as tar and carcinogens, normally inhaled by a user.

“In our field of pain medicine, we are always looking for different, simpler and more easily tolerated routes of medication delivery,” Dr. Michael D. Halperin of Interventional Pain Management said. “Although standardization of dosing is a necessity, the simplicity of use, the portability and reliability of newer vaporizers is a step further toward the goal of rapid, targeted medication delivery through inhalation, which, in many ways, acts in much the same way as the administration of volatilized general anesthetics in common use.”

But Shen told Yahoo that his product is different, using new technology to create an even cleaner process for users. He also placed an emphasis on making the device user-friendly, discarding the rubber tubing and plastic bags traditionally used for inhalation in favor of high-quality glass.

In basic terms, Shen’s vaporizer combines the conductive (hot plate) and convective (hot air, converts solid to gas) methods of vaporizers into a single unit, maximizing the device’s ability to filter out tar and carcinogens.

Along with the SF New Tech event, the VapeXhale has swept every major medical marijuana competition in the U.S., winning the Seattle Medical Cannabis Cup in September 2012 and the High Times Medical Cup in February 2013.

After the SF New Tech competition, Shen launched a fundraising page for VapeXhale, hoping to raise $50,000 toward launching a commercial line of his vaporizers. He ended up raising more than $140,000.

He’s sold thousands of VapeXhale units already, but he says he’s more concerned with changing people’s habits when it comes to medical cannabis.

After all, Shen says, as a lifelong athlete, he has abstained from drinking and quit smoking once he realized how it was affecting his ability to perform in competitions.

Shen told one powerful anecdote about a VapeXhale user who recently had a physical for a life insurance policy. Although the individual uses medical cannabis on a daily basis, his insurance provider allowed him to designate himself as a “nonsmoker” because he uses his vaporizer only to consume the product.

“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Shen said. “Using data from someone who had been consuming for a decade. His lungs were not only healthy but above average.”