MyDx Is Like a Pocket Sommelier for Cannabis Connoisseurs

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The device analyzes the amount of THC and other chemicals present in a small sample, while a companion smartphone app conveys a profile of the drug and its likely effects on a user.

Daniel Yazbeck has taken a rather unorthodox career path. After working as a chemist for Pfizer—"We found ways to create pharmaceutical intermediates using enzymes," he says—Yazbeck moved to Panasonic, where one of his team's assignments was to determine whether sensors could be used to sniff out biomarkers in people's breath related to various diseases. To do so, the research team was testing a technology called "the electronic nose," developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was around this time that Yazbeck began researching the properties of cannabis, which he says has a "profound effect on my mind and body." It occurred to him that these same types of sensors could also be used to analyze the properties of various cannabis strains, but he knew that "Panasonic was never going to get into marijuana."

And so, Yazbeck founded CDx in 2012. Last year, the company began selling MyDx, its flagship product—a pocket-sized device that analyzes the chemical makeup of a small cannabis sample to generate a profile, which is conveyed via the CannaDx app running on a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. The profile describes the marijuana's chemical profile. Each profile is based on the levels of chemicals (cannabinoids, both psychoactive and non-psychoactive, and terpenes, which are the plant's aromatic chemicals) detected in the sample. While there are many common strains of marijuana, the chemical composition varies even within specific strains.

A MyDx sensor

Two genetically identical seeds coming from the same mother plant, but grown by two growers, in different soils and with different amounts of light and at different temperatures, will generate two plants with separate chemical profiles, Yazbeck says.

In addition, the app describes the analyzed samples' likely effects on a user—for example, a given sample may be likely to reduce a person's stress level, while also decreasing that individual's energy level, or make him or her less social. This is based both on the sample's chemical makeup and the traits of more than 500 strains compiled in a database that the CannaDx app references.

The electronic nose technology that the MyDx sensor uses to determine the chemical makeup employs conductive polymer films to detect specific molecules. The polymers inside the sensor act as sponges "that expand or retract when they bind with specific chemicals," Yazbeck says. "As that happens, we measure the change in the [electrical] resistance across the circuit board [on which the polymers are mounted]."

NASA employs electronic nose technology to detect levels of dangerous gases, such as ammonia, inside in the International Space Station. And a few years ago, NASA's Ames Research Center announced that it had shrunk the electronic nose sensor to be small enough to embed it into mobile devices.

To date, Yazbeck says, CDx has sold 1,000 MyDx units, which retail for $699 at the company's website. Aside from individuals, he adds, pot dispensaries have also purchased the product, which they use to show customers the profiles of various strains they sell. One need not use the device in order to access a particular strain's profile (without the analysis of a specific sample)—which, he says, is why the company's CannaDx app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times from the iTunes and Google Play websites.

The cannabis sensor inside the MyDx device is removable, and CDx is now preparing to begin selling three additional sensors, for $69 each, that are designed to analyze produce for traces of pesticides, to analyze air for toxins, and to analyze water for harmful chemicals, such as mercury and lead. The companion apps for these sensors will display the amounts, in parts per million, of the target chemicals in produce, air or water, as well as the amounts of those chemicals that are safe for human exposure, per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

Yazbeck feels that the availability of these additional sensors will make the price point of the device itself more palatable, since they will make it useful for more than analyzing cannabis. CDx is also working to build the ability to detect pesticides into the next generation of the cannabis sensor—which, he says, is a growing concern among marijuana users.

Consumers want to empower themselves to better understand the quality of and dangers present in the things they consume, Yazbeck explains, and to determine, say, whether the conventionally grown produce they purchase carries excessive levels of pesticides. "That's why our motto is 'Trust, but verify,'" he states.

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the MyDx device supports six hours of constant analysis, Yazbeck reports. Each test takes roughly five minutes to complete.

Last year, an Israeli startup known as Consumer Physics began selling a handheld analyzer called the SCiO, which is also marketed as a device that can help consumers better understand the contents of the products they purchase. The SCiO uses a different sensor technology—near-infrared spectrometry—to conduct its analysis. Rather than searching for harmful chemicals, it is designed to help determine a given food's fat or sugar contents, for example, or to verify that a drug is, in fact, what the bottle says it is.