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This Is Your Brain on Drugs

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It turned out to be a perfect evening for my rendezvous with the BrainBot — two cancelled flights and the attendant airport fracas, a rerouting to Oakland and a rush-hour crossing of the soaring new Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

As the traffic crawled toward the intimidating bottleneck of the toll complex, as my elevated blood pressure thundered in my temples, as a roomful of scientists and technicians checked their watches yet again and grazed the crafts table, anticipating my hours-delayed arrival,  all I could think about was the tranquil cloud of cannabinoids that awaited me in Dogpatch.

Brainbot is the embryonic creation of a company called PotBotics, the first biotech company to merge robotics, artificial intelligence and electroencephalography to bring to the medical use of marijuana the same measurable diagnostic precision that is applied to conventional western medicines. When their research is complete and their algorithms are finished, says David Goldstein, the company’s 22-year-old director of communications, BrainBot will supply doctors with a tool to effectively identify the type and strength of marijuana that would best suit a patient’s particular needs.

I arrived at last, medicard in hand, at the designated location — a tall building in a loft/warehouse district hard against the waterfront called Dogpatch. Named for the middle-of-nowhere setting it has in common with the classic comic strip, Li’l Abner — or for the packs of dogs that used to scavenge discarded meat parts from nearby Butchertown — Dogpatch seemed a suitable high/low setting for our mission.

Directed to a chair, I was fitted with a plastic electrode helmet by an EEG technician named Annette.  A gooey gel was involved, but Annette was nimble and put me at ease.  A ten minute baseline was recorded. I can remember only one thought:
When do I get to smoke?

BrainBot could be in production as soon as 2015. Eventually, a patient would be administered his or her cannabis in the form of a pill or other edible concentrate, something dosage-controllable.

For the purposes of our demonstration, I was instead handed a fatty.

Cone rolled with a crutch filter and a long rat tail like a dynamite fuse, it was an unapologetically large joint, constructed from a strain of indica called Organic OG.

I lit up. I may have coughed a few times. Everyone stood around and watched me — a lab rat with a shit-eating grin. Included in the crowd was PotBotics chief researcher Dr. Baruch Goldstein, David’s dad, an affible Latvian immigrant with two decades experience in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics. For the record, PotBotics is actually headquartered in San Mateo, CA.  The office complex where they lease was not amenable to on-site smoking, the reason for the Dogpatch venue.

After a few minutes, I passed the dutchie to the left hand side and closed my eyes as ordered. The EEG was restarted.

Sitting quietly and taking measured breaths, the gray veil of my shitty day begin to lift. I felt a cool breeze flowing through the open loft window, carrying with it the briny smell of the bay. Cars honked, busses squeaked to a stop, a light rail train clattered past, a barge whistle blew, laughter echoed off the walls of the old and restored buildings.

And then I thought: This is my brain on drugs.

One week later, I had a phone/internet conference to review my results. Present were David Goldstein and a thickly-accented neurologist who would rather not have his name revealed for fear his work in the marijuana field would taint his standing in the legitimate medical community.

Had this been the future, the doctor explained,  and had I some sort of brain pathology — for instance a concussion or epilepsy, especially certain types of epilepsy which marijuana has been shown to effectively treat —  and had the ongoing research been yet completed, establishing the biomarkers needed by doctors to understand specifically what they’re looking at and what they need to prescribe. . . the doctor would have been able to look at my EEG and tell me what kind of pot I needed to make me feel better, or perhaps to have fewer seizures. It took him about 88 minutes to explain all this; it was pretty darn interesting. Going forward, the company hopes to focus on a catalog of ailments, including insomnia, pain, and anxiety.

Specific to my own little EEG demonstration, I am happy to report that the doctor found that I was emitting, both before and after smoking, “gorgeous alpha waves, very symmetrical, the indication of a normal brain.”

Interestingly, the doctor said, about six minutes after I smoked—during which time I was still in my chair with my eyes closed listening to the night sounds of the city— my alpha waves, the ones that reflect a relaxed, reflective state of mind, became longer and more disorganized-looking.

The doctor explained: “Here, the alpha is completely vanishing. . . and we see the appearance of a central theta wave,” a drowsy, meditative state.

The scientific evidence was clear.

 In layman’s terms, I was wasted.

Luckily I had lined up a designated driver.

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