Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane caught up with cancer survivor and tech pioneer Chad Walkaden (in lockdown in Peru) to chat about OnTracka, the medicinal cannabis app he has created to legitimise cannabinoids into patient healthcare.
Martin Lane (Cannabiz): Tell me a bit about your background and why you came to build OnTracka.
Chad Walkaden (OnTracka): I’m a qualified forensic social worker. I’ve worked in mental health for many different years in Australia and the UK. So yeah, I was working in frontline child protection. This is working in East London, in Tower Hamlets. I’m not sure where you’re from in the UK, but there’s some challenges. I remember having conversations with my sister-in-law. “No, why would you do that [smoke cannabis]?” Not even to… This was a young guy talking about it, mate. They were my views and I then got diagnosed with a stage four terminal diagnosis. I had a cancer the size of a football, like think about a rugby league ball.
Chad: 20 centimeters by 15 centimeters. That’s when I was 29. I got diagnosed in the UK, came back to Australia, had surgery, recovered. Took me a while to recover. It was a big surgery. Took out my kidney as well and lost my adrenal gland. There was already some changes that I was making and someone, interestingly, someone who is now my advisor, someone who’s involved in OnTracka with me, came into my hospital bed, my hospital ward not my bed, and said “you should try cannabis”. And I just remember thinking: “What are you talking about, mate? No, no, no, no, no. It’s not for me. I’m already focusing on my diet and my nutrition.”
Chad: Back then, mate, the interesting thing is at the point of diagnosis, 2014, I already had nine months of data on myself. I’d been living in London. Binge drinking culture. So I was already aware where my health was at. I was already tracking my… and this is kind of interesting. You’ll see the clues lead together to what OnTracka is about, but I was already tracking what movement I was doing, what I was exercising and what I was eating. That was just very basic tracking.
Chad: Then when I got diagnosed, told “you’re going to die,” it was like: “Okay, well I need to start tracking everything else. I want to know how often I’m fatigued. I want to know how often I have nausea. I want to know what else is going on for me and start exploring.” Bit of journaling. There were all these things that were starting to emerge and using different apps, not even apps back then really, but just different places where you store this information. But really trying to learn: “How do I feel my best and how do I live?” Because I had a belief I was going to get better, and I didn’t use cannabis at all at the start and I just suffered the consequences.
Chad: I went through daily chemotherapy. I used a chemotherapy which is a derivative of DDT, banned from human consumption in 1972 and was putting that into my body AM and PM. I just think the story, it’s fundamental to where and how this has evolved. So from that, I then got rediagnosed the next year. I’ve lived like a saint, made some significant lifestyle changes, and then got rediagnosed and it spread. So I had the size of an orange here, had two cancers here and another one here. I remember I was in a meeting with my professor and my mum was there, my dad was there and my oldest brother was there. That day they told me I’m never going to live to an old age. I’m never going to be a dad and I’m never going to die of anything else.
Chad: This is me. I remember walking out of there and I remember asking myself the question and it shifted from, hadn’t been that present, I’d started watching a little bit about cannabis, but I remember I walked out of there and just went: “Why not? Why not?” From that moment on, it’s accelerated a course of where I am. I still got… the cancer came back again after I started using cannabis. So I’m very centric with my discussion and the narrative around cannabis and that is that it is a fundamental, it is essential to your health and wellbeing. Why else would we have an in-built endocannabinoid system that only gets activated when it has an interaction with the plant, but we’re not meant to take it?
Martin: Were you taking it for pain relief or to manage the side effects of the chemo? What was the primary function?
Chad: I started taking it, like a lot of vulnerable people out there, there was a thought that it could kill off any remaining cancer cells. So my belief… You’ve got to think about the context. I was vulnerable and desperate to live. You’re the guy who’s trying everything under the sun, mate. Every diet I’ve done in the past. I’ve done all these different fasts. And I still do. Alternative therapy for me is a big part of my life, but also conventional therapy. My biggest passion about OnTracka is legitimizing cannabis into health care. I don’t want to see mums who are doing their best to get their sons or daughters healthy and at the same time they need to hide their cannabis. So then you’ve got poor quality dosing. You don’t have the consistency.
Chad: So the whole thing about OnTracka is, how do we legitimize this into health care? It is essential to be legitimized into healthcare and the biggest… There’s a major problem that needs to be solved and that is the biggest problem that advocates are asking for. It’s the biggest problem that patients are asking for. It’s the biggest problem that doctors are asking for. You know what the problem is? It is we need data. We need more research. Now there’s emerging research about certain seizure conditions. There’s emerging research about the use of cannabis to combat side effects of nausea like I had. Literally there was a timeline, mate, of what occurred in my life and in five months I went from a guy dying of cancer to having no side effects. Once I started taking an oil, I never got side effects again, mate. Life changing.
Chad: We’re going to make many discoveries about the different chemicals and OnTracka is really going to be a tool that helps that research because at the back of what we’re doing is we’re collecting data, but it’s de-identified data and I’ll get to that in a little bit. But really what separates OnTracka from some of the other applications that are available, particularly in North America at the moment, not much in Australia, I think we would say we’re first to market in looking at this as a whole well-being tool, but cannabis is part of it.
Chad: So not only are we looking at sessions and by that I mean, once I take a toke or once I have a hit or once I smoke, what’s my headache and symptoms like or how does it affect my nausea etc? There’s a very good use of that. Really what we’re looking at is, what does your overall 360 view of your health look like with cannabis integrated into it? Because that’s what’s required to give doctors validated questionnaires and information where they’re able to say: “I’ve started taking it here. We can clearly see that since you’ve started taking X product…” Because really what we want to be looking at as well is legitimizing cannabis and supporting the legal framework of it as well, so that patients out there can go: “What am I having?” In Australia, it’s a case at times, it’s indoor or outdoor. A lot of patients… There is some stuff on the green market where there’s choice, you’ve got to be connected, but a lot of the times users don’t know what they’re taking.
Chad: So my whole thing is, how do we get independently tested products that we know can be consistent that users are able to benefit from? And then we can track those products and we can track the effect it has on an individual’s health and wellbeing for whatever reason they’re taking it. Whether they’re using it for medicinal reasons, or whether they’re using it to feel better and they’re going down the CBD path, that’s the choice that I believe individuals would have. We’re providing the technology for them to be able to evidence that first and foremost to themselves for self-tracking and self-awareness. Because obviously… Yeah, I know I’m going on a bit of a rant here…
Chad: …first and foremost for the individual. Secondly, do this for the doctors and thirdly, to change policy at a macro level so looking at systemic change through the collection of data. Sorry, man.
Martin: No, that’s all right. That was great. So a couple of questions on that. Aimed at patients or users, and obviously you’ll collect a significant amount of data. Have you got some sort of targets around user numbers? How many do you need to get a valid data set?
Chad: Really good question. What we believe we can do in six months through the network that we have in the Australian market… So just looking at the Australian market. We will be launching into the US, into the UK and Australia. So really looking at these three key markets to start with, but with a focus on our home market. We’re proudly an Australian company, and I think what we’ve been able to do very well is form a connection with the advocacy groups. So there’s some very strong advocacy groups that are in Australia and we’ve got dialogue and conversations that have been occurring with them for our positioning and how authentic we are to the end user. But at the same time, we’ve got the support of the New South Wales government. We’ve got formal support from the New South Wales government now, plus we’ve got conversations with many of the leading companies in Australia as well.