Nannytechnology: Thanks for breaking my medical marijuana vape, Apple

A large number of vaporizers for use with medical marijuana are suddenly no longer supported on iOS.

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Apple has decided without warning to remove all vape-related apps from the App Store, according to Axios. This decision is reportedly in response to a health crisis under investigation by the Center for Disease Control, in which 42 people have died in connection to vaping illicit nicotine and marijuana vape cartridges.  

The move comes as a shock to those using the iOS platform to interface with any number of Bluetooth-connected vaporizers, as well as informational apps relating to vaping. The total number of apps that have now been removed from the App Store is approximately 180.

Vaping-related illnesses are certainly a subject of legitimate concern. Evidence currently points toward black-market cartridges which use Vitamin E acetate as a cutting agent as the main culprit in these cases. But vaporization is also a primary route of use for millions of patients in the US, in which medical marijuana has legal programs, such as in my home state of Florida, where there are more than 250,000 card-carrying registered patients. 

That roster of card-holding patients includes me. Since June 2017, I've been a medical marijuana patient. I use CBD, and to a lesser extent, THC, to address General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), as well as neuropathy, which is a vestigial condition I have as a result of having previously suffered from Type 2 Diabetes. For me, CBD and THC are superior medications compared to using benzodiazepine-class psychiatric drugs like Xanax or Klonopin and SSRIs like Zoloft, which drastically affect my cognitive abilities and my general mood for the worse, among having other well-documented undesirable side effects.

In Florida, patients have multiple routes of use they can choose from depending on their therapeutic requirements. These include oral, topical, and inhalation -- the latter of which is done in the form of cannabis flower, or as a processed product in the form of oil or paste. Many medical marijuana patients choose to vaporize flower or oils and distillates because of the convenience, ease of use, more precise dosing, as well as immediate onset of effect.

There exists a large number of devices on the market for vaporizing marijuana. Many of them are self-contained, with any level of complexity as to how they are controlled or configured. Simple "dumb" battery sticks with single (or no) buttons, for use with standardized disposable "510 eGo" cartridges, such as those manufactured by CCELL, which use wire and cotton or ceramic atomizing coils, are relatively common. 

But there are also more sophisticated devices that have USB and even Bluetooth interfaces to enable the patient to control heat settings, display lights, and update the firmware. The Bluetooth devices are accompanied by apps on the iOS and Android mobile platforms which can allow the patient to measure and monitor their usage, and, as is the case with PAX to identify the medication loaded into the device, and to understand its contents, such as the overall cannabinoid profile, the terpene mix, and other components. It also allows a user to validate the authenticity of the medication as well as testing and batch results.

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The new PodID feature in the PAX LABS application for iOS and Android.

(Image: PAX Labs)

As a result of this sweeping vape app removal from the App Store, PAX Labs -- the manufacturer of the high-end PAX 3 and PAX ERA vaporizers, a product line that has frequently been referred to as the "iPhone of marijuana vapes" due to its sleek industrial design and sophisticated electronics package -- has lost its developer account. I own both of these devices. The ERA was issued to me by a medical dispensary, Liberty Health Sciences, which uses its proprietary pod for a large number of its medications. They are now no longer supported for use by new customers on the iOS platform.

What this means, long-term, for users of these products and products like them is unknown. Both of these devices can work independently for basic functionality. Still, if the firmware has to be updated; that's likely going to require the use of an Android device, or potentially a USB interface application on Windows or perhaps Mac, which doesn't currently exist. 

Apple hasn't yet gone as far as to remove the existing app from customer iPhones and has stated that if you have installed the app, you can continue to re-install it on a phone that has been reset, or a new iOS device. But new patients and users are out of luck. There's also no guarantee that in the future, iOS 14 or later won't break the existing apps, which can no longer be updated.

Apple has now left potentially millions of medical marijuana patients in the lurch. My next concern is whether Google will follow suit on its Play Store. I certainly hope not, because now Android is my fallback, and it's the only way to maintain and get full usability from these devices, going forward. PAX can certainly port the iOS app to Mac OS, as well as Windows, so that customers can use desktop computers to adjust settings and update firmware, but that's far from an ideal solution. Without connectivity, the ERA's temperature can be adjusted by shaking it and removing the pod, and the PAX3 can do this as well with the power button, but it's not very granular.

I guess that this means, as patients, we can't have sleek, app-controlled, or connected medical vaping devices now. If they aren't entirely self-contained, as with a dumb battery stick, or with buttons and a dedicated display, then don't buy it. 

I loved the idea of patients being able to monitor usage and identify product and test results on their iPhones. Now, they can't. I guess I'm going back to stupid battery sticks and non-connected pods and flower vapes for the foreseeable future. Thanks for breaking my medical device and perpetuating marijuana stigma, Apple.

Is Apple acting irresponsibly and pushing its "nannytechnology" by removing vaping apps from the App Store? Talk Back and Let Me Know.