A Black-owned startup in Prince George’s County: Tetragram helps cannabis users keep track of products


Otha Smith III has always aimed to live holistically. He eats a plant-based diet and runs three to four miles a day.

After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash 18 years ago, during his senior year at Bowie State University, Smith was prescribed a regimen of opioids and other prescription medications to manage his pain.

But soon he ditched the prescriptions, which he considered dangerous, and decided to manage his pain with cannabis, a nontoxic alternative to the doctor’s prescriptions.

The cannabis was an improvement but it was difficult for him to remember which strains and dosages had the desired effect on his pain without leaving him drossy. So he started to keep track of different products and the rate of effectiveness.

Years later, when cannabis became legal in many states across the United States, including Maryland, Smith dove deeper into the medical benefits of cannabis.

One thing he found is that there wasn’t much data that consumers could use to compare products and make informed buying decisions.  Even dispensaries selling cannabis and doctors who wanted to recommend specific products, didn’t have enough information to make recommendations.

That’s when “I saw an opportunity,” Smith said.

In 2020, the Prince George’s County native launched Tetragram, a mobile app for cannabis users that allows them to keep track of their product, including where it was purchased, how many milligrams were consumed and the effectiveness on medical conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.

Users have the option to anonymously share their rankings of products or keep them private. Over time, users can look back on entries to determine which product consistencies, consumption methods and dosage amounts best allow them to reach their goals.

Tetragram now works with nearly 300 dispensaries throughout the nation and currently has over 15,000 users on the app.

Smith, who is African American, is part of a trend. In recent years, many new Black-owned companies have set up shop in Prince George’s County, which has become the leading county in Maryland for the number of new businesses, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

One year after starting Tetragram, at the age of 39, Smith was recognized by Marijuana Venture magazine as one of the rising stars in the cannabis industry under the age of 40.

“All that data that we collect, as you imagine, could become very powerful to the consumer,” said Smith, who is now 42 years old. A new version of the app was released just before Thanksgiving last year that allows healthcare providers to see information from an aggregate level without identifying users.

Tetragram, which has five employees, charges dispensaries and healthcare providers a monthly fee to access the platform. It also sells its data to researchers, universities and medical groups.

Smith primarily works out of his home office in Bowie, the largest city in Prince George’s County, although Tetragram also has offices in the Locust Point neighborhood in Baltimore.

Smith said he specifically wanted to start Tetragram in Prince George’s because of the county’s majority Black population.

“Cannabis has been used to marginalize people of color,” who historically have been arrested for cannabis more than others, said Smith.

His goal now, he says, is to educate people in the Black community and elsewhere about the health benefits of cannabis and how to use the product as an alternative to prescription drugs.

In the near future, Smith is looking to expand the app to allow for documentation of psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, as those products become more widely legalized.

“It’s been one hell of a ride,” Smith said.  “We had no idea that building this simple app would be so impactful to peoples’ lives.”

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