This Wilmington virtual reality company wants to change the way you see cannabis culture

"There are so many problems hemp and cannabis can help address. But here’s the thing - the usual messenger for this kind of information, that kind of stereotypical dreadlocked college kid, that makes it easy for people to laugh off and basically ignore. This technology is going to help change that."

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The Cannabis Virtual Reality Network is a homegrown company that wants to change the way people experience cannabis culture. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
The Cannabis Virtual Reality Network is a homegrown company that wants to change the way people experience cannabis culture. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON – Behind a narrow door on the ninth floor of the Murchison building, the Cannabis Virtual Reality Network is gearing up to launch what its founder calls a revolutionary program.

Cannabis Virtual Reality Network (CVRN) promises a subscription-based service for 360-degree and virtual reality (VR) content based around cannabis culture, the first of the kind in its world, according to Matt Dula, founder of the CVRN.

“I know, it’s a lot of buzzwords, so it takes a minute to see how it all comes together,” Dula said. “But, essentially, we’re talking about immersive content for all aspects of cannabis. That means entertainment, education and legislation. The scope is really revolutionary, it will be the first of its kind.”

Dula says his CVRN will provide everything from virtual on-stage access to concerts to educational programs about cannabis applications to political engagement on marijuana legalization like North Carolina’s latest medical marijuana bill, which was introduced last week.

A hemp-based 3D headset, made by a California-based company Dula works with. (Courtesy Matt Dula)
A hemp-based 3D headset, made by a California-based company. (Courtesy of Matt Dula)

The system works with smart phones, mounted in headsets like the Oculus or Google Cardboard, and headsets. Users find themselves in a virtual spherical room, with content screens floating in the round. Looking at a screen immerses the user into a wide variety of 3D experiences.

Dula said being able to bridge these diverse markets is crucial.

“To a certain extent, the marijuana culture content will help pay for the educational content,” he said. “People will pay to be onstage with 311 or Snoop Dogg. That experience is popular, to be able to look to your right, and there’s the artist, to look to your right and see out over the crowd – that’s a big deal, that’s exciting. But, I admit, not as much for a biochemistry lesson on cannabanoids, or an investment review of a 3D hemp printer.”

Dula added that there are more important reasons for bringing together disparate sections of the cannabis community than just funding.

“So, there’s successful professionals who are interested in managing their blood pressure or anxiety with cannabinoids who have no interest at all in getting high, or in concerts or stuff like that,” he said. “There are people in the tobacco industry and cotton industries looking for ways to invest in hemp plantations.”

Dula said this “silent majority” of the cannabis community will be instrumental in changing legislation on hemp and marijuana and in funding the private cannabis economy in the future. Dula believes he is a good candidate to try and reach this group. A North Carolina native and  U.S. Marine Infantryman who toured in Afghanistan, Dula has used cannabinoids to treat both the mental and physical repercussions of intense combat duty.

“I’m not a stoner, literally or in terms of style,” Dula said. “I don’t look like the stereotype. I’m a Marine, my whole family is military [Dula’s brother Keith, who also works at CVRN, was in the U.S. Army]. I’m a big southern bearded guy. And I don’t like getting high, though I absolutely think it should be legal for medical use. I recognize the overwhelming benefits of cannabinoids, including THC. But that’s not for me.”

Matt Dula with his 3-D printer at his office in downtown Wilmington. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Matt Dula – self-described “big southern bearded guy” – with his 3-D printer at his office in downtown Wilmington. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

Dula said he is passionate about the full range of use cannabinoids offer, a message often lost “in the haze” of marijuana culture.

“The message is essential and it’s wide reaching,” Dula said. “There are 113 cannabanoids, and we’ve only just started to research how the endocannabinoid system in human body works.

“But it’s not just in medicinal use, but in manufacturing, in textiles,” he said. “We could build inexpensive, fireproof public housing out of hemp concrete, but it’s illegal to grow in North Carolina. There are so many problems hemp and cannabis can help address. But here’s the thing – the usual messenger for this kind of information, that kind of stereotypical dreadlocked college kid, that makes it easy for people to laugh off and basically ignore. This technology is going to help change that.”

So how does Dula’s ‘virtual reality’ network help him reach people?

“It’s difficult to explain until you’ve experience it,” he said. “There’s been recent studies that show emotional engagement is increased by over 25 percent. But, okay, maybe that’s millennials.”

Dula proposed an “extreme’ example,” saying: “Let me put it this way. Imagine you’ve got a state representative, and they’re against medical marijuana. One more photograph of a person in a hospital bed isn’t going to change them. But I can put them in the room with someone suffering, dealing with the nausea from chemotherapy. You look around and see their family. The impact of that kind of immersion is impossible to measure.”

According to Dula, the goal of CVRN’s programming would be balance. The company teamed up with Wilmington-based virtual reality filmmakers Expect VR at last year’s Cucalorus festival; the partnership already has plans for a number of programs.

“So, yes, if you want to be onstage with Snoop, we can do that. And that’s awesome. But I can also walk you through a cannabis field, I can show you the plant, how it’s harvested, how it’s processed,” he said. :I can take you to a meeting with industry professionals. I can put you at the table with legislators and businessman. The news shows you one person talking, I can put you there. You can turn over your shoulder and see what the other senators are doing. Are they paying attention, are they rolling their eyes? You’re there.”

A 3-D printed cardholder made in Dula's office. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
A 3-D printed cardholder made in Dula’s office. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Dula’s CVRN is part of a much bigger movement, including its parent company Canna Origin, for which Dula serves as chief executive officer. Canna Origin includes dispensaries, hemp-based 3D printing and medical advising for cannabis issues. (Watch Dula’s 3-D printer at work on its Instagram page).

Dula said he hopes the Kickstarter-funded launch of CVRN will help it become the  “in house media wing” of this larger movement, which has the ultimate goal of “solving the world’s problems, or at least a lot of them.”

“I know that sounds lofty,” Dula said. “But right now the only thing stopping us from trying is a lot of misinformation. I think we can do something about that.”

Watch CVRN’s technology in this demo film shot for Wilmington’s Hemp Farmacy.