A startup formed around technology from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work’s Center for Behavioral Health Research is helping young adults who struggle with cannabis use disorder (CUD) and other types of substance use.
At Behavioral Labs, participants struggling with CUD or use of other substances enroll in a program where they receive automated, personalized text exchanges. The exchanges occur 16 out of the program’s 30 days, lasting anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. This approach leverages Peer Network Counseling (PNC-txt) technology, an intervention that integrates motivational interviewing and peer network strategies, combined with therapy techniques to offer young adults an on-demand and effective way to decrease or abstain from substance use.
Dr. Michael Mason, Betsey R. Bush Endowed Professor of Children and Families at Risk in the Center for Behavioral Health Research, developed the PNC-txt technology from his years of experience studying adolescent and young adult substance use treatment and prevention. He also serves as the Chief Research Officer and Co-Founder of Behavioral Labs.
When speaking about the Behavioral Labs’ approach, Michael explains:
“We are not in users’ faces telling them that cannabis is bad and that they should stop. This program is for people that feel like their cannabis use is starting to run their lives. It’s coming from them, having them talk about their own need to change; we are the facilitators in trying to activate their motivation.”
Michael initially got the idea for Behavioral Labs after he received numerous inquiries from clinical directors about using PNC-txt in their substance use treatment programs. “They would ask, ‘How much does your package cost?’ And I had no idea even how to respond,” recalls Michael.
To start the transition from lab to market, he enlisted his brother Roy Mason, who has over 30 years of experience at Fortune 500 companies, to serve as the Chief Operations Officer. In turn, Roy brought on fellow business leader Rich Weymer to act as the startup’s Chief Executive Officer.
“I think the solution’s unique value is grounded in that it has all this proven research that has shown positive results in helping users meet their goals around reducing and managing their use of cannabis,” says Roy. “It does it in a way — with the text delivery — that is really easy to access for a lot of the targeted population.”
While the immediate focus of Behavioral Labs is to provide support for young adults dealing with CUD, the team is also exploring an interest in the market for post-treatment services to help individuals as they transition out of treatment centers.
“We say, ‘science over judgment,’ because the solution really meets the user where they’re at in their journey for treatment or in their struggles with a particular substance,” says Roy. “It’s really easy to get excited and talk about it.”
In working with UTRF, the team is grateful for the level of support and guidance they have received. Rich and Roy referred to the relationship as “fantastic.”
“I could not be more impressed and thankful for the partnership that we have with UTRF,” says Rich. “We’re working together. Their willingness to provide help, support, and opportunities really demonstrates their vested interest. They seem to really understand what we’re trying to do.”
“Behavioral Labs is unique not only in its text-based counseling approach, but because the team can already back its results and claims with years of data, thanks to the work of Dr. Mason,” says UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy. “UTRF is happy to partner with the Behavioral Labs team as they continue helping this population.”