The linguistic origin of the word psychedelic is rooted in the latin words "psyche" meaning mind or spirit, and "Delos" meaning manifesting. The dictionary definition of the verb manifest is "to become clear or apparent" which is congruent with many anecdotal reports and the results of scientifically controlled studies that have shown psychedelics to reliably induce profound meaningful experiences and creative epiphanies. These studies also showed that psychedelic substances offer significant effectiveness in treating numerous psychological conditions, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ptsd, OCD, addictions, and eating disorders.
This laundry list of benefits has garnered the interest of many individuals and institutions across the world, and is now beginning to seep into the corporate world, a world that may have colluded with government (through heavy lobbying) to make psychedelics illegal in the first place, and a world in which systemic issues exist around the pursuit of profit vs. the best interests of consumers and patients.
*Research into psychedelics is primarily focused on Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA
There are now 19 companies tagged as ‘psychedelic’ on Linkedin, and 4 corporations in the space that are publicly traded (like Yield Growth) or are set to IPO in 2020 (like Compass Pathways - under their parent company ATAI life sciences). The mission statements of these companies are varied, ranging from the research, development, and production of psychotropic alkaloids and synthetic analogs of these compounds, to the operation of wellness centres offering ‘psychedelic assisted therapy’.
Yield Growth Corporation is a Canadian cannabis company (BOSS/TSX) which recently acquired a majority stake in a subsidiary company called Flourish mushrooms. Flourish currently offers a variety of medicinal mushroom infused products, primarily teas and coffees infused with cordyceps, reishi, lions mane, and turkey tail mushrooms. They plan to expand into psilocybin products in the future and are in the process of building a laboratory to research and produce psilocybin (specifically psilocybe semilanceata) mushrooms in St Vincent and the Grenadines (a small group of islands in the carribean)
Field Trip Ventures is another Canadian company also in the process of building a production and research facility in the carribean, theirs in Jamaica where psilocybin is legal. Their mission statement states they endeavor to “heal the sick, and better the well, through therapeutic psychedelics”. They also plan to strategically invest in research on numerous naturally occurring psychedelic substances and in the operation of world class clinics focused on psychedelic-assisted therapies.
Mind Med Inc is a psychedelic research company that’s developing non-hallucinogenic medicine (read - micro-doses) from psychedelic substances. They are researching the psychiatric potential of LSD and 18-MC, a synthesized version of ibogaine that is showing promising results in the treatment of opioid addiction. The company recently raised $6.2 million to conduct Phase 2 clinical trials of 18-MC, and has been invested in by Kevin O’Leary and Bruce Linton (former Canopy Growth Corp co-founder and CEO). Linton is also a member of the company's board. They aim to go public on Canada’s NEO exchange in the first quarter of 2020.
Compass Pathways is a mental healthcare company dedicated to accelerating patient access to evidence based innovation in mental health (read - psychedelics). Their primary initiative is the development of psilocybin therapy for the treatment of Treatment Resistant Depression, and have received approval by the FDA for the research of this therapy. The company is a subsidiary of the privately held ATAI corporation, ATAI is predicted by financial experts to go public sometime in 2020.
*The 4 corporations engaged in psychedelic research or production
The potential disruption of the Global Wellness Market has also piqued the interest of many popular figures in the investment community, notably Canadian entrepreneur-extraordinaire Kevin O'leary (host of ABC’s Shark Tank). O’leary has openly stated in a recent video entitled “why you should invest in psychedelics” why thinks the research and development of these substances will be the next sector to generate exponential returns. The crux of his argument rests on the facts that microdosing is quickly increasing in popularity among many professionals, that psychedelics offer effective treatment for many psychological conditions, and that they offer an excellent profit margin, especially in microdose form. O’leary is not the only popular investor who is championing psychedelics as the next major development in the $15.6 (as of 2018) billion dollar depression/anxiety drug market, and the 4.2 TRILLION global wellness market as a whole. Others include Peter Thiel, Tim Ferris, and Bruce Linton, all seasoned investors who realize the argument for investment is easy to substantiate, over 300 million people worldwide (and 12% of the American population) suffer from depression, up to 3.5 percent of the American population suffer from PTSD, and as many as 1 in 5 Americans struggle with some form of mental illness that is potentially treatable with psychedelic therapy.
Any substance possessing sustained positive effects on the symptoms of widely varied psychological conditions accesses a vast and constantly growing market - and easily outpaces competition from traditional pharmaceuticals. SSRI drugs are the pharmaceutical equivalent of psychedelics (both act on the serotonergic system) and have effectiveness rates between 50-60%, while actually having adverse effects for up to 33% of those taking them, whereas the preliminary findings of clinical trials using psychedelics (like psilocybin) to treat depression show effectiveness rates above 80%, with minimal negative interaction.
Psilocybin (or more accurately psilocin - the compound that psilocybin in broken down into by the body) engages more directly with the serotonergic system in the brain than SSRI drugs do, by imitating the serotonin molecule to cause an excess in the synaptic cleft, instead of re-inhibiting its uptake like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) do. SSRI drugs also carry a range of side effects like risk of dependency, weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, and insomnia. Psilocybin on the other hand has been shown to produce sustained improvement in many areas of psychological health with as little as one dose, has very low addictive potential, and only acute side effects (like hallucination and confusion).
The corporate involvement in psychedelics has come, as it has in many other industries (like cannabis) “following in the footsteps” of many small businesses currently operating in a legal “grey area” to offer psychedelic products, psilocybin mushrooms in particular. Publications in Canadian media around Dana Larsen’s online mushroom dispensary (which offers micro-doses of psilocybin mushrooms to canadians with proof of a psilocybin-treatable condition) have catalyzed the creation of numerous other websites offering psilocybin in a variety of forms, from dried mushrooms to chocolates, gummies, teas, and liquid extracts. These grey market sites are surprisingly often sold out, not able to meet Canadian demand for this “wonder-drug” that offers substantial benefits to psychological health at a low frequency of dosage. These sites have also been swamped by requests for international shipping, showing the worldwide demand that has caught the attention of both corporations and investors.
*some of the small businesses offering psilocybin products
Similar to psilocybin itself there is also an insatiable demand for psychedelic assisted therapy services. This sector of the psychedelic industry is only beginning to be explored, and will undoubtedly stimulate the development of many adjacent services, like guide training/certification services and wellness centres offering the service in luxury. Assisted therapy is hypothesized to be crucial to generating the positive results psilocybin has been studied for, as much of the promising research published around addiction and depression treatment takes place in a therapeutic and guided setting where the subject has the express intention of resolving psychological trauma, and has support in integrating any insight gained from their experience into their daily lives.
A guided experience typically begins with a consultation session in which the subject is queried regarding their desires, expectations and resistances. The effects of the substance and what the subject wants to get out of the experience are also discussed. The actual therapy session typically lasts between 7-9 hours and can take place either in the subject’s home, in nature, or in a clinic operated by a psychedelic therapy service. A major benefit of a guided experience is the guide taking notes for both parties to review after the experience, and periodically reminding the subject of their intention, another perk to a guided experience is if on the off chance that you have anything resembling a “bad” trip, you are in the care of an experienced therapist. All reputable psychedelic therapy services also have comprehensive follow up procedures to help quantify what effect the experience had on your life, refresh any insights or epiphany you may have gained, and integrate these insights into your daily life.
It is now well established that psychedelics carry the potential for significant psychological growth, however in most regions of the world individuals are prohibited from utilizing these substances to alter - and some would argue - expand their consciousness. Psychedelics were made illegal by the sweeping 1970 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and subsequently subjected to a half-century long crusade of mis and disinformation. This anti-drug campaign was not only unjustified but arguably immoral, monumental hypocrisy exists within our legal system - some drugs which are detrimental to both society and personal health (like alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical opioids) are legal and even promoted, while psychedelics which carry the potential to treat many psychological conditions, unite humanity, and guide our evolution towards a more open-minded and empathetic society are prohibited.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not) one of the primary beneficiaries of this hypocritical policy is the pharmaceutical industry, who spend nearly $300 million per year lobbying the government for policy creation and reform in their favour. While this blatant solicitation should be a crime in itself the pharmaceutical industry has also bordered on criminal activity in other areas as well, like the promotion of opioid painkillers, surely a factor in the current opioid crisis.
On the other hand, organizations in the current psychedelic space like The Heffter Institute, The Beckley foundation, and MAPS have mere millions at their disposal to carry out day-to-day operations and fund research, therefore there is little leftover to lobby for policy reform around drugs that perform better, and carry fewer health risks than many pharmaceuticals. This policy change that MAPS and grassroots activists across North America others are fighting for has the potential to follow two different paths, either decriminalization or legalization
Decriminalization would likely mean little or no penalty for the possession or use of small quantities, however the production and distribution of psychedelics would still be either illegal or heavily regulated. There would also be some form of regulatory framework and licencing for admission in a safe setting. It is the opinion of the vast majority of individuals currently engaged in the psychedelic space that this route of policy would be the most beneficial for patients who need access to these substances, the research institutions currently engaged in study, and small businesses across North America.
Legalization would likely have similar results for the recreational user, no penalties for possession or small-scale home cultivation. However it would potentially be to the detriment of patients who need access to these substances, as has been the case with cannabis legalization in Canada. Under full legalization the production and distribution of psychedelic substances would largely be relegated to corporations who can finance the research, development, and clinical trials of these drugs. This in turn would cause their distribution to become wholly profit based, instead of customer or experience based. The exploration of synthetic analogs to ensure profitability would also likely follow, regardless of whether those analogs are as psychologically beneficial. Legalization would also open the door to patents on naturally occurring psychoactive substances, which should scare every individual regardless of your stance on psychedelics.
To conclude, these substances offer excellent psychological "ROI" (in terms of frequency of dosage to positive effects generated), also stand to offer immense financial return through the disruption of the global health market, and will inevitably be commercialized to some degree. We stand at the genesis of this entirely new industry as citizens with the power to influence what degree this is, and there are many questions to be pondered -
Do we want psychedelic medicine to evolve into an industry similar to pharmaceuticals?
Would this be best for the individuals who need access to these substances?
Would a legal system be based on psychedelic assisted therapy, prescription based, or a recreational "free for all"?
Would corporations augment or change the molecular structure of these molecules to increase profitability?
Should corporations be allowed to patent these substances or their analogs?
These are but a few of the questions that will need to be addressed before psychedelics can become destigmatized and commonplace. During this shifting of public sentiment individuals in the psychedelic community must take care to ensure that the values of psychedelic culture (like the dedication to customer/patient service, and the respect for these substances in their unadulterated form) are not corrupted by the influence of “the mainstream” or the influence of corporate capitalistic ideology that prioritizes profit over the best interests of their customers.
We as activists and citizens should utilize the power of democracy to ensure everyone has access to the benefits of psychedelics and continued support/integration after their experience, rather than relegate the production and distribution of these substances to the elite in corporate and investment communities.