The Many [P]lanes of the Psychedelic Industry Highway: Can the Traffic Flow Smoothly?

psychedelic highway
Can access to psychedelics and psychedelic therapy or access without the fear of criminal repercussions help folks overcome the stress, anxiety, depression and trauma associated with the pandemic? We already know that psychedelics are being researched for the treatment of mental health issues and addiction.

“The psychedelic research renaissance is gaining traction. Preliminary clinical studies of the hallucinogenic fungi, psilocybin, with psychological support, have indicated improvements in mood, anxiety and quality of life.”

“In early 2014, Scientific American called for further inquiries into certain psychedelic drugs. It also criticized American drug regulators for limiting access to LSD (Lysergic acid-diethylamide), ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin. Then, a few months afterward, Science described how scientists were rediscovering psychedelics – both as objects of basic research and as therapeutic applications. The basic thrust was that “more and more researchers are turning back to psychedelics” to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various addictions, and other categories of mental illness.”

 So it seems a natural segue to add pandemic PTSD to the list of ailments that psychedelics can treat.

A new study has suggested that psychedelics may lead to significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation. This study might imply that psychedelics do, in fact, help to cope with the pandemic.”

“This groundbreaking study emphasises the recent observed rise in psychedelics consumptions during the lockdown. It explains this increased use as a result of the drug making people more tolerant of distressing situations. One can only conclude that such substances have a promising future in the research into people’s mental health.”

MindMed Co-Founder & Co-CEO, J.R. Rahn seems to feel the same way.  He believes we have two main mental health issues facing the United States right now: the opioid crisis and Covid 19.

J.R. Rahn said, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that the current global mental healthcare system demands more comprehensive solutions to address multiple mental health and addiction crises around the world.”

Healing trauma with LSD is the reason he founded the company. His personal journey brought him to LSD and then the subsequent question, “why are these substances not available to people?”

  1. R. Rahn is passionate about psychedelic healing. He is simply driving in the for-profit lane hoping to get these medicines to the folks who need them. 

“Mental health costs the American economy $2.5 trillion a year, the opioid crisis $500 billion a year. These aren’t just problems at home, they’re going to start affecting the economy as well,” Rahn said.”

“Even as society develops a habit around working from home, mental health issues are likely to persist, Rahn said, adding that “Zoom fatigue” is already developing.”

“We’re going to need solutions to mental health and addiction, and the current solutions aren’t working. SSRIs, not working. Anxiety medications like Xanax, those are just masking the problem,” he said.”

“Long-term, the rise of automation will displace even more workers from the labor force, persisting the issue further.”

“It’s either going to an apocalypse or a renaissance. For the way we’re looking at it right now, it’s looking like an apocalypse. I think people when they wake up in the morning and they don’t have something to do, that’s not good, and you’re going to see rates of addictions skyrocket even further, and you’re going to see more mental health incidents,” he said. “We don’t have the infrastructure or the medicines to really help these people.”

Healing trauma with psychedelic substances is the reason he took his passion to Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary who – from watching Shark Tank and the way Mr. Wonderful blows people off I can only imagine what that first rejection must have been like

 – but in true Kevin O’Leary style he knows a good investment when he sees one and bought a ticket on the psychedelic gravy train. I like Mr. Wonderful actually and wonder what he would be like to smoke a joint with – but he does not partake because of the munchies

“So when I first presented the concept of using LSD-assisted therapy and psychedelics to Kevin, he basically got up after about 5 minutes into our conversation in Toronto and said ‘my name is not Timothy O’Leary, it’s Kevin O’Leary, and I’m not investing into this thing.’ He went away for two days and I got a call back and he said ‘look, I’m interested, if this could actually solve the opioid crisis, if this could actually solve 40 million Americans with anxiety’,” Rahn said.”

MindMed is not the only coporatedelic company to enter the psychedelic space. There are many. There are so many that there is now an ETF dedicated to them: PSYK

PSYK is trading on the Candaian stock exchange but the individual companies can be had on the American exchange.

Horizons Psychedelic Stock Index ETF will trade on the Canadian NEO exchange under the ticker PSYK. It will offer investors exposure to a basket of 17 publicly traded companies focused on using psychedelics like LSD to treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and even eating disorders.”

“The space is moving very, very quickly,” MindMed co-founder and co-CEO JR Rahn told Yahoo Finance Live. “What we’re seeing now is, I believe, a demand from both retail investors and institutional investors on how to best index this space and how to gain the most exposure to the most amount of clinical trials and technologies. So it was just a natural progression that somebody was going to set up an ETF.”

Rahn believes that Joe Biden is going to make mental health a highlight of his administration.

“I really think that he’s going to make treating the opioid crisis, and also greater mental health that’s going to ultimately come out of COVID-19 here, a high priority for his administration,” said Rahn.

Biden has vowed to build on the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act by doubling down on efforts to enforce existing mental health parity laws and expand funding for mental health.

Will that open up a dialogue about psychedelics in Congress? 

“Psychedelic reform isn’t exactly President Joe Biden’s top priority. But as his administration and the new congress gets underway, advocates are hopeful that the next four years will continue to bring policy changes that chip away at the federal prohibition of psilocybin, MDMA, and other psychedelics.”

But with all the local initiatives that have been passed of late the Biden Administration would be hard pressed to go against the voice of the people.

 And truly they have bigger fish to fry, like the opioid crisis, which psychedelics can help with. 

“The question for many activists now is really: Will the Biden Administration interfere with state, city, and county-level psychedelic reform? Kevin Matthews, founder of SPORE, the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education, doesn’t think so.”

“The DEA has more important things to address than safe psychedelic use, says Matthews, such as the opioid crisis.” 

“Melissa Lavasani, who proposed Initiative 81, which decriminalized all natural psychedelics in Washington, D.C., agrees. “I don’t think the feds are going to get in the way of cities and states decriminalizing,” she says. “They’re going to want to see what happens in Oregon. They’re going to let the states do their thing and see how everything pans out.”

One can ask if psychedelics is taking its lead from cannabis legalization? And if so, is that a good thing or not so much?

“Similar to organizations like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or the Drug Policy Alliance, MAPS, a nonprofit which has sponsored much of the recent, pioneering psychedelic research, has strong political leanings.”

“Yet MAPS and other research nonprofits are not alone in seeking to make psychedelics legal, as medications.”

The ‘not alone’ is where the venture capitalists and for-profit companies enter the space and the concerns about profit over access emerge. 

“There’s been concern among some key players in the psychedelic community that COMPASS Pathways—a for-profit company whose research has recently been put on the fast-track by the FDA to develop psilocybin therapy for depression—is an indication that people looking to profit from psychedelics, rather than ensure their accessibility, are getting into the space.”

Last year when JR Rahn expressed his  lack of support for psychedelic decriminalization he was not suggesting that an LSD trip wouldn’t be beneficial for some folks – maybe not all – he was afraid that if there is a reprisal against psychedelic decriminalization it could shut down research.

“Rahn elaborated on this statement in Town & Country magazine, saying, “These are medicines, but if there’s a backlash against state legislation, it could shut down the research.”

Rick Doblin from MAPS had this to say about it: 

“It’s certainly within JR’s purview,” Doblin said in his keynote speech. “But, I think that this is one of the differences between for-profit and nonprofit. For-profit is cautious, it doesn’t really see the larger mission, which is really getting rid of the drug war.”

“Doblin said that he can understand that some companies, like MindMed, COMPASS Pathways, and Usona are staying out of drug policy. Doblin said, however, that MAPS’ support of decriminalization efforts has not hindered their research or their relations with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though, a source within MAPS has also indicated to Psymposia that—in response to potential pushback from the FDA—MAPS has been treading cautiously around public decriminalization efforts, while Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy are underway.”

With all this discussion about the for-profit and nonprofit model of access there still leaves the user who simply wants the experience outside of a clinical environment and that is where the state and city level initiatives come into play.  

 “We’re now seeing at least a two-pronged approach to psychedelics, mirroring cannabis. The first is government-approved research on MDMA for PTSD and psilocybin for anxiety, addiction, and other conditions. The second is state- and city-level initiatives in places like Denver and Oregon to decriminalize or legalize psilocybin. According to Oakland’s Decriminalize Nature campaign, more than 55 cities now want to replicate the city’s initiative, which passed in June, to decriminalize all naturally-occurring psychedelics.”

“There remains a need, within the movement, to uphold the right to cognitive liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the innate yearning for spiritual connection—all alongside the need for better medicine. At the same time, we need to ensure that the movement and industry give due respect to the indigenous cultures that have been using these substances, safely and wisely, for generations.”

“There’s also been a wave of ayahuasca churches in recent years applying to the DEA for permission to use ayahuasca religiously. Natalie Ginsberg, Director of Policy & Advocacy at MAPS, says she’s “eager” to see an amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which considers how spirituality and religion play a role in psychedelics use and traditional practice, while making sure peyote is protected.”

One clear advantage ‘for-profit’ players have is funding and the ability to get a drug through the FDA pipeline and into the public realm.  With that also comes the ability to apply for patents which further solidifies the company’s place in the psychedelic world hall of fame.

 Christian Angermayer, who founded ATAI Life Sciences in 2018 had this to say: 

“Right now, the psychedelic therapeutic experience is only available to a sort of mental health elite, who can afford a trip to a retreat in Amsterdam, or can hire a shaman in San Francisco, he said. “In my view, we should not structure or adjust drug policy for that one percent, but in order to help the people who need it, who are depressed or have anxiety, we need to make psychedelics available to people within the hospital system as an approved drug,” he said. “And the only way to make a drug approved with the FDA is to raise a lot of money. That means a for-profit company has to do it because it’s just not possible in a non-profit way.””

“He says all of his investors are committed because they know “it is a great endeavor.” Biotech companies in this space want to invest in development, because “you can always do something good at the same time as make money,” he said. “Any drug that is approved is good for humanity. And the world needs psychedelics.””

“Laura Huang, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, who studies why investors invest, said that as venture capital firms proliferate, each grows increasingly specialized.” 

The game of who can attract the best funding is based on potential patents with increased research and drug development. 

“Dozens of biopharmaceutical companies are competing against each other since the ones that develop the intellectual property to synthesize the molecules to help treat disorders will likely be profitable and attract more capital.”

“There is a smaller subset of investing verticals in the psychedelic space as it is more of an intellectual property race to develop drugs,” says Michael Sobeck, managing partner at Ambria Capital, a San Juan, Puerto Rico-based asset manager.”

When it comes to patents MindMed has applied for what this writer is dubbing as the mother in the room: an “off” switch to an LSD trip. The discovery of this new compound was in conjunction with “Dr. Matthias Liechti and the Liechti Laboratory, a research facility studying the pharmacology of psychoactive substances at the University of Basel in Switzerland”. 

“The innovative and original work of the Liechti Laboratory is a treasure trove of novel data on LSD,” Rahn said. “We are just at the beginning of several significant discoveries that have the potential to further the application of psychedelics as therapeutic medicines. If developed, these discoveries will benefit both patients and therapists working in the psychedelic medicine space.”

“The novel concept is to reduce the duration of action and the effect intensity of a psychedelic in high doses, for example, in cases where panic develops or in overdoses and after the hallucinogen has been ingested,” Liechti wrote to New Atlas in an email.” 

The point of this “off-switch” would be to give patients who might otherwise be wary of an LSD experience the feeling that they have a way out if things get too rough. As a therapeutic tool it’s a way to step into the experience with confidence knowing that there is an exit strategy if needed.  Although the concept of a challenging trip and the navigational tools and skillset in how to move through challenging trips are the hallmark of psychedelic preparation, therapy and integration. 

MindMed has filed a U.S. patent application for “a neutralizer technology intended to shorten and stop the effects of an LSD trip during a therapy session.” Although the company believes that long-known psychedelic compounds themselves should remain in the public domain, MindMed co-founder and co-CEO Stephen Hurst said that novel medications that are developed for use in conjunction with them should be eligible for patent protection.

“MindMed believes that true innovations will always be protectable, which is why MindMed is committed to investing in novel research and proprietary data around LSD and other psychedelics,” said. “We believe this latest invention is a good example of the work we will seek to patent and we remain committed to understanding how pharmaceutical ingredients, novel methods of manufacture, new uses of older medications, proprietary formulations and surprising experimental results can benefit patients.”

Whether the psychedelic “off-switch” is a good idea or not remains to be seen. Part of the journey and what one can garnish from the experience is the ‘stuff’ that comes up that makes the trip uncomfortable. With a well trained therapist present to guide the patient and assure them that all will be well while utilizing grounding activities like a focus on breathing to move through the anxiety may be more valuable than shutting off the feelings. Yet on the flip side if a patient has the power to shut-off the experience they may be more empowered to return for another journey and not shut-off the next time around.  Ultimately turning people towards rather than away from psychedelic therapy will lead to better outcomes for patients, healthcare, and funding.

I was curious if there was any discussion about the neutralizer technology on Reddit and never to be disappointed by the good folks at Reddit there was:

I also found a discussion on JR Rahn’s interview with Joe from Psychedelics Today which equally did not disappoint:


“This is great. I’ve heard a few of his interviews but Psychedelics Today is a good program. The host actually knows the stuff and deeply care about the drug addiction issue. Last program I heard was an interview with Compass Pathway CEO. This one with JR is a much deeper discussion and a little bit of a debate/discussion.

7:00 his personal experience, 40:20 “If you are having suicidal tendency and check yourself into ER and they put you in the psych ward…. you are 220 percent more likely to kill yourself” 41:05 “cost 8000 … to check in for mental health issue…. that’s why insurance is high” 55:43 “60% of US counties don’t have a psychiatrist present”

JR gets to talk about how to solve the issue. He’s got real stories to explain why patentable drug & treatment is the best way.

Excellent interview. Thanks for sharing.” 

This writer also found the Psychedelics Today interview heartfelt and sincere and I was glad, in full disclosure, as a MindMed shareholder to be able to get a sense of JR Rahn as a human – the art of listening says a lot. I heard someone who got involved in the space because of his own experience and took the lane that he felt provided the swiftest approach to getting these medicines in the public realm. He also pointed out that the for-profit model additionally creates jobs as business does. 

What is important is that the for-profit model  – whoever the company – must act with integrity. I like to use the term “conscious capitalism”.  Businesses create opportunities for employment in addition to doing the good work they set out to do. The companies entering the space have a great responsibility to society as they are dealing with people’s mental wellness. There is money to be made but it must not be at the expense of human suffering. These medicines must be accessible and affordable to those who want to make use of these therapies –  the insurance companies must step up otherwise we will have medicines that help only a few rather than all. The other lanes – must run parallel so that those individuals who want to exercise their cognitive liberty and gain access to these substances outside of the medical arena can do so without breaking the law. 

On March 5, 2021 Tim Ferriss expressed it this way in his blog

“For-profit ventures have a critical role to play in the expansion of psychedelic medicine, but for-profit ventures don’t get a free pass. They can also cause harm, and they often do. There will be compelling temptations to make unethical decisions, pursue unfair anti-competitive practices (e.g., patenting “inventions” that aren’t inventions), generate revenue without adding value (e.g., IP trolling), charge as much as possible (e.g., NYT – “Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight“), and treat the psychedelic landscape as a winner-take-all or zero-sum game. “Disruption” can be white hat or black hat; “scaling” can be done with net-gain or net-loss to an ecosystem.”

“There are bad actors and mercenaries in every industry. But here’s the part that people forget: even if the founders of a company rival Mother Theresa in their moral character and strength, that isn’t enough. Leadership changes, incentives change, power dynamics change, and all situations change (Suggested reading: We Will Call It Pala). That’s why both internal guardrails and external watchdogs are important. Once again, even the purest of intentions can warp when they collide with the harsh realities of business. I’ve seen it.”

As a psychonaut and a dabbling investor in the industry I truly hope that all who work with these ego dissolution substances can first and foremost practice leaving theirs at the door.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

Disclaimer: Absolutely nothing you read in here should be taken as investment advice. The discussion of securities and ideas is never to be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any.  Always do your own due diligence.

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