Psychedelics & Healing Initiative
TREND 1: Expanding University Centers
From the founding of the world’s first formal center for psychiatric research at Imperial College in London in 2019, followed that same year by the opening of the Center for Psychedelics and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, other dedicated centers for psychedelic study include the 2020 arrival of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. This year alone, 2021 welcomes the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s new Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research; NYU Langone opened its new Center for Psychedelic Medicine; and the new Neuroscape Psychedelics Division was founded at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
What’s next? Harvard Law School. It has announced a new psychedelic research initiative called POPLAR, which stands for the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation. It will work to promote safety and equity in psychedelic research and commerce.
Next month, the University of Wisconsin—Madison School of Pharmacy will welcome students to the first psychedelic pharmaceutical sciences master’s program in the world. The degree, an MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences: Psychoactive Pharmaceutical Investigation, is a global first.
TREND 2: Thriving Research
Global research in psychedelics continues to gain momentum; a snapshot of current clinical trial numbers aggregated by the US Department of Health and Human Services reveals 71 clinical trials for psilocybin (which is found in psychedelic mushrooms); 27 clinical trials for LSD; and 81 clinical trials for MDMA, the abbreviation for Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a psychedelic also known as Ecstasy or Molly.
Of course, LSD, psilocybin and MDMA remain Schedule 1 drugs and illegal under US federal law and illegal in most nations, with the exception of psilocybin, which is not illegal in the Netherlands or Jamaica. Yet, the FDA has granted both psilocybin and MDMA a “breakthrough therapy designation” for research purposes. That’s a step, the FDA says, that is reserved to “expedite the development and review of drugs that are intended to treat a serious condition… [when it shows] a clear advantage.”
With these signs of encouragement from the FDA and increasing awareness of the limitations of treatment for mental wellness, research in psychedelics has skyrocketed. A literature review of the PubMed.gov database shows a nine-fold increase in psilocybin research published between 2010 and 2020; LSD saw a three-fold research increase in that same time period; research interest in MDMA has continued to stay consistently strong following a spike in research activity that peaked in 2011 when the number of published studies on MDMA increased by the astronomical factor of 25.3.
TREND 3: Changing Hearts and Minds, and the Law, too
At the federal level, for the first time, the House Appropriations Committee in July released a budget report with an urgent request for psychedelic therapies. Citing the suicide rate for US veterans of 17 a day, the report’s lead author Rep. Rosa DeLauro pleaded for the National Institutes of Health to “undertake, and where appropriate expand, research to evaluate the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies in treating PTSD, major depressive disorder, and other serious mental health conditions.”
At the state level, it’s not just the West Coast anymore. Changes in psychedelic drug laws are sweeping the nation, even in Texas.
Voters, aware of the growing research on how psychedelic medicines can achieve therapeutic benefits in the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, existential distress during end-of-life, and addiction disorders, are passing ballot measures and supporting legislation. The Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, was first with a 2019 ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms.
Santa Cruz and Oakland, California, promptly followed with successful city council votes for decriminalization, as did Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the November 2020 election, Oregon passed two milestone initiatives in support of psychedelics. One decriminalized possession; the other authorized the state’s health department to license psilocybin growers and train facilitators in psychedelic-assisted therapy with an eye to making treatment available in 2023. That November election also saw Washington D.C. pass Initiative 81 to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi. The measure received 76% of the vote.
In Texas, conservative Republican icons, including the former Texas Governor Rick Perry and US Senator Ted Cruz, urged support of a bill that would authorize the study of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic medicines to treat military veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Last month, that bill became law. A measure before the California State Assembly, S.B. 519, to legalize possession of psychedelics is out of committee and expected to reach the floor for a vote and be signed into law.
TREND 4: Arriving on Wall Street
Recent numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation and other researchers chart ever-rising reports of depression, anxiety and COVID-related distress. The public is asking for new medical approaches, and companies are listening, especially psychedelic companies. Those psychedelic start-ups that emphasize new research and innovative approaches are now receiving investor attention.The UK-based Compass Pathways made history in September of 2020 when it was the first psychedelic company to arrive on Wall Street with a listing on the NASDAQ exchange.
Other psychedelic companies now listed on the NASDAQ include MindMed, as of March 2020, which counts Kevin O’Leary from the television show “Shark Tank” among its investors.
ATAI Life Sciences, founded by Christian Angermayer, the Berlin-based billionaire, with support from PayPal founder Peter Theil, listed on the NASDAQ in June. On July 29, Toronto-based Field Trip Health became the latest psychedelic company to list on the NASDAQ.
In July, the Toronto-based Cybin became the first psychedelic company approved for listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
TREND 5: Psychedelic Media, Much More Media
From the writings of author and expert Michael Pollan and the voice of maverick podcaster Joe Rogan, it would be easy to think that the public media conversation about psychedelics begins in the pages of the New York Times and The New Yorker, where Mr. Pollan’s work regularly appears and finds outer limits somewhere among the 190 million downloads a month enjoyed by the wildly popular Mr. Rogan. But that would miss the remarkable flowering of magazines, newsletters, websites, and podcasts that have blossomed.
psymposia.com is a nonprofit media organization that takes no advertising and gives no quarter, offering crusading journalism and coverage of a field with plenty of issues that demand close coverage. thetripreport.substack.com Founded and written by the often-quoted Zach Haigney, “The Trip Report” covers “psychedelic science, medicine. . . and accelerating digital health technologies.”
Psychedelictimes.com, edited by Wesley Thoricatha, is “a hub for new developments in the science and application of psychedelics for healing and therapy.”
Founded and edited by Shelby Hartman and Madison Margolin, praised for its long-form narrative and art direction, DoubleBlind describes itself as “a biannual print magazine and media company covering timely, untold stories about the expansion of psychedelics around the globe.”
Psychedelicreview.com was founded “by a small group of scientists committed to improving the quality of and access to scientific information about psychedelics.”
lucid.news provides “informed, honest and transparent journalism that covers the growing integration of psychedelics into society and their broad implications for human wellness.”
“Psychoactive” is the podcast hosted by Drug Policy Alliance Founder Ethan Nadelmann, produced by iHeartMedia, and warmly praised by GQ Magazine and elsewhere.
TREND 6: Luminaries in Psychedelics Shine: Sports Heroes + Celebrity Docs + Reggae Icon + a Nobel Peace Prize Winner
A constellation of luminaries in psychedelics is now shining brightly. Two-time Stanley Cup winner Steve Carcillo, a former NHL player for the Chicago Blackhawks, is founder and CEO of Wesana Health Holdings, which looks at using psychedelics to heal Traumatic Brain Injury.
Authors, public intellectuals and celebrity doctors Andrew Weill, MD, and Deepak Chopra, MD, have both joined psychedelic companies. Dr. Weill serves on the Advisory Board for Field Trip Health, the Toronto-based company now traded on the NASDAQ. Dr. Deepak Chopra will be working with Mind Medicine, also traded on the NASDAQ, through his Chopra Foundation. The Foundation and Mind Medicine shared a public statement explaining the partnership will “help build public awareness around the use of psychedelic medicines to treat mental illness, remove outdated stigmas, and ultimately research mental wellbeing approaches.”
The late reggae great Bob Marley will be a name associated with Psilo Wellness in Jamaica. Psilo will first release Marley-themed wellness products and later work on a Marley-branded psychedelic offering.
Mind Cure Health, a British Columbia company researching psychedelic compounds, has appointed a Nobel Peace Prize recipient as an advisor to its business. Jerry White, who is on the faculty of the University of Virginia, is active in working to ban landmines and building resiliency to help with trauma recovery. He is a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace.