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Navigating a New Market

At first glance, the psychedelic space certainly seems saturated enough, considering it’s an industry based on products that aren’t even legal, many which don’t even have a substantial evidence base to support their efficacy.

However, since the 1990s, the psychedelics industry has grown to around $2.1 billion now and is predicted to reach nearly 7 billion by 2027 (Stengel, 2020). What causes widespread interest in something as risky as this?

In the case of psychedelics, it certainly helped to have the cannabis industry move first. Many of the top players in cannabis, like Canopy Growth, invested in psychedelics and leveraged their knowledge to quickly grow firms like Compass Pathways.

Also, players in the psychedelics market can learn from the successes and mistakes made by cannabis business leaders. It is as if psychedelics had a mentor. Or dare we say, a gateway drug?

As Lango (2020) puts it, “the psychedelics industry today is where the marijuana industry was in 2015 and 2016, in the midst of changing public perception. What comes next? Legalization and commercialization.”

The scientific data on the clinical utility of psychedelics grows seemingly by the hour, which is critical for moving decriminalization forward. It is even getting to the point where the case could be made for decriminalizing psychedelics on ethical grounds, given the already promising results in studies of special populations like the terminally ill, veterans with PTSD, and people with treatment-resistant depression and eating disorders.

Oregon has already legalized magic mushrooms (decriminalizing everything else!), and rumor has it Canada is going to decriminalize within the next few years.

We could even thank the pandemic for highlighting the importance of novel approaches to mental health care.

Right now, the psychedelic industry is populated by businesses in two main domains: product development and the design of psychedelic-assisted therapies. A substantial number of companies also have plans for rolling out bespoke clinics that would use those very same therapies and products.

Which raises important questions about how the industry will (or should) be regulated. Should it be left totally up to the free market? Few of the business leaders in the psychedelic space think so. In fact, it seems the only staunch capitalists in the psychedelic domain are linked with Compass Pathways. As Stengel (2020) points out, the vast majority of even the investors are favoring “conscious business” models that place people and planet on par with profit.

Is self-regulation enough? In this case, it might be. Psychedelics have been shown to promote pro-social behavior.

But people are people, and business is business. Which is why many are calling out for “an international trade association to advocate for legalization, standards, best practices, and a learning community about business models and strategies,” (Stengel, 2020). Who will reach into this murky territory, I wonder? MAPS and MAPS Canada may be solid contenders, at least for informing the direction such an association might take.

It actually doesn’t seem necessary to hamper healthy competition. All we need, moving forward, is a commitment to ourselves to remain true to our core values. The ones that brought us here to the psychedelic space in the first place.

There will always be bastards and people with weak character. Entrepreneurs in the psychedelic space who fear the encroachment of cutthroat companies might want to act now, to gain traction in the market and establish a standard for ethical business practices in this tender space.

One way to take action now would be to work with multiple stakeholders, including government, to ensure the industry remains sensitive to the needs of marginalized populations.

I’m pretty surprised how little systems thinking is going on in the psychedelic arena. On the one hand you have a slew of fledgeling companies making their mark early to whet the appetite of consumers. On the other hand you have all the research institutions and nonprofits working mainly in the clinical psych sector. Of course in between those you will have the lawyers and policymakers. But is there any planning going on at all? It seems like things are moving in a haphazard manner.

Calls to Action

General:

  • Form committees comprised of academia, government, business, and the law.

  • Collaboratively discuss plans to roll out standardized training and certification programs.

  • Collaboratively discuss policy, ethics, and especially social responsibility. How to promote social justice while also supporting entrepreneurism.

Academia:

  • Start designing degree programs now for Psychedelic Psychiatrist and Psychedelic Guide.

  • Integrate psychedelic science into existing curricula.

  • More research! Which treatment protocols/interventions work best with which population, and with which psychedelics? Need to start differentiating so we know what works, what doesn’t.

  • Research using psychedelics on healthy normals for prophylactic mental hygiene.

Clinicians and Healthcare Professionals:

  • Create the gold standard professional organization, the APA of psychedelics. The International Psychedelic Association perhaps. IPA. A professional guild like IPA would be responsible for establishing the standards for practice. These standards would also inform policy, and perhaps even constrain some of the unbridled activity in the private sector.

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