Ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca—what sounds like a hedonistic weekend spent in Narcoticsville may very well be the dawn of a new approach to physical and mental healing. With 1 in 5 adults in the US suffering from mental illness and the cost of such conditions on the global economy reaching $16 trillion by 2030, it’s clear that there is huge demand for efficient solutions.
The use of psychedelics dates back to 3500 BC, predominantly in ancient South and Central American cultures, which makes it even more important to preserve the traditions and acknowledge the history of these practices, rather than merely commoditizing an herb within a colonialist framework. In regards to Western medicine, a landmark moment came in 1938 when Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD, which soon thereafter was used in the treatment of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and addiction, and perhaps with lesser healing intention, in mind-controlling experiments by the CIA.The first human trials with ketamine (most popularly known as a horse tranquilizer) date back to the 1960s, after it was synthesized by Calvin Stevens in 1962. While its recreational use has graced the dance floors and club toilet cubicles of this world, a more sophisticated and regulated approach has taken shape in recent years with clinical trials and studies exploring its medical efficiency, documented by media outlets such as Vice as well as medical journals. In a psilocybin study among cancer patients, 80% of participants saw a great reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms. In another study, 44% stated their mental health was much better as a result of microdosing psychedelics. The Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978 deemed all psychedelics illegal, largely impeding widespread research and treatment, although ketamine remained legal in medicinal contexts for anesthesia purposes. Within the US alone, legalities vary greatly. In recent years, Oregon decriminalized all drugs, while psilocybin is legal in the cities of Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor, for example.
Michael Pollan’s bestselling 2018 title How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, is credited with assisting in normalizing psychedelics. As of 2020, 27% of Americans have taken psilocybin, 23% LSD, 12% ketamine, 9% DMT (the psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca), and 5% ayahuasca.
High-end retreats like Soltara Healing Center in Costa Rica or MycoMeditations in Jamaica use the powers of ayahuasca and psilocybin respectively to offer visitors a holistic, and highly psychedelic, wellness stay, while psychedelic wellness clinics like Nushama or Field Trip Health offer medically supervised experiences in metropolitan settings. With growing acceptance amongst the general public comes increased funding and research. Companies dealing in psychedelics such as Atai Life Sciences have raised up to $125 million in Series C funding.
The impact of the opiate crisis and increased mental health troubles due to the pandemic, combined with an increased desire to seek holistic options, have created optimal growth conditions for what Ei.Ventures (soon to be renamed Psilly) is calling the “Golden Age of psychedelics,” citing a $34.5 billion market value. CEO David Nikzad tells BeautyMatter that the growing interest in psychedelic and psycholytic therapies (the former incorporating stronger psychedelic experiences guided by therapists, the latter lighter doses at more regular intervals to assist in psychotherapeutic work) is influenced by the “limited effectiveness and intolerable side effects of existing psychotropic medications, advances in brain imaging and psychometrics to optimize treatment protocols, and a growing cultural appreciation for indigenous technologies that are breaking down barriers that have long prevented people from overcoming mind-body duality.”
He cites the interested demographics as widespread amongst younger and older generations alike, particularly Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers who have had limited success with psychotropics like antidepressants. Furthermore, with partial distrust towards the pharmaceutical industry, many a skeptic may find themselves picking up a magic mushroom instead. “Ayahuasca ceremonies align with two hot topics in the wellness space: shamanistic rituals and spirituality. Given the current state of the world, people are looking outside of traditional religion to find a sense of solace and belonging outside the temporal realm. I attribute part of the rise in popularity to the ‘Burning Man’ phenomenon,” comments Michael Lahm, COO of TLee Spas. Consider it a new counterculture for a new mindset, just as we have seen many turn to medicinal marijuana instead of opiates for pain management. The rise of psychedelics could destabilize the pharmaceutical industry, akin to cryptocurrency’s current rise in popularity vs. traditional finance. “Psychedelics have the potential to positively affect our mental wellness by addressing, from the bottom up, the root causes of mental illness, building mental resilience, and possibly protecting against a mental health crisis,” Nikzad adds. “This trans-diagnostic and prophylactic potential of psychedelics could transform the way we think about and treat mental illness, simplifying and streamlining interventions as we integrate psychedelics with new psychotherapeutic approaches.”
Ei.Ventures is currently working on a transdermal delivery system to result in more easily tolerable experiences. “The future of psychedelics is community, connection, and symbiotic interrelations, whereby the sum is not only greater than the whole but more resilient, responsive, and reactive,” Nikzad enthuses, adding that technology will usher in a heightened efficiency and delivery format. “To the extent that technology companies may optimize for the human experience, capturing it on your phone, in your earbuds, or inside your VR headset, technology will become the nexus for a psycho-techno-utopia, the likes of which we can barely imagine. It's hard work manifesting the future, but with psychedelics and unbounded imagination, we might just break free of our limited existence and move humanity forward.”
But the founder also stresses that psychedelics are not a one-size-fits-all solution, depending on not only individual mental constitutions and settings, but also the experience itself. “Intense ‘mystical-type experiences’ were associated with greater positive effects on well-being, whereas other acute psychedelic experiences, including having a ‘challenging experience’ and ‘visual effects,’ did not. This suggests that intense psychedelic experience may not be necessary to promote improved well-being. A threshold effect capable of delivering a ‘mystical-type experience’ may be sufficient to enhance mental wellness,” he states.
The roots of the current psychedelic revolution run far deeper than those of the ayahuasca plant, mirroring a societal mindset shift and quest for deeper spiritual experiences. We have seen marijuana profoundly impact the health & wellness category as we know it—can psychedelics take us to the next dimension?
2 Article(s) Remaining