Cannabis and Psychedelics: Trading places?

The rush to business maturity for the psychedelics industry has led to inevitable comparisons to the growth and development of the cannabis industry. Both have captured the interest of angel investors channeling millions of dollars into them. There are currently 60 publicly traded psychedelic stocks now. 

Both have had complicated back stories within human cultural development that continue to this day, with racial issues connected to cannabis users since the late 1930s by the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and hippie counter-culture wrong turns initiated by a Harvard professor for psychedelics in the 1960s still on the minds of naysayers.

Both are substances caught up in the war on drugs, listed as the worst drugs on the planet by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

But after their rocky start in the 60s, and a period of reflection about the good that psychedelics can really do, psychedelics today has bypassed the sort of negative stoner-boy druggy drop-out stereotype that dogs the cannabis industry, mostly because of the amount and depth of the science and research that has been brought to bear on psychedelics. 

Most forms of psychedelics—from Ecstacy (MDMA) to LSD to psilocybin and others—have been found to be helpful in some way to the mental well-being of humans if used in control settings. 

They are not total cures to such things as depression and some of the more difficult human mental conditions. But ongoing, and accelerating, clinical research in such esteemed institutions as Johns Hopkins Medicine has shown that they can at least provide people with a better quality of life. 

Psychedelic companies are building partnerships with academia, such as MindMed’s microdosing work treating addiction or adult ADHD with experiential therapies, and redefining what psychedelics can mean for health and wellness. “We are a new kind of pharma company,” the company states on their website. 

Statements like that reveal that the psychedelics industry has learned a lesson from the cannabis industry about how to position itself as a health and wellness substance first, and keep the pure fun of doing legalized psychedelics out of the picture entirely. 

The cannabis industry sprung out of the basements and backyards of black market growers and sellers who had no intention of using it medically. So, as the cannabis industry grew on the basis of how buzzed you can get with a higher THC level in your cannabis, with goofy stoner boys promoting their own brands, scaring the straights, as it were, the psychedelics industry developed by featuring guys in white lab coats and researchers with Phds carefully presenting results of clinical studies that demonstrated amazing medical breakthroughs. 

They stayed firmly legit, even getting the Food and Drug Administration to approve Compass Pathways as the first psychedelics company to get an FDA breakthrough therapy designation for its psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

Now the recreational psychedelics folks want a piece of the psychedelics profits pie. But they are proceeding carefully. They started with decriminalizing psychedelics, taking a page from the cannabis playbook.

In fact, more and more cities have decriminalized psilocybin since May, 2019 (13 so far), with the state of Oregon both decriminalizing and legalizing psilocybin. Oregon Measure 109 would allow anyone over 21 to purchase, possess, consume, and experience the effects of psilocybin only at a licensed psilocybin service center during a psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.

Depending on how the Oregon measure is interpreted, and depending on how other cities and states interpret that document when they look at doing their own versions of recreational psychedelic sales, will there be different brands of ‘shrooms available in retail stores in Oregon that will somehow bypass the “licensed psilocybin service center” requirement and just sell you a baggie curbside? Will those Oregon rules be re-interpreted by other states as time goes on? 

Entrepreneurs are already exploring the space of legalized recreational psilocybin, such as Synthesis Retreat in Amsterdam monitoring Oregon’s efforts. The company offers spiritual retreats for the psychedelic seeker. “Our genuine mission is to introduce psychedelics to mainstream culture in a responsible way, so that the people who could benefit the most will be able to access them,” their website states.

These early legalized psychedelics days are nothing like the heyday of early cannabis legalization days, where any buzz-worthy outing was just you and a couple of friends laughing at getting away with getting high. 

Legalized recreational psychedelics appear to be about serious mental health help, not about goofing and giggling a night away. They are therapy. They offer self-exploration. In short, they offer nothing recreational at all.. for now.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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