Deepak Chopra is a well-known thought leader in the world, working as the founder, chairman of the board, and director of the Chopra Foundation. His thoughts and actions on matters of mental health care have been courted by world leaders and business developers across the globe for years.
He is no stranger to the power of psychedelics, recounting his experience in 1965 with LSD as part of a controlled experiment with other medical students in India. He looked at a picture of Mother Teresa and experienced deep compassion. “It changed the course of my life,” he said. “It was the most intense experience of what it means to have compassion, to be connected.”
Chopra’s Never Alone Alliance, a collaboration of businesses, policymakers, mental health professionals, wellness initiatives, scientists, schools, and more, has one profound goal: to build mental health awareness, advance scientific research, work with policymakers and create a global technology platform to democratize access to resources.
To that end, the foundation announced a partnership on February 15, 2022, with Cybin (NASDAQ: CYBN), a biopharmaceutical company focused on progressing psychedelics to therapeutics.
According to a press release announcing the partnership, the Chopra Foundation will be working closely with Cybin to support education and awareness about its research to harness the potential of psychedelic therapies in mental health. Cybin is targeting mental health issues such as major depressive disorder, alcohol use disorder, and anxiety disorders.
Doug Drysdale, CEO of Cybin, explained how the partnership came about. “It was an introduction from a mutual friend,” Drysdale told Psychedealia. “One of the board members of the Chopra Foundation is a friend with one of our founders. So there was a sort of natural connection there. And of course, the Chopra Foundation has been working on mental health issues and mental health awareness for a very long time.”
He says that he met Chopra several times. “Deepak is passionate about this,” Drysdale said. “He sees that psychedelics have the potential to help people, but in combination with psychological support. So I think we talked about this, where it’s psychotherapy or some kind of psychological support combined with the molecule itself. And of course, that’s his background, helping people get into the right state of mind. If you combine the right state of mind with medicine, then it leads to better outcomes. So there are so many synergies here across the two organizations.”
Drysdale added that Chopra is a physician who has been practicing medicine for decades. “His foundation, and him and his personality, have an extensive reach,” Drysdale said. “He really has a large following. So we’re looking to full collaboration with other thought leaders, scientists, etc. Because getting the message out there takes a long time. It takes a long time to change people’s minds.”
Cybin and the Chopra Foundation already had one event, where they kicked off the partnership at the Lake Nona Institute Impact Forum in February. “That is a starting point,” Drysdale said. “We’re planning a series of events throughout this year where we can connect and relay some of the messages we’re working on to policymakers and thought leaders and opinion leaders. And we really have an aligned goal, which is raising awareness to mental health.”
The Chopra Foundation has been working on raising awareness of mental health as well, in addition to trying to overcome some of the stigma around psychedelics. But Drysdale said that they have made a lot of progress around mental health awareness during the pandemic. “In some ways, people are more willing and open to admit that they’re struggling. But we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “You can imagine that public companies CEOs saying that they were depressed or had depression, someone would immediately question their competence. Right? So it’s still not okay. And that’s what the Chopra Foundation is working on.
“The incidence of these issues is really massively underreported because people don’t talk about it. We know that there are about a billion people globally that are affected by these conditions, whether it’s depression or addiction, or eating disorders. But a billion is a reported number. What’s the unreported number? It’s huge.”
Along with building awareness, there are other challenges with psychedelics in the business subsector that Cybin and other companies are working in. “There’s lots of enthusiasm, and lots of awareness,” Drysdale said. “But we step outside of that bubble and there’s still plenty of people that either is scared of psychedelics because of misinformation in the past, or they have a completely wrong view of them. Or they’re unaware.”
The misinformation that’s come from the War on Drugs has really “done a fair bit of damage to the reputation of psychedelics,” Drysdale said. “They’ve really been lumped in with all drugs like all drugs are bad. We were chatting with a scientist recently who was an advisor to a national regulatory body, which was a body that approves drugs. And the scientist’s first reaction was that psilocybin was toxic and addictive. Of course, it’s the opposite of both of those things. If you’ve got people in influence like that, people in important positions that are misinformed, then we clearly still got a lot of work to do.”
“What we are doing is trying to change mindsets, and that requires investment from the patients,” Drysdale said during a fireside chat on February 23 with Chopra. “We are not good at investing in ourselves. It’s easier to go take a pill from the pharmacy than to spend time in treatment and learn from it. We got some work to do in educating and informing folks about how best to take care of themselves.”
Chopra said that the challenge in using psychedelics is to transport the experiences from the spiritual healing traditions to the totally scientific approach. “Bring the traditions and the science together, and not do away with the context, the ritual,” he said. “Our collaboration (with Cybin) right now is for research and public awareness. All of you listening in the world get involved. There is a lot that the world is unaware of.”