By Ryan Dean Hoggan
Opioid and alcohol addictions remain urgent problems in the United States and around the world that need to be addressed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 20 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and 2018 data shows that 128 people in the US die each day from overdosing on opioids. Around the globe, there were an estimated 27 million people who suffered from opioid use disorders in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, the World Health Organization also reports that “alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally, as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people.”
With these jarring statistics, now is the time to explore alternative treatments for these deadly addictions and pave the way for use of psychedelic-derived medicines. In fact, scientists have noted the potential of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (the psychoactive component in mushrooms) to serve as an alternative form of psychotherapy to battle addiction since the 1930s – well before they were criminalized in 1966.
Research to Date
More recently, we have seen a few important strides from the U.S. government in allowing the use of these natural products as medicinal solutions. For instance, in the year 2000, Johns Hopkins University received approval to conduct research on psychedelics and went on to publish a groundbreaking study on psilocybin in 2006. The University eventually established the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research in 2019. According to the organization’s website, studies have shown that psilocybin has potential as a therapy for “opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (formerly known as chronic Lyme disease), anorexia nervosa and alcohol use in people with major depression.”
In 2017, another major milestone occurred when the U.S. Federal Drug Administration gave MDMA (known in the illegal markets as ecstasy and molly) a therapy designation for PTSD. In 2018, the FDA also gave the coveted therapy designation to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. This led to the market debut of a Johnson & Johnson psychedelic derived nasal spray to treat depression in March 2019. Other companies have continued to build on this progression. With more than 264 million suffering from depression around the world, according to the World Health Organization, this is an especially groundbreaking development.
In June 2020, my company acquired Verrian, a Germany-based natural psychedelic development company with the goal of formulating treatments for opioids and alcohol addictions by using organically cultivated mushrooms combined with proprietary metabolism-enhancing natural herbs. Rewiring neural pathways to their pre-addicted state is the focus and to date, Verrian has developed PSI GEN and PSI GEN+ psilocybin products formulated for opiate addiction reduction.
We are just beginning to scratch the surface. There is still much more that can be done, especially with regards to enabling more research that can lead to the development and FDA approval of new psychedelic medicines that can fight addiction. Government agencies and scientific research organizations now have enough ammunition to embrace these natural substances that were previously stigmatized in the mid-twentieth century, largely due to hypocritical political reasons. It’s time to overcome the old school reasoning that has stifled funds for new research in the space.
While more research is essential, we also need to start thinking about access. What does a robust and efficient legal psychedelic medical market will look like?
For instance, it is important to recognize psychedelic derived medicines as a service to help people, not merely a product, and especially not to dismiss these natural substances as simply botanicals. A tangible, actionable model for this point of view may already exist: earlier this year, a psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy center opened in Toronto, Canada, combining micro doses of ketamine and traditional psychotherapy to treat patients experiencing depression.
With all this said, services will need to be covered by both government and private health insurance. It will be a steep, uphill climb to overcome political resistance and achieve this, but it’s an important fight. The industry will only function with proper and controlled access.
As a burgeoning industry, we also need to band together to achieve another important goal, one that still plagues the cannabis industry: removing psychedelics from the tight legal controls of being labeled a Schedule 1 Drug under federal law. The psychedelic medicine industry is actually beginning to exhibit parallels to the legal cannabis industry, as both have histories rooted in natural plants that became unjustly criminalized.
Psychedelic derived medicines show great promise to help treat some of our society’s greatest ailments, so its important that the research continues, and our government paves the way for these therapeutic services’ acceptance and accessibility.