Some time back I watched a documentary on psychedelics. It involved a controlled medical study conducted on a group of individuals using psilocybin to combat mental illnesses such as severe depression. Psilocybin is one of the components in magic mushrooms. I thought ‘this is incredibly interesting but not an industry that can take off due to the cultural stigma’. I probably would have said the same about medical cannabis a decade ago…
Recently I was offered the chance to attend a webinar by Pinsent Masons: ‘Psychedelics’ path to mainstream medicine one of opportunity’. I was enthused that such a well-regarded law firm was bringing awareness to this topic and decided to dive into some of the legal issues myself.
I quickly found out that apart from law firms, there were doctors, universities and listed firms all around the world that have been studying the different aspects of psychedelics for some time. Last week the largest clinical trial on the subject to date found that the psychedelic compound, found in mushrooms, can alleviate depression in almost a third of patients. Also last week, Colorado voters approved the broadest psychedelic legalisation in the U.S., which would decriminalise five psychedelic substances and enable adults to receive psychedelics at licensed centres.
As the psychedelics ecosystem develops, universities throughout the world continue to have significant impact with their research. According to Psychedelic Invest (an online resource dedicated to those looking to invest in the psychedelic industry), there are 309 universities involved in psychedelic related projects. This list includes The Imperial College London, which opened a Centre for Psychedelic Research in 2019. Across the pond, the world renowned John Hopkins University School of Medicine picked up the research that had first started in the 1950’s. Their Centre for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research are testing the effectiveness of this drug on Alzheimers and PTSD with the aim of creating prescription medicine treatments.
Start-ups & Listed Companies
The CEO of Clerkenwell Health (a psychedelic-specialist clinical research start-up based in the UK) expects that post-Brexit the UK could become a global leader of psychedelic assisted therapy for mental health treatment.
Listed firms such as Cybin in Canada, Compass Pathways in the UK and Atai in Germany are all leading exploratory research efforts.
Back in the 1970’s it was negative media coverage that abruptly ended research efforts. Nowadays, reputable media sources such as National Geographic, Time and The Wall Street Journal publish fairly positive articles on the subject.
As a lawyer I am drawn to the legal aspects of this fascinating area. If it does eventually evolve to mainstream medicine, issues such as intellectual property and regulation will need to be defined. But what is holding it back now? In the UK, psilocybin is a Schedule 1 drug. This means that a Home Office licence is required for its production, possession or supply. The licence process involves a laboratory assessment by the Home Office staff. Licensing is costly and time-consuming, meaning that some scientists are carrying out their research and development in other countries such as the USA, Canada and Germany.
So, do we think medical psychedelics is the next up and coming industry? Some may think it’s the natural next step after the legalisation of medical cannabis, others may think it’s a step too far. It is certainly controversial but worth exploring. With a long term efficiency in treating severe depression, and the potential to stimulate investment and innovation in research and healthcare, it seems that this could well just be the beginning.
For those interested in legal aspects, the Pinsent Masons webinar takes place on 16th November, check it out! https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/analysis/psychedelics-mainstream-medicine-opportunity
For those wanting more information on the science, here is a podcast featuring Matthew Johnson, a professor at John Hopkins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?ab_channel=LexFridman&v=ICj8p5jPd3Y