Stephen Murphy – Group Managing Director
PSYCH: The Psychedelics as Medicine Report is the first of Prohibition Partners’ market-leading intelligence reports to focus solely on psychedelic compounds and their potential. Specifically, the report concentrates on the use of psychedelic substances as medicines administered within clinical settings. The consumption of psychedelics outside of a clinical setting, whether for recreational or spiritual purposes, falls outside the scope of this first edition of the report.
The Psychedelics as Medicine Report presents detailed profiles on all the major psychedelic compounds which demonstrate therapeutic promise, and offers expert analysis of the current worldwide regulatory frameworks, clinical trial status, and commercial opportunities associated with these compounds.
In addition, the report features exclusive full-length interviews with some of the field’s most prominent scientific minds and industry trailblazers, and highlights the key areas for development moving forward.
What makes a psychedelic?
‘Psychedelics’ refers to a large number of different compounds, which as a group are characterised by their common ability to elicit hallucinogenic effects on a user. Most psychedelics are believed to produce these effects through the stimulation of 5-HT2A receptors in the brain’s cortex, which are ordinarily triggered by the brain’s ‘joy chemical’, serotonin.
These psychedelic compounds can be divided into two major categories: entheogens, which are psychedelic compounds originally derived from plants, and synthetically manufactured psychedelics. Common entheogens include psilocybin, which is the active component in ‘magic’ Psilocybe mushrooms, and ibogaine, a psychoactive compound found in the bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub native to Gabon. Synthetic psychedelics include the likes of LSD, MDMA, and ketamine.
Both entheogens and synthetically developed psychedelics are of increasing interest to researchers, who believe that their ability to modulate serotonin activity could be useful in the treatment of mood disorders and other mental health conditions.
Psychedelics for mental health
As the Psychedelics as Medicine Report details, there have been a number of active and past clinical trials investigating the use of psychedelics in treating cluster headaches, pain, arthritis, and other physical health problems. However, where research has demonstrated the most promise is in the treatment of mental health disorders.
The primary focus of psychedelics as medicine has become the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorders (MDD), and treatment-resistant forms of depression (TRD). Collectively, these conditions affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide and their prevalence continues to rise, making the promise of psychedelic therapeutics an ever more pertinent area of study.
“ . . . while there will undoubtedly be plenty of opportunity for investment, the focus of the industry must remain on the benefits that these products will bring to a rapidly growing patient base, and the creation of a legal and fully regulated field of medicine that is trusted, consistent and sustainable for the future.” — The Psychedelics as Medicine Report: First Edition.
Aided in part by the normalisation of researching other previously stigmatised drugs (e.g. cannabis) for medical purposes, many prestigious universities and research institutions – such as Johns Hopkins, New York University, and the University of California, Los Angeles – have now begun investigating psychedelics in a similar vein.
In the United States, research conducted by Compass Pathways and the Usona Institute has led to the psychedelics MDMA and psilocybin both being awarded ‘breakthrough therapy’ designations from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in recognition of their promise in treating PTSD and MDD/TRD respectively. The designation allows for the development and review process for research on these psychedelics to be expedited, as they represent a substantial improvement in outcomes over existing therapies.
Legality and cultural context
In February 1971, the United Nations published the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The treaty officially designated most of the major synthesised psychedelics, including LSD, DMT, and MDMA, as internationally controlled substances. Later that same year, the United States and United Kingdom would bring in even stricter domestic controls on psychedelic compounds, including the plant-derived psilocybin/psilocin and mescaline psychedelics in their respective Schedule 1 and Class A controlled substance designations.
In the present day, a new decriminalisation/legalisation movement for psychedelics is gaining strength. In the Americas, religious rights battles have led to the legalisation of peyote and ayahuasca use in select Native American and indigenous tribes and religious communities, where the substances have been traditionally used in spiritual worship and healing ceremonies.
Several US states have previously, albeit unsuccessfully, sought to decriminalise the medicinal use of psilocybin; though a campaign group in Oregon is currently actively lobbying the state to make psilocybin available for medicinal use in 2020. These campaigns, taken in conjunction with the FDA’s recent breakthrough therapy designations make the United States a key area to watch for medical psychedelics.
Brazil and Jamaica are also establishing themselves as key areas for psychedelics research. Brazil is one of the leaders in research output for the potential applications of ayahuasca within neuroscience, with major psychedelics research groups based at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, the University of São Paulo, and the Chacruna Institute.
In Jamaica, psychedelics have never explicitly been made illegal. This has allowed the nation to open the world’s first psilocybin mushroom research centre, which is based at the University of the West Indies in Mona. The centre, which is funded by the Canadian psychedelics company Field Trip Ventures, plans to study the genetics of the Psilocybe mushrooms to develop improved methods of psilocybin extraction — which they then hope to patent and commercialise.
To learn more about psychedelics as medicine, and the future medical and commercial potential of the field, download The Psychedelics as Medicine Report: First Edition, here.