Recently the use of psychedelics in health care experienced an interesting turning point – not through political gains, but through television.
Hulu’s latest hit, Nine Perfect Strangers, depicts the use of psychedelics as a tool in mental health therapy. Now, for anyone who’s seen the show – which follows a wellness retreat gone wrong – it’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for psychedelic treatment, but it is an interesting milestone in how these drugs are depicted in mainstream media.
While portrayals used to centre on recreational use, this show – starring Hollywood heavy-hitters like Melissa McCarthy and Nicole Kidman – opens up a conversation about how micro-dosing with psychedelics like psilocybin (magic mushrooms) could aid in treatments for mental health conditions like depression, PTSD and anxiety – a position supported by a growing amount of research studies and clinical trials.
While the show reminds us that caution is still needed when exploring these experimental treatments, it also represents a shift in how both the medical and business communities see psychedelic treatments for mental health.
Here’s why businesses and investors are paying attention to the psychedelics market:
The need is there and public of opinion is changing
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the US suffers from some form of mental health issue. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that 300 million people have an anxiety disorder. While mainstream treatment works for some, there’s still plenty of room for improvement – a 2016 study found that two-thirds of Americans exhibiting symptoms of depression didn’t seek treatment because the available options were seen as inadequate.
Another important factor is public opinion. The existence of Nine Perfect Strangers is proof that there has been a shift in how people view psychedelics. Therapsil, a non-profit pushing for the legalization of psychedelics in the use of mental health treatments, recently commissioned a poll asking Canadians about their views on legalizing psilocybin. When asked if psilocybin treatments should be legal for terminally ill patients, 64% of respondents said yes, and for patients with treatment-resistant depression, 56% were in support.
The research looks quite promising
Growing medical research supports this shift in public opinion. Clinical trials using psychedelics like MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and ketamine have produced encouraging results. Psilocybin, for example, has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in a group of patients with terminal cancer, while some studies found that MDMA was highly effective in treating PTSD.
A recent study published in Nature tested the safety and efficacy of using MDMA (along with therapy sessions) to treat PTSD. In this phase 3 clinical trial, researchers tracked adverse effects and suicidal thoughts throughout the study and found that MDMA was well-tolerated by participants and was both safe and effective in treating PTSD symptoms.
A 2011 study found that not only does psilocybin induce “mystical-type experiences” in participants, but that these experiences actually had long-lasting and positive effects on the volunteers’ attitudes, mood and behaviour. While not used specifically to examine mental health treatments, this study highlighted the need for clinical therapeutic trials.
One such trial – published in 2020 in JAMA Psychiatry – found that psilocybin, used with therapy, was effective in treating major depressive disorder (MDD). Study participants were separated into two groups – those who received psilocybin immediately and those who received this treatment after an 8-week delay. The trial found that those who received immediate treatment reported a significant decrease in their symptoms.
Canada and the US are beginning to loosen restrictions
Canada is far ahead of other countries when it comes to clinical psychedelic use. While psychedelics are not yet legal, exemptions can be granted by Health Canada to use these substances for medical or scientific purposes. Last summer, the first four Canadians – all suffering from end-of-life anxiety – were granted exemptions to use psychedelic treatments under the care of a clinician. Since then, a handful more exemptions have been given out.
Even more significant is Health Canada’s recent announcement that it intends to reverse regulations to the Special Access Program, which allows healthcare professionals to request access to restricted or unapproved drugs for patients who didn’t respond to mainstream treatments. As of now, a patient can’t access restricted drugs like psychedelics through this program, and can only use them in clinical trials. If this changes, it will move the country closer to legalization.
While America isn’t as far along in relaxing regulations, strides are still being made. Oregon recently became the first state to legalize psilocybin in therapeutic settings, while many other cities, like Denver and Washington, D.C., have moved to decriminalize it.
There’s already a growing market
As Canada experiences a perfect storm of relaxing regulations and public acceptance, an influx of clinics and companies creating and using psychedelics for medical treatments are popping up – particularly in BC. The province, which is a hub for cannabis producers, has seen many new psychedelic wellness startups.
Zeifmans – a leader in the emerging industries space – has several clients involved in psychedelics and understands that this is a fledgling market with great potential.
While caution is still important in this emerging field, the financial potential is there as more and more companies are starting to publicly list in this sector. According to Psychedelic Stock Watch, psychedelics businesses have very interesting opportunities: a huge potential treatment population/market and a wide-open playing field. Businesses and investors can now choose to invest in drug development, clinical operations or a hybrid system.
Ending on a high note
With promising clinical results, changing legislation and a shift in popular opinion, the psychedelic market is worth watching now more than ever. If you’re an entrepreneur considering entering into this space, take comfort in knowing that our team at Zeifmans know the space well and can look after your accounting, assurance and tax needs. Contact us today.