The use of psychedelics for medical treatment is achieving a new sense of gravitas, according to the guest panelists at Benzinga's latest Cannabis Capital Conference.
From Fringe To Mainstream: Matt Stang, CEO of Delic, referred to this subsector as "hacking out the jungle path to legalization" after withstanding years of misperceptions from the general public, the medical community and the federal government.
The federal government in particular has waged "a really unjust and wrong war on the citizens of this country" with the so-called war on drugs that began with the Nixon presidency and stretched on for decades.
Stang positioned psychedelic medicines as an important strategy in dealing with a national health issue that has become exacerbated over the last year due to the pandemic.
"There is a humongous mental health crisis in this country that was already huge before COVID," he said.
"I would have said the total addressable market for what we're doing was in the tens of millions now — I think it's in the hundreds of millions in America, just because there's been this terrible PTSD around COVID."
Not the Cannabis Experience: Joseph Tucker, the biochemist CEO of MagicMed, stressed the distinct differences between the goals and potentials of the psychedelics market compared to the cannabis market.
"This is really a mental health market, a pharmaceutical market," he said.
"It's not a recreational market — it's a much, much smaller recreational market. You're going to see a lot more companies with a biotech bent."
Tucker added that when psychedelics are viewed through the pharmaceutical spectrum, it becomes "that much larger in terms of the dollars — there's a much greater dollar opportunity here and much greater benefit to human health."
Seals Of Approval: Reid Robison, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Novamind, views the developments in the subsector as the beginning of a significant medical breakthrough.
"This is an exciting new chapter in mental health," he said.
"It's not even a psychedelic revolution — it's a mental health revolution and the evidence just keeps growing. It's undeniable that these can be life-saving tools for some of the most difficult to treat mental health conditions, and the challenge is how to open up access to individuals who need it."
Robison pointed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 2019 approval of Spravato — esketamine — nasal spray for treatment-resistant depression as the first major breakthrough in the acceptance of psychedelics as a mainstream medical therapy.
Phase two clinical trial data on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD resulted in nearly 70% of participants no longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the illness, he said.
"As a psychiatrist," he added, "to have this happen without having to take a daily pill is incredible. People want to know how they can access these safely — there's not enough access, so that's what we're working on."
A Different Landscape: Rakesh Jetly, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer Mydecine Innovations Group, echoed Robison's observations on successfully ending the medical problem rather than mitigating it without a conclusion.
"The beauty of this is we are allowed as psychiatrists to do something that we haven't done in a long time: actually talk about cure," he said.
"People are no longer meeting criteria, not just managing the illness. I think that's the important piece that we're not talking about. Soldiers, veterans and most people don't like to take medication for the rest of their lives. We're talking about one to three doses over a few months, maybe, and psychotherapy as the crucial ingredient, and I think that's the game."
A wider mainstream medical acceptance of psychedelics will spark a greater investor interest in the companies involved in the research and development of these pharmaceuticals, Jetly said.
"Look at where the research is being done: we're talking about Johns Hopkins, New York, Imperial College with King's College, Leiden University in Maastricht," he said. "These are major academic centers — we're not talking about sort of ranches and farmhouses in Vermont anymore. If I was investing, I would like the legitimacy of it and where it's being done and who are the people leading this."