‘We spark curiosity’: How the psychedelics industry is attacking Davos | 2022

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland – where the financial and political elite gather to more or less decide the fate of the world – looked a little different this year.

For the first time since the Cold War, Russia has been excluded from the event, its typically lavish party house replaced by a gruesome multimedia exhibit on the promenade titled Russian War Crimes. Due to Covid concerns – which has kept the event out of action for the past two years – the forum was held in the spring instead of the typical January, so world leaders were cheated out of their stays. skiing in the Swiss Alps.

And to the surprise of many, psychedelic drugs were one of the hottest talking points on the streets of Davos.

Like the Russian War Crimes exhibit, Davos Psychedelic House was one of several satellite events held in conjunction with (but not directly associated with) the World Economic Forum. Like every year, each building along Davos’ downtown promenade has hosted different countries – including India, Poland and Ukraine – companies such as the Wall Street Journal and industries such as blockchain and cryptocurrency, who hosted week-long parties with speakers, panelists and networks. mixers, all designed to appeal to world leaders to support their agenda.

“We’re sparking curiosity with the neon sign out front,” said Maria Velcova, one of the organizers at Psychedelic House of Davos. “Once people are curious and brave enough to come here, they realize this is not an underground electronic dance party. They find themselves meeting world-renowned scientists, clinicians, policy makers, people from the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and experts from leading academic institutions.

While psychedelic treatments for mental health conditions have generated wild enthusiasm from the media and parts of the scientific community, news of this burgeoning new industry being present at Davos this year was a little too much. surreal to some.

After a headline on Bloomberg news said “Forget Burning Man, psychedelic shamans are heading to Davos”, late night comedian Stephen Colbert joked in his opening monologue, “Oh well, just what billionaires need: a looser grip on reality.”

Colbert was specifically referring to event speaker and “shamanic investing” expert Silvia Benito, who Bloomberg described as having “deep ayahuasca expertise and experience managing family investments.”

“Hopefully at the same time,” Colbert said. “’We split your investments between high-yield stocks, mid-yield bonds and the sensory memory of your wronged ancestors, who will appear to you as a wolf with your father’s voice. Now walk with me into the fire, where we will detail your deductions.'”

While the week-long event featured plenty of “woo-woo” fodder for late-night comedians, such as sound healing ceremonies, psychedelic breathwork, and immersive art installations designed to “stimulate immersive liver reprogramming “, the Psychedelic House of Davos was dominated by a sober catalog of lectures and panels.

Science, investing and ethics formed the bulk of the topics discussed, while the audience included an eclectic range of fiery psychonauts, big pharma investors and humanitarians around the world concerned about escalating the mental health crisis.

“I strongly believe that psychedelics have the ability to unlock new approaches to notoriously difficult-to-treat disorders, such as PTSD, alcoholism, opioid addiction, and pain,” said Kevin McKenzie, co-founder of Carvin Medicines, a Swiss pharmaceutical company entering the psychedelic drug market. “Housing this in Davos in the same location as the WEF is a brilliant strategy – it brings fresh eyes and bright minds to psychedelic drug development, which builds the credibility of those drugs.”

The Psychedelic House of Davos was mostly dominated by a restrained catalog of lectures and panels. Photography: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard to pinpoint a moment that inspired the sudden, recent popularity of psychedelic drug therapy – after all, the treatment seemed poised to break through in the 1950s. But many point to the author’s wildly popular book. Michael Pollan from 2019, How to change your mind: what the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, death, addiction, depression and transcendence.

That same year, Denver’s decriminalization of psilocybin created a domino effect of legislative reforms across the United States, leading Oregon to decriminalize all drugs by 2020. Last week, Senators Cory Booker and Brian Schatz sent a letter to the NIH and the FDA asking them to identify the regulatory obstacles. prevent psychedelic research from advancing.

And earlier this year, the Australian Minister of Health approved $15 million in funding to research whether MDMA can be an effective tool in the treatment of PTSD and alcoholism.

Often the world of psychedelic science finds itself in a dead end triangle where more research is needed before politicians change drug laws, while more funding is needed to do the necessary research, while Investors need laws to change before they risk funding research. Yet a handful of recent developments have kept that momentum going.

Last year, British psychedelic company Compass Pathways completed the first randomized, double-blind trial of psilocybin for the treatment of depression, administered to 233 patients in Europe and North America. These treatments were administered by trained therapists, while MindBio Therapeutics has just completed the first phase of its research into LSD microdose therapy, which for the first time allowed participants to self-administer the drug. at home.

“Everything has changed very quickly and dramatically in terms of commercial interest in psychedelics,” said chemist and documentarian Hamilton Morris, after his presentation at Psychedelic House in Davos. “And that has led to increased public and academic interest, and increased pressure for government funding of psychedelic research. Until recently, there was virtually no funding for this type of research, either government or commercial.

Funding is still relatively scarce – it costs around $2.6 billion to bring a single drug to market – but the marriage of high finance and high science is starting to seem inevitable.

Billionaires like Peter Thiel (PayPal), Bob Parsons (GoDaddy) and dozens of others have already invested heavily in psychedelic businesses. In 2021 alone, 45 different investments generated a $595 million windfall in the psychedelic medicine industry, leading Elon Musk to flirt with the trend when Tweeter last month: “I have spoken to many more people who have been helped by psychedelics and ketamine than by SSRIs and amphetamines.”

Vice News reporter Shayla Love was something of a wet blanket at the Psychedelic House of Davos – which at times felt like an industry pep rally – drawing attention to concerns about contrary business practices to ethics, over-promising the efficacy of psychedelic treatments and cases of sexual abuse against patients under the influence of drugs in clinical trials.

“Psychedelics over the last two or three years, especially since Michael Pollan’s book came out, have had overwhelmingly positive coverage,” she told a panel discussion. “And unfortunately, many people who write about psychedelic studies may not be scientifically trained and present an overly simplistic conclusion about this research. I’m not working against anyone, but I’m reporting on these issues as they arise. as they present themselves and as I see them. I think the coverage has been overwhelmingly positive and there is room for more nuanced approaches.

At the end of the week, Hamilton Morris said the Psychedelic House of Davos looked more or less like one of dozens of other psychedelic business and science conferences popping up all over the world these days.

While he’s a bit exhausted and wants to go back to his chemistry lab, he admits that he came here out of “a certain morbid curiosity, because I never thought I’d see something like that in Davos. It has a reputation as the international epicenter of greed and business, things that seem superficially antithetical to the world of psychedelics.

Lucas E. Kelly