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As we pedal towards the venture capital fueled psychedelic medicine industry, we ought to consider the larger goal. Is this a profit for profit’s sake endeavor? From afar, one might assume so, noting that Silicon Valley billionaire types are beginning to invest in psychedelic startups.

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However, I’d argue that this is an unfair assumption – or at least an assumption up for debate. I don’t believe psychedelic research pioneers, such as Roland R. Griffiths and Matthew W. Johnson of John Hopkins Medicine, would take on consultant roles to pharmaceutical companies if the end goal was simply profit. I believe the majority of actors in this emerging industry are aiming to transform healthcare and recontextualize mental health solutions. If this is the case, then psychedelic companies need to gear their focus towards the working class, who are by far the most afflicted by mental illness, addiction, and spirit-draining poverty.

 

The Forgotten Stakeholders of Psychedelic Medicine

Returning profit to company stakeholders is a powerful incentive to triumph forward in psychedelic research, development, and therapy application. Likewise, the community which a business draws resources from is another key stakeholder in psychedelic medicine.

 

Perhaps psychedelic knowledge should be considered a “resource” to psychedelic medicine companies. Consider briefly Maria Sabina, the curandera from Oaxaca, Mexico, who introduced sacred mushroom rituals to the western world in the mid-1950s. Her role in bringing psilocybin mushrooms and psychedelic healing into the clinical mental health conversation cannot be understated. In fact, Sabina conducted a mushroom ceremony with French mycologist Roger Heim in attendance, who would later send samples of the mushrooms to Albert Hoffman. Hoffman then isolated the chemical structure of psilocybin, created a synthetic version, and sent dosages to research clinics around the world.

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Surely, this is an obvious example of Sabina’s contribution to today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Yet, Sabina reaped zero benefits for her contribution before dying in poverty. According to a 2017 Timeline article, her willingness to share psychedelic knowledge and ritual practices with foreigners wreaked havoc on her community:

“The publicity was disastrous for the Mazatec community, who blamed Sabina for bringing misfortune to the village and defiling the velada ritual. Sabina’s house was burned down, and federales frequently raided her home, accusing her of selling drugs to foreigners. Hippies rented cabins in neighboring villages. Tourists had bad trips and went raving naked through town.”

 

Or consider the working-class drug users who served as human guinea pigs for psychedelic safety and efficacy studies. Psychedelic R&D companies often argue that recent and traditional use of these compounds justify their place in clinical mental health. Indeed, this “recent and traditional” usage serves as a real utility for psychedelic medicine companies.

 

This “recent and traditional” use, of course, was illegal. Working-class drug users risked their liberty to spread the word of psychedelic “enlightenment” throughout the 20th century. It is only fair that these communities be considered stakeholders, at least to some extent, as psychedelics become legitimized.

psychedelic industry corporate social responsibility

Finally, the parallel between psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin and the work being done at MAPS illustrates the working class’s contribution to modern psychedelic research. Shulgin is credited with inventing many psychedelic compounds that are being accepted in the mainstream today. In particular, he is credited as one of the first to explore MDMA’s therapeutic value. Unfortunately, Shulgin was harassed by the DEA for his work with psychedelics, eventually losing his laboratory license. Today, MAPS is going forward with Phase 3 trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Without Shulgin, and many other “underground” psychedelic therapy pioneers, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.

 

The aforementioned examples lead me to argue the following: psychedelic companies ought to consider helping communities ruined by the drug war, the authorities which privilege these companies with special permissions, and the power systems which allow these companies to pursue such large-scale operations.

 

Ways to Give Back to the Community

There are several paths for an up and coming psychedelic medicine company to give back to the working-class community. While none of them are flawless or entirely costless efforts, they are still avenues worth considering.

 

First, companies could create processes that include these individuals at large. For example, a company could include working class communities in early fund-raising events. In this scenario, citizens can network within psychedelic spaces, partake in safe community-building activities, and learn firsthand what this psychedelic renaissance is all about (e.g., love, wellness, discovery, etc.).

psychedelic corporate social responsibility 

I personally see technology playing a huge role in this scenario – perhaps companies could introduce online resources for folks to stay up to date on psychedelic research, investing opportunities, and future conferences. Allowing working class individuals into these sometimes overtly-niche spaces would allow a neglected voice to be heard on topics of decriminalization, mental illness, and healthcare access.

 

More ambitiously, companies could create co-ops and public benefit corporations in a manner that captures the working class’s attention. If such structures were open to stakeholders beyond those who own shares, working class citizens could get involved more easily.

 

Finally, companies could pursue corporate social responsibility efforts that prioritize working class communities. For example, a company could put some money aside to clean up the streets of poverty-stricken neighborhoods. A company could also invest in local harm reduction efforts for neighborhoods afflicted by drug addiction. Safe clinical spaces for addicts to get help, especially in an affordable matter, would complement the substance use disorder treatment mission of many companies.

 I recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping the working class. But I believe we owe it to these communities to at least emphasize their wellbeing in our business agendas.

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