It’s time to publicly call out the for-profit psychedelic pharma company Compass Pathways, for their monopolistic and shady behavior. This Vice article, “Can a Company Patent the Basic Components of Psychedelic Therapy”, details their recent attempts to patent a clinical setting with mood lighting, soft furniture, subdued colors and a good sound system. This was after they tried to patent psilocybin synthesis in a way that would occupy the field and prevent awesome nonprofit drug development companies like Usona and B-more, or any other entity, from producing this life-saving medicine. Fortunately, Freedom to Operate, the nonprofit that Carey Turnbull of B-More formed to beat back these overbroad IP grabs, has been so far successful.
I wanted to flag here what isn’t as well known yet—information that was provided to the Healing Advocacy Fund, which is overseeing smooth implementation of Oregon’s Psilocybin Therapy (Measure 109) in Oregon. According to this information, George Goldsmith, CEO and co-founder of Compass, recently started reaching out to several psychedelic researchers at OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) in an attempt to drum up concern and mobilize opposition to implementing 109 in Oregon. Compass makes no bones about their opposition to Measure 109 and their intent to keep psilocybin therapy within the FDA medical pharma frame only. From their position statement Should psilocybin be legalized, listed first on their “Our Perspectives” page on their website, and quoting with their emphasis: “To make sure it is safe and effective in patients, psilocybin therapy needs to be approved by medical regulators, not legislators.”
While I have confidence in the researchers I know at OHSU, I’m concerned others elsewhere may take the bait and soon we may see Compass-funded researchers publishing articles, op-eds, or otherwise trying to mobilize the scientific community and public at large, and ultimately federal regulators, to oppose implementation of Measure 109. Having supposedly independent academic researchers on your dole acting as proxies for industry interests is a tried and true playbook perfected long ago.
As far as the substantive issue of whether Compass’s medical pharma approach should be the end-all-be-all of psilocybin therapy, vs Oregon’s Measure 109 model, the first thing to address is efficacy and safety. Jonathan Goldman of the Santo Daime church in Ashland, OR, in an email thread about decriminalizing plant medicines in Oregon in quantities adequate for ceremony, which I’m supportive of, provided this helpful framing:
“…It is nobody’s business to judge anyone’s form of ceremony, spiritual perspective, lineage, politics, or opinions. In fact, in my estimation, none of that is relevant to any evaluation of a medicine work. Ceremony is necessary to hold experience. We each live in an organized body and in order to let it go and enter into communion with the transpersonal forces, our little, sensitive body needs to be held in a ceremonial ‘body.’ That’s all. The space needs to be coherent and harmonious- there needs to be form- but beyond that the actual form is irrelevant. What is relevant, whatever the form or lineage, is how people are screened for appropriateness of participation, how they are oriented to the experience, how they are made safe on all levels, how they are attended to, how the people leading and assisting in the ceremony handle whatever may come up for participants, and how participants are followed up with.”
While Compass may assert for their own profit-driven agenda that they have the only form of ceremony / therapeutic container that meets this criteria, Measure 109’s whole point is to specifically and rigorously address all these criteria, ensuring competency in facilitator training, appropriate screening, preparation and integration for participants, and quality of medicine (of natural origin). At the same time, Measure 109 intends to open up psilocybin therapy to all adults who can safely benefit, not simply those suffering from treatment resistant depression.
I was on a zoom Tuesday evening with the remarkable psilocybin therapist Francoise Bourzat and her daughter Naama Grossbard, about their exciting plans to launch the Center for Consciousness Medicine, first in Oregon and the Netherlands, but soon around the world, training world-class facilitators and treating people that will for sure match and arguably blow Compass’s approach out of the water. Francoise draws on generations of Mazatec lineage in designing her curricula and training program, as well as western therapeutic and somatic techniques. They also are designing equitable access into the core of their program. Seperately, we’re lobbying the advisory board that will be advising the Oregon Health Authority on implementing Measure 109, to build into the fee / tax structure a fund that would support access to therapy for indigent folks.
While FDA approval of Compass’s psilocybin therapy means insurance coverage for those with Treatment Resistant Depression, there is an order of magnitude more people who are struggling deeply with the dilemmas and trauma of life who can benefit from this therapy. Rather than 300 million we’re talking 3 billion plus. Compass’s monopolistic and bullying behavior, in trying to control and own the psilocybin therapy space, and interfere with implementation of Measure 109, jeopardizes an order of magnitude more healing that the Oregon model and the the Center for Consciousness Medicine represent for the rest of the world. Measure 109 represents what clinical research and the FDA approval process for narrow qualifying conditions has helped get us to: safe and efficacious psychedelic therapy for all adults who can safely benefit.
Fifteen years ago, GW Pharma developed whole cannabis extracts of standardized CBD and THC that they touted were the only “safe” form of medical cannabis, and hired Andrea Barthwell, former Drug Czar of the ONDCP, to lobby against medical cannabis laws. The movement made sure that went nowhere, and GW Pharma is now a billion dollar purveyor of their cannabis medicines, but a bit player in the overall movement (though there’s still plenty to lament with how the cannabis space has played out). Compass will be the same with psilocybin medicine and therapy… while implementation of 109 will maybe shave a billion off their $2 billion valuation, they’ll still be raking it in. Synthesis in the Netherlands is showing the future, and they are working in partnership with the Center for Consciousness Medicine and Tom Eckert (therapist and a chief petitioner of 109) in designing the criteria that will seed the OHA advisory board process.
There’s a larger issue of ethical business in the psychedelic space, where on the one hand we have Compass and Atai following the cannabis profit-maximizing model, and on the other the Center for Consciousness Medicine, MAPS PBC, Usona, B-more, Mimosa Therapeutics and Journey Colab. These latter serve a larger stakeholder universe and vision than simply maximizing fiduciary return for shareholders, and still have a suite of debt and equity financing options available to scale. I appreciated Tim Ferris calling out Atai and founder Christian Angermeyer in his recent blog, and want to reinforce the point that monopolistic behavior that attempts to block other entities from bringing medicines to market, or even worse, shut down Oregon’s Measure 109 model and attempt to lock up psychedelic therapy inside the FDA medical pharma model for narrow qualifying diagnoses only, is harmful to the healing we as a movement want to bring to the world.
We are optimistic that Compass and Atai will not succeed in these efforts, and that the psychedelic ecosystem will nurture and support the right kind of companies, such as those noted above, with appropriate capitalization, ownership and operational structures based on multi-stakeholder Constructive Capitalism.