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Wall Street donors are racing to back psychedelic therapy

A psychedelic spiral.
Flickr user Forresto
Psychedelics represent a major business opportunity.
  • Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter


Psychedelics are the next billion dollar industry, according to market analysts, and investors and donors are taking note.

Over the past six months, $30 million in donations has gone to the nonprofit funding research into MDMA-assisted therapy, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), according to the group’s announcement on Aug. 20. Major donors, who each donated at least $1 million, include GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, and Joby Pritzker, co-founder of Tao Capital Management and part of the family behind Hyatt Hotels.

MDMA isn’t the only psychedelic gaining support. Earlier this month, the Canadian government ruled that four citizens could legally use psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms), to treat end-of-life anxiety. Meanwhile, clinical studies on psilocybin are racing towards the final stages of trials at a similar pace to MDMA, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved its second ketamine-based treatment for depression.

Should psychedelics be legalized, the drugs will present both a transformative mental health treatment and a major industry. In March, MindMed, which focuses on treatments for addiction, became the first psychedelic company to go public. Other major players include Compass Pathways, which was granted a patent for its method of producing psilocybin in January, and Field Trip Ventures, which is building psychedelic clinics across North America in anticipation of their legal use.

The $30 million in donations to MAPS will help the nonprofit complete the final phase of trials on MDMA-assisted therapy before it can apply to the FDA for treatment approval. The FDA has indicated that it is receptive: It has granted the treatment “breakthrough therapy” designation, meaning it’ll be fast tracked through the development process.

Several of the MAPS donors are personally invested in helping to create new mental health treatments. Parsons is a Vietnam war veteran who still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to MAPS, while donor George Sarlo, founder of Walden Venture Capital, says he used psychedelic therapy to treat his Holocaust trauma.

Psychedelic therapy is still unproven medical treatment and, as Quartz reported earlier this year, has yet to reckon with its potential for sexual abuse. But, with millions of people suffering from mental health conditions, psychedelic treatments present a major opportunity for both patients and investors.

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