Can Psychedelics Therapy Training Become A Profitable Business? We Asked Industry Insiders

Demand for specialized therapists capable of providing psychedelics-assisted treatments is expected to continue growing. At the same time, the number of people willing to get trained is expanding. In response, several leading psychedelic companies are developing their own training courses, while others have partnered with local institutions to provide education for assisted treatments with psychedelics. 

In the future, we can expect these therapies to be regulated by the FDA, yet they will also likely be influenced by stakeholders, therapists and clients, all shaping the future of psychedelic healthcare.

Psychedelics: A Possible Solution To A Devastating Mental Health Crisis

At the moment, the psychedelics market is often viewed as a niche. Fear, prejudice and misunderstanding remain common, which is partly understandable.

On the other hand, the world is facing massive and multiple mental health crises with depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide rates growing at an alarming pace.

In this scenario, compounds like psilocybin, ibogaine, MDMA, LSD and DMT are showing promising signs for treatment as compared to traditional pharmaceutical drugs.

Yet psychedelic treatment is not enough by itself though it can be the key to help with questions like consumption, in order to keep issues such as dosage, toxicology and potential adverse effects under the strictest control possible. Complementary tools can also help individuals integrate their psychedelic experience.

Training Methodologies For Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies

Current psychedelic education may take place in two different scenarios. In research settings, there must be specific training responding to the manual and procedures for that trial, specific drugs being used and the specific therapeutic approach or model. “So there always has to be that specific trial training for research,” explained Elizabeth Nielson, PhD. and co-founder of educational platform Fluence.

Training in community-based practices is still an emerging field. “There are going to be potentially kinds of licenses or authorizations that will allow people to work with multiple psychedelics, but the field is not as formed enough yet to have a clear picture of what those practice requirements are going to be, who will be able to practice with what kinds of psychedelics and in what kinds of settings,” Nielson said.

Data from Fluence’s ongoing training show that expansion is already happening. Currently, their trainees are working in clinical trials, practitioners involved in integration methods and ketamine-assisted therapy, and individuals interested in picking up more on the matter. In fact, the majority of attendees are community-based providers coming in for integration and ketamine, as well as to learn about psychedelic-assisted therapy: “Not to learn to provide it yet, but to learn about it,” Nielson said.

This seems to be a prime issue: training offered is limited to and designed for what clinicians can actually do. Some approaches such as the harm-reduction informed integration work are within the present scope of legal practice.

At a state level, Oregon is offering a different pathway for practices outside clinical work: statewide, FDA-parallel, regulations for providing psilocybin services. “That has basically created a new formalized profession, and that will be an avenue for people to obtain a license and practice under that regulation. That’s a way that we can create a program to educate people, because there will be an avenue for them to practice,” said Fluence’s co-founder.

Nielson further explained the current legal situation: “There are movements of decriminalization and deprioritization, which are different but related concepts. Those do not equate legalization, and they also do not create a safe, regulated supply of drugs, and they really don’t make it such that a therapist or clinician practicing as a care provider can prescribe those things for a treatment.”

A Look Into Integration Therapies And Patenting

MAPS Senior Medical Director for Medical Affairs, Training & Supervision, Michael Mithoefer, M.D., believes that the education field supporting integration is wide. Existent approaches such as CBCT, EMDR or internal family systems therapy are proving to be helpful: people only take the psychedelic a few times, so much of the therapy is about preparing them for the session, and then helping them to integrate the experience.

Mithoefer recently conducted a pilot study treating couples with MDMA-assisted therapy combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBCT), merging MAPS's inner-directed approach with a more structured method. “It was very interesting, kind of a proof of principle study, and to develop a treatment protocol, to see what we could learn about combining these methods,” Mithoefer told Benzinga.

Many treatments are specific, which in turn brings limitations to the therapy. In reply, MAPS has developed an inner healing intelligence protocol based on the idea that people have the inner wisdom to direct their experience in a useful way if they are given the chance.

The approach is drug-assisted psychotherapy designed to support whatever the naturally-occurring experience is.

“Some of the neuroscience about these kinds of compounds shows they create a state where people can get out of the old rug, the old way of always responding in the same manner, which can be very painful if you have PTSD. The medicines seem to give people the chance to respond differently, and I think that fits very well with not being too directive, so you can make space and encouragement for something new and unexpected to happen. So often, that’s what makes the difference,” Mithoefer explained.

Regarding a potential patent arising from the integration-combining methods, MAPS is a non-profit and has a public-benefit approach, so they do not support patent policies. But that doesn’t mean other psychedelic companies and institutions will follow suit.

From An Investor’s Perspective

Business verticals do not cross over within various industries. Sticking with a single market sector is commonly known as a high-risk-high reward situation.

In last year’s Global Small Cap Conference, long-time investor in psychedelic philanthropy, education & research Simeon Schnapper said he hadn’t realized how large the industry was getting. His JLS Fund is now investing in diverse fields, including early-stage drug development and discovery, special-purpose vehicles as well as protocol development.

The psychedelics investment landscape has big players, but Schnapper sees the scene shifting towards innovative people from biotech sectors, unrelated to psychedelics.

“As far as pure-play drug discovery psychedelic companies, it’s been a few years, so I don’t think we’re gonna see any new players coming from the roots of the industry. If they haven’t decided to become a company, they’re joining scientific advisory boards, or they’re doing consulting work,” Schnapper explained to Benzinga.

Related to the wave of biotech specialists entering the psychedelic space, he said it will be very interesting to see where it goes: “Arguably a psychedelic is anything, but just no molecule, but putting a chip into your brain. Brain to computer interphase. It’s modifying your own DNA. Which is like CRISPR technology: there’s no molecule, and it’s the same eventual potentiality to heal, get back by insurance, and find a way to smash this mental health pandemic.”

In terms of psychedelic-therapy training, Schnapper believes that hundreds will be created and, like any nascent industry, we will start to see competence and partnerships arising. “There’s definitely a consolidation process going on, but from training companies themselves there’s probably around 10 or so that are generating revenue, have been around a while or are harnessing this opportunity to raise some capital and scale and expand their business to training more therapists.” 

Is it too early to start investing in these training companies given the current legal scenario? Schnapper replied confidently: “We’ve invested because you can very clearly see that trajectory. You’re investing in a training platform for psychotherapists with the majority of these molecules, still not being federally legal. But we know it’s not a matter of if, it’s now just a matter of when."

Even though they are very different, a comparison between the cannabis and psychedelics industries might help understand the latter’s likely path: “If you look at what happened, cannabis is still federally illegal, and you can get it virtually anywhere in the US legally now. Having spent a lot of time in activism in cannabis, I had a parallel. And now, there will be people who get treated with psychedelics and assisted therapy before the FDA approves it. Upon the FDA approving it, I believe decrim and state initiatives will be a drop in the ocean compared to federally legal –which means anyone can get it and can get reimbursed from insurance. We saw the genie come out of the bottle three years ago, and there’s no way to put it back in. That’s, from an investor’s perspective, why we bet.”

In the near future, whether under state or federal initiatives, there is no doubt that some level of psychotherapy or facilitation will be needed, which in turn anticipates that many people will want and need training.

For his part, Schnapper is professionally and personally looking forward to this industry’s next move: “I’ve seen first-hand over the decades how effective medicine, molecules can be, enhanced by accompaniment. As an investor, I would use the term bullish. As a student of the space, I would use the term excited.”

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Posted In: BiotechCannabisNewsPsychedelicsPsychologyExclusivesMarketsInterviewGeneralElizabeth NielsonFluenceJLS FundMAPS PBCMichael MithoeferSimeon Schnapper
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