• Ray Christian

The problem for psychedelic companies... and a solution

“Be so good they can’t ignore you”

-Steve Martin



The psychedelic renaissance is perhaps the most exciting development for mental healthcare in the last 100 years.


But, there’s an elephant in the room: it’s unclear how to build a sustainable business model.



The problem is underpinned by three issues:


  1. In-person psychedelic-assisted therapy is very expensive

  2. Known psychedelic compounds can’t be patented

  3. Software can’t be patented


Let’s take a quick look at each, then see if there’s a solution.



In-person "sitting" is very expensive


The current models for clinics and retreats include anywhere from 5-10 hours to 1-2 weeks of in-person attention.


The approach is highly effective but the sticker price is $2,000–$50,000. In addition, insurance companies have historically been reticent to cover mental healthcare costs.


Out-of-pocket expenses at these price points mean only the wealthy can afford the treatment.


A business model that relies on selling to the top 0.1% is not going to scale.


We need a solution that can bring psychedelics to the masses.



Known psychedelic compounds can’t be patented


Some psychedelic compounds, like psilocybin and San Pedro, grow naturally, while others, like LSD and MDMA, have been around for decades.


In either case you can’t patent them. In addition, many other derivatives have been synthesized and available for years thanks to people like Albert Hoffman and Sasha Shulgin.


You could argue that slight molecular adjustments allow for an infinite number of new variations that are patentable.


But there’s a fly in the ointment:


The idea that slight molecule changes will create a better product is pure speculation.


We tried this before with Marinol, a patented variation of marijuana, and it failed.


For the sake of the argument, let’s just say a new compound does improve upon existing psychedelics. There are still two major issues:


  • How do you prove it? Psychedelic experiences are highly subjective

  • How do you convince the masses to pay a premium for a knock-off?


Nature created psilocybin after billions of years of evolution: the psychedelic Mona Lisa.


Finding a way to convince people to buy the Mona Tisa could be a tough proposition.


We need a solution that can utilize known psychedelic compounds.



Software can’t be patented


Technically that’s not true — software can be patented, but it’s a fool’s errand.


If you don’t believe me go look for famous software patent cases. The reason you don’t hear about software patent disputes is because:


  1. A core requirement for obtaining a patent is definiteness. That's not an issue with molecules or CAD designs, but software is constantly changing.

  2. The "definiteness" requirement also makes it difficult to enforce a patent in court.

  3. Most importantly, in the unlikely scenario that you obtain a software patent and win the lawsuit: congrats, your product is now woefully out-of-date.


The legal process takes years; successful tech companies update their software once a week.


We need a solution that doesn’t require software patents.



So good they can’t ignore you


There is a potential solution: technology that delivers well-understood psychedelics with an exquisite user experience.


A product that’s affordable, safe, and able to retain customers because the product is just flat-out really good.


Something, as Steve Martin quipped, so good they can’t ignore you.


Not an easy task, but it's doable.



From the Department of Silver Linings


The vapor-ware industry is hot in psychedelics. A lot of bluster, press releases of who’s being hired, patent applications, and what they plan to work on.


It’s hard to blame them. The compounds are still illegal in most countries and it's not easy to wait with bated breathe for the FDA and DEA to rewrite policy.


The trailblazers in psychedelics are putting out a yeomen’s effort in an uncertain industry. Give them credit for doing brilliant work (except for those pursuing software patents) on a noble cause.


There’s also a silver lining: psychedelics has the opportunity to help everyone.


The science on cognitive performance is showing that psychedelics improve brain functionality and creativity.


That means, with the right solution, psychedelics can help people dealing with mental illness and enhance healthy individuals.


A collaboration with providers, researchers, designers and engineers could result in a solution for the masses.



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