Psychedelics (also called hallucinogens) are powerful mind-altering substances that can temporarily induce hallucinations by affecting the serotonin receptors in the brain responsible for controlling the senses. Popular psychedelics include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD/acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and ketamine. Psychedelics have been used in religious settings for thousands of years, but developed a social stigma in the 1960’s due to widespread recreational use by “hippies” and youth involved in counter-cultural and anti-war movements in the US and beyond. These substances were finally made illegal in the US in 1970. Fifty years later, psychedelics are re-entering the mainstream as a potential breakthrough for various hard-to-treat mental health conditions, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). A May 2019 approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a ketamine-derivative substance (in therapeutic settings) has raised the possibilities of more widespread commercialization of psychedelics. Since then, the nascent industry—still mostly in the research stage—has garnered significant investor interest, some of whom are anticipating a cannabis-like boom.
A majority of the businesses in the psychedelic industry focus on research and development (R&D), studying the benefits of psychedelic substances and conducting preclinical and clinical research. Other segments—such as cultivation, clinics, and delivery platforms—have started to evolve only recently, driven by the advancements in R&D and positive developments in the regulatory landscape. So in addition to R&D focused leaders Compass Pathways and MindMed, the industry is now seeing growth in vertically integrated psychedelic players such as Field Trip, Numinus, New Wave, and others listed in the table below.
The psychedelic industry has not yet attracted major interest from conventional pharmaceutical companies. This reluctance could be due to psychedelic therapies’ tendency to require a single round of treatment as well as financial, legal, and reputational risks. Partnerships and acquisitions are highly likely in the near future, however, as psychedelic companies progress toward latter stages of drug development.