Accurate Analysis of Natural Extracts is challenging at best, impossible at worst: Trip Accordingly
When we talk about the expansion of access to psychedelics, we have three broad categories:
Legalization (the creation of sales, tax, regulatory framework, ie, cannabis 2.0)
Medicalization with two flavors:
Federal: namely FDA approval via conventional pharmaceutical development
State: Oregon’s Psilocybin Services Initiative which would create a framework for the supervised therapeutic use of psilocybin
There are pros and cons to each category. Still, the middle way, that is, “cannabis style legalization” whereby manufacturers sell directly to consumers, should be something that we ease into after we’ve handled decriminalization of psychedelics (preferably of all drugs) and gotten our feet wet with therapeutic frameworks.
For new Trip Report readers, a revisiting of Psychedelics-as-a-Service is perhaps in order. In that piece, we observed:
“A legalized framework that decouples product from experience increases the existential risk to the psychedelic movement/renaissance/whatever you want to call it.
Legalization represents the bottom of the curve where the least amount of value is created (and captured as a result of hefty regulatory pay-to-play processes, race to the bottom dynamics, and post-bubble value collapse) both economically and socially.
While there are many ex-cannabis folks hopping on the shroom-boom hoping to retail consumer packaged goods I hope they are disappointed and are forced to do the long, arduous and expensive route of drug development.”
The curve that I mentioned can be thought of as follows:
On the vertical axis, we have value to society (which for this exercise includes value to shareholders, operators, customers/patients, and public benefit.) on the horizontal axis, we have the above categories of psychedelic expansion from most straightforward to the most complex. In my childlike artistic rendering, it looks something like this:
Decriminalization keeps people out of the legal system, and it allows for the Grow-Gather-Give model upon which therapeutic access, shamanistic ritual, and personal use can stand. The monetary value created at the decrim end of this graph is more decentralized and generated by practitioners and participants coming out of the shadow, so to speak and the creation of a cottage industry of ancillary services like “Trip Advisor” type platforms if you will. The “industry” created around decriminalization is more akin to a farmer’s market than a supermarket.
On the other end of the horizontal axis, therapeutic access within the conventional healthcare system is created. This is a complex area that has no shortages of challenges. Still, the broad-based access medicalization affords represents a desperately needed paradigm shift in psychiatry and the treatment of mental health conditions.
However, if by ‘decriminalization’ we mean a Portugal-style deprioritization of ALL DRUGS, then the graph looks like this:
In this case, the value to society of decriminalization is greater to medicalization, but the bottom of the smiling curve is still the legalization framework.
(Keep in mind this is thought exercise depicted using my 3-year-old son’s art supplies. I understand that there are limitations, and a more robust argument would be made with supporting data. We’re working on it.)
This all leads me to the main point of today’s post which was inspired by this Linkedin Post I happened upon from Kate Manson, CEO of Tarot CBD on the challenges of analytical testing in the current (legalized) cannabis and CBD market:
A regulated psychedelic market where manufacturers create products from biomass extraction and sell directly to consumers is a bad deal.
Unlike CBD products in which the quality and quantity of active ingredients doesn’t really matter (come on, it doesn’t), it REALLY matters when we are talking about psychedelics.
This Leafly article and video from last year is an excellent primer on the challenge of knowing what’s actually in CBD products.
“Congress’ decision to end federal CBD prohibition in late 2018 opened the door to hundreds of new companies marketing thousands of products. CBD soda, lip balm, gummies, vape pens, and capsules can now be found in supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores across the United States.
CBD companies are thriving. But so are scammers and fraudsters.”
Here’s a screenshot from the above video noting the difference between the advertised amount of CBD and the actual amount when tested:
Again, the benefit signaling by CBD manufacturers is one problem. Still, the fact that no one, not even said manufacturers can reliably discern what is in their products is also a problem.
But not nearly as big of a problem if this were happening with psilocybin.
Can you imagine, dropping your daily microdose of psilocybin as you walk into the office, and an hour later you’re trying to explain to your boss that consciousness is the fundamental ground of all being and that binary code is both the foundation of computer science AND the nature of reality itself?
It would make for a great story at some point but definitely a bad look and a real problem if it happened at scale.
(Keen readers will point out that this is how Albert Hoffman discovered/stumbled upon LSD.)
Perils of Productization
The problem the legalization route presents is realized in the productization of things that grow out of the ground.
This is the problem the current food system presents.
It is a problem in two parts
As an operation like farming, or mushroom cultivation, scales, the quality (and quality assurance) inevitably drops off. It is tough to call an apple from an industrial farm an apple, and I would bet that the chemical profile reflects this. (yes, Bill Gates, I understand there are tradeoffs, and feeding the world’s population may be impossible without such operations. It is a hard problem, but the principle stands.)
Processing foods to enhance flavor and prolong shelf life is the other area that destroys nutrition. Such processes usually replace fat or natural carbohydrates for sugar or some artificial substrate that wreaks havoc on craving, hunger, and satiety levels. The direct result is an epidemic of metabolic disease and obesity.
This same process is playing itself out in the productization of cannabis with gummies, vapes, potato chips, toothpicks, suppositories, and other products.
With each level of processing, the challenge of understanding what is in the actual product increases.
What’s that? Oh, you’d like to see my artistic rendering of this phenomena? Sure:
The vertical axis should actually include “fidelity of analysis,” not quality.
Again from the above Leafly article:
For the most part, when the more concerned in the psychedelic community express their fears of “something going wrong and screwing this whole thing up,” I tend to dismiss it. People have been fucking up with illegal substances for a long time, and such accidents, while tragic and unfortunate, will not derail the psychedelic expansion. (Simply keep a Google alert for MDMA to understand this.)
But on the other hand when manufacturers and marketers are incentivized to exaggerate benefits and productize naturally occurring substances, as we see with CBD and cannabis, and the products they create are challenging, if not impossible, to test for potency, then the calculus changes and accidents under such circumstances could, in fact, derail this whole thing.
One final point that Trevor Millar and Robert Laurie made in the recent Psytech panel titled “Can Cannabis Provide a Pathway to Psychedelic Reform?” if one is looking for the highest quality marijuana in Canda, where recreational use is legal, and anyone can walk into a dispensary and buy some, the best shit still comes from your dealer. Just like the best produce comes from your local farmer.
Thanks, as always, for reading, sharing, and connecting with The Trip Report.