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Psychoplastogens, Corporate Responsibility, and Shareholder Leverage
If psychedelics and their potential for healing and personal transformation weren't compelling enough, this re-emergence/renaissance is happening against a backdrop record levels of loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicide, growing inequality, all-time highs in the stock market, a global pandemic, racially-based disparities, environmental degradation, and political divisiveness—effectively raising the stakes.
The institutional collision between the psychedelic experience (including the cultural/historical significance) with the modern healthcare system within a corporate/capitalist environment feels like watching a car crash in slow motion AND the time-lapsed blooming of a complex, beautiful, life-affirming flower at the same time.
I noticed three stories that feel significant to this movement last week:
A paper titled Transient Stimulation with Psychoplastogens is Sufficient to Initiate Neuronal Growth points to the paradigm shift in psychiatry from 'chemical imbalances' to 'modulation of neural circuits'
A mining conglomerate fired the CEO in response to shareholder pressure after the company destroyed cultural heritage sites in Australia, highlighting investor’s growing concerns for externalities that don't appear on balance sheets.
Dr. Bronner's continues to leverage its brand towards the public awareness of psychedelics and support for legal access measures.
The beginning (or continuation) of the 'neuroplasticity revolution' in mental and behavioral health, of which psychedelics are only a part, continues to gain momentum with a recent publication from COMPASS-affiliated David Olsen.
To date, neuropsychiatric medications have been based on the 'chemical imbalances' framework. We are now seeing, and psychedelics are a part of this phase change, a move towards a neuroplastic framework in which the pathology in question is viewed as a disturbance to a specific neural circuit rather than a deficiency/imbalance of neurotransmitters.
A paper published on Friday, "Transient Stimulation with Psychoplastogens is Sufficient to Initiate Neuronal Growth" was the first time I can recall seeing the term Psychoplastogen used in place of psychedelics:
“Here we demonstrate that ketamine and LSD, psychoplastogens from two structurally distinct chemical classes, promote sustained growth of cortical neurons after only short periods of stimulation…”
The lead author is David Olsen of UC Davis and Delix Therapeutics, in which COMPASS has an ownership stake. He also wrote the seminal paper on the topic: Psychoplastogens: A Promising Class of Plasticity-Promoting Neurotherapeutics, which was published in 2108 and noted:
"Psychoplastogenic compounds include psychedelics, ketamine, and several other recently discovered fast-acting antidepressants. Their use in psychiatry represents a paradigm shift in our approach to treating brain disorders as we focus less on rectifying “chemical imbalances” and place more emphasis on achieving selective modulation of neural circuits."
There are many implications for this shift, including a heightened role of the therapeutic alliance, the environment, and patient agency.
Neuroplastic changes operate under a dose-response relationship. Psychedelics and psychoplastogens create a 'window of neuroplasticity,' but the stimulus which ultimately directs neuroplastic changes are the set, setting, integration, and effortful engagement on the part of the patient.
While this advance is promising, it represents a move towards more 'active' treatment in which patient engagement and involvement are crucial. These will be exciting and challenging obstacles to a "psychoplastogenic revolution," considering the difference between this framework and the refilling of prescriptions ad infinitum for symptom management. (Perhaps not the most charitable depiction)
Shareholder Leverage for Common Good
In May, Rio Tinto, the multinational mining conglomerate, destroyed culturally sensitive and historically important rock shelters in Western Australia that were sacred to local Aboriginal groups to access iron ore. This export makes up the majority of the company's revenue.
What does this have to do with psychedelics? Bear with me.
In response to this atrocity, shareholders pressured the company to make amends and fire the CEO.
From the Morning Brew (emphasis added):
“Australian pension funds, other Rio Tinto investors, and activists said that response was a measly attempt at reconciliation.
In a statement yesterday, Rio Chairman Simon Thompson said he listened to shareholders’ concerns about the lack of individual accountability, and that Jacques and two other Rio leaders would be packing up their things in the next few months.
Investors are increasingly scrutinizing companies not only for their profits, but for their attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Recent Black Lives Matter protests have only amplified calls for corporations to boost their focus on social justice problems.”
This story caught my eye since the interface between the profit motive, and social benefit has been a longstanding point of concern for many, especially the psychedelic torchbearers who have done the scientific and policy work over the last 30 years that allows us to be thinking about legal psychedelic frameworks with MAPS and Usona adopting the unique Public Benefit and Non-profit structures respectively.
Some would argue mining operations represent the peak of capitalistic destruction in that they are literally extractive. So it is surprising to see such a large mining company respond to pressure from shareholders, those who would benefit from increased profits, insisting that they need to be held accountable.
Whether the firing of the CEO and others is sacrificial only is beside the point. It is the pressure coming from the shareholders that is noteworthy. Shareholders of companies, even mining companies, are becoming more concerned with issues of corporate responsibility and the social contract, and this is a good thing.
If this kind of leverage is being applied in the mining sector, surely there is cause for optimism that it's happening in the pharmaceutical industry?
In consideration of increasing environmental, social, and governance issues in healthcare, analyst Marshall Gordon notes:
“Perhaps the most significant change has been the recognition that outside investors have a right and obligation to set the standards of governance for a corporation. This includes input on such issues as the structure of boards of directors, or on workforce conditions like diversity, inclusion and anti-discrimination rules. Specifically, to health care and biopharma, access to affordable medicines is now an inescapable top-of-mind issue for the entire C-suite, from patient assistance and specialty hub services programs to drug benefit design and re-insurance geared to provide cover for high-priced drugs. Engagement with health care and pharma companies on market access policies is becoming more structured and transparent, with the dialogue increasingly taking place in the public arena.”
This bodes well for the concerns about the affordability and accessibility of psychedelic medicine that many have.
Dr. Bronner's Heal Soul Campaign
While corporations like Rio Tinto are being forced by shareholders to reconcile with destructive practices, companies like Dr. Bronner's are leveraging their brand to raise public awareness about psychedelics and legal access campaigns around the US.
Dr. Bronner's Heal Soul campaign is using its position to educate the public about the potential of psychedelics for personal transformation and healing:
Psychedelic-assisted therapy was recently granted ‘breakthrough designation’ by the FDA for use in treating PTSD and major depressive disorder—epidemics for which pharmaceutical drugs have fallen short!
The Bronner family is no stranger to severe depression and anxiety. They understand the pain & frustration of many Americans for whom current treatments do not work—pharma drugs that bring too little relief and too many side effects. It is time to end the needless suffering of millions!
That’s why we’re supporting the organizations below, working to make psychedelic-assisted therapies and plant medicines available to those that most need them.
Dr. Bronner's has supported:
Yes on Oregon's Measure 109
Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative
VETS: Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, Inc.
Heroic Hearts Project
Decrim Nature DC, Initiative 81
Very Daoist indeed.
Thanks for reading.