Expert Interview: Ronan Levy
Ronan is Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Field Trip Psychedelics Inc. Concurrent with his work at Field Trip, he is a partner at Grassfed Ventures, a venture capital and advisory firm focused on the cannabis and biotech industries and a Member of the Board of Directors for Trait Biosciences Inc., a leading biotech company in the hemp and cannabis industries
Tell me about Field Trip Psychedelics Inc. and how the idea for the company came about?
Field Trip is the world’s first mental wellness company at the forefront of the scientific re-emergence of psychedelics and psychedelic-enhanced therapies.
With Field Trip Health centres opening across North America, and advanced research on plant-based psychedelics through Field Trip Discovery, our core mission is to help people, from those in treatment to those seeking accelerated personal growth, with a simple, evidence-based way to heal and heighten engagement with the world.
The team behind Field Trip was instrumental in the development of the global medical cannabis industry (having founded Canadian Cannabis Clinics, the world’s largest network of cannabis-specialised medical clinics, and CanvasRx Inc., the latter of which was acquired by Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NYSE: ACB) in 2016). After witnessing the impact that cannabis medicine had on hundreds of thousands of lives, we started exploring other potentially stigmatised medicines, including psychedelics. As we analysed the potential of psychedelics to address some of the world’s most pressing medical conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, we realized it was a therapeutic field in which we could make a significant impact in. And so Field Trip was born.
Why psychedelics and why psilocybin research in particular?
Our background was in helping to professionalise and build credibility around the use of cannabis as a legitimate medicine and therapeutic modality. Through our scientific research into psychedelics, we came to a few important conclusions: (1) They represent the single best, new therapeutic option for the treatment of some of the most challenging and costly medical conditions that are affecting the planet: depression, anxiety and PTSD.
These conditions will affect close to one in four people globally, and they will become the leading cause of the Global Burden of Disease by 2023 (The Global Burden of Disease measures the economic costs of certain medical/health conditions. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy US$5 trillion by 2025.); (2) They are remarkably effective.
The anti-depressive effects of psilocybin-enhanced psychotherapy have been shown to last for up to five years after a single session.
Similarly, MDMA-enhanced psychotherapy,in a Phase 2 study that has been approved by the FDA, led to 70% of people with chronic, severe PTSD experiencing total resolution of all symptoms associated with PTSD. Other research is showing that psychedelics may have potent anti-inflammatory effects as well;
(3) Like cannabis, they are generally quite safe and have a low risk of addiction. In a seminal research paper, Prof. David Nutt, the former Chairman of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, concluded that psilocybin and LSD had lower harm profiles than most other drugs, including certain pharmaceutical drugs; (4) Legal access to psychedelic molecules, like psilocybin, will happen sooner than most people expect; with political, grassroots and scientific support gaining momentum extremely quickly. When we considered all these factors, as well as our background and strengths as a team, it was an easy decision to pursue psychedelics as a business.
Our focus on research is the result of the fact that, whereas cannabis over the last 20 years has been studied in depth, resulting in the discovery of many new cannabinoids and potential therapeutic agents, the 200+ species of psilocybin-producing mushrooms have never been studied with the same degree of rigour. Through our work on psilocybin-producing mushrooms, we expect to identify a number of new therapeutic potentials as well as to develop best-in-class protocols for the large-scale cultivation of these mushrooms. Our anticipation is that legal markets will emerge for these mushrooms in the coming years, such as what may happen in California and Oregon in the 2020 elections.
Tell me about Field Trip Health and your investment in ketamine infusion therapy clinics? How did this come about?
The biggest challenge with building a business in psychedelics in 2020 is laws and regulations. Put simply, most psychedelics molecules are illegal or banned globally. One major exception to this rule is the molecule ketamine, which is a dissociative psychedelic, and which is legal when prescribed by a qualified medical professional. Evidence shows that ketamine, when administered in conjunction with psychotherapy, can be a potently effective antidepressant treatment. In fact, ketamine has been described by a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health as one of the ‘most important antidepressant treatments in decades’. It has also been shown to promote neuroplasticity and may, in some circumstances, be able to prevent the onset of PTSD following a traumatic incident.
Yet, as we assessed the industry, almost no physicians were providing ketamine in what we consider to be the most effective therapeutic modality: as part of psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy. And those that were did not seem to place enough, or any, emphasis on ‘set and setting’, which has been shown to play an important role in the outcome of psychedelic therapies. This represented a huge opportunity to us, and so we started here.
Our first Field Trip Health centres that will provide ketamine-enhanced psychotherapy will open in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles this year. But they are being developed,both physically and from a protocol perspective, to be able to deliver other forms of psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy, as other psychedelics become legal and/or approved.
Where will the money be made in psychedelics going forward?
Given the interest and potential impact that psychedelics are going to have on the treatment of mental health, as well as our society in general, there will be opportunities to make money in all aspects of the industry: cultivation, drug development, clinics, retreats, etc. Remember, we are talking about extremely effective (and, when done in the right context, safe) treatments for some of the most common medical and mental health conditions, globally.
How do you see the market for psychedelic assisted therapies evolving?
We expect to see the emergence of two parallel but complementary psychedelics industries: one that is entirely medical, available only to those people who are clinically diagnosed, and that uses only synthetic molecules; the other that is well-focused for anyone who wants to participate, and that uses natural products like psilocybin-producing mushrooms. In both cases, who can administer psychedelics, and where a person can experience a psychedelic journey will be highly controlled (we do not foresee a take-home, dispensary model anytime soon), and we think that is a good thing. Psychedelics are safe, but potent, and some controls over where/when/how they are administered are sensible.
Do you expect psychedelic treatment will displace other conventional treatments?
For which conditions?
Yes, we believe that psychedelics will fundamentally displace most current therapeutic options for most generally diagnosed mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and, potentially, eating disorders.
The efficacy, safety, and lack of negative side effects make them too persuasive as therapeutic option to ignore, particularly as the evidence continues to develop. You may even see psychedelics be used for non-mental health conditions, as many are known to be potent anti-inflammatory agents as well.
Research in this area is still preliminary, but some researchers are suggesting that micro doses of LSD may represent a preventative treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
R&D and Clinical Trials
Is Field Trip developing any particular form of therapies at the moment?
Yes. Given some of the challenges and nuances of seeking IP protection in psychedelics; however, we are not disclosing any details about this at the moment.
Does Field Trip have plans to guide products through clinical trials at present?
When do you hope your psychedelic therapy will become commercially available?
For our work with cultivating psilocybin producing mushrooms, we expect to see legal markets emerge as early as this year, potentially. For any other therapies in development, it is too early to offer any guidance.
Do you see the integration of a psychedelic experience having any role in psychedelic therapies for patients? Why is/isn’t this important?
As a company, we follow the evidence. Presently, the evidence suggests that integration work (being the psychotherapy work undertaken after a psychedelic journey) is essential for both: (1) creating the lasting, enduring anti-depressant, anti-anxiety of psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy; and (2) ensuring that an emotionally challenging psychedelic journey does not lead to its own traumas (so called bad trip). We are investing heavily in our integration protocols, with a view to blend modern science, medicine and psychotherapy with traditional techniques and practices to generate best-in-class integration care.
Plans for the Future
What is next for Field Trip Psychedelics?
We recently completed our Series A financing, which brought in investors from a wide variety of fields: academic, for-profit, non-profit, financial and strategic investors. Our focus for the foreseeable future is to execute on our strategy plans: building Field Trip Health centres and further advancing our protocols, completion of our research and cultivation facility in Jamaica, and advancing our drug development initiatives.
Do you plan on taking the company public?
Access to public markets is something we are constantly evaluating, but we have no immediate plans to seek a public listing at the moment.
More broadly, what will the psychedelic therapies space look like for patients in five to ten years time?
We expect that, by and large, the nature of the therapies that will be offered in five to ten years will be very similar to those that we are offering in our clinics presently. The biggest difference is that, in five to ten years, the options available to people will be far greater than ketamine. Certainly, we expect MDMA and psilocybin-enhanced psychotherapy to be available on a large-scale basis. But we also expect that other psychedelics will be available, such that the real speciality in this kind of care will be derived both from the protocols around the treatment as well as how medical professionals triage amongst the psychedelics available to lead to the best outcomes.