Digital Solutions in Psychedelics: Thoughts From an Industry Leader

David Champion, CEO of Maya Health, has been a front-line player in this space from the level of grassroots organizer on up. David gave us his take on how data-driven digital platforms are improving the reach and reliability of psychedelic-assisted treatment.

PsyTech: How did you get interested in the psychedelics space?

David: In 2016, after an extremely challenging trip on LSD, I became a trained “sitter” with Zendo Project. That was truly the catalytic moment for me. I began doing more research looking for data on how psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy could be used to help people improve their mental health and wellbeing.

In 2018, I successfully exited my software and data company, Baker Technologies, and accepted a volunteer position with the campaign team to decriminalize psychoactive mushrooms in Denver. In just over six months and with a bootstrapped budget, our tiny team managed to make history. Nearly 51% of Denver residents voted to pass the initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.

Following my involvement with the campaign, I co-founded the psychedelic research nonprofit Unlimited Sciences with Heather Jackson and Del Jolly. Together, we formed a collaboration with Johns Hopkins University to design a real-world psilocybin study exploring the impacts of “set and setting” on psilocybin mushroom use in naturalistic settings, i.e. outside of the research lab. Our Real-World Psilocybin Mushroom Study launched in August 2020 and has gained amazing momentum worldwide.

From participating in psychedelic events, presentations, and gatherings, I had the fortune of learning from psychedelic practitioners, coaches, and educators from all backgrounds. Listening to the hopes and desires of those on the front lines of the psychedelic movement, my team and I created a platform that will help psychedelic practitioners make their services more effective, efficient, and scalable.

PsyTech: What is the biggest issue holding the industry back, e.g., stigma, regulation, politics etc?

David: One of the biggest challenges I see ahead of us is in demonstrating the clinical efficacy and long-term benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy. This evidence doesn’t really exist today outside of the academic setting because practitioners haven’t had the proper tools to track, measure, and demonstrate their clients’ outcomes. They also haven’t had an easy, streamlined way of contributing this kind of clinical data to the larger research collective. These are exactly the problems that the Maya platform exists to solve.

PsyTech: What’s one fact you want the general public to know about psychedelics?

David: I would love the world to recognize that the psychedelic conversation today is very different than in past decades. We are researching innovative modes of therapy using psychedelics to create a clinically safe and effective means of healing people who have been failed by conventional healing modalities.

PsyTech: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone interested in getting into the psychedelics industry?

David: Begin authentically. Identify what it is that fascinates you about the field and begin to engage intentionally with the community. Before taking any action, listen to the community at large, including indigenous healers, advocates, practitioners, guides, and everyone in between. As the community grows, we’ll all need to continuously remind ourselves to embody the teachings of these compounds.

PsyTech: What’s the question you get asked the most when someone finds out you’re involved in psychedelics?

David: Many people are curious about where they can go to receive psychedelic-assisted therapy or participate in a ceremony. There is an overwhelming and clear demand for this type of experience, often driven by curiosity, but more often driven by desperation. Many people are suffering and the other conventional options on the table simply aren’t working, so of course psychedelics represent a sense of hope. Our job as leaders in this space is to safeguard that sense of hope by helping the practitioners working with these powerful compounds avoid harmful outcomes.

PsyTech: What’s some typical pushback you experience as someone involved in this industry, and how do you respond?

David: There is a very understandable sensitivity around data privacy. As an organization, we are trying to make it easy for practitioners to contribute their clinical outcomes to the larger research collective, in an effort to advance psychedelic healthcare. That said, we do recognize there is a lot at stake in being the ethical stewards of this data. Our response has been to create an intricate solution to safeguarding data and to continue to earn the trust of this community by demonstrating our core values of transparency and integrity in everything we do, and everything we communicate.

PsyTech: What are the biggest current hurdles in the space, and how have hurdles evolved over the past few years?

David: I think there are concrete hurdles and philosophical hurdles. Of course there are challenges around the current legal state of these compounds in every part of the world. For many people, psychedelic-assisted therapy may be the life-altering healing they need, but they don’t want to seek it out due to the legal ramifications. Then there’s the significant issue of the cost of psychedelic therapy, which is often financially prohibitive for many people.

For the psychedelic community, the philosophical hurdles have to do with growing intentionally and understanding the full ramifications of the different kinds of policy reform paths that are available. I’m glad to see psychedelics being considered a medical intervention requiring a service provider, such as a psychotherapist, as opposed to the product-centric market we saw emerge for cannabis. However I don’t see a clear path indicating which is the “right” way to go about advancing psychedelic healthcare.

PsyTech: Where do you see decrim/recreational regulation evolving in the next 12 months, and is that the most effective means of changing public perception of psychedelics?

David: I think that the efforts to decriminalize psychedelics and to legalize psychedelic therapy will continue to spread. Of course a large part of these campaigns is focused on educating the public about these compounds and over time, I believe this will naturally lead to further de-stigmatization. That alone will help shift the paradigm and the public perception of psychedelics, but we also need more accessible data and research regarding the delivery methods and nuances of psychedelic practices once they do reach the clinical environment.

PsyTech: What impact will this year’s election have on the industry?

David: I’m not the expert on U.S. politics, but I do believe the will of the people drives the market and not legislation. Just as we saw the market capitalization of cannabis drive politicians to shift their agenda, it seems likely the economics of psychedelic pharmaceuticals will help reduce the political barriers that might otherwise reappear.

PsyTech: What was the initial reaction when your friends and family heard you were involved in the psychedelic industry?

David: I’m not sure there was a psychedelic “industry” per se when I started telling my friends and family that this was my mission. By the time I had gained enough clarity of my own to start Maya, the work of Michael Pollan and Rick Doblin had already won over most of my community, and the groundwork was laid for me to share this work proudly.

We are grateful to David for his time and his insights, and a big thank you to David’s company, Maya Health, for their generous sponsorship of our upcoming Summit. To register for the October 27th event, please click the button below.

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