Dr. Evan Wood of Numinus Discusses Cultural Baggage, Regulation, and Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies

Dr Evan Wood Numinus

Numinus Chief Medical Officer Dr. Evan Wood

Dr. Evan Wood of Numinus has been studying addiction treatment for his entire career. He’s optimistic about psychedelic-based treatments profoundly impacting global mental health – as soon as regulations allow for it.

PsyTech: How did you get into the psychedelics industry?

Evan: I’ve been a substance use focused specialist physician and professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia where I’ve spent my career concentrating on substance use policy and clinical care innovations. I was actively involved in bringing forward a scientific and policy reform case for regulation of the adult use of cannabis through a group I founded called Stop the Violence BC, and have been involved in a host of drug policy reform initiatives and treatment program strategies including development of a national guideline for the treatment of opioid addiction. So, gravitating towards psychedelics was a natural thing to do especially since my lab at the University of British Columbia is a participating site in the MAPS Phase 3 trials of MDMA for PTSD.  I’ve also had a number of fascinating experiences in my clinical practice where I’ve seen people avail themselves of an underground psychedelic psychotherapy experience and been able to make transformative changes in their lives. With the promising results of psychedelic research worldwide alongside the known limited effectiveness and harms (e.g., side effects) of traditional mental health medications, there is an obvious draw to help bring this intervention forward in an evidence-based way.

PsyTech: What’s the biggest misconception about psychedelics?

Evan: There is obviously a lot of cultural baggage with psychedelics going back to their use in the counter-culture of the 1960s which continues to contribute to misconceptions. Also, these are tremendously powerful substances with often dichotomous outcomes: used unsafely by naive users, they can create “bad trip” scenarios; alternatively, used in an optimized context, they can provide transformative healing. I think the duality of these possible outcomes also contributes to confusion.

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

Evan: Research is consistently demonstrating that, when used in a safe and evidence-informed way, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy appears to engender mental health benefits that so far exceed modern traditional approaches to mental health care as to suggest there is potential for a massive leap forward – far surpassing any advancement  in the history of modern mental health care to date.

PsyTech: What separates Numinus apart from other companies in the bioscience space?

Evan: I can’t speak to other companies and what they are trying to do, but at Numinus we are focused on driving innovation in both the laboratory and clinical space with a view to being at the forefront of providing safe and evidence-based psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy that is accessible as a routine part of the medical system internationally.

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

Evan: There is a huge interest in access right now, so probably the most common question that comes my way is from people for whom the traditional mental health system has clearly failed and who are seeking access prior to legal approval.  Of course, there are others who are just curious about what these treatments involve and how they work, and I’m always excited to share what the research is showing.

PsyTech: What’s some typical pushback you experience as an active member of this industry, and how do you respond?

Evan: I’ve been working in the substance use space for decades, so I’m used to the institutional stigma that comes from the health care system, in academia, and from policy makers. There is no doubt in my mind that if there was a health care intervention with this much promise and without the historical cultural baggage carried by psychedelics, the health system would have implemented it a long time ago. Fortunately, there is the emergence of various groups bringing the intervention forward, and I see a not-too-distant future where psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is a routine part of mental health and wellness care.

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

Evan: The illegality of these substances continues to be the biggest barrier.  Obviously, with various companies doing clinical trials and seeking regulatory approvals, I see the space opening up in short order.  Fortunately, given the studies to date have focused on certain populations like veterans and illnesses that are highly prevalent but do not have good treatments (e.g., depression), I do not see political headwinds that have previously existed for substances like medical cannabis. 

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

Evan: I actually do not see political opposition to this intervention and don’t think politics is going to be a big issue. While expanded access models are developed in the U.S. and elsewhere with approvals from groups like the U.S. FDA, and especially once phase three trials are complete, I anticipate an ongoing explosion of growth in this sector.

PsyTech: Where do you see decrim/recreational regulation evolving in the next 12 months, and what steps is Numinus taking to prepare for these shifting realities?

Evan: My belief is that legalization 1.0 will focus on clinical applications – and this is the area Numinus is initially concentrating on. That being said, with our lab approved to produce and research psilocybin mushrooms, we could nimbly pivot towards other areas like microdosing or wellness models if, and when, they are approved. As far as the recreational use of these substances, Numinus and other psychedelic businesses have an obligation to support harm reduction and education to avoid bad outcomes for people who may use these powerful substances in a more naturalistic or an uninformed way.

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

Evan: My friends and family know that I have a long history of being very active in controversial clinical program implementation and that my team’s work has resulted in considerable national and international clinical and regulatory policy reforms. So, in terms of dinner table conversation, I think most people just see my enthusiasm and infer this must mean that there is something here that could really benefit humanity.

Many thanks to Dr. Wood and Numinus for their generous sponsorship of our upcoming Summit. To register for the October 27th event, please click the button below.

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