Jeff Stevens is chief executive officer of Psyched Wellness, a company researching and developing new ways of distilling and purifying mushrooms in order to harness their healing properties. Jeff is a seasoned Canadian capital markets executive with experience in building and managing public companies in emerging industries.
PsyTech: How did you get interested in the psychedelics space?
Jeff: We created Psyched Wellness because we are big believers that there are natural options available to support our health and wellness. I believe people are looking for alternatives to Big Pharma when it comes to their health and diet. When the opportunity presented itself to create a new company specifically focused on identifying, producing, and selling products from naturally occurring fungi and plants to address this growing market, I knew I had to take on the role.
PsyTech: What is the biggest issue holding the industry back? (Stigma, regulation, politics etc?)
Jeff: I do not believe you can pick one issue; I believe they are interrelated and will work in concert to influence each other’s audience/decision makers. I believe the industry is approaching these challenges in the most efficient and responsible way. It starts with the clinical work and the big money and names that come with it. Companies like Compass Pathways, MAPs, etc., are doing large clinical studies backed by some of the biggest money names. This will eventually allow claims to be made about the benefits of various psychedelics from the studies. This paves a path for politicians to view psychedelics as medicine and natural health solutions, not as threats. This change in perception will aid in changing regulations surrounding the classification of individual compounds and regulations surrounding how they are administered and policed. This, in turn, will create legal sales channels with quality controls to create a safer experience.
PsyTech: What’s one fact you want the general public to know about psychedelics?
Jeff: Psychedelics are not new; indigenous groups, shamans and even the Vikings use and have used various natural psychedelic plants and fungi for centuries. This is important to demonstrate that there is a long history of use, and with that, anecdotal support for safe use of these various compounds. If used responsibly, psychedelics are not dangerous and scary. In fact, they can be great tools for people struggling with various health and wellness issues.
PsyTech: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone interested in getting into the psychedelics industry?
Jeff: It is always important to surround yourself with a team of experts who can compliment your skillset and add value beyond your own abilities. This is true in any venture, but especially in psychedelics. As the industry continues to gain mainstream attention and the negative stigma surrounding psychedelics decreases, I believe the leaders in the space will be those who successfully build a team that can support the growth of the company. Experts with a scientific background are key to moving your ideas forward to becoming a reality, branding, and in our case, consumer-packaged goods, ensure your company/products are attractive and on point with the consumers. Experience with capital markets and public companies experience ensures you can capitalize your company to the point that you can execute on the path to market outlined by your team.
When you look at our team, we focused on adding members with best in class experience in their respected fields. Our chairman of the board, Michael Nederhoff, is a veteran in consumer-packaged goods. He is currently the president of Juul Labs Canada and was one of the first ten employees at Red Bull Canada. Nick Kadysh, head of government relations for Juul Labs, ensures our path to market is in line with government requirements. Terry Booth, founder of Aurora Cannabis, was a pioneer in the cannabis space and adds tremendous value to the team as we navigate pioneering a new sector. On our advisory board, we have Professor David Nutt, psychiatrist and the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain science at Imperial College UK. He also sits as the head of the scientific advisory board for Compass Pathways. We’re also glad to have Dr. Dawn DeCunha, a clinical psychologist in Toronto trained in psychedelic research and therapy currently conducting Phase 2 clinical trials investigating treatment-resistant depression and psilocybin at the University of Toronto.
PsyTech: What’s the question you get asked the most when someone finds out you’re involved in psychedelics?
Jeff: There are two: Can I sample your product? Can I buy stock?
PsyTech: What’s some typical pushback you experience as someone involved in this industry, and how do you respond?
Jeff: The stigma surrounding psychedelics is still very much an obstacle for the industry. People are still looking at psychedelics as a threat to society rather than a potential solution to many of the mental health and wellness issues we are facing. This is changing, and we strongly believe that over the coming years, we will continue to see this shift towards acceptance.
PsyTech: What are the biggest current hurdles in the space, and how have those hurdles evolved over the past few years?
Jeff: I believe the biggest hurdles in the space surround education and legislation. With the increased investment in the psychedelic space, we need to continue supporting the great work of the various grass roots groups who have been pushing for change for decades. The saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” is true in this case.
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?
Jeff: I believe this will take longer than 12 months to significantly change at a federal level. I strongly believe we will see continued pressure on governments to decriminalize various psychedelics as the results of various studies demonstrate their safe use and medical benefits. This is why we at Psyched Wellness have taken a different approach to the sector. We are working with a legal fungi called Amanita Muscaria. Amanita has a long list of anecdotal support for its wellness benefits as well as centuries of anecdotal support for the use of the mushroom in ceremonies for its psychoactive qualities.
PsyTech: What impact will this year’s election have on the industry?
Jeff: The US 2020 elections is providing a platform for the sector to help remove the negative stigma surrounding psychedelics. The move to decriminalize psychedelic compounds in Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz demonstrate that change is afoot. If Oregon is successful in legalizing psilocybin, it will be a massive catalyst for the sector. Canada already opened the door towards legalization by allowing four individuals to use psilocybin for compassionate use.
PsyTech: What was the initial reaction when your friends and family heard you were involved in the psychedelics industry?
Jeff: It took some explaining, especially because the mushroom we are working with is often mislabeled as poisonous. This is part of the challenge we face; however, it is also the opportunity, because to the best of our knowledge, we are the only public company working towards getting an Amanita Muscaria-derived product to market.
PsyTech is grateful to Jeff for his thoughts on the psychedelics business sector – and to his company, Psyched Wellness, for their generous sponsorship of our recent Summit.