Reflections on the progress of psychedelic medicine

Florian Brand, CEO

Since co-founding ATAI Life Sciences, I’ve been a firm believer in the power of psychedelic medicine to transform the way we understand and treat mental health disorders. We’ve had much to be thankful for over the course of the past few years, but lately I’ve become acutely aware that we’ve turned a corner as a movement.

With the start of the psychedelic renaissance came questions. Would psychedelics ever be accepted by the medical community? By regulators? By the general population? My team and I emphatically said yes, and the last few years have borne out that prediction.

The tide began to turn in 2013, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded esketamine Breakthrough Therapy designation (BTD) for treatment resistant depression (TRD); BTD for esketamine for major depressive disorder (MDD) would follow in 2016. Then, in 2017, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced that it had also received BTD, this time for MDMA for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The following year, COMPASS Pathways secured BTD for psilocybin for TRD.

In 2019, the trend towards psychedelic medicine has continued and matured. Usona Institute has now received BTD for psilocybin for MDD, while, in March, the FDA approved esketamine for TRD, making it among the first new approaches to treating depression in decades.

Moreover, the broader medical community has warmed up to psychedelics as well. This year, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the field’s leading professional society in the United States, will feature psychedelics in the scientific program of its annual meeting; in addition to a number of other sessions, COMPASS Pathways will be presenting their findings from the largest placebo-controlled, healthy volunteers study in the history of psychedelic medicine.

While there is still much to be done – for instance in establishing meaningful reciprocity with indigenous communities that have preserved psychedelic medicine for generations – it’s hard not to be optimistic. Where there were once misgivings, there is now curiosity; where there was once resistance, there is now momentum. Indeed, the question is now less will psychedelics be made available to those with mental health disorders than it is how to do so.

For the more than 140 million people living with treatment resistant mental illnesses, the answer can’t come soon enough.

Yours in partnership,