NY Psychedelics Conference Probes New Horizons

Inside the annual NYC Psychedelics conference, its implications for the industry’s future, and ramifications for psychedelics investment

“Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics” is the annual New York City conference in which leading names in the world of psychedelic therapy come together to share information and discuss developments in this dynamic industry. Horizons is the longest-running annual gathering of its kind devoted to psychedelics. The conference delves into different facets of psychedelic use, including scientific, economic, cultural, medicinal, communal, and spiritual. 

Horizons’ long-awaited return

The 14th annual Horizons conference was held on December 1-5, 2021 at The Cooper Union Great Hall, with classes, business, and clinical forums at The New York Academy of Medicine. Notable researchers and psychedelics advocates included Joe Green, Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., Annie and Michael Mithoefer, and Gita Vaid, MD. After a two-year hiatus in which the conference could not take place due to the COVID pandemic, those interested in psychedelics were eager to participate in the 2021 conference, which was also streamed live worldwide. 

The field of psychedelics has gained significant legitimacy over the last two years, evidenced by the established voices in the field who sponsored and presented at the conference. Vine Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on innovations in health and wellness including the use of psychedelics, was the main sponsor of the multi-day event. Other Horizons sponsors included MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies; the Nikean Foundation, dedicated to advancing psychedelic science to benefit mental health care; Tryp Therapeutics, developers of psychedelic drugs to benefit chronic conditions; and the Usona Institute, which supports and conducts clinical research to further the understanding of the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs to alleviate depression and anxiety. 

Kevin Baltick, founder and director of the Horizons conference explained that there have been “seismic shifts in public policy and capital investing [related to the use of psychedelics] over the past two years.1” As detailed in the 2021 Psychedelics as Medicine Report, over $2B in private capital has been invested in the psychedelic industry2, with 80% of it funneled into the development of psychedelic drugs, according to Baltick. 

Revolutionary possibilities

Psychedelics are becoming more widely recognized as legitimate means of treating neurological disorders and managing chronic pain conditions, as well as healing trauma and helping patients cope with mental and physical conditions. As part of society’s larger conversation on crisis response, psychedelics seek to engage the psyche rather than simply numb it as traditional medicinal approaches have been purported to do. With over a third of patients resistant to conventional antidepressant drugs3, medicinal psychedelics have been called lifesaving. Proponents of psychedelics claim that they are less toxic, less expensive, and less addictive than traditional medications can be. 

The life-improving potential of psychedelics is accompanied by an entire ecosystem involving infrastructure, resources, and funding. Investments in psychedelics, such as through a psychedelic ETF are among the ways investors may want to take a role in this wellness revolution. 

Psychedelics with a side of ethics

Baltick shared that Horizons differed from every other psychedelics-related business event over the past two years because it is a pro-market program that will eschew the question of how psychedelics can benefit investors. Horizons believes that ethical businesses must earn a profit to accomplish their mission. Psychedelics ETFs, weed ETFs, and cannabis ETFs reflect the industry’s growth, whether through biotechnological research and development of psychedelic medicines, or the production and distribution of drugs derived from psychedelics.

As a Public Benefit Corporation, Horizons is committed to helping create an ethical psychedelic economy. To that end, the Psychedelic Business Forum, which took place on the second day of the conference, delved into values-oriented approaches to building and funding the psychedelic ecosystem. The full-day forum within the conference was a collaboration between Horizons and North Star, a nonprofit that aims to “serve the psychedelic companies committed to building transformational businesses shaped by psychedelic wisdom, and inspiring others to raise their sights as well.”4 The North Star Ethics Pledge aims to shape the psychedelics industry through responsible business practices. 

Speakers at the forum included leaders in the field who furthered the conversation on ethics within the psychedelic economy. Moderated panel discussions and informative sessions covered regulatory policy, inclusive stakeholding, funding approaches, and impact investing. The Psychedelic Business Forum event examined how investment in psychedelic medicinal opportunities can be managed in a sustainable manner. Sessions included “Catalytic funding,” “Building to operate with integrity,” “Is a values-centered psychedelic ecosystem possible,” “The present regulatory landscape and how to shape its future,” and more.

Implications for the future

Questions addressed at this year’s Horizons conference included which trajectory psychedelic medicines are likely to follow: an FDA model involving approvals of specific psychedelics for specific conditions or distribution through licensed practitioners and third-party insurance funding? Will the industry be shaped by startups and investors or through nonprofits focused on open science? Will positive results of federally-funded clinical trials lead to the reclassification of psychedelics? 

Varying laws across the different US states shed light on the numerous ways in which psychedelic drugs have entered the public consciousness. Some sessions at the conference explored these state-specific cases, such as Oregon Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin in the state. 

According to entrepreneur Joe Green who co-founded the Psychedelic Science Funders Collective, the Oregon model serves to inform future rollouts. The philanthropic collective published a comprehensive report, stating, “We believe this is a pivotal moment in which we have an opportunity to show that psychedelic healing can be beneficially integrated into society.”5

The Horizons conference featured prominent names in the psychedelics industry, though legitimacy comes too late for some. In his talk “Underground histories and overground futures,” presenter William Leonard Pickard spoke about his 20 years in federal prison for allegedly producing 90% of the world’s LSD. Pickard’s presentation gave attendees a glimpse into the darker days of the industry’s past and reinforced the commitment psychedelics advocates have for their use in the future. Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics was a powerful, comprehensive gathering of the minds, and next year’s conference, already being planned, is likely to be similarly enlightening. 

1 https://www.lucid.news/horizons-conference-reconvenes-in-nyc-to-connect-psychedelic-communities/?fbclid=IwAR2zcAe8tHLevy0aczPUzsYlWjvPtlJh_DB8I1FMTXIb1y4Xp-7CG0JB3k8

2 https://psych.global/the-psychedelics-as-medicine-report-third-edition/

3 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychedelics-as-antidepressants/

4 https://northstar.guide/

5 https://medium.com/the-psychedelic-renaissance/horizons-2021-creating-the-future-of-psychedelics-7723e1ba174b