Earlier this year, British filmmaker Adam Curtis released Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, a six-part series following the documentarian’s signature formula of attempting to trace the current state of society back to pivotal (and seemingly unconnected) historical events with the help of thousands of hours of obscure footage unearthed from deep within the archives of the BBC.
At one point, Curtis travels back to the period of economic prosperity that sparked the rise of suburbia in the wake of World War II to shine a light on the darker side of the “American Dream.” At a time when most families only needed a single stream of income to live supposedly happy lives, many of the women who settled into the role of a housewife found themselves grappling with a lack of purpose as their lives began to feel increasingly meaningless.
In 1963, a supposed cure for that ennui emerged in the form of Valium. The pill would eventually become the most popularly prescribed drug in America, but by the 1980s, it had become evident the medicine’s addictive properties had the potential to cause more problems than it solved. What’s particularly interesting is that the person who was largely responsible for initially marketing Valium to doctors was a pharmaceutical rep named Arthur Sackler, and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was also the man who orchestrated the deal that resulted in his brothers purchasing the company that would eventually introduce OxyContin to a world that continues to combat the opioid epidemic it helped spark.
It’s been 50 years since Richard Nixon declared the start of the resoundingly successful “War on Drugs,” and in an incredibly ironic twist, more and more evidence has emerged in recent years that suggests the illicit substances that were targeted as a result could actually be the key to addressing not only that crisis but a wide variety of afflictions an untold number of Americans deal with on a daily basis.
This is especially true when it comes to psychedelics, which have slowly but surely started to shed the stigma that’s surrounded them since they were villainized in the wake of the countercultural movement of the 1960s.
Over the past decade or so, a number of studies have emerged that suggest their mind-altering properties could be instrumental in treating anxiety and depression as well as helping people conquer issues with addiction. Last year, Oregon became the first state to legalize the use of “magic mushrooms” for therapeutic purposes, and while we’ll have to wait and see if others follow in its footsteps, it’s safe to say the co-founder of the company currently hoping to help usher in a new era of medical treatment believes it’s only a matter of time.
I recently got the chance to chat with Matt Stang, who played a significant role in the push to bring marijuana into the mainstream as the former owner of High Times. A few years ago, he teamed up with his wife Jackee to found DELIC in the hopes of doing the same for psychedelics with the goal of educating the public about their benefits while engineering some particularly innovative ways to consume them—including a way to vaporize psilocybin.
Over the course of our conversation, Stang reflected on what he learned at High Times, how those lessons can be applied to help normalize psychedelics, their potential to revolutionize how we approach health and wellness, and a variety of other issues that make this a must-read for anyone looking for a crash course in what could be the Next Big Thing.
It’s been around 20 years since Stang set out on what would become a fascinating journey when he wrote his college thesis in the wake of 9/11, which was titled “Marijuana Decriminalization In a Time of Terror.” In it, he outlined how “united, bipartisan support for anti-terror spending could potentially be used as a jumping-off point for legalizing cannabis” and argued by “taxing and regulating the substance and eliminating the cost of the War on Drugs, that money could be spent on something people on both sides of the aisle agreed on.”
After sending the paper to someone at High Times in search of a statement to potentially incorporate, he was unexpectedly offered an internship at the company. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to accept it due to a prior commitment, but as he explained, things ended up working out pretty well:
“I told them, ‘I’m more than happy to, but I’ve already planned a three-week vacation in Amsterdam.’ They got back to me and said, ‘That’s great. We need some help with the Cannabis Cup.’
I helped build and scale that before bringing it to America and kept working my way up. I bought a stake into the company in 2010 and helped lead it through the big surge in legalization that started a few years later when what used to be a counterculture transformed into a cultural phenomenon.”
He would eventually sell his stake in the High Times, marking the end of an era and the start of a new one that began when he and his wife decided to turn their attention to the realm of psychedelics:
“We had a long love affair with psychedelics and what they’re capable of doing and saw a moment of change coming. I had watched things reach a similar tipping point when I was at High Times, and when I saw it happening with psychedelics, we decided to start DELIC to help bring psychedelic wellness into the mainstream and make people aware of what they can do and how they can change your life for the better.”
After officially launching DELIC around two-and-a-half years ago, they turned their attention to securing the resources that would help them realize that vision. One of those assets was a laboratory in Canada that was particularly appealing, as “it has one of a small handful of psilocybin licenses that allow them to research its natural properties and develop pharmaceutical-grade synthetics.”
The lab is currently home to a variety of research projects, but none of them are more intriguing than the aforementioned efforts to figure out how to find a delivery vehicle for the active ingredient in mushrooms that will allow people to partake without having to choke down dried fungi coated in peanut butter:
“Part of the reason we purchased the lab in Canada was to essentially give the people there a bunch of science projects to work on. That includes the vaporization of psilocybin and psilocin.
When you consume substances that contain the former, it has to be processed through your liver before your body metabolizes it as the latter, which is what triggers the psychedelic effect. The idea is to use a vaporizer as a delivery vehicle to allow pure psilocin to be ingested through your mouth or lungs and go directly to your brain.”
DELIC also owns a collection of clinics in California and Arizona that specialize in ketamine treatment, which is currently the only psychedelic that can be legally prescribed in America.
That acquisition was an especially personal one, as Stang says he realized ketamine’s potential after seeing the dramatic impact it had on his wife as well as others who’d had their lives changed after being exposed to it:
“She discovered it was an incredibly effective way to treat her anxiety disorder. She’s seen these insane benefits as a result of the disassociative reset that comes with ketamine therapy. You get this hour-long session where your brain essentially stops running on default and you’re able to gain this new perspective and process your thoughts in a dramatically different way. You’re almost training your brain to stop falling into the same traps.
I know these giant veterans who’ve used it to treat PTSD. They literally cried because they weren’t able to get treatment during the early stages of COVID. They were like, ‘I need to have this. It’s what’s kept my family together. It’s what’s kept me from turning to other drugs.’ They’ve tried antidepressants that save them from hitting extreme lows but also don’t provide them with any real highs. It’s difficult to live a beneficial life when you’re stuck in neutral.”
Stang made sure to note DELIC’s researchers are building on many of the previous discoveries that played a role in why the company was started in the first place. High Times had provided him with a platform he could use to fight misinformation and make people aware of the benefits of cannabis, and he realized the many largely ignored studies exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelics needed to get a similar treatment:
“You had this incredible research being conducted at some of the best medical schools in the world. The results were astounding. In the psychiatric world, an efficacy rate of 8% is considered outstanding because the brain is so hard to figure out. When you have studies that show psychedelics having a beneficial impact 60%, 70%, 80% of the time within the first year of treatment, it became clear researchers had stumbled upon a therapeutic breakthrough.
When we started DELIC, this research was happening behind the scenes but it wasn’t getting promoted by anyone. It remained in this academic echo chamber where people were publishing these four-point, single-spaced research papers no normal person is ever going to read. We realized that we needed to amplify those studies and make people realize all of the breakthroughs that were flying far below the radar.
The reason psychedelics were so popular in the ’60s was because they were transformative to a point where they were banned because they made people start questioning the status quo in America, which shifted the focus away from the upsides of having your worldview reframed in regard to overall mental well-being. For 50 years, they’ve lacked the kind of branding that’s recently started to emerge.
A few years ago, we had reputable figures in the health and wellness world who were sort of talking about this under their breath, but we’ve reached a point where they’re willing to shout it at the top of their lungs today.”
There is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to bringing psychedelics to the forefront, but Stang is confident that the same playbook that managed to change the public’s perception of marijuana can be deployed to repeat that success in a new realm:
“The key was to initially focus on medical marijuana and how it could help children with seizures or patients with cancer or AIDs. That showed people that it’s not this dangerous, awful drug they’d been led to believe and could actually be incredibly beneficial.
It made people realize that all of the propaganda—which can be traced back to the 1930s but really started being pushed in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s—couldn’t possibly be true. This horrible drug that supposedly turned your brain into a fried egg could actually be used to help your grandma during chemo or a young kid with Dravet syndrome. If that information was so obviously wrong, what else was wrong?”
When it comes to highlighting the medical benefits, Stang has an incredible amount of information at his disposal. He’s also a fantastic advocate, as there was a palpable amount of passion in his voice when he explained why psychedelics have truly game-changing potential when it comes to how we treat mental health:
“There are probably around 10 ‘classic’ psychedelic compounds, but there are also hundreds of new ones that have been developed and are currently being worked on. There isn’t going to be a single one—ours included—that’s going to singularly establish itself as the future of medicine.
However, there is a tremendous opportunity to allow people to use them in conjunction in the same way people rely on, say, a personalized regimen of antidepressants, including the SSRIs that can trace their origins back to discoveries made during early studies examining LSD’s impact on the brain.
I’m proud of the contributions I made when it came to legalizing cannabis, but I’ve heard thousands of stories about people who had their lives fundamentally changed thanks to a combination of psychedelics, and I genuinely believe they have the potential to revolutionize how we approach mental wellness.”
Those medical properties may be the key to opening the door for a wider dialogue, but Stang sees it as a way to eventually turn the conversation to how psychedelics can make life better for people who might not think they need any help in the first place:
“Psychedelic wellness is not exclusively a medical issue. You don’t necessarily need to be sick to get better. A good example is microdosing psilocybin or LSD, which produces a totally different response in the brain than the larger amounts that trigger a psychedelic trip. The effects may be sub-perceptual, but I’ve talked to a lot of people who were perfectly content with their lives before being treated to a boost in energy levels and a newfound sense of overall well-being.
People aren’t going to start using psychedelics to unwind at the end of the day in the same way they might pour a glass of rosé or eat an edible. With that said, I can see us reaching a point where people aren’t afriad to say they’re going to spend their Saturday doing some mushrooms to get their mind right. There will probably be a market for products designed for the microdosing crowd that can be used on a fairly regular basis, but larger amounts will still require a fair amount of commitment.
However, as I like to say: DMT might technically last for around 15 minutes, but it also lasts for the rest of your life.”
Parts of this conversation were edited for clarity.