Simeon Schnapper has been involved in psychedelic philanthropy and research for more than 30 years. He’s a life-long student of psychedelics and has a keen interest in the cultural, regulatory, and nascent venture landscape of the mushrooming industry. Furthermore, he advises several psychedelic start-ups, is a founding partner at JLS (an early-stage plant medicine venture fund), and a member of NYMS (New York Mycology Society).
We spoke to Simeon about what sparked his interest in psychedelics, as well as the structure and expectations of JLS.
PA: What made you want to become involved in this space?
SS: I have been a life-long student of Psychedelics. My introduction came 30 years ago in Chicago where I studied with Dr. Robert E.L. Masters and Jean Huston Ph.D. They authored the seminal book The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience: The Classic Guide to the Effects of LSD on the Human Psyche – one of the most important books written on the effects of LSD on the human psyche. I was a teenager entering the space, searching for greater meaning in life and general spirituality, and quickly learned about all the mental health indications that could be alleviated by coupling these molecules with psychotherapy or protocols millennia old from indigenous cultures. Later, I spent a good amount of time in the Amazon with various ayahuasqueros and syncretic religious groups which schooled me on the power and efficacy of plant medicines that are now becoming mainstreamed and medicalized.
PA: And, when did you become involved? How has that involvement changed over time?
SS: About 15 years or so ago, I was able to make my first grant to MAPS, which helped fund a study on the Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use and the efficacy of hallucinogens for treating substance dependence. I learned how important academia can be in the space, and the importance of evidence-based research and well-designed studies.
There has always been a part of my personal journey that was about understanding consciousness, and I started a non-profit with a mandate to protect mystical cultures and led all efforts on the ground in Tibet, Nepal, Myanmar, India, Mongolia and Bhutan. Our mandate also allowed us to support community-based organizations in several forest cultures where plant medicines are inseparable from everyday life. In 2008, I founded the world’s first Psychedelic/Visionary Art Gallery and Medical Marijuana Dispensary on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, which was praised as a paradigm shift at the very beginning of the end of prohibition. We magnetized a vibrant community and it’s gratifying to see so many members from back in the day in the spotlight now as founders, researchers, executive directors of Not -for-profit organisations, authors, filmmakers, artists and change makers.
PA: Can you tell us about the composition of the JLS?
SS: We are focused on novel molecule and whole plant drug development and discovery; treatment centres and clinical networks; cultivation, formulation, extraction and processing; and supporting infrastructure, including Digital Health Treatment Apps and Patient Monitoring Systems. What is exciting is that in many cases advances in genetics, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are streamlining and accelerating development, even in areas where you would not expect it – such as one of the companies we’ve invested in, which focuses on scalable, modular myco-cultivation. There is clearly a phased time horizon to revenue generation for those companies, with the back end of cultivation through processing, to support drug development efforts. These efforts will likely generate revenues earlier in the process, whereas the clinical model will gather steam once new drugs are available – even on a compassionate use basis – perhaps even starting with ibogaine (derived from the iboga plant), which is an impressively effective addiction treatment that’s been used on thousands of patients over the past decades. We’re also investing selectively in companies that are leveraging consumer interest in general wellness, such as CPG companies developing functional mushroom products, and wearables and devices. One company we’re excited about can, for instance, reverse engineer the effect of certain molecules on the nervous system, such as a single malt, melatonin, or MDMA, using non-covalent electro-magnetic waves, in a wearable!
PA: What are you seeing in the current investment landscape?
SS: We are seeing capital markets and investors jump into what they consider the next big thing as evidenced by private investment activity and the Canadian public markets; and with Compass filing for a NASDAQ listing earlier in the month, the awareness and expectations have definitely reached a whole new level. In some ways we anticipate a familiar playbook whereby large pharma companies, with capacity to commercialize drugs, partner with and/or acquire smaller drug development companies as soon as they show real promise. We’re likely to see it happen in this space and it could accelerate the returns to investors that may be under the impression they can’t access liquidity until a drug is through Phase III approvals and in the market.
PA: On what sort of time horizon are you expecting a return on investment?
SS: We selected a 3-year investment horizon and 5-year holding period, which is shorter than most funds because we think we will see so many opportunities. We already see that we can deploy Fund one, which is $50M, well in advance of that 3-year horizon. While drug development and discovery are regulated and time consuming, we believe that portfolio holdings in that category with real intellectual property (IP) and validating data will be in high demand, with substantial interest from partners and/or acquirers once initial efficacy data comes in, or even sooner. Companies with IP around extraction, formulation, and delivery technologies are already being approached. In short, we anticipate a “land grab” for promising IP in the early days of the sector’s evolution. The picks and shovels – clinical plays and digital apps – are likely to flourish in tandem with the introduction of the physical products and medicines.
PA: Do you feel that there are tensions inherent in the commercialization of psychedelics? For example, in relation to indigenous communities.
SS: Definitely, and tensions around the commercialization is an understatement. However, there are some exceptional companies emerging in the space who understand reciprocity on “all things sacred” led by founders who have done the inner work. Above all, it’s about building and uniting the psychedelics community to bring these solutions to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time, with the greatest efficacy. We are seeing amazing collaborations across the industry from academia to governments, with no sign of stopping until there are reliable clinical trials. It is now in our hands to ensure people suffering from mental health issues, as well as addiction, find holistic medicine they can rely on with minimal side effects.