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Psychedelics Were the Hot Topic at This Year’s World Economic Forum

Psychedelics Were the Hot Topic at This Year’s World Economic Forum

As the longest-running annual psychedelics conference, Horizons was once a pioneering opportunity to gather and learn about medicines.

Now conferences have propagated around the world, with psychedelic events in Portland, Denver and Miami, not to mention Berlin, London and Melbourne, among many others. 

But psychedelic-focused conventions aren’t the only places the psychedelic renaissance is on the agenda.

At this year’s South By Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, speakers and meetups focused on psychedelics sat on the agenda alongside programming about NFTs, Web3 and blockchain. During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, influential political leaders and business titans could participate in some 40 sessions at the Medical Psychedelics House of Davos.

“It was the most talked about house at Davos this year,” said Marik Hazan, CEO of Energia Holdings Inc. and founding partner of Tabula Rasa Ventures, an accelerator that works with psychedelics startups. Media coverage confirms the chatter, from Bloomberg to the Guardian to Forbes

Energia Holdings hosted Psychedelics House, which took about 10 months of full-time work by Hazan and Maria Velkova, managing partner of Tabula Rasa Ventures. 

Hazen said it was worth the effort for the Energia team because psychedelics had never been part of the World Economic Forum conversation before, and this was an opportunity to engage and educate the world’s power brokers, including many who didn’t even know what a psychedelic was.

“If you can get people to the table,” Hazen said, “You can come up with better solutions.”

Who were those people around the table? They included psychedelic researcher David Nichols, Beckley Foundation founder Amanda Feilding and author Deepak Chopra, among many others. Green Market Report live blogged the sessions. 

Hazan said they weren’t interested in simply giving for-profit companies a platform, but instead they aimed for a nuanced conversation including activists and Indigenous healers, scientists and spiritual leaders.

Revered psychedelic artists Alex Grey and Allyson Grey said via email that being part of the Davos event meant, “psychedelic science is an economic issue as well as a medical and justice matter.”

“Psychedelic use should be normalized and legally available to suffering people. Those whose projects have proven positive benefits to those suffering should have a forum to discuss their vision with potential investors who are looking to fund a worthy proposal. In attendance at the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos were numerous such well-meaning investors and fund seekers,” the Greys wrote.

“Psychedelic use should be normalized and legally available to suffering people,” the Greys wrote. “Those whose projects have proven positive benefits to those suffering should have a forum to discuss their vision with potential investors who are looking to fund a worthy proposal. In attendance at the Medical Psychedelic House of Davos were numerous such well-meaning investors and fund seekers.” 

Simeon Schnapper, founding partner of JLS Fund, has been in the psychedelic world for about three decades, and was struck by overhearing World Economic Forum attendees whispering about going to the Psychedelics House.

Schnapper is a man on the move, so he’s also seen psychedelics become part of the discourse at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Week and at the finance-focused SALT

While Schnapper looks forward to seeing psychedelics on the main stage at the World Economic Forum one day, he acknowledges the growing mainstream awareness could have a downside.

“It’s an age-old risk,” he said. “Psychedelics are a nonspecific amplifier.” Put psychedelics in the wrong hands and society could be hurt, rather than helped, Schnapper said. He added that it’s important to reinforce that psychedelics are not a silver bullet: Individuals can have insights and healing, but unless we fix systemic problems, what does society do to support their integration and change?

“My initial impression is that I don’t know if it’s all good but it’s pretty close to all good,” said Ethan Nadelmann, of psychedelics gaining visibility at high-profile events. Nadelmann is founder and former executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance and now host of the podcast Psychoactive.

Nadelmann went to Davos in the late ‘90s and recalls, “I think I was the first person there who was talking about alternative drug policy.”

Back then, he said, “The notion that psychedelics would have been on the agenda when we went years ago would have been utopian.”

“It’s incredibly legitimizing,” Nadelmann said.

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He added that mainstreaming psychedelic education in Texas is noteworthy. It’s a conservative state, but Republican former governor Rick Perry has become a vocal advocate of psychedelics. 

SXSW Interactive functions as something of a bellwether for pop culture. Social media apps Twitter and Foursquare exploded there, and in subsequent years, you could line up to see Grumpy Cat or ride in a Game of Thrones iron throne pedicab.

This year, one of the longest lines was to see Grammy winner Lizzo’s keynote. In another featured session, author, podcaster and investor Tim Ferriss discussed psychedelic research on a ballroom stage with leading psychedelic scientists Roland Griffiths, Rosalind Watts and John Krystal. 

Another SXSW session saw David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s, Rick Doblin of MAPS, Miriam Volat of the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund and Tina Gordon of Moonmade Farms tackling the question: How can experiences and insights catalyzed by cannabis and psychedelic medicines inspire and inform ethical business in these industries and beyond?

While psychedelics conferences might largely preach to the converted, inclusion in mainstream events affords the opportunity to connect with a broader constituency.

Take Devon Kelley, senior vice president of Park Lane Partners, for example. He attended his first South by Southwest this year because the range of sports, Web3, music and psychedelics aligned with the client roster of the finance firm.

“By no means am I a psychonaut,” Kelley said, adding that he hasn’t been to Horizons yet but he’s been doing his research. “I am more knowledgeable than the average person in my space.”

Kelley described the daytime sessions as policy and advocacy, while the more casual evening social events had more of a Burning Man vibe, blending the professional and the playful.

He heard an openness around talking about mental health in sports superstars including Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Aaron Rodgers, coinciding with research results showing the benefits of psychedelics for mental health.

“Now is a very exciting time for psychedelic investments,” Kelley said.

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