a story for the psychedelic movement
This is a fictional story.

After years of work by scholars, scientists, guides, and advocates, the psychedelic field is receiving increasing recognition from the mental health community and private capital. This story is a reflection on what the author sees as some of the dynamics shaping the field’s rapid change and what their costs may be.

While inspired by events in the field, the characters and organizations discussed in this story are entirely fictional, as are the dialogue, words, actions, beliefs and motivations of the characters and companies portrayed herein. This story is not based on any single person or company. Any resemblance to a living person, corporation, or event is purely coincidental.

This work is the exclusive responsibility of the author, David Alder. It is given away for free.
For Bob Jesse, who shows what is exceptional about the psychedelic field.
No matter how fast he ran, Hans could not catch his son. His boy was running toward a cliff. He was going to jump off. Hans had to stop him. He had to save his son’s life.

Hans slipped on the loose rock. He stumbled. His son was lost in a swirl of mist. Hans couldn’t open his mouth. He couldn’t yell. He could barely even breathe. The cliff was only feet away. His son was charging toward it. Hans would be too late.
Stop.

Stop.

“Stop!”
Hans woke to his own shout. He was drenched in sweat, his hands gripping the sheets. His wife was looking at him, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. Judith didn’t seem angry. She didn’t even seem surprised. She just seemed sad. That was as hard as anything. He’s still alive, Hans thought. My son is still alive.

For months now the thought that followed - but for how long? - had woken Hans up like this.
Hans threw the covers off. He splashed cold water on his face and changed into his suit. As he passed his son’s room, he placed his hand on the bedroom door. He bowed his head. “I’m trying,” Hans whispered. “I’m doing the best I can.”

Hans picked up his briefcase. He kissed Judith on her forehead. He walked out of the house. It was 4:42am.
Judith first noticed signs of depression in their son Victor when he was just a little boy. He didn’t smile. His face seemed creased with worry. He sat alone as if the other children were not there. Play with them, Hans wanted to say. Laugh with them. Don’t worry about the troubles of the world. You are just a boy. Be a boy while you still can.
It was not just Victor. In the last fifty years, the United States had seen a decline in almost every measure of mental health. Hans couldn’t understand. This was the wealthiest, most connected, most technologically advanced time in human history. Why was there so much sadness? Why did it seem like nothing could be done?
Victor was thirteen now. In the years since the diagnosis, the interventions the family tried were too many for Hans to count. Drugs did not seem to help. Neither did therapy. It seemed they had run out of options. Then a few years ago, on the day of Hans’ fortieth birthday, he saw an article on the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Apparently somamine - the psychoactive chemical in the flowers of the soma plant, a plant that had been banned for decades - was achieving breakthrough outcomes in treatment for a wide range of clinical diagnoses. These included not only depression but addiction, terminal illness anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and more. The results seemed too good to be true. How could one drug treat so many conditions? What did it even do?

Somamine was such a promising lead. Hans felt he had no choice but to follow. That was how Hans met Alfred Wolfe.
Hans and Alfred bonded right away. They were two German immigrants who now called the United States home. Alfred had been a pioneer in the psychedelic field since the 1960s. He was now one of the field’s “elders.” Since psychedelic prohibition in 1971, Alfred was one of dozens of people who had worked to carry on the healing knowledge, believing psychedelics were too important for the world to leave behind.

The first thing Alfred said to Hans was, “It’s impossible to understand psychedelics without taking them yourself. When you do,” he added, “it will change the way you see the world.”

After meeting Alfred, Hans and Judith grappled with taking their son for treatment in the “psychedelic underground” - the community of practitioners who took the risk of using psychedelics in their practice because of the impact they could have on patients’ lives. Then Hans and Judith learned there was not research on the effect of psychedelics on the developing adolescent mind. This was another area of needed research in a field that was starved of funds.
With Victor suffering, Hans felt he was running out of time. With Judith’s blessing, he decided to leave his role as a pharmaceutical industry executive and shift his career full time to the psychedelic field, exploring what it would take to change somamine from an illegal drug to a rigorously researched, FDA-approved prescription medicine.
It was still dark out when Hans sat down at his desk. He reached to open his laptop. Hans felt his hesitation. He was nervous about what he would find out when he did.
Hans had asked a philanthropist named Nicholas Wells to support his nonprofit, The Solstice Foundation, with a $500,000 donation. Wells’ decision could make or break the organization. The funding could be the only chance that Solstice had.
Solstice was running out of money. It had so little to show for its work. Completing three phases of somamine clinical trials around the world might cost a hundred million dollars. When Hans looked at that number he could only shake his head. He didn’t know if he could keep the lights on at the office.
Nicholas had told Hans he would have an answer by this morning. Hans checked his watch. Nicholas was on East Coast time. Hans could already have the answer in his inbox. It could be the only reply Hans got today.

Each day, Hans sent dozens of emails to potential donors. Each one was the same.
Hello friend,

For the last few years, as my son has suffered from depression, my wife and I have found no way to help. I am sure people in your life have struggled with this too. Imagine what it feels like to have it be your child. Just to write that breaks my heart.

I’m reaching out to share that there may be a solution - the treatment the mental health care system has been hoping for. I know how strange this sounds, but researchers at some of our best institutions are exploring the potential of the soma flower (yes, soma!) for depression, addiction, and more. They’re seeing incredible results. One study of somamine-assisted therapy for depression saw a success rate of 65% from just one session.

It’s time we bring the funding needed to take this treatment online in a way that is thoroughly researched and FDA-approved. To do that we need your help. Please consider making a philanthropic gift to The Solstice Foundation. Help us make somamine the prescription drug that can finally heal the mental suffering in our world.

In search of better medicine,
-Hans
Hans never heard back from most emails he sent. Sometimes people would write reply, “Are you crazy? You want to raise millions of dollars so people can use psychedelic drugs? And you want to give them to your child?” They would tell him he should be ashamed.

Those few times someone was interested they would ask, “How much do you need in total?” and, “How far are you from that goal?” Hans would reach for his keyboard to reply. He would think, we still need tens of millions. We’re nowhere even close.
Hans logged onto his computer. He took a deep breath. He opened his inbox. There was no word from Nicholas Wells.

Hans and Nicholas had started their careers in Big Pharma together. Since then, Nicholas had created a biotech company that invested in alternative solutions in mental health. Nicholas was now worth millions. Hans was the head of a nonprofit going nowhere.
Hans felt his exhaustion creep back in. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept through the night. He would lie awake thinking about his nonprofit. He would fall asleep and dream about his son. He would wake terrified he was too late. He would drag himself back to the office thinking, if only I work a little harder, if only I do a little more.

Hans looked at the darkness outside his window. How had he let himself be convinced that he could raise enough money in this way?

Upon arriving to the psychedelic field, Hans had been surprised to find another organization working on psychedelic drug development. It was a nonprofit called The Unity Research Center. Upon FDA approval, Unity planned to sell its synthetic somamine at the lowest possible price.
Hans had never heard of such an idea. No one talked like that at the pharmaceutical company where he had just been an executive. Here was a vision for nonprofit pharmaceuticals at the heart of mental health care. It swept Hans right along. He decided to form Solstice as a nonprofit too. Solstice would collaborate with Unity in the demanding work of developing somamine into an FDA-approved prescription treatment. When Hans made that choice, every door in the psychedelic field seemed to open all at once.
It started with Alfred. “The world needs this, Hans,” Alfred said over lunch. “You’ve got a chance to make an incredible impact.” Hans heard a note of sadness in the old man’s voice. The world was finally waking up to psychedelics. After so much work, Alfred might not be around to watch.

Alfred pushed a folder across the table. Hans opened it. Inside was the treatment protocol Alfred had designed for the most important academic research institution in the field. Alfred had guided hundreds of psychedelic sessions. He seemed to be passing over everything he had ever learned. Alfred said, “We can’t forget how much is at stake. We can’t forget the potential value of psychedelics to a world so full of pain. We can’t forget the responsibility that comes with carrying that knowledge forward.”
Hans looked inside the folder. There were pages of notes on every aspect of psychedelic treatment. The role of the guide. The setup of the room. The solutions to common problems. Every technique Alfred and his peers had learned in fifty years of work.

“Why are you giving this to me?” Hans asked.

Alfred took his hand. “Because I know you’re doing this for the right reasons.”
There was still no word from Nicholas. Hans was beginning to wonder if he might not hear back. He did not want to think about what that would mean for Solstice. Hans refreshed the page one more time. A new email appeared. Hans felt a rush of excitement. It was from Nicholas Wells. Hans clicked the thread and began to read.
Dear Hans,

I’m touched by the story about your son. On top of that, I know your track record. You could be the man for the job. However, I don’t believe you will achieve your mission as a nonprofit.

Most people who hear that you’re working with psychedelics will think you’ve lost your mind. Even if they see the potential as I do, the dollar need is so great that it’s unlikely, if not impossible, it can come through philanthropy. If it does, it will happen at a glacial pace.

We’ve both led drug development in the past. You know how phenomenally expensive it can be and how much risk there is. Plus, the soma plant’s classification as a Schedule I drug, and its troubling history with the Sixties, adds to the complexity. I’ve known you for a long time, so I say this to you as a friend. If you really want to help your son, you should change your model.

Consider what might happen if you make Solstice a for-profit: you could attract large amounts of capital through offering investors the possibility of a huge return. You would then have the necessary resources to make somamine the FDA-approved prescription treatment that we need.

If it’s of interest, I’d add that this is exactly the kind of thing I would invest in. Not for $500,000. For $5 million instead. That would only be the start.

Your friend,
-Nicholas
Hans’ hand shook as he reached to click reply. He started to write the reasons Nicholas was wrong: that interest in psychedelics was growing; that the people working on this were deeply committed; that the dream of nonprofit pharma was worth trying to keep alive. Then Hans read the line that had touched him most. “If you really want to help your son, you should change your model.”
Nicholas was giving name to all of Hans’ doubts. Not only might nonprofit drug development fail, but by choosing this path, Hans was letting a vision for what the world could be stop him from making change in the world as it really was.

Hans called his wife. He read her the email from Nicholas. He sank into his chair. “I don’t know what to do.”
Judith was quiet for a long time. Then she said, “You can’t change your model. Think about all the people who’ve helped you to this point - the elders, clinicians, and researchers. You told them you shared their vision for how to bring psychedelics to the world. Nonprofit pharmaceuticals. Healing without profit at its heart.” Judith paused. “Isn’t that the reason so many of them have helped you? If you use their knowledge, experience, and connections to generate profits for a group of investors, those people will feel betrayed.”

Hans thought of the way Alfred had described the psychedelic field. “For decades the field has been shaped by a spirit of collaboration, open sharing, and working for the greater good.” Alfred had then arranged for Unity to give detailed updates to Hans on its method of somamine synthesis. “You both have the same goal,” Alfred had said. “They’ll be glad to help.” It had saved Solstice a year of work.
Hans appreciated what Alfred and many others had done for him. But like so much of the psychedelic community, Alfred still believed that psychedelics could be different from any other industry. Hans now felt that this belief was standing in the way bringing of psychedelics to the world at all.
Judith spoke again. “They’ll hate the company you build. They’ll hate you, Hans. To them you’ll become the face of everything that’s wrong with the world today.”
Hans shook his head. If Solstice became a for-profit company it could raise tens of millions of dollars. It would have more resources than any organization in psychedelics. It could bring the efficiency and drive of a corporation to this disorganized field, helping others advance more quickly. It could improve upon Unity’s painstaking work on somamine synthesis. It could refine the treatment protocols Alfred had given Hans. It could fund research, develop training, and lead efforts to change the public’s mind about psychedelics.

If Solstice changed its structure and offered investors the possibility of a generous return, it could finally achieve the dream of bringing somamine to the world as a prescription medicine.

“Judith, the mission will be the same. I’ll just have the resources to actually get it done.”
Judith sighed. “You are the expert in this field, not me. But we both know how meaningful psychedelic experiences can be. As Alfred says, as psychedelics become available to society, the people giving them to others must be very clear about their motives. They should do it out of service.” Judith continued. “If you change your model - if you make Solstice a for-profit corporation and take millions of dollars from investors - are you sure you can still bring the healing from that place? Will healing still be the point if investors have to make huge returns along the way?”
What choice do we have? Hans thought. He knew how demanding drug development was. Not only many millions of dollars for three phases of clinical trials. Not just expertise in rigorous manufacturing standards, relationships with regulators and the best patent attorneys in the world. It took a certain determination, even ruthlessness, to do what was required. Hans had always had that. He’d spent more than a year in psychedelics telling himself that this aggressive mindset was not needed here. In that time he had gotten nowhere.

When Hans had told his former colleagues, they could not believe that he was leaving Big Pharma. “Look at what you’re giving up,” they had said. When he explained that it was to work with psychedelics, they thought that he was joking. It was almost enough to make him stay. What would those people say now if they saw that Solstice could barely limp along?

Then there was his son. Hans saw his boy before him. He saw the pain that filled him, the feeling of despair. Hans wanted to hold him, to put his hand on his son’s heart, to fill him with lightness and hope, to tell Victor that Hans wished he could carry his son’s pain. Hans couldn’t. The only thing he could do - the thing he had to do, no matter what it cost - was bring online the treatment that would finally help Victor heal.
Hans spoke slowly. “Judith, Solstice is failing. We’re no closer to getting somamine approved as the treatment our son needs - that sons and daughters everywhere need. I can bring on this type of capital or I can walk away. What choice do we have?”

For a long time, Judith said nothing. Then she whispered, “I don’t know.”

That very day, Hans began the process of creating a for-profit corporation he called Solstice Sciences. There was just one problem. Hans still had so much to learn. He knew that the people who had that knowledge - the elders, clinicians, and researchers - would turn against him if they learned about his shift to private enterprise. Someday they would come to see that Hans was right to do this. In the meantime, they would feel betrayed. The critics would be too focused on who got rich along the way.
As his lawyers worked to organize the new for-profit entity, Hans continued to meet with leaders across the psychedelic field. He told no one of his plan. Those people continued to donate their time and expertise. They continued to open doors for Hans. They said they were grateful for the chance to help a nonprofit advance the cause they cared for most.

At the end of a dinner with some of the field’s leading figures, Alfred raised a toast. “To Solstice,” he said. “And to Hans. Thanks for being a role model of how to support the psychedelic movement.”
Ten days later, Hans filed the paperwork forming Solstice Sciences as a for-profit company based in San Francisco. Hans put a photo of that toast on the last slide of his investor pitch deck. The header read, “Credibility with experts across the psychedelic field.”
Within a few months, on the premise that the company would seek a legal monopoly through patent filings for somamine, Solstice Sciences became flush with cash, raising millions of dollars from private investors. For the first time, Hans had the feeling that something he had dreamed of for so long could finally be in reach. As he shook each investor’s hand, Hans said, “All in the spirit of service.”
A few months later, Solstice Sciences filed its first patent application - a “proprietary” molecular structure of somamine, trade-named SOL1000. When the news broke, the psychedelic field exploded.
Just as Hans had expected, some of the elders, researchers, and clinicians felt exploited. Manipulated. Betrayed. They said Solstice was an example of everything they were hoping that psychedelics could help heal. Whatever else they said, Hans did not have time to listen.
The news of Solstice’s patent application traveled like lightning through investor circles.

That afternoon, Hans received a text from Nicholas Wells.
Three more investors in for $4 million between them
Hans realized it was time for him to cut ties with the psychedelic community. At this point, all they would do was get in the way of what was required.

Solstice released a statement:
To the elders of the psychedelic field,

Your work has been a resounding success. World class institutions are starting research programs. Regulators have opened their eyes to the possibilities of this breakthrough therapy. Patients finally have hope. So do their families. You should be proud of what you have achieved.
Yes, thought Hans. Thank you for everything. He opened his laptop. Now the real work can begin.
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