Hans stared at his computer. He had read the same line of an email three times. His mind was blank. In a few hours, Solstice Sciences would be listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It would have the stock symbol SOMA. The investment bankers thought the company could clear a $250 million valuation. Hans had spent years looking forward to this moment. He had planned his speech, his press release, even the champagne for the event. Now the day had finally come. Hans felt empty.

Hans looked at the photograph of his wife on his desk. He had taken it the day before their wedding. Judith was looking past the camera at the man who held it, her face bright, her eyes full of love. When Hans looked at the photograph, he often thought, how could I possibly deserve this?
Hans and Judith were barely speaking. Since the night Hans learned about the Washington Soma Referendum, a chill had come over their relationship. Hans wanted to make things better. It was hard to find the time. What would he even say?
Hans looked at his watch. In a few minutes, Solstice Sciences would become the largest publicly traded psychedelic company in the world. It would join the twenty smaller psychedelic companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange alone. Hans had invited Judith and Victor to join the celebration today. There was no sign of them yet. A part of him was afraid they wouldn’t show.
Wasn’t it just the other day that the nonprofit Solstice was struggling to breathe? Now Solstice the corporation was about to generate a massive return for early investors through its IPO.

It was still hard for Hans to wrap his head around the momentum that psychedelics had. In the past few years, the psychedelic field had exploded into an industry. Close to half a billion dollars had been invested into private initiatives. It seemed to Hans that each day new companies were springing up. On stage at conferences and events, in podcast interviews and newspaper articles, was a rising generation of business leaders explaining what was required to bring psychedelics into the mainstream healthcare system.
What had changed? Research around the breakthrough potential of somamine had been coming out for years. That had not been enough to shift the public’s perception. The only thing Hans could attribute the explosion of interest in psychedelics to was Minds Are A Changin’.
Michelle Beeze, already a celebrated documentary filmmaker at the time, had released a film exploring the patient outcomes in psychedelic medicine. The documentary stayed in theaters for over a year. Within days of its release, therapists listing support with “integration of underground psychedelic experiences” became overwhelmed with requests for guided psychedelic sessions. People did not watch Minds Are A Changin’ and simply think, “How interesting.” They saw patients receive psychedelic treatment and thought, “I want that too.”
It was as if there were two fields. One before the film. One after. One where the public did not care about psychedelics. One where they couldn’t get enough. At first, Hans had felt it would be good for Solstice. More capital. More press. More people eager to buy what Solstice would soon have to sell. Now Hans was losing sleep over the Washington Soma Referendum threatening Solstice Science’s IPO.

Activists in Washington State had managed to get the 100,000 signatures required to put the initiative on the ballot. Polls showed it could go either way. Despite Solstice’s offers for research funding, leading scientists had not been willing to take a public stand against the referendum. Hans was running out of ideas. The investment bankers told him not to worry. “No one is paying attention to what’s happening in Washington,” they had said. “You have the patent. You have the brand. You have the eyes of the whole world.”

As part of its IPO filing, the law required Solstice to list any potential threats in public disclosures. Hans had stressed over every word. After several pages detailing the activities of other venture-funded companies in psychedelics, there were two entries at the end.
Competition From Nonprofits
Among our competitors are nonprofit pharmaceutical companies such as The Unity Research Center. These entities may undercut our market for SOL1000 by charging substantially lower prices for prescription treatment with somamine. They may provide somamine-based products at cost or for free.

Risks Of Drug Policy Reform
The Washington Soma Referendum is on the ballot, with the possibility of creating state-sanctioned access to the soma plant, a drug some claim is as effective as synthetic somamine, that grows naturally, and can be purchased for a fraction of the price Solstice plans to charge. It is possible this may have implications for the commercial viability of SOL1000.
Hans knew Solstice could spend more on marketing in a quarter than the entire drug policy reform movement could spend in a whole year. That gave him hope. So did the enthusiasm from the investment bankers and the articles coming out about how Solstice Sciences would revolutionize mental health. Besides, Hans would often think, who reads the fine print for a company’s IPO?

Hans’ phone rang. It was one of the bankers. “It’s happening,” she said. The moment was finally here. Hans took a deep breath. I have to enjoy this, he thought. And I have to put on a good show.
Hans walked over to Solstice’s large conference room, forty stories above the San Francisco streets. The whole company was there. Hans started to look for Judith and Victor. Then, on the giant screen in the center of the room, the SOMA symbol rolled across the banners of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Everybody cheered. They called for a speech. Before Hans knew it, he was standing before the assembled crowd.
“This is a big day for Solstice Sciences,” Hans began. He felt the excitement in the air. Nearly everyone here had just made tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some people had made much more. Hans took energy from that feeling.

“It’s a big day for each of you,” Hans continued. “And it’s an even bigger day for the world. We finally have a way to treat some of the mental suffering. Patients finally have hope. So do their families.” Heads nodded around the room. Hans noticed then that his family wasn’t there. His smile faltered. He forgot the rest of what he had planned to say. Hans cleared his throat. “It’s time for us to bring this healing to others,” he said. “Have a great day.” Hans walked off stage. He checked his phone. Judith hadn’t even sent a text. Neither had his son.

That evening, Unity Research Center announced that it had completed a $50 million fundraise. Thousands of people donated. The nonprofit hit its goal three months ahead of schedule. They called the campaign Zenith; the fundraiser that would allow Unity to finish somamine clinical trials in the United States. Four days later, voters in Washington approved the Washington Soma Referendum by a ten point margin.
In the days that followed, Hans watched Solstice’s valuation clear $1.5 billion. The investment bankers appeared to be right. No one cared about what was happening in Washington, or that nonprofit pharma was still moving ahead. Solstice Sciences was a psychedelic “unicorn.” Early investors saw a 20x return. People around the world heralded the transformation in mental health, and the healing it would bring. Hans and Judith became astonishingly rich. So did Nicholas Wells. Wells’ investments in Solstice Sciences netted $400 million in five years. He thanked Solstice publicly:
Solstice Sciences has a mission that starts with patients. Access to healing matters above anything else. The company is a public good - ethical, decent, and with relationships at its heart. Society is fortunate to have a role model like Solstice. My congratulations to the team.

Hans sat at his desk drinking his third cup of coffee of the morning. He had not taken a day off in the two weeks since the IPO. In that time, Hans had hardly seen the sun.
Hans saw threats everywhere he looked. Day after day he tried to find ways to strengthen the company’s grip. More patent filings. More threats of legal action. More tactics to derail nonprofit pharma. In some ways, it felt easier than dealing with his family. With them the money, the press, and the possibility did not seem to matter. Those few times Hans came home early enough to see them he was met with silence. It was hard enough with Judith. It seemed to be coming from Victor too.
That week Victor graduated from high school. Hans had always imagined that his son’s graduation would be the proudest day of his life. He and Judith would wipe tears from their eyes as Victor walked across the stage. Victor would see them in the crowd and wave, as if to say, “I did it because of you.”

As they waited for the ceremony to begin, Hans checked emails on his phone. A new email caught his eye, an article forwarded from his assistant.
Meet The Company Trying To Own Psychedelics

Solstice Sciences, a Nicholas Wells-backed public company, has filed a patent for many of the most basic practices of somamine-assisted therapy.
“Goddamnit,” Hans said. Judith did not even turn to him. Hans had forgotten that this round of patent filings had been published. Hans began to read the article.
Included in the 2,000 page list of Solstice’s patent claims are the “technique” of keeping the patient warm with blankets, the “innovation” of giving a thirsty patient water, with a sub-claim of making that water cold with ice, and the “strategy” of selecting music that ‘has emotional qualities.’ The patent application even lists a claim for the approach of ‘explaining to the patient that somamine could change the way they see the world.’
“Goddamnit,” Hans said again. The graduation ceremony began. In a moment, Hans would have to put away his phone. Right now the psychedelic community would be firing attacks at Solstice. They would say that none of these were Solstice’s innovations. They would say that this was an example of exactly what was wrong with the incentives of big business in psychedelics. They might even go after Hans’ character directly. Shareholders were sure to catch word of the attacks. There was damage control to do.
The reason to file this patent was simple. Hans had explained it many times to his investors. The granting of just one of these patents, even by examiner mistake, would position Solstice to challenge its competitors and possibly shut them down, advancing the standardization of psychedelic treatment in Solstice’s control. The increasing monopoly would permit Solstice to set its prices high. That income would allow the company to scale the healing while rewarding investors along the way. This was the way psychedelic medicine would get FDA approval, become integrated into the mainstream healthcare system, and reach the world.
The principal had finished her speech. She started to read students’ names. Hans could sense Judith’s frustration that he was still on his phone. He quickly checked his news feed. Hans could not help but smile. As the business wires lit up with word of Solstice’s new claims, Hans watched the company’s stock price rise. He could practically hear the market saying, “This is what we want to see.”
By the time Hans put his phone away, the principal was halfway through her list. Hans leaned to Judith. He whispered, “Our son is a high school graduate.” The principal called Victor’s name. No one walked on stage. The principal checked her list. She called Victor’s name again. No one came. Some of the parents turned to look at Hans. He felt himself turn red. The principal moved to the next name.
By the time Hans put his phone away, the principal was halfway through her list. Hans leaned to Judith. He said, “Our son is a high school graduate.” The principal called Victor’s name.
No one walked on stage. The principal checked her list. She called Victor’s name again.
No one came. Some of
the parents turned to
look at Hans. He felt
himself turn red. The
principal moved to
the next name.
By the time Hans put his phone away, the principal was halfway through her list. Hans leaned to Judith. He whispered,
“Our son is a high school graduate.”
The principal called Victor’s name. No
one walked on stage. The principal
checked her list. She called Victor’s
name again. No one came. Some
of the parents turned to look at
Hans. He felt himself turn red.
The principal moved to the
next name.
Victor was not even there. Like none of it mattered. Like Hans had not made so many sacrifices to get his son to this place. Hans turned to look at Judith. She was staring at the place Victor was supposed to appear from. Her teeth were clenched. She would not look back at Hans.
When the ceremony was done, Hans went back to the office. He had no choice. He had missed four calls from his chief of staff. There were fires to put out. Despite the success of its IPO, Solstice was still in a precarious position. The wrong story could really mess things up. On the way, Hans kept thinking about how mad Judith had been. Not with Victor. With him. Like somehow Hans was to blame.
Hans found himself thinking of his first psychedelic experience, ten years ago. Before that somamine session, Alfred Wolfe had told Hans to come with an “intention” to shape the journey. Hans had said, “I want to learn how to heal my son.” It hadn’t worked. No matter how Hans had phrased it, the somamine kept pointing back at him. At the end of the session, Hans had shouted, “Stop wasting my time.” The words had echoed in his mind.
“There’s a lesson here,” Alfred had said. It didn’t make sense. Victor's healing was actually about Hans? What kind of lesson was that? What could Hans do with it?
As Hans drove home from the office, he thought again about that intention. I want to learn how to heal my son. My son didn’t even show up to his own graduation, he thought. It was one more sign that Victor’s depression had been deepening.
Hans could no longer tell what woke him up at night, the precariousness of his company or the anguish of his son. In his dreams, Hans was charging ahead. He knew he had to keep going, no matter how steep the slope. A thriving company would mean a healthy son. A healthy son would justify every sacrifice: the time, the public criticism, the doubts. In bringing somamine to the world, he would make the impact he had always known he was capable of. He would become an admired leader. Along the way he would make Victor heal.
Hans realized he was holding the steering wheel tightly. He tried to loosen his grip. I’ll spend more time with him, Hans thought. I’ll do more to make him smile. I’ll do my best to make him feel that everything will be okay.
The house was dark when Hans got home. Victor’s laptop was open on the kitchen table. The blue light filled the room. On the screen was the article about Soltice’s patent claims. Hans leaned over to read the text. It quoted from a distinguished researcher in the field:
“Hundreds of people have dedicated their lives to developing the principles of somamine-assisted therapy. They have given that work away for free or for the price of a book. Now Solstice is trying to claim it as its own. Not because it’s better for the world. Because it will give a bigger return to shareholders.”
What a shame I wasn’t here when he read this, Hans thought.

Two more tabs were open on Victor’s browser. One showed an investigative journalism piece that had come out a few years earlier:
“This magazine has interviewed twelve clinicians and researchers in the field. All twelve said they felt deceived by Solstice, and that Hans Goodman, the company’s CEO, capitalized on their goodwill to extract key information he needed from them, information he leveraged to raise millions of dollars for his company once he turned it private.”
On the third tab was an email from Victor’s classmate. The two articles were attached. All the email said was, “What kind of person is your dad?”

Something moved outside the window. Hans looked up. Victor was walking out of the house. He stopped. He turned back. For a moment, their eyes met. Then Victor turned away. He walked into the night.

Judith came home an hour later. She said, “Victor called me. When I picked up he said, ‘What kind of person is dad? What kind of world is this?’” Judith paused. “Victor and I are going to my sister’s. We’ll spend the weekend there. Then we can work on putting this family back together.” Then, impossibly, she said, “I love you.”

Hans was alone. He sat in the living room. He was too tired to work. He was too wound up to sleep. Hans kept seeing Victor’s face. He kept thinking, “I’m doing all of this for you.”
The next morning Hans couldn’t get up. He had crawled to bed at sunrise. Now he lay awake, staring at the ceiling, unable to make himself move. In Hans’ mind was a catalogue of the events from the night before. The dark house. The email from Victor’s classmate. The way Victor had looked at Hans before he turned and walked away.

Hans had made a hundred million dollars in the last two weeks. He was just on the cover of The Business Quarterly. The headline was, “The Man Changing Mental Health Forever.” Now he was alone in an empty house. His son thought he was a bad person. His wife had taken Victor’s side.

The thought came to Hans that, on his last visit, Alfred had left him a small bag of soma flowers. “In case I’m no longer around.” Hans had been sure he would never take them. They were somewhere in a box in the attic. He dug them out. He stared at the dried flowers. Hans thought, what am I doing? Then he thought, what do I have to lose? He ate the contents of the bag. He put his headphones on. Hans could not remember the password for Solstice’s Somamine Session Playlist. He found a free one from Unity. He lay down with a shirt over his eyes.
A wave rolled over Hans’ feet. He inched backwards. He was clinging to a rock just above the ocean’s surface. Hans could see waves coming from all sides. The sun was going down. The tide was coming in. I am going to drown, Hans thought.
The next wave reached Hans’ ankles. Then his knees. Hans looked up. A wave was about to crash over him. He screamed. He raised his hands to shield his face. He dug in with his heels.

Hans heard Alfred’s gentle voice. “Surrender, Hans. Let go.”
Hans had the feeling that Alfred Wolfe was with him, at his side. It was as if Hans were back in his first soma experience. Hans remembered the last thing Alfred had said to him. ‘There’s one more psychedelic session we must have.’
“I can’t.” Hans gritted his teeth. “I can’t let go.” The wave towered over him, breaking at the top. Hans was paralyzed with fear.
Hans felt Alfred adjust the pillow beneath his head and pull the blanket up. Alfred gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Trust and surrender, Hans. You are loved. You are safe.” Hans closed his eyes. He relaxed his grip. As he did, Hans became the rock he had been clinging to. The wave passed gently overhead. Then a hundred more.
Hans could feel the rock of the earth. He felt the pull of every tide, the crash of every wave, the force of every ocean. Then the earth was one planet orbiting the sun. There were two hundred billion stars in the galaxy. A trillion galaxies spread in every direction. Hans felt it all. Impossible. Unfathomable. Infinite. Then there was only light. Hans whispered, “We don’t even know what healing is.”
The waves were gone. The sun had set. Hans was standing on the rock. Alfred was by his side. The ocean around them was completely still. Alfred said, “Do you remember the poem you read at my memorial?”

Hans nodded. Alfred had shared the poem with him before their first soma session. Hans knew it by heart. “Rumi:

Weep, and then smile.
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
“Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.” Alfred said. “What beautiful flight instructions for a psychedelic journey. What a lovely mantra to take with us through life.”

Hans studied the lines in the old man’s face. He thought, when was the last time that I let go? As long as he could remember, Hans had been afraid the thing he was doing would not work. Nonprofit executive. Corporate leader. Father. He would only squeeze more tightly. Hans shook his head. I’ve been following the recipe for a bad trip.
Alfred turned toward the horizon. The light was nearly gone. Hans felt a sadness spread through him.
For the first time, Hans understood the difference between the psychedelic future Alfred, and so many of the field’s elders, had worked toward, and the one that Hans was building.
For the first time, Hans understood
the difference between the psychedelic future Alfred and so many of the field’s elders had worked toward, and the one that Hans was building.
What did it feel like, Hans wondered, to work for fifty years to keep the hope of psychedelic healing alive? To do that while unrecognized and uncompensated, even while risking jail? How did it feel now to watch companies come in the moment the world’s eyes reopened, claiming as their intellectual property everything they could touch?

How did it feel to have the person leading it be someone you had welcomed - someone you believed shared your vision? A person who, after trying to take ownership over the things you dedicated your life to giving away for free, said he was carrying on your legacy, acting from a place of service, building the world you hoped to see?

Hans turned to Alfred. The land was dark. The only light left was the light of dying stars. Alfred whispered, “When you say I was your teacher, I can’t help but think, ‘What did I do wrong?’”
Hans thought of his intention from the soma session all those years ago. “I want to learn how to heal my son.” The medicine had kept pointing back at him. Hans pictured his son walking into the night. He remembered Victor’s words. “What kind of person is dad? What kind of world is this?”

Hans began to see himself through Victor’s eyes. The phrase started to echo in his mind. What kind of world is this? Victor was watching him as Hans stooped over his computer, finishing emails for the day. Hans’ attention was so fixed on the screen he didn’t even notice his son. Victor felt invisible, like he was not even there.
Victor was in his bedroom, listening to his parents fight over the Washington Soma Initiative. Judith had said, “Is this the kind of thing you want your son to see?” Hans heard his own voice booming through the house. “This is a distraction!” He saw Victor flinch. “We are wasting time.”
Victor was looking at the headline of The Business Quarterly article. “The Man Changing Mental Health Forever.” The first quote from Hans said, “I am doing this because of my son.” Then Victor was reading the email from his classmate. “What kind of person is your dad?”
What kind of world is this? The words were haunting Hans. He felt his whole body shake. He was not thinking about his son’s perspective. He was feeling it. It was moving through his body like his own blood.

Hans felt the hopelessness. The desperation. The pain. Hans felt the place inside his son he had never truly understood; a place that couldn’t be named with words; a place filled with the darkness that comes when all the light is gone.
Hans thought of the look on Victor’s face before he had walked into the night. Victor seemed desperate to hear that the story was not true, that his father would not cause so much pain in the name of healing. At that moment, Hans understood the true impact of his work. It was the most painful thought he had ever known.

I have made his depression worse.
“My boy,” Hans whispered. He wrapped his arms around his body. He rocked in the embrace. “My sweet boy.”

What if Victor had never needed Solstice - not its intellectual property, not the wealth it would create, not even its prescription drug? What if he needed to believe a better world was possible? What if he needed to see his father trying to make it real?

All along, Hans had been saying, “I am here to heal.” For the first time, he began to wonder if the thing he had to heal was not the hole inside his son, but the hole inside himself.

Hans sat up. He removed the eye covering and took the headphones off. He looked around the room. The silence in the house was deafening. How how did it come to this? Hans thought. What do I do now?

Hans’ phone buzzed. It was a text from Nicholas Wells. Solstice’s stock had just hit a record high.
Story by David Alder

Art by Kurt Huggins
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