Medical Researchers Worry Silicon Valley Could Screw Up Psychedelics

Entrepreneurs are hoping psychedelic drugs will follow marijuana’s path to the lifestyle industry, but medical researchers aren’t so sure that’s a good idea

Tessa Love
Published in
9 min readApr 22, 2020


Illustration: Qieer Wang

In 2017, Mike Arnold saw an opportunity so big that it changed the course of his life. After representing several black-market cannabis farmers as a criminal defense attorney, he noticed popular perception of the plant was shifting. Laws were loosening, more people were partaking, and research was increasingly showing that cannabis was perhaps not that bad for you—and maybe even at times good for you. For Arnold, that meant one thing: If he got in early on the industry, he could make bank.

That year, Arnold left law and launched a cannabis startup. He raised $2 million in investments in less than four months and produced 9,000 pounds of recreational cannabis in one year. At the end of 2017, he handed the company over to a management team. He’d done what he had set out to do: caught a boom in time and lined his investors’ pockets. By the time the cannabis industry was overwhelmed with newcomers, Arnold already had his eyes trained on the horizon, looking for the next wave. And it didn’t take long for him to spot it: psychedelics.

“I realized that by 2020, this was going to be a big deal,” he says.

He was right. After spending decades as highly illegal and restricted substances, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, MDMA, DMT, and other psychedelic drugs are proving to be viable treatments for a growing slate of mental and behavioral disorders. And while that means we’re poised to see a radical shift in mental health care (not to mention human consciousness), it also means that entrepreneurs and investors like Arnold expect psychedelics to become the next cannabis: a consumer product category potentially worth billions — but only for those who stake their claim first.

Not everyone sees this opportunity for entrepreneurship as a good thing. For researchers looking into the efficacy of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, these substances are far more than a market opportunity—they’re potentially life-saving medications. And after decades of prohibition…