5. Synthetic vs. Natural Psychedelics
Researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs at Wonderland paid homage to the indigenous use of plant medicine underlying western psychedelic knowledge. Yet, most stopped short of advocating synergistic healing over the single-molecule approach.
Hamilton Morris, former journalist, documentarian, and scientific researcher, echoed that sentiment in a Third Wave podcast recording with Paul F. Austin. “These plants weren’t designed as human therapeutics, so it’s worth investing in the research to see what [other compounds] could be out there. We have a million different drugs out there, but we could conceive of more, some that could be more effective than nature.”
Maria Velkova, a Managing Partner at Tabula Rasa Ventures, agreed that molecules beat plants. Maria said in an exclusive Wonderland interview, “There is synergy, but there are also contraindications that you can’t account for with [whole plants]. There are so many variables making it harder to predict patient results. In healthcare, that is dangerous. On a molecular level, you can replicate [psychedelic compounds] to a T. So why not do that?”
However, not everyone agreed. For instance, renowned mycologist Paul Stamets believes scientists should look to nature for data, not just double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. In a Third Wave Podcast recording, Stamets said, “Scientists realize they’re tapping into something huge and ancient but will stick to the molecule mode despite indigenous discoveries. I would encourage scientists to look at the synergy in mushrooms.”
Najla Guthrie, CEO of KGK Science, agreed. In The Last Mile panel, Najla said, “We need to compare natural vs. synthetic. But the data doesn’t exist because companies don’t want to invest. Companies won’t invest in the medical use of natural substances because they have no incentive.”
Like the decriminalization and medicalization debate, natural vs. synthetic isn’t a zero-sum game. True, pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to study whole plants they can’t patent and sell. But people will still have access to whole-fungi healing. Oregon and Colorado, which legalized natural psilocybin only, are examples of codified whole-plant models.