#29 – The Tesla of Mental Health?

January 20, 2021

Brian Normand and David Nickles are joined by Psymposia Senior Writer Russell Hausfeld to discuss MindMed’s CEO, Jamon Rahn’s, recent claims that his company “may be creating effectively the Tesla of mental health,” and that the company is now a “$1B+ Unicorn.”

Tesla, for those unaware, has been sued by (and settled with) the SEC for securities fraud, flouted COVID-19 (and other) safety guidelines, and has experienced so many lawsuits and controversies even its wikipedia page acknowledges, “This is a partial list of the surrounding lawsuits and controversies…Tesla is party to over 800 lawsuits.” And oh yeah, Tesla’s stock is an absurd bubble.

It’s a bold comparison for Rahn to make, but we believe him when he tells us what he’s aiming for.

Plus Three goes deep into the world of drugs, from local decriminalization and emerging psychedelic corporations, to leftist politics and mass incarceration. Each week we attempt to make sense of the complex connections between drugs, science, capitalism, policy, and culture.

Psymposia is a 501(c)(3) non-profit media organization. We depend on contributions from our readers and listeners, never ads. If you like the show please donate or support us on Patreon. Patreon supporters get bonus videos and more.


Brian Normand: Plus Three is supported by our listeners on Patreon. If you like what we do, you can support the show by going to patreon.com/psymposia.

David Nickles: Hey, so I’m here with Russell Hausfeld. And Brian Normand. And I’m Dave Nichols. So today we’re going to be talking about the hype train that’s been rolling through psychedelia and the absurd comparisons that some corporadelic firms seem intent on making with various Silicon Valley outfits…some of the unintended admissions they may be making in some of these emails and press release statements. And I don’t know, recently we got a really absurd email and I know it set Normie off. So why don’t you take it away? 

Brian Normand: I was driving around last weekend or last Friday, and I was going through my emails, and there was one from MindMed News and it said “Creating the Tesla of mental health, Bloomberg, Benzinga and becoming a $1 billion Unicorn”. And…I laughed. I thought it was a joke email, and then I opened it up and it was actually from MindMed.

And I was like, what the fuck is this? Is this real? They took a picture of this psychedelic unicorn and they put it right at the top. And then I, and I was like, did you guys see this? This is the most gaudy, absurdist promotional shit I’ve seen sent from a company so far.

So David’s, “yeah let’s hop on a podcast and talk about it a little bit”. So that’s what we’re gonna do today. 

David Nickles: I figured as we’re jumping the shark or the unicorn as it were that, there’s a bunch of dynamics around the way that people are making these comparisons.

And the first thing that popped into my mind, actually, was the other comparison that we were making fun of a while back, when there was a smattering of articles that were referring to Tim Ferris as the “Pied Piper of psychedelics”. And, before that people had referred to Joe Rogan as the “Pied Piper of psychedelics”.

And every time we saw this and were talking with a small group of friends outside of Psymposia, there were a handful of people who would point out, I don’t think these people know how the Pied Piper story goes…because the Pied Piper comes in, he cleans out the rats of this town. He had some deal with the mayor, the mayor reneges on the deal.

The Pied Piper comes back and lures the town’s kids away. And I think the most favorable stories present him as leaving three kids behind. One was deaf. One was blind, something like that. Anyway, he takes the kids and depending on which version of the story you follow, he either kidnaps them and doesn’t return them until he receives a ransom, he leads them over a cliff edge and kills them, anything from kidnapping to child murders, mass child murders — I don’t know that Pied Piper is as favorable as folks may have intended in those comparisons.

Similarly, when we saw the Tesla thing I thought it was telling, but telling in ways that probably weren’t intended by Jamon Rahn of MindMed. And I guess just to give a little context, Rahn makes (almost as two throwaway statements) the comparison between MindMed and Tesla. At one point he says, I think, “they laughed at Tesla when they said they were going to make all cars electric in the United States”. And so I think there’s some parallels to what we’re trying to achieve here.

And then at the end of the interview, he says, we may be creating effectively the Tesla of mental health. And as you can tell from those quotes, there’s not a whole lot of substance. So I was thinking and messaging Russ and Normie like, hey, do you think he’s talking about how they’re also going to use child labor the way Tesla does and their cobalt mines? Is this around issues with lithium extraction or, are we talking extractive industry? Are we talking any hazardous work environments, because Elon Musk doesn’t like the color yellow — you can’t have yellow warning lines on the ground. As you go through some of Tesla’s business practices, they don’t seem particularly favorable. 

Brian Normand: You know what popped into my mind? The day before that emailer went out, there was there were some headlines about Tesla, right?

That an analyst at JP Morgan came out, because Tesla’s stock this year has exploded — it’s at 600 and whatever dollars, it’s gone up like 6x this year — and said that their price target is $90. And I thought, the other thing that was actually interesting was that, back in October, there were some stories about Tesla that came out saying that basically, Robinhood is fueling the bubble surrounding Tesla as well. Robinhood is one of those apps that allows anyone to just easily purchase stocks. They’ve had pretty explosive growth over the last couple of years, and I think a year or two ago they got into crypto too.

In the Business Insider piece on Robinhood fueling Tesla’s growth, there’s one section that says, if you want to know what Tesla stock will do tomorrow, just look at how many Robinhood accounts were opened today. And they show how the Tesla stock has tracked the onboarding of Robinhood usage as well. So that’s two examples right there of MindMed comparing themselves to a company that I think savvy or rather, investors who were paying attention know, is in a bubble right now.

Russell Hausfeld: You could say that they each have CEOs with bad takes as well. You got JR coming out originally saying he doesn’t want anything to do with decrim people. And Elon has been — I don’t know, he’s made a ton of terrible takes, but lately he’s been on a real anti-trans kick.

Brian Normand: Elon Musk has imploded over the last year, and especially this year. I don’t study Elon Musk, because I don’t give a fuck about him. To me, they keep him there because he’s like Mr. Celebrity, he’s got millions of Elon Musk stans out there.

He can say whatever the fuck he wants and people are gonna lick his boot all day long. And he’s like Teflon in that sense to a lot of people, even though he just comes out says dumb shit, like Trump does, on a daily basis. 

Russell Hausfeld: Yeah. I first saw this MindMed-Tesla comparison drawn on Twitter, when Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank said, “MindMed creating the Tesla of mental health”. And I just wanted to read a couple of the responses really quick, because I thought they were funny. Ken Chick says no, Tesla is green creating the Tesla of Tesla. Everyone else is using Tesla as a buzzword and should be avoided like the plague. And then this other guy said, that depends. Are they fraudulently understating their warranty reserve? If not, then I’m afraid the answer is no.

Brian Normand: When I took a marketing class in college, I think the rule in Marketing 101 was that if you’re a little guy, if you’re small, always compare to the bigger guy, it doesn’t matter. Just throw your name out there, so you’re in the same kind of arena as them.

Yeah, it’s just bullshit. The other thing that I wanted to point out was that in that email, they had the nerve to say MindMed is leading the recent surge in psychedelic stocks. As investors seek to capitalize on potential decriminalization in some jurisdictions. First off, I don’t know where the data is supporting that statement. Other than that there was the Oregon initiative that had passed, I don’t think there’s anything to really back that up. 

David Nickles: In theory, the Oregon initiative wouldn’t really allow — and obviously there’s going to be a two-year period of setting rules and guidelines — but at a glance, the initial framework that was put out was intended to minimize advertising, minimize monopolists by putting caps on the number of facilities that you could own. We have a ton of questions and reservations about the Oregon initiative, but the notion that initiative would start signaling to savvy investors or companies, “hey, there’s a spot for you in Oregon”…doesn’t track. Again, this seems like creating a lot of hype and buzz around, “hey, decrim is the currently unfolding hot thing”. And this is going to allow us to find new opportunities in some terrain. I don’t think there’s any there. 

Brian Normand: I just wanted to just do a rundown about what MindMed, specifically what JR and Kevin O’Leary have said in the past about decriminalization because I think it’s valid; they want to bring up decriminalization in their gaudy emailer about comparing themselves to Tesla.

It was earlier this year that JR went in Forbes and basically his quote was, “I want nothing to do with those kinds of folks who want to decriminalize psychedelics”.  At the bottom of that piece, Kevin O’Leary, the writer of the Forbes article, also reported saying that he only invested in MindMed after JR shook his hand and promised to not pursue the recreational market.

Russell Hausfeld: He reiterated that in the Benzinga piece as well, or whenever they did their last conference.

Brian Normand: And then JR went into Double Blind mag — and it read a little PR to me — he tried to walk back those previous comments. Russ, you had pointed it out, we published an article about those comments and a lot of other folks in the decrim space pointed out that…this is an absurd thing for a CEO or anybody who’s interested in psychedelics or promoting psychedelics to say. 

Russell Hausfeld: Somebody who’s interested in making the “Tesla of psychedelic mental health” should not be talking about how bad decrim is.

Brian Normand: Totally. So in the article in Double Blind, which was titled “Psychedelic Gold Rush”, JR tried to walk back and said, I’ve been misquoted and misconstrued on this issue in the past. He wasn’t misquoted. He was quoted accurately, and it was a good move to attract investments early on from the likes of people like Kevin O’Leary, who wanted to steer clear of that.

And now that decriminalization has actually passed, and the Psilocybin Service Initiative actually passed, they now want to wrap themselves in that, they want to look good. 

David Nickles: They see that there’s enough public support, that it’s maybe not the stain on their reputation that they thought it was. There’s a reason I would suggest that he didn’t take it up with Forbes. There was no retraction or correction run around that quote. And when you look at how things went down on Twitter after he was quoted making that statement, he got called out by a couple of different people and there was a rundown where he tried to clarify his position and have it both ways.

Russell Hausfeld: But still wouldn’t say that he wanted anything to do with decrim.

David Nickles: That’s just it. He was trying to avoid further upsetting people and talk around “no one should go to jail” or something to that effect. But again, couldn’t actually back up any sort of assertion around how decrim fits into the broader picture.

Of course, this goes back to points that Brian Pace has made about needing to enclose the commons. If you can’t actually prevent people from dosing on their own…and whether we’re talking therapeutically — finding a therapist and having their own drugs to take with them — or recreationally, you have a hell of a lot more difficult time pushing your product and pushing your service and saying “we are the people that you need to come to if you want psychedelic drugs”.

It would be psychedelic therapy, but as we saw with medicinal cannabis, as we’ve seen with prohibition more generally, if you create medical exceptions and only medical exceptions, you’re going to find people who don’t have medical conditions who use that as an end around to have these experiences.

I think there are some similarities that are worth unpacking between Russ’s last series on mining executives coming into psychedelia, and some of the broader conversations we’ve had about the systemic realities of capitalism and mental health, of mining and industrial civilization, or — rather than similarities, a lack of systemic engagement, both from Tesla regarding their electric cars as some sort of “green” technology, and MindMed making absurd statements about treating mental health. Part of this comes from my own frustration with Rahn’s statements where he says how significant the mental health crisis is. He’s talked about how unemployment is rising during the pandemic, and it’s causing a higher rates of addiction. 

Russell Hausfeld: I think that is the exact quote, “people who are unemployed and depressed” is their addressable market. That’s the grossest way to think about suffering people.

David Nickles: Oh, absolutely. And it’s exactly that. He said, that’s our addressable market, this market is going to get bigger out of COVID-19. As a small aside, he keeps saying 11% of Americans back in June reported serious depressive thoughts …it’s not 11% of Americans. It’s 11% of adults. That adds, I think, an additional 25% of people. It’s an overstated figure. It’s still significant. 

Brian Normand: It sounds good if you’re a CEO trying to get your stock price up, trying to hype your company up. Sounds great. It doesn’t matter. Facts? Fuck the facts. 

David Nickles: Totally. If we trace this back to some of his early statements — he came from tech, he came from Uber and prior to that, he’d had this little bullshit company where you could sell your old phone, drone, whatever, and get the newest model — he recognized how many problems there were in his industry… he wanted to solve some of these bigger problems and issues, like layoffs and mental health and rates of addiction.

He recognized that these were problems to be solved, and that essentially, that there was money in solving these problems. So rather than getting to the core of those problems and figuring out ways to address them, why address the problems when you can address the market?

I think this line of thought ties into some of the conversations we’ve had about thought leaders more generally. Can you find a way to find a “market-based” solution that doesn’t address the problem, but allows you to spin a narrative that you’re addressing some serious crisis of humanity, such as the mental health crisis? You can then spin all sorts of narratives about how you’re doing this stuff without ever engaging with the systemic issues.

In addition to having this addressable market, he also made the statement about how, when you think about mental health, we’re going to need a complete set of tools or products that can be used by therapists, psychiatrists, and ultimately patients.

I think that’s going to be a combination of digital therapeutics, classic psychedelics, and then ultimately new chemical entities, the next-generation psychedelics that are going to be more tailored. If we’re talking about the problems of capitalism and access to healthcare, we don’t even get to what MindMed is offering.

The average person is not going to be able to access these healthcare treatments, leaving aside whether or not they get approved. For example, as they’re talking about microdosing, LSD, or other novel psychedelics that we don’t know whether or not the FDA is going to approve — even in the case of LSD, there are questions about effects on HT2B and whether or not that creates heart valve problems in chronic microdosers, we certainly have no clue with regards to the potentially novel psychoactives they’re talking about. Even if we put aside the regulatory hurdles and whether or not they get it through, for regular people who don’t have healthcare, because the US is an absolute dumpster fire when it comes to access to healthcare, we have this huge question of who is being discussed, right? It’s certainly not 11% of Americans or 11% of American adults. 

Russell Hausfeld: What I think is so interesting about his statement is, if you really think about it, it gets turned on its head. Because if he’s saying “11% of Americans who are considering suicide are our addressable market”, but the only reference I have for a price point on this is around $15,000 for MDMA therapy, I don’t know what they’re charging at MindMed, but that can’t be their market.

Brian Normand: Every CEO uses these claims, Russ. When you did the corporadelic series, I remember that you turned over some stones with WeWork. And do you remember what the WeWork CEO had said about what their market was?

Russell Hausfeld: Yeah, I don’t remember the numbers they said, but what they were using was, if there was a WeWork in a city, any employee that worked at a desk in that city was their addressable market. 

David Nickles: But the bullshit extends even beyond that. Because in this quote from Rahn, not only is he talking about access and new chemical entities, he’s also talking about digital therapeutics. As we’ve gone over repeatedly and is worth going over, digital therapeutics is surveillance capitalism.

The notion that Rahn, whose background is in tech and investment, is oblivious to the surveillance dividend…the notion that he’s unaware of how much money there is to be made from data, particularly data that isn’t and can’t be covered by HIPAA and other similar things, and potentially even data that might be, but that can be played around behind the scenes, and within a therapeutic context, treasure troves of biometric data…the notion that he’s going to miss this when we just got an email from MAPS where it MAPS has partnered with a company called FreeWill, which will allow you to create a free will. And MAPS is saying, “protect the future of your loved ones”. But then you look at a Forbes article on FreeWill, and it talks about how they’re an actuarial prediction company, that their business model relies entirely on selling your data to non-profits that subscribe, so that they have a sense of what you’re doing. The notion that MAPS is working with small companies who are clearly utilizing surveillance capitalism, but somehow this former tech and financial exec is whiffing on that, seems highly unlikely to me.

And when they talk about these future compounds being “more tailored” …more tailored than what? The amount of research on psychedelics has been significantly limited. It’s been limited in scope, it’s been limited in the various ailments that it’s been tried on. You have outfits like Mindset Pharma, who we covered in the in the press release episode and the article about psychedelic press parroting press releases from psychedelic companies.

You’ve got these companies that are claiming that these novel psychoactives that have never been tried in humans, that are very early in their actual research pipeline, are somehow going to be more tailored and more effective at treating a variety of ailments that have incredibly varied causes and all sorts of variables, both environmental and biological. When we look across the board, all of the narratives that were being sold by these people, whether it’s an email, press release statements, or interviews that they’re doing, it’s pure hype, there’s no real substance.

Once you start picking it apart, not only do you find that there’s nothing there, you wind up in these narratives that effectively just reinforce the systems that we’re in.

When Russ brought up the point with Thea Riofrancos who contributed wonderful takes to the to the Psychedelic Mining series. 

Russell Hausfeld: Yeah, that interview with her might’ve been my favorite I’ve done all year. Just because it was really interesting. If there were one comparison that I would draw to MindMed’s position in the psychedelic industry and Tesla’s position in the green energy industry, it’s that they are both trying to profit off of an issue that a lot of conscious people care about without addressing the systemic cause. In Tesla’s case, that would be that electric cars take a whole bunch of mined materials and even more so than a combustion engine vehicle.

Brian Normand: It doesn’t change the underlying transportation infrastructure where each individual has a car. We don’t invest in public transportation. 

David Nickles: Now Pete Buttegieg is going to change—

Brian Normand: Buteggieg is gonna change that for us, he’s going to get trained. He’s going to get Hyperloops everywhere. 

David Nickles: Yeah, but this is just it, right? It comes back to individual treatments for structural problems.

Brian Normand: And this is essentially just the difference between conservatives and liberals, the liberals just want to just create all these privatized solutions to everything.

David Nickles: We can put big air quotes around “solutions” because when we look at the eco side that goes into electric cars, when we look at the populations who bear the burdens of the lithium mining, when we look at how this plays out…it’s cool, when you’re driving your electric car down the road it may not have any emissions, but tell it to the people that live with all the emissions, from the mining, the refining, from the production…

It’s a null sum game where we’re constantly hiding the externalities so that certain people can tell themselves “oh, this is a green commodity” or “this is a better way of doing things”. “Hey, at least I’m taking the small step”. “We’re not gonna topple capitalism today”.

“By buying a Tesla or by supporting psychedelic mental health, I’m at least pushing us ‘in a better direction’”. One of the reasons why I’ve been pretty adamant that this is not a better direction is because, for people who might be on the fence, or people who see this as the small way that they can “do the right thing”, this actually pulls them away from more radical or effective projects for actually restructuring our society, our social relations.

Brian Normand: That’s the biggest downside. That’s absolutely what it does. And that’s one of the biggest problems with it, is that you’re identifying a very surface-level symptom of very deep problems, 

David Nickles: So then the issue becomes pushing, pushing people beyond—


Brian Normand: I’m sorry for listeners who hear me go on this rant, I do it every podcast. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, if someone listens to the shit that I say on here, it almost makes me seem like I’m an anti-psychedelic person.

But if your solution to the mental health fallout that has happened because of coronavirus — and by the way, this existed before COVID — is to give people psychedelics when the infrastructure for the system is not going to be in existence, if it even happens for years…the issues surrounding access, pricing, health insurance, all of that. If your solution is “psychedelics for COVID mental health”, you’re nuts. Like you’re actually crazy. I’m in Boston a lot, and I go by this corner that has all kinds of homeless people and that likely have a variety of mental health disorders.

When I drive by there, I’m just reminded that there are people who actually think the solution to this is psychedelics. It’s remarkable to me. It sounds great to all these nonprofits. I just got another nonprofit email the other day that was just as silly, talking about how much money the economy has lost because of the mental health fallout.

It’s so depersonalizing. If you want to treat mental health, you can go pay your neighbor’s electric bill that they can’t pay. People are being evicted right now. It’s tough for people right now, and we’re talking about giving them psychedelics.

It’s insane. It’s way stupider than anything Leary’s ever said about “turn on tune in, drop out” But the thing is, it’s so integrated in how we look at solving problems that we’re going to solve problems through business. It’s so integrated and it’s invisibilized that they’re seen as though they want to revolutionize mental health.

If you want to revolutionize mental health, you’re not going to do it through psychedelics. They can play a part, eventually. But we’re going to do it through public policies that have social safety nets, that have paid leave… That’s how we’re going to do it, by not evicting people.

This is so silly. And like I said, I’m sorry that I go on this rant. Every podcast. But it’s just a torrent of emailers and press releases and communications people in my inbox on a daily basis are from all of these companies. And they all say the same exact shit. Yeah. And I’m sick of it.

Russell Hausfeld: Could you imagine giving somebody who’s going through a life crisis due to COVID, acid? Just “hey, here, just dose up. You just got evicted? Get dosed up on acid”.

Brian Normand: I got an emailer the other day from Compass Pathways that said — I got it in my notes right here, I actually wanted to read this.

David Nickles: While you pull that up, just to point out, people, I love psychedelics…also, when it comes to like health and wellbeing, people don’t need psychedelics.

They need food, clothes, shelter, access to healthcare, thriving communities

Brian Normand: It’s so controversial, Dave!

David Nickles: All of the things that are at odds with capital. Oh, I know I’m just a hater. I 

Russell Hausfeld: You need to create a better set and setting. If you’ve —

Brian Normand: I’ve got the quote here: “In August, we entered into a sponsored research agreement with the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to establish a drug discovery center. The center is exploring and developing optimized psychedelic and other early-stage compounds targeting the 5HT2A receptor, one of the receptors in the brain that is recognized as a promising target in the treatment of mental health challenges.”

David Nickles: Fuck off.

Brian Normand: I don’t know what to say. That should be like again, back to the homeless people that I see in Boston, can you even imagine telling them, “look, the 5HT2A receptor, it’s being seen as a promising target in the treatment of your mental health challenges”. I’m gonna go tell that to the guy that I saw the other day, walking down the middle of the street at midnight, carrying a blanket. It’s just so silly. It should be seen as so silly. You should not even take this shit seriously. 

David Nickles: And we’re getting these emailers, right? We’re in the middle of a pandemic in which the 0.00001% have increased their wealth to an absurd degree. While their wealth has ballooned, we’re seeing mass evictions across the country.

We’re seeing doctors who have essentially worn trash bags because they haven’t had PPE. We’ve seen cops beating the shit out of people for asking that they not break into folks’ houses and murder them in their sleep. When we consider what’s actually going down in the background behind all of these bullshit narratives about how psychedelics for mental health are going to usher in some grand fix for all of the issues that we face, it’s absurd on its face.

It is a scam, and this is a reason why we’re seeing these as PR pushes. There’s a reason we’re seeing this as a self-generated content from these companies, not outside analysts saying, “oh yeah, this looks like they’ve really solved it, and they’ve got the golden bullet right here”.

This comes down to corporate narratives designed to push stock prices, increase value and promote a brand. 

Brian Normand: Yeah. I’ll go back to the other thing that I’ve mentioned before, and Russ, you edited this piece, in the piece on that we did on Huxley, he says we need treatments.

We do need the treatments. But what’s much more important and critical…is prevention, is preventing it in the first place. And that’s not where the focus is. That’s not where the money is. And that’s why we don’t do shit about it. We don’t do shit about it because if we want to do shit about it, we’re going to get political.

And if you get political, everybody’s going to tell you to shut the fuck up. 

David Nickles: So then that’s the note that I’d like to end on…leaving a question for listeners: instead of psychedelics, whether we’re talking micro doses or full-fledged experiences for mental health, what about psychedelics for priming the imagination and actually working on redeveloping or re-imagining our social relations and the society we live in? Because the amount of people in psychedelic spaces who have told me that it’s untenable to imagine restructuring those…is too damn high. If that’s where we’re at, things are pretty fucked up. 

Brian Normand: I think you should go pitch that idea to MindMed Psychedelics for reimagining our social relations. Let me know how many other businesses get back to you. If you pitched that to them too.

David Nickles: Yeah. I’ll send an update and we’ll see what happens. 

Brian Normand: All right. I think that’s a good place. 

David Nickles: Cool. Thanks y’all for listening and we’ll catch you on the next one.

Brian Normand: So long.

David Nickles: Bye-bye.

Brian Normand: So that does it for this episode.

Thanks so much for listening. You can find us on social media @psymposia, and you can check out our latest stories at psymposia.com. If you like the show, please do us a favor and leave us a rating or review in Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening. You can support the show at patreon.com/psymposia and supporters get access to our video podcasts and bonus content. If you want to get in touch, email us at plusthree@psymposia.com. Plus Three is a production of Psymposia. Thank you to our cohosts, Brian Pace, Neşe Devenot and David Nichols. Our podcast editor is Matt Payne. I’m Brian Normand, co-founder of Psymposia.

And until next week.