Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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Pushing the Boundaries: Healing Mental Health with Psychedelics
I want to make one thing very clear before we get started this week. I’m not a doctor, and my opinions on mental health shouldn’t be taken as one.
But I also know there is a clear hunger from many people in this country and around the world for new treatments, ideas, and discussions about things that have traditionally been swept under the rug.
Recently, I sat down with Jose Muñoz for the Success Story, one of the people trying to help.
Jose is the co-founder of Wondermed, a company that is treating anxiety with a low-dose ketamine regimen that has had a ton of early success.
We’ll get into how that treatment works, and some of the results that patients are experiencing, but first I want to share a little about the person I spoke with — because Jose’s outlook is what has stuck with me ever since.
Make a positive impact
“Probably I was 12 when I started on my birthday deciding that I wanted to conglomerate value from people. So instead of making a birthday list of things that I wanted, I started making a list of things that people needed. I’ll use the things people were giving me for one more go-round the sun, and send them to a hospital.
One year, I collected 50 soccer balls, and started spreading them throughout a hospital network.”
When I was 12, I certainly wasn’t organizing charity donations. But that is the way Jose has moved through life. His mother taught him “we can make good even in the small decisions” and he took it to heart.
But you don’t make it onto this podcast without a bit of business success. He has that too, mixing social responsibility with return on investment.
The problem with non-profit
If his goal was purely to help people, he wouldn’t be focused on ROI, right? That’s where Jose has a bit of inspirational wisdom for people looking to get into the non-profit or corporate sustainability field.
“When you go into positive impact investing, there was a very big opportunity cost constantly being decided between capital gain or positive impact. I saw that as an unrealistic expectation in terms of comparing every single decision between those two factors. So I started to develop something in the middle.”
That middle ground, he says, fixes the problem with non-profits of no return value. You invest, and you don’t see any tangible, individual return (usually). It is an amorphous impact if it is even one at all.
Getting value out of that transaction — not even necessarily economic value — is critical for something to become a real world-changer.
In Jose’s career, an example of that is with his self-sustained desalination plants, which he put into underdeveloped countries. These projects could have been done with much lower costs, but he blended in the absolute best technology to make sure that there was a real positive change, while still offering investors a return.
Now, with psychedelic medicine, he is trying to do the same thing.
A profound form of education
I pressed Jose on why he chose to give people access to ketamine, instead of investing in education, for instance. He smiled and told me that he believes he is doing just that with psychedelics, which can be a way to offer “a structural change to happen in one’s mind.”
From the moment we are born, we are learning and adapt based on the inputs from the world around us. Jose describes it as a book: you read down the page and turn to the next.
But you are stuck on that page, with only memories to quickly flip back for a refresher. Psychedelic medicine, he claims, is like a cataloged book, where you can navigate from beginning to end and “see how you want to continue shaping it.”
A catalyst of your perspective
It is not a superpower though. Jose makes it very clear that you will not immediately gain a new skill, or learn a language just because you engage in psychedelic treatment.
“Psychedelic medicine, in my opinion, is a mere catalyst. People are able to achieve this type of perspective without the necessity of the substances.”
I suggested meditation, breathwork, and exercise — all things that are done without any foreign medicine, and ones that have been linked to similar claims of self-actualization. Jose was right on board with all of that, only noting that not everyone has the willpower or opportunity to focus on these things.
That’s not something I had considered before. Everyone has time to master meditation or exercise, right? Well, that may not be true.
For a single mother trying to find three minutes between raising three kids, or a disabled person that can’t go to the gym or change their breathing patterns, things that you and I take for granted might not be an option.
This isn’t going away
One of the things that Jose said that I feel is important to note here is just how common mental health struggles are. Even if the discussion is getting louder, and more attention is being paid to it, we’re still not at a point where everything is out in the open.
The National Institute of Mental Health found in 2020 that nearly one in five U.S. adults were living with mental illness. That percentage goes up even further when looking at just those ages 18–25, meaning this conversation isn’t going anywhere.
It only needs to be talked about more and solutions — even ones that have been previously dismissed — need to be discussed.
The challenge (or perhaps opportunity?) is that these illnesses are so personal. They are unique and changing, making them extremely difficult to treat.
What we are currently doing
That has led to two major treatment options: SSRIs, and benzodiazepines.
A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication. They work (or at least they are designed to work) by elevating the levels of serotonin in the brain by blocking the process that allows it to be reabsorbed.
For years, low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and anxiety, but new data is suggesting that isn’t the case.
Benzodiazepines, meanwhile, inhibit overall brain activity and can help things like sleep disorders and anxiety. The problem is, they affect everything else, resulting in the “zombie” feeling for many people.
Jose isn’t even really out to destroy these current treatments. He genuinely says that if they are working for you, he’s happy about it. His point is that for so many people, they either don’t work at all or only provide temporary relief, leaving patients dependent and struggling.
What psychedelic medicine offers
His solution, then, is through a low-dosage ketamine treatment, which is only available to people who go through a thorough pre-screening to qualify. It encourages neuroplasticity, he claims, which can help you learn new techniques and regulate your emotions more effectively than SSRIs and benzos.
The Wondermed website says that it “offers new hope for sustained life change” and you can tell that’s what Jose is focused on. He wants to help people, and not just charge them a refill fee on their Xanex.
Ketamine has been around for a long time. It has received government-approved funding to study its effect on mental health and is already used in other medical situations.
But for off-label use like this, it has also long been unobtainable for the average person, with fees stretching into the thousands for individual treatment sessions.
That’s what Wondermed is trying to change, with a $399 monthly fee — not a subscription, a prescription that can be ended.
How can his company afford to reduce the price by that much? Part of it goes back to Jose’s founding principles, of making some money while imparting positive change. But most of it goes to the way he and co-founder Ryan Magnussen are approaching business optimization.
“How? By taking a deep look at how to build a system like this, and a look at the granular efficiencies that you can achieve. Looking at every single thing that you could adapt and do from a novel way — what I call pushing the boundaries of our imagination in every single decision.”
That was his advice for any entrepreneur trying to do something like this. Help people, and make money at the same time. I don’t even know if he meant for it to, but that certainly sounds a lot like the advice his Mom taught him:
Make good, even in the small decisions.
There’s a lot more to this discussion — I’d need to spend a week or a month with Jose to talk through everything. But even in the hour and a half we did spend together, we touched on so many things.
If you’re interested in psychedelic medicine, positive impact investing, or optimizing granular efficiencies to reduce cost, this is one of the interviews you have to watch.
Head over to the Success Story podcast channel to check it out, and you’ll see hundreds of other interviews with thought leaders, executives, and inventors pushing the boundaries of their industry.
Give them a listen, and check back with me next week for another newsletter!
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Thank you for reading,