Investors hope psychedelics are the new cannabis. Are they high?

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER has never drunk alcohol nor smoked a cigarette. He is, however, a fan of ketamine. In January ATAI Life Sciences, the German biotech company he founded last year, acquired a majority stake in Perception Neuroscience, a biopharmaceutical firm from New York which is developing a medication for pyschiatric conditions like depression from the drug, which is illegal in parts of the world (though not in America). Along with Peter Thiel, a veteran Silicon Valley investor known for headline-grabbing bets, ATAI has also backed COMPASS Pathways, a startup in London aiming to be the first legal provider of psilocybin, which gives mushrooms their magic.

Messrs Angermayer and Thiel are not alone in putting money into the medical application of psychedelics. A clutch of investors see these drugs going the way of cannabis, whose creeping decriminalisation has spurred commercial interest in the weed’s medical uses. In particular, backers think, psychedelic drugs could be used to treat mental-health disorders like depression, anxiety and addiction. In April Imperial College London, inaugurated the first research centre dedicated to psychedelics research. Last month Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore launched America’s first such scientific outfit.

The market for antidepressants is dispiritingly large. Over 300m people worldwide suffer from depression. A report last year by the Lancet Commission, a body of experts, estimated that mental-health disorders could cost the global economy $16trn by 2030. Sales of antidepressants were $14bn in 2017 and analysts expect them to grow to $16bn-19bn by the middle of the next decade.

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