In 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 109, a ballot initiative that made Oregon the first state in the nation to legalize the use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin. It directed the Oregon Health Authority to create a framework to regulate and issue licenses for the manufacture, testing, sale and use of psilocybin in supervised settings. Clients 21 and older can buy and consume psilocybin in licensed service centers in Oregon without a doctor’s prescription. In 2021, the Oregon Health Authority Psilocybin Advisory Board reviewed clinical trials, medical studies and other scientific data on the use of psilocybin and concluded that it “holds promise as an option to address mental health issues,” but it remains classified as an illegal drug at the federal level.
In May, EPIC Healing Eugene became the first licensed service center in Oregon and began seeing clients in June. Satya Therapeutics in Ashland is another licensed service center and also has a license to manufacture psilocybin to its clients whom it started seeing in July. We hear from Cathy Jonas, the owner of EPIC Healing Eugene, and Andreas Met, the co-founder and CEO of Satya Therapeutics, about their client experiences so far operating in the uncharted business of offering psychedelics as a service.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. People in Oregon can now legally take the psychedelic drug psilocybin in supervised settings. Oregon voters passed Measure 109 in 2020. Then came years of rule making because the Oregon Health Authority had to create a first in the nation system. It includes licenses for the manufacture, testing, sale, and use of psilocybin under the watch of trained facilitators. Now, a handful of service centers are up and running. We’re gonna hear from the owners of two of them today. We start with Cathy Jonas. She is the owner of Epic Healing Eugene, which became the first licensed service center in May and started seeing clients in June. Cathy Jonas, welcome.
Cathy Jonas: Hello there.
Miller: Why did you want to get into this particular business?
Jonas: Well, that’s a long story. But the short version is I had an ayahuasca experience in 2015. And during that experience working with psychedelics, the plant medicine ayahuasca, I had a communication that told me I was destined to do deeper work with people. And as a clinical social worker, this turned out to be one of those pathways for me to do that.
Miller: So when voters approved this in 2020, that was a sort of state sanctioned dream come true?
Jonas: It seemed to be. It was a surprise that it happened. I had a feeling that I was destined to do deeper work with people in 2015 during that ayahuasca experience. But then when it was 2019, there was talk about this actually being able to happen in 2020, I really wanted to be on board to see if I could be part of it.
Miller: One of the hallmarks of a lot of psychedelic experiences is that it can be hard to translate them into words, to communicate them to other people because they can be so inward. But what was it about that experience for you that made you want to actually switch places, and be the facilitator as opposed to the client?
Jonas: That is actually a very beautiful question, and something that really shapes my work right now. I remember being taken care of so well by the shamans who took care of me in Peru. And I wanted to be able to do that for other people because it was so transformational and healing for me.
Miller: I want to skip forward. We’ve talked over the last couple of years about the rulemaking process. Obviously, that’s over, you are up and running. And you actually got a lot of national publicity for being the first service center to open. What did that mean in terms of interest from potential clients?
Jonas: Well, that was quite the surprise, how much interest there was initially and continues to be. We get referrals from all over, self-referrals I mean, people create their own referrals and just get on to our website. But we have over 3,500 people that are on our wait list that have reached out to us. And the need is so great that people are looking for some way of having healing or a transformational experience in their life. Michael Pollan, you have to thank him, because his book and also his Netflix series “You Can Change Your Mind” has really helped broaden the view. And this has given people a chance to think outside the box, that possibly there’s some other ways to get healing besides the standard Western medicine model.
Miller: 3,500 people on your waiting list. Can you give us a sense for what they write?
Jonas: About half people easily are from out of the state of Oregon that are reaching out. We even get people internationally that are reaching out. Most of them, I’d say about 50% or greater, are psychedelically naive. That means that they’ve never had a psychedelic experience, they’ve been afraid to have a psychedelic experience because of national publicity over the years, starting in 1970 where it was made a schedule one substance, and all research was shut down. I’m sure all of us remember “this is your brain on drugs” with the egg on a frying pan. This has been the image for many until more recently. People are understanding that there is research, there is benefit. So that’s a lot of people that are reaching out to us right now.
Miller: That’s a bit of their background, more than half from out of state, more than half “psychedelically naive.” What are the reasons that they’re reaching out to you?
Jonas: A lot of trauma. PTSD from either childhood or military backgrounds, but I’d say even more from childhood. There is treatment resistant depression, anxiety. And then we have a lot of people that are hoping for us to get some insight into their lives about a career change, creativity, trying to get a deeper spiritual connection with themselves. We have a lot of people reaching out that have a terminal diagnosis with the end of care existential angst about a fear of dying.
Miller: What was it like that first day when you started seeing dozens of these stories coming in?
Jonas: It was really humbling. I’ve been a therapist for several years, so I’m used to working in the mental health field. We had 55 on our waitlist before it hit national news on May 5th, and then everything just exploded. And I was trying to keep up with it like I used to, just hand processing each referral, reading each referral. And then it was like so many, it was like this snapshot of the pain of humanity. And I certainly felt like I was carrying that for a while, trying to figure out, how can I serve everyone?
And we’re also really small. I’m running this out in my counseling office space. So we’re not large, so there’s no way that we can serve as many people that are on our wait list.
Miller: How many people can you serve right now on any given week?
Jonas: Not very many. We maybe do like three to five. We’re very small. Our goal right now is to get up to like 20 a month or something like that.
Miller: There are 1,000 more people on your waitlist than you can see in a week. So how are you deciding who to say yes to?
Jonas: Well what we do is we try to, for one thing, make it really open that we are really small, and the kind of setting that we have is really conducive for individuals, for couples, and groups of three that know each other already. So we’re not trying to be more than we are. We have two offices, that’s it. So what we do is we have a sister website, besides the Epic Healing Eugene, we have the Radiant Heart Consulting website. And we have lots of resources on there for people to get assistance, where they can go to learn about Oregon’s psilocybin and other service centers.
For people that really want to come to us, people reach out directly because they want the individual care and they want what we have to offer and what I have to offer. I have a lot of YouTube videos out there, and so we have personal appeals about that. Sometimes what we do is we go randomly in order. We can’t go in order at this point. We tried to do that initially, but there’s just so many. So we just try to look for a good fit for people that really want to come here. And so far it seems like we’re matching pretty well with the people that are showing up.
Miller: It seems impossible to try to rank people’s level of trauma. If you’re dealing with thousands of people, many of whom are dealing with, as you said, very hard to treat depression or eternal diagnosis. I don’t imagine you want to be in the position of deciding who needs this the most.
Jonas: Right. All these are really very important questions, and they’re questions that I’ve had to sit with in different ways. Everybody wants assistance for different reasons. But not everybody is ready to have a deep transformational experience either. This really takes a lot of hard work to come into an experience like this. A person has to be ready to access emotions and feeling states. For a person that has felt like they tried everything and nothing has worked, psilocybin might not be the right thing right now. If somebody is in crisis and suicidal, maybe ketamine is the right thing right now.
Oregon has mandated a non-medical, non-directive model. So for people to come, they really need to be psychologically able to handle a transformational shift. And so they need to be ready. And hopefully they have some support outside, whether they’re seeing an individual counselor or they have a plan to see an individual counselor afterwards.
We’re offering a safe container. We’re offering a very lovely small environment that’s plant filled. And we have the staff here that have years of the intangible experience of being with people to help them in their transformational experience. But we’re not medical, even though I have a mental health degree and we have some nurses on our team, we’re here to really support and nurture the people that are ready for a deep shift.
Miller: We asked on Facebook this morning if people were interested in paying thousands of dollars to take psilocybin in a supervised session. Steven Vertal wrote, “If I felt secure in the facility and personnel involved, I would consider it. Believing it would have a value and long-term impact on me, I would. A one-time expense in the thousands sounds reasonable compared to many medications one could have prescribed for years.”
Matthew Riggs said “I can get them much cheaper and I’m happy to babysit you. Don’t be bougie. Don’t price out your friendly neighborhood mycologist.”
Other people then share the Instagram handles of their favorite mushroom dealers before we shut the post down. I’m curious what you’re expecting from the black market for either mushrooms alone, or the supervised use? What do you think that black market is going to look like in the coming years?
Jonas: I think it’s gonna boom. The underground has always been a very powerful thing. And this isn’t the underground. It’s cost thousands of dollars to even open the doors here, being really small scale. Oregon has a lot of costs associated with licensing fees, liability fees, there’s taxation issues being that this is a scheduled one. And so this is not the underground. We can’t get our psilocybin from the underground. Everything is highly regulated.
What I think is going to happen is that a lot of the training centers that are providing the training for us to go through and become licensed facilitators, a lot of those facilitators are deciding not to get their license because it costs $2,000 a year to keep it. So there’s gonna be a growing underground of skilled facilitators. It’s just gonna be like marijuana. Before it was really hard to get marijuana in Oregon, and now it’s very easy to get marijuana. So I think it’s gonna really change over time.
What would really be helpful is if the government decides that there is enough research out there to show that there is benefit to psilocybin, helping people heal from a variety of emotional and mental health conditions, that they will deschedule it, make it more like a schedule three like ketamine instead of a schedule one like heroin. It would make it less expensive for people to run a business like this.
Miller: There’s an interesting piece here. Even though people who are used to the black market are complaining online that this is going to be too expensive, that for the most part only wealthy people will be able to take part, in addition to some people with less money who can get in because of discounts from premiums other people are going to pay. But you’re saying it might even be hard for you to break even just because of all the licenses and other state fees.
Jonas: And taxes. It’s really unknown what’s going to happen with taxes because this is still illegal for the federal government. So there’s all these 280E taxation unknowns. The larger ones are gonna have a better chance of making it then a small scale one like me, trying to run a service center out of one to two offices. And I don’t run it every day because I’m also running my counseling practice still. At the most we’re gonna open up three to four days a week when we really get going, maybe. So it’s really individual care, and it’s very expensive to do what I’m doing on a small scale. Trying to do it on the level I’m doing it, we’ll see what happens. I’m giving it a try.
Miller: When I asked you what you thought the black market would look like in the coming years, you said “I think it’s going to boom.” But you said it with a voice that to my ear sounded full of joy. I can imagine a business owner also being very fearful of that.
Jonas: I’m not fearful.
Miller: Why not?
Jonas: Because I really believe that psilocybin and the plant medicines have a kind of a life of their own. And it’s gonna find the right people, and the right people are gonna find it. And I feel like I was led to do this work and, and I will do it for as long as I can to make it sustainable. If we are profitable, then we can donate to our own pay it forward fund, and that’s what we intend to do so we can increase accessibility and open our doors more. Right now, I’m just still catching up from all the expense of what it took to get here. But, if it is that I can keep going, then I will be happy to increase services and roll a good percentage of our profits back into our pay it forward fund to help out people that want to come to our service center.
But if we don’t make it, then we don’t make it. I’m willing to give it a try for a couple years and see what happens this next year with taxes. And I hope we can make it because it’s beautiful work and I’m really enjoying it.
Miller: Cathy Jonas, thanks so much for joining us.
Jonas: Thank you.
Miller: Cathy Jonas is the owner of EPIC Healing Eugene, the first licensed service center in Oregon that supervised use of psilocybin.
We’re going to turn to another pioneer in this young industry right now. Andreas Met is a co-founder and CEO of Satya Therapeutics in Ashland, which started seeing clients last month. It also has a license to manufacture psilocybin. Andreas Met, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Andreas Met: Hey thanks for having me. It’s a great honor to be here.
Miller: Thanks for joining us. Why did you switch from the cannabis business, which you were in for a number of years, to this new business with even more uncertainties?
Met: I read the 2016 Johns Hopkins research on cancer patients, like many people did. And that really hit me between the eyes. If you can lose the fear of death from one session of psilocybin, that’s something I want to be part of. I haven’t lost my fear of death, so there must be something there.
Miller: Did you, like Cathy, have your own psychedelic experience that gave you your own personal understanding of the power and possibility of this medicine?
Met: I did have an experience, but it was with psilocybin back when I was 19, and I had a very powerful experience and I won’t get too much into detail about it. But the message I got out of that is there’s so much power inside of us. And that carried me a long way to do the things I’ve done in my life, both in work and outside of work. It always gave me the courage to go back and in moments where I thought I was weak or didn’t have power, I could go back to that power that I saw that evening.
Miller: How has your business been since you started seeing clients about a month ago?
Met: It’s been going exceptionally well. We also are a relatively small service center. We have more rooms than some do, but you can’t just load rooms full because people make noise. So we try to see one or two. We haven’t had a three-person day except in groups. But for example, today we’re doing a session and a person is having a lot of somatic response and making a lot of utterances and quite a bit of racket so to speak, which is kind of normal. And so we had to break the group up and have the other person in a separate room. Even though you might have more rooms, you still have to manage your space so that you have a great experience for everybody.
Miller: And this is happening right now?
Met: Yeah, we have clients in session right now.
Miller: How much have your clients shared with you or their facilitators about their reasons for going? It’s an interesting situation here where, as we heard from Cathy, the state said this is not technically health care that’s being provided. Yet, there is research to say that for certain mental health conditions, this might be beneficial. But that’s not the role you’re playing. So I’m just wondering how much you all know about what’s going on with your clients?
Met: Well that’s a technical question. As a service center licensee, I have no knowledge of what clients do with their facilitators because the facilitators are completely separate entity, and I don’t have the right to know what the client’s medical history is at all. The facilitators are the ones who get into that. And I’m in facilitator training right now, I’ll be a facilitator by the middle of October. But what I can tell you as a service center licensee is that I get requests every day. We don’t have a waitlist. We get requests every day and we immediately process them and get back to people because people are so absolutely desperate to heal. You asked earlier what people’s conditions are from their emails. I’ll get an email that goes like this:
“Help! I’ve suffered with depression for 30 years. Can you help me?”
I typically write a really standard form back that just says, “Hey, we don’t have a waitlist, we’re located in Ashland. If you look at our website and look at our facilitator list, tell me if you have a preference, I’ll get you in touch with them,” and I just hand them off.
Now when they come in to get treated, I’ll typically meet them and won’t talk to them. But they’ll oftentimes show up with a spouse or a loved one. And then sometimes in the waiting room, the loved one will share some of the issues or whatever. And then what I hear about afterwards is after the treatment sessions, and today’s the 26th and 27th treatment that we’re doing, I’ll hear from the majority of people about “oh my goodness, my anxiety is gone.” Or “this has really helped me cope.” Or yesterday a quote was “wow, I can stand up and speak for myself again.”
So what we’re seeing is desperation. As a service center licensee, I only have really limited knowledge because I’m not in that loop, and the facilitators have that. I hope that answers the question.
Miller: Why do you want to be a facilitator? As you said, you think you’re gonna get your license in just a couple of months.
Met: Yeah, we’re finishing practicum this week. We’re the first service center in the state to actually do practicum with psilocybin legally. So basically practicum hours, to become a facilitator, you go through 120 hours of training, and then you’re required to do 40 hours of practicum. And the facilitators that have been getting licensed, maybe they’ve been doing it underground or whatever, but they’ve been doing more like breathing exercises. So we have been doing practicum. This marks the end of my journey from practicum working with the clients.
But the question you asked is why do I want to be a facilitator? I think it would be absolutely reckless to be a service center operator and not also be a facilitator because of some of the challenging situations we run into.
Miller: What are the challenging situations? What might they be?
Met: The people that are seeing us, 80% are from out of state. Most of them are very successful and have the money to come out here and take a week off from work and come out here and do one or two sessions. And they don’t have any psychedelic experience, and they desperately want to change their situation. They’ve done the research, they’re asking for very large doses. And what happens is they go into these difficult what we call “loops,” maybe 20%. And it can be relatively difficult and complicated because it’s just a matter of time to help them come back. And that’s a part of the process.
But those challenging situations: they might want to wander, they might want to go outside. We don’t let them go outside. It’s just managing these difficult situations that people have on psychedelic journeys. The reason why it’s good for me to be a facilitator is I’m then legally, since I’ve met the clients, I could step in and facilitate if the other facilitator needs assistance.
And I will also see clients. And that’s an important thing because this is very expensive. We’re targeting a price, all-in with the cost of the medicine, at $1,500 a session. Some of our facilitators are charging up to $2,700 total all-in. Some are more like $1,650. When I get my license, I’m going to be one of the people doing all-in services for $750. We’ve actually been providing some of this social equity, where we’re actually discounting in the group class today, the two people are each paying $300 for their group session including medicine. So we’re already working on this. But by me being the facilitator, I have the ability to choose the price and I can start targeting a price that gives everyone fair access, because that’s what this program for me is about, is fair access.
Miller: Why? Why is that important to you?
Met: It’s social equity. This should not just be something for the people that can pay thousands of dollars. It’s nice that people can get relief from their depression that have the money. But what about the people that don’t? They had a social equity committee for the program. Every single person who gets a license has to have a social equity plan and execute on it.
I got into this for social equity. I spent a year and a half living in the Kingdom of Lesotho, seeing really, really bad poverty. And I decided when I came out of that to go into this business that the rest of what I do for my career is going to be to try to help people. And that’s gonna really have a high social equity component to it. Where people that have been marginalized, people that don’t have access, we want to make access. So as a company, we’re working with a group called Psilocybin Access Fund, they’re raising money to get people here. We’re talking up to people to maybe bring people here that can’t afford it. We’ll cover costs, some of these third parties will help cover costs, and we’re gonna make it happen so that people can get treated for $750 to $1,000 here. Not everybody, because I have to run a service center. But I have a colleague, he’s also being licensed, and we’re committed to this.
Miller: I’m curious how you think about the future of the black market for psilocybin or other psychedelics in Oregon? As we heard from Cathy, she thinks it’s going to boom in the coming years. What are you expecting?
Met: It’s definitely booming. It’s been a vibrant business in many places. You could call it gray market activity. All these training programs, many people are not intending to join the Oregon system. And that’s a great thing. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m a believer, and I’m a believer because the people that come to my service center here, they’re having transformational experiences. I know that for a fact because I see it happening and I follow up and they’re not lying to me. These are transformational experiences. And the way I look at it is the more people there are in the gray market, the more people are gonna be helped.
That being said, I think what we’re doing here in Oregon is fundamentally different because we’re highly regulated, and we have to do, by law, a preparation session. Integration is optional but not in my service center, everyone’s getting an integration session, because that’s what’s the most important.
Miller: Meaning a conversation after the administration of the psilocybin?
Met: Yes. Up until the point of administration, the most important thing going on is preparation and attention. And the greater the intention, the greater the preparation, then the better your journey is likely to be.
But after all of that, the most important thing is integration. And many people feel abandoned in integration after their experience, that’s been shown in the research studies that are at the big medical places. And we see it too. We have to have proper integration. And that commitment to the preparation, and that commitment, while it’s optional under state law, to integration, separates us in many ways from the gray or black market.
Miller: What worries you the most about this Oregon experiment in the near term, in the coming months or years?
Met: Honestly, what I worry about the most is having enough people coming through the door to just pay the rent. We are leasing a space. We have a manufacturing facility that I have to pay overhead on. And there’s not a lot of people being treated. I would say probably the most any service center has treated is maybe 30 people, maybe 20 people so far to date. Maybe 40. If there’s four service centers, that’s 160 people a month. I can supply the entire west coast at that rate, let alone Oregon. And there’s four manufacturers. So the issue is really getting the volume going. And the OHA has been exceptionally good, in my opinion, at helping licensees get going and getting through the backlog. We need more service centers opening, and we need more facilitators. Really, the issue is getting more people in the door.
Miller: I guess the question is, what’s the ceiling for rich people who want this version of a psychedelic experience as opposed to the gray market version? And are there enough of them for there to actually be a licensed industry anywhere?
Met: Absolutely there is enough. There are 30 million people in the United States or more that have conditions they wish were gone. They want them gone now from a mental health standpoint. And the people that are coming to us, they don’t have psychedelic experience, they’re not going to go to the gray market. A lot of the gray market people are basically going and having an experience, but they’re already very familiar with hallucinogenics, or certainly they’ve done cannabis. People that come visit us haven’t even done cannabis. So there’s many, many, many people out there that have been very successful, have very high paying jobs, they’re not gonna go anywhere near- they’re in Oklahoma. Who are they gonna go find? And it can be sketchy. I’ve seen the pictures of Cathy’s place, I think she’s running an amazing operation. And our space is beautiful, and people come in here and say “wow, I can relate to this. This is a place where I feel safe.” And who are you gonna trust your 30 years of anxiety and depression to? So I really believe that there are plenty of people that can afford this and will do this.
And then what are you gonna do if you’re a single mother, let’s say, in some lower income kind of place? Are you gonna go and see the guy down the street? You’re gonna want to come to a place like this where you’re gonna feel safe. We’re here to be here for the long term. Cathy said she’s gonna try it for a couple of years to see how it works. That’s admirable, especially not knowing what the future holds. We’re here to help people. And we are helping people. So I think whenever you have something that’s gonna help people like this does, you’re gonna have people coming from all over the world.
Miller: Andreas Met, thanks very much for joining us.
Met: What a pleasure, thank you.
Miller: Andreas Met is the co-founder and CEO of Satya Therapeutics. It’s a psilocybin service center and manufacturer in Ashland. They have been seeing clients for little over a month now.
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