David Nikzad, Founder of Orthogonal Thinker, shares his perspectives on nutritional alkaloids
Following closely in the footsteps of the cannabis movement is the psychedelic medicine revolution. And this renewed interest in using traditional plants stems from an evolving perspective on health and wellness.
In recent years, the US has suffered from two main health events–the opioid crisis and the obesity epidemic. The former resulted from harmful policies that increased prescribing of painkillers that have a high risk of dependence and abuse. While the US is still reeling from the effects of the crisis, it certainly shed a harsh light on the unscrupulous marketing practices of some pharmaceutical companies. A growing mistrust in narcotics has led many to look for alternative pain treatments.
The obesity epidemic has a bit of a different history. Over past decades, the ways and how we consume food have significantly changed. A quicker pace of life comes with a greater reliance on fast food. Those cooking at home are not buying the same ingredients they used to. Preservatives have increasingly been added to different foods to extend their shelf lives, and sugar, as well as high-fructose corn syrup, seems to be in just about everything. As Americans started gaining weight from these processed foods, direction was averted from sugar to fat, and so began the years of “fat-free” everything, which did nothing to quell rising heart disease rates.
These two health crises significantly impacted the way many Americans viewed their overall health. As such, there has been a movement toward plant-based living which, of course, includes cannabis.
And just as cannabis activists started in small progressive areas, so has the latest plant to gain ground–psychedelic mushrooms that produce the alkaloid psilocybin. In 2019, the use of psilocybin was decriminalized in Denver and Oakland. These states were key in the early days of cannabis legalization, with California legalizing medicinal use in 1996 and Colorado fully legalizing recreational use in 2012.
And, just as with cannabis, psilocybin has been found to possess a number of medicinal properties and is currently being studied as a treatment for depression. In fact, the FDA granted breakthrough designation to two companies developing psilocybin for clinical trial testing in the past year. However, the compounds in testing are synthetic, not derived from the plant itself, and will most likely hit the market soon, following the path of synthetic cannabinoids like Marinol®.
Some are taking the “full-spectrum” approach toward the development and study of psilocybin compounds, in the way that the artisanal cannabis market continues to thrive. And one such company, Orthogonal Thinker, is leading the charge in developing botanical psilocybin products.
David Nikzad, Founder of Orthogonal Thinker, began exploring psilocybin and other nutritional alkaloids a decade ago. This journey didn’t stem from an interest in jumping aboard the latest trend but was deeply personal in nature. When he moved to Hawaii, Nikzad was inspired by the botanicals around him.
“I didn’t originally get into this to make money… through the process of going to Hawaii, the medicine found me,” noted Nikzad.
To fully understand the medicine, Nikzad believes that it is important to have a personal relationship with plants. And, as many of us start the day with a good cup of coffee (caffeine is also a psychoactive alkaloid), Nikzad consumes about 11 different alkaloids in mini-dose brews he developed himself.
For David and many others, psilocybin and other psychedelics, are about expanding the mind and shaking it free of what’s called the “default network.” These deep-set connections form in the brain due to training over time and act as an autopilot, keeping the mind rigid and unable to break through certain psychological barriers.
“Psychoactive compounds are about peeling the onion; it’s about opening you up, really looking inside of yourself, and figuring out, ‘OK. Why don’t I have freedom in my mind, why am I stuck?,’” said Nikzad.
While psilocybin can be used recreationally and for spiritual purposes, just as cannabis, it holds enormous potential for treating mental health conditions. And so Orthogonal Thinker is pioneering the development of a botanical psilocybin product called Psilly, a prodrug of psilocin.
Following toxicology evaluations, Nikzad plans to create partnerships with researchers to study his botanical-based psilocybin products in depression and addiction. As part of these scientific collaborations, he is speaking with organizations worldwide to set up a retreat center and lab.
“Synthetic psilocybin is a lot different than the botanical version of psilocybin. When psilocybin hits the bloodstream, it turns into psilocin. And as much as you can make [it as]…a synthetic product, it’s never going to be as good as the botanical version,” he noted.
Ready or not, “there’s a new paradigm coming into town.” And Nikzad is very hopeful about the future of psychedelics and plant-based medicine, as the company has recently received significant funding to see his vision through their first compound, Psilly.
Will psilocybin’s path look anything like cannabis or follow its road to legalization? It’s far too soon to tell. But what’s pretty clear is that plant-based medicine has leapt into the mainstream to find a new home on pantry shelves and in medicine cabinets, with research underway to validate a potential multitude of benefits.