The Power of Evidence-Based Psychedelic Healthcare: Maya’s Origin Story
My Journey Into the Unknown
I had never thought about what it might be like to have a mental health condition. Then in 2016, I grazed the surface of what it must be like to navigate split-personality disorder, panic attacks, manic psychosis, and suicidality, all at once. Thankfully this experience only lasted several hours. I was heartbroken, dehydrated, unprepared, and very alone, and had stumbled into what is usually referred to as a “bad trip” on 200 micrograms of LSD.
I had completely lost my sense of self, how that self was situated in existence, of the horizontal ground as horizontal, and even horizontal as a concept. On that night, I learned about—and experienced first-hand—the risks of taking a psychedelic without the proper preparation. While integrating the experience, I was introduced to an organization called the Zendo Project. Zendo was established to provide peer support and the necessary education to help people transform difficult psychedelic experiences into opportunities for growth.
Soon thereafter, I became certified with Zendo, and have helped dozens of people through their own challenging psychedelic journeys. The Zendo training imparted on me the importance of properly preparing one’s mindset and setting for their psychedelic journey, in order to minimize risk and maximize the extraordinary healing potential of psychedelics. As a close friend and guide once said:
“When we’re deep in that place, it is as though we’re at the core of our world, stumbling. It is so easy to kick a pebble down there without knowing that on the surface we have caused an entire continent to shift.”
My psychedelic experience and my involvement with Zendo were catalytic moments for me. They provided me the insight that my own challenging trip was in fact the beginning of a transformative journey. This lead me to meaningful experiences with guided Ayahuasca, Huachuma, 5-MeO-DMT, each of which played a significant role in my own growth and grounding as a person.
Entering the Psychedelic Renaissance
My own transformative psychedelic experience intensified my interest and exploration into existing research and the different kinds of healing practices that have developed around these compounds. As I dedicated more time and energy to this space, I also became immersed in the deep and intertwined mycelial network that is the global psychedelic community. I noticed that psychedelics would come up more frequently in personal conversations with friends and colleagues, as well as in the media. It seemed as though the public perception around psychedelics was beginning to shift towards acceptance rather than fear, and what was commonly being referred to as the “psychedelic renaissance” was evolving quickly.
Surely, I thought, if psychedelics are becoming more accepted into the mainstream, then there should be more evidence-based research about how they can be used to help people improve their mental health and wellbeing on a global scale.
By 2014, I started Baker Technologies, the leading CRM platform for the cannabis industry. It seemed clear that if I could help bring safer access to this naturally occurring, yet highly stigmatized medicine, then I could one day do the same thing for psychedelics. I assumed that might take 10, even 15 years, but thanks in part to Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind, there was a tectonic shift occurring in the public dialog about psychedelics. In 2018, I successfully exited Baker and accepted a volunteer position with the campaign team seeking to decriminalize psychoactive mushrooms in Denver.
In just over six months and with a bootstrapped budget, our tiny team managed to make history. Nearly 51% of Denver residents voted to pass the initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. As the first city in the U.S. to do so, we opened the doors to nearly 100 'Decriminalize' initiatives in municipalities across the country. In fact, Colorado has now de-felonized the possession of Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drugs, and Oregon, California and Colorado have statewide ballot initiatives underway to legalize Psilocybin Assisted Psychotherapy.
Our victory in Denver and subsequent policy reforms nationwide are further evidence that the paradigm of perception around psychedelics is in fact shifting. A significant part of this shift is in response to the pervasive global and national mental health crisis. People are desperately looking to psychedelic-assisted therapies as an innovative approach to healing from trauma, mental illness, and addiction.
The Global Mental Health Crisis
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five U.S adults live with a mental illness: roughly 65 million Americans today. One of the most common forms of mental illness is Major Depression, which affects more than 16 million people in the U.S. each year. In 2017, across the globe over 792 million people suffered from at least one mental health disorder, including substance/alcohol abuse. By 2025, it is estimated that nearly 100 million people will be diagnosed with PTSD, Major Depression, Treatment Resistant Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Substance Use Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder in the U.S. This is a timeline that will surely be accelerated by the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mental health encompasses our emotional, social, and psychological well-being. It impacts our life choices, how we feel, how we relate to each other, how we function and interact in the world. Good mental health is arguably the most essential component of living a healthy and balanced existence.
If we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live life to its fullest potential, then finding innovative mental health treatments should be our highest priority as a society.
The plight of mental illness and human suffering impacts everyone in some way and is therefore a shared, public health issue that requires innovative solutions. For the sake of everyone who has been repeatedly failed by conventional healing modalities, traditional therapies, and medications, we need a paradigm shift in mental healthcare.
The Healing Potential of Psychedelic-Assisted Practices
Existing and ongoing research points to psychedelic-assisted therapy as being an extremely promising solution. In fact, in 2017, the FDA granted “breakthrough therapy designation” for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. The final phases of those clinical trials conducted by MAPS are currently underway. In addition to treatments for PTSD, there is an abundance of emerging studies on psychedelic compounds including Ibogaine to treat opioid use disorder, LSD for anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases, Ketamine for heroin dependence, Psilocybin for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and smoking cessation, and many more studies. This expansive body of research has inspired a worldwide movement of people dedicated to the advancement of psychedelic medicine and mental healthcare.
While many psychedelic compounds are still not regulated in the U.S. and throughout the world, many are taking it upon themselves to seek out these medicines–often facilitated by their licensed psychotherapist. Through psychotherapy using MDMA and Ketamine, Ayahuasca ceremonies, and Iboga retreats, we know anecdotally that many people are experiencing incredible results from properly executed psychedelic modalities. For this reason, this year there are approximately 5.6 million psychedelic users and by 2021, there is expected to be nearly 75,000 legal Ketamine patients. By our best estimates, there could be north of 21,000 plant medicine practices operating with visibility.
What the Psychedelic Community Taught Me
Following my involvement as a leader in the Denver decriminalization campaign, I co-founded the psychedelic research nonprofit, Unlimited Sciences with Heather Jackson and Del Jolly. Together, we formed a collaboration with Johns Hopkins University to design a real-world psilocybin study to explore the impacts of psilocybin mushroom use in naturalistic settings, i.e. outside of the research lab. Our Real-World Psilocybin Mushroom Study launched in August 2020 and has gained amazing momentum worldwide, with thousands of participants registered in less than 2 months.
From my time participating in psychedelic events and gatherings, I have had the fortune of learning from psychedelic practitioners, guides, and educators from around the world, listening to their hopes and the challenges confronting them. I have spent time with psychedelic practitioners who discussed ways that their services could be made more effective, efficient, and scalable. I observed how the larger body of psychedelic research is lacking data on clinical outcomes from psychedelic-assisted therapy practices. And I continue to acknowledge that science has only scratched the surface of exploring the essential elements of “set and setting,” meaning the mindset and the conditions of someone’s journey.
Ultimately, I learned that psychedelic practitioners do not have an easy way to measure and demonstrate their clients’ clinical outcomes. Due to the nuanced and delicate nature of their work, they often have to cobble together a variety of inadequate tools to try to glean insights into their clients’ progress. Practitioners also have been unable to provide clarity to their clients about what their healing journey will look like from preparation through integration. This inability to track, measure, and visualize the benefits of their work also creates challenges for psychedelic practitioners who aspire to demonstrate legitimacy, so they can safely and effectively scale their offerings to serve more people.
Perhaps most importantly, without a way to generate consistent data and outcomes, practitioners do not have a way of contributing their groundbreaking discoveries to the larger psychedelic research collective. Not only is this detrimental to the advancement of psychedelic healthcare, but it is an isolating experience for practitioners, who are taking substantial risks and navigating uncharted territory for the sake of serving those in need.
The Genesis of Maya
In 2018, I had the fortune of participating in a psilocybin-assisted sound healing ceremony. Over the course of a deeply meditative four-hour flow state, the vision for Maya came to me. Maya presented itself by name, which I later learned has ancient meanings ranging from the name for Buddha’s mother, to the Sanskrit word for “the veil of illusion,” or “to pull back the veil of illusion,” and in Amharic, “the lens that helps to see more clearly.” Across all of its meanings, the name “Maya” was definitively in line with the mission of the organization I was dreaming into reality.
Within 24 hours I had written a vision statement for sustainability, education, investment, and technology services that I knew would be needed for psychedelic healthcare to scale safely. A lifetime’s worth of work was in front of me and I had never been so inspired and determined to see a vision come to life. In late 2019, I formed Maya Health with the brilliant data scientist, my co-founder Akoni Anthony.
At Maya, we know that psychedelic medicine has the power to change the paradigm of mental health globally. However, the pioneers in psychedelic healthcare don’t have an easy way to demonstrate the clinical benefits of their work. Maya is a software platform designed to help psychedelic practitioners track, measure, and illustrate the health outcomes for their patients. This is essential so they can safely and effectively scale their practices, heal more people, and meaningfully advance psychedelic science.
Maya is a Colorado Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), which means our team members, advisors, investors, and supporters are aligned to prioritize our impact on the world above profit. As of today, we’re a passionately committed team of 13, based in Denver and with a presence in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, Columbus, and New York. We’re grateful to have world-class support from ethically aligned investors and advisors across the world.
Our Vision for Psychedelic Healthcare
We envision a future where everyone has the opportunity to receive safe, evidence-based psychedelic healthcare. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to maximize their potential and live life to its fullest. We stand for safe and responsible psychedelic-assisted practices. We stand for the responsible stewardship of private information and personal data. We stand for an inclusive community bonded by the trust and care that is essential to advance this movement. As the community of psychedelic practitioners, educators, and researchers grows, we will grow with it. We promise to uphold integrity, to honor the lineages of tradition, and to safeguard the flow of data so that it can be used to advance psychedelic healthcare to help millions of people improve their wellbeing.
If you're curious about Maya and want to learn more, please contact us.