The founder of Toms Shoes, Blake Mycoskie, has pledged $100 million to support psychedelic research.
“I believe business and philanthropy can be an agent for positive change, and I’ve structured my life around this,” Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie writes in an op-ed for Newsweek today announcing his financial commitment. “I started Toms Shoes in 2006 after seeing firsthand how many children in Latin America were going without shoes.”
Mycoskie continues, “The business model I pioneered was simple: For every pair of shoes sold, we would give one pair to a child in need. So far, Toms has given over 100 million shoes to children around the world.” But, he says, “today I see a much graver problem facing our society, a mental health crisis rapidly growing in scope, severity, and cost.
“That’s why I’m pledging to give away and invest $100 million, a quarter of my net worth, to support research into the medical and mental health benefits of psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, and plant-based substances such as ibogaine and ayahuasca.”
According to Mycoskie, more than one in five American adults have a diagnosable mental illness, “and that number rises to one in three for 18 to 25-year-olds.”
In 2018, Mycoskie was himself a statistic. “I found myself experiencing tremendous emotional and mental pain,” he wrote. “To this day I don’t know what caused this dark period in my life but it left me desperate to find a way out of my despair.”
At the urging of friends, Mycoskie found relief in psychedelics, mainly ayahuasca. “The experience transformed me, reconnected me with my faith, and helped me cope with the pain I was feeling,” he wrote. “I consider myself lucky: most people either do not have the resources to do what I did or would prefer to use Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments.”
Despite the legal red tape, psychedelics have emerged as a treatment front-runner, rivaling pharmaceuticals that can often come with crippling side effects if they even work at all; more than 30 percent of patients prescribed antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals for mental health issues will be diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression, where 2 or more treatments fail to work.
“Almost nine million Americans receive medication for depression but, in nearly a third of those people, existing medication does not help,” Mycoskie writes.
The Toms Shoes founder joins a growing number of entrepreneurs and celebrities flocking to psychedelics. Sam Altman, founder of OpenAI, recently announced his support. Elon Musk recently shared his experience with psychedelics. Prince Harry said magic mushrooms helped him process the trauma of his mother’s death.
Research has found psychedelics to be immensely beneficial in treating PTSD. Veterans have a suicide rate 57 percent higher than the general population.
“To my knowledge, the $100 million I’m pledging is the largest amount ever committed by an individual to the arena of psychedelic-assisted therapies, but I hope that it will inspire other high-net-worth individuals and foundations to consider putting some of their capital into this hopeful, but overlooked, area,” Mycoskie writes.
He says most of these funds will go to philanthropic efforts such as research and education but he is also looking for investments that will propel breakthroughs via the private sector.
The pledge comes as cities and states across the country are decriminalizing recreational use of psychedelic substances. In 2020, the state of Oregon became the first in the U.S. to legalize psilocybin use in therapeutic treatments. Colorado followed suit last year. There are bipartisan bills in Congress aimed at legalizing psychedelics, particularly for service members. And internationally, Australia’s legalization of therapist-assisted psychedelic use just went into effect earlier this month.
Significant movement is happening on the for-profit side as well. Psychedelic startups reportedly raised more than $235 million last year.
But Mycoskie says these promising medicines receive a “tiny fraction” of the funding that traditional pharmaceuticals and biotechnology get, “which means that dollars invested in psychedelics today can make a meaningful difference in speeding lifesaving therapies to those in need.”
“By pledging $100 million of support, I hope to ensure the FDA approves clinically tested psychedelic treatments, to enable access to those treatments for those in need and to help identify new modalities of treatment,” Mycoskie says.
“Today, we’re moving closer to recognizing that we need all the tools we can find to help those living with mental illness,” Mycoskie writes.
“I’ve made a career investing for impact and I’m convinced that this is the right cause at the right moment in history,” he wrote.
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