December 21, 2021

"Asking for a Friend": Inside the Psychedelic Movement With Kelsey Ramsden

"Asking for a Friend": Inside the Psychedelic Movement With Kelsey Ramsden

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:09
You made it to the end. This is the conclusion of the first season of the MIND CURIOUS podcast. Over the course of the last 21 episodes, we have attempted to raise consciousness by providing research, personal stories, and practical application around the emerging world of psychedelic medicine. We've heard from well-known established experts in the field, people like Dr. Dan Engle and Hamilton Morris. We've also attempted to highlight the voices of people who you may not have heard of before but who have been active in helping to move psychedelic treatments forward, either within their own practices or within their own lives.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:46
If you have missed any season one episodes, please, I encourage you to go back and spend the time to sit with any of that you may have missed. We have worked hard to bring you thoughtful, rich conversation. We end today with some thoughts from MINDCURE CEO, Kelsey Ramsden. Kelsey is an award winning deeply experienced entrepreneur. In our conversation today, we talked about why she has chosen to throw her skills and passion into the advancement of psychedelic medicines.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:01:12
In addition to being brilliant and absolutely focused on the goal of growing her mission, Kelsey is a delightful person to sit down with for a conversation. Please remember that the content of our conversation is not intended to be medical or legal advice. We welcome you to join us. Let's dig in. You know, for you, at this point in your career, at this point in your life, why psychedelics? Why is this the company, the work, that you have decided to go all in on?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:01:56
I think my coming into this work with psychedelics is very much a destination that was always there for me. I just didn't see it myself. It wasn't an opportunity we knew existed three years ago. But I do know that through my own experience with psychedelics and my own experience as a human, you know, I'm human, turns out a few things have happened along the way, that it seemed, you know, getting my MBA and scaling up these businesses and winning awards and arriving at the place where I could be purposeful to the advancement of psychedelic medicine and the capitalization of the research was just a bit of an of course-type of moment once it arrived. So, my coming into this work was a long path of not knowing this is where I was going to arrive. But when I got here, it seemed like there was nowhere else I was headed.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:02:49
You look backwards and you see all the dots connecting in a very logical streamlined way.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:02:53
Yeah, precisely.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:02:56
I mean, it is an extraordinary experience to be in an industry that hasn't existed before really, to be in that cutting edge space of new territory.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:03:07
Well, I think that's the best part. For me, this is my natural environment. You know, I think everyone has a bit of a natural environment they feel comfortable in. I feel most comfortable where there is no road, and there is no North Star and everything is, you know, up for interpretation, and you get to collectively define what this new future looks like and design it. In many ways, there couldn't be a more perfect place for me to operate than this intersection of science and culture and modern and traditional. You know, really challenging conversations but they can lead to tremendous breakthroughs.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:03:49
And that's a space I love.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:03:55
So, much of your work is around mental health. Is that piece a surprise to you or is that piece feel like a big learning curve?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:04:04
For the longest time, I thought that anyone who suffered from any kind of form of mental health challenge was somehow a little bit broken, myself included. So, this was my labeling of self, is I'll never make it all the way because, you know, I've experienced depression and anxiety and although fortunately or unfortunately, my greatest addiction is really societally acceptable, which is workaholism, which could give some people a laugh but the truth of the matter is it really can be a problem for your family and your life when most of your self-worth is tied up in, you know, what you produce. So, it's funny that actually all of this history of hardship and working through it, it was like my MBA. It's like my second MBA. It's like my mental health MBA to be able to get here and actually feel like I understand. Not just I understand, but I understand.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:05:06
From the inside out, you understand?

Kelsey Ramsden - 00:05:08

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:05:08
I think if you're going to work so hard to change an industry or change conversations really in every level of culture, you have to have some touchpoints with it. It can't be abstract. It can't be academic.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:05:23
Yeah, and I'll tell you what, when you're working at the frontier of a thing and you're really creating a new paradigm without having had some touch point to it, it would be tremendously more challenging to do. And that doesn't mean that the way that I've lived or my own struggles are the only way, but I understand how hearing different perspectives and understanding how different every person's lived experience can be, and the value of listening and being informed can add so much to what we build together into this future of care. I also think my own road has benefited me in that I know that the most broken of person who feels the greatest amount of despair has equally as much potential as I ever had. So, you know, in the moments when I could have counted myself out, there might not have been a today where you and I were chatting. I think about those people who are today, right now as we're talking, feeling like that. And then, I imagine, there is potential for them to be living their best life, having a career they never even imagined possible, surrounded by people that inspire them.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:06:38
And so, there is a path to hope and a journey back to self in a way that is possible. And if I hadn't lived it, it might be harder to believe it.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:06:52
But you know it in your bones, for yourself, and that helps you know it for others as a possibility?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:06:59
Yeah, and it helps in the 16th hour on a long day.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:07:05
To remind you, "Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?"

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:07:08
Yeah, I think that's the other thing that people don't realize about the whole psychedelics industry is this is startup frontier like we are all working, like you see in the movies because it's all being created. There is no road map and everyone is trying to figure it out. And so, for me, that's also tremendously exciting, this opportunity to build something that's never been done. So, yeah, in the hardest hours I think, "Okay, there's meaning. It's not just money."

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:07:36
Do you get interesting comments or raised eyebrows from people in your world around working with a psychedelic company?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:07:44
So, there are two groups of people. Well, there are multiple groups of people in my world, but predominantly two. And the one group says, "Of course, that makes total sense." And the other group says--

Dr. Sherry Walling - 00:07:57
No surprises.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:07:58
Yeah, one group is not surprised in any way. And the other group is curious. They do raise their eyebrows, but they're curious. They have follow-up questions. Because the research is becoming more well known. And I think everyone's been touched by some form of mental health, addiction, depression, PTSD, anxiety, like the list goes on that moreover, I would say by three questions in, they're asking for themselves or a friend.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:08:21
And I find that fascinating. That, to me, tells me that the culture of psychedelics as medicine is moving actually much more quickly than I had expected, and that's exciting.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:08:39
Yeah, it might not be such a hard sell. It might not be such a hard sell to say we need different strategies. We need some innovation in this area. I think people are ready for that.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:08:50
I think people are ready and I think people who've done a lot of the hard work are willing to do the hard work. And so, when we hear the narrative about, "Is someone going to be willing to do an 8-hour trip on some psychedelic drug?" And I'm not sure those people have gone through years of therapy and been on anti depression meds.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:09:14
They may not understand the level of desperation that's like, "Oh, 8 hours, no problem. Where do I sign up?"

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:09:21
Absolutely and  even if it's 8 hours once a week for three months or if it's once every six months or if it, you know, depending on the protocol of care. And, you know, I think with ibogaine and MINDCURE, it's been on my mind a lot recently that, you know, we have access to a medicine that for people suffering from opiate addiction. And I've spoken to a number of people who say, "It's not that I don't want to get off it, it's actually that I fear how sick I'm going to be when I come off it." The idea is like the crippling fear of the pain and the anguish of coming off of these drugs is really difficult. And when you hear anecdotal reports coming out of Mexico where they've been doing this treatment for a long time and people are saying, "I suffered no withdrawal symptoms." Like that alone changes the game.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:10:18
It gets people into the process of potentially recovering, like showing up if nothing else.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:10:29
To be hopeful.

Kelsey Ramsden - 00:10:30
To be hopeful.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:10:31
Yeah. So, we've kind of seen some glimpses of this before in the conversation around psychedelics, right? There was tremendously promising research in the 60s and 70s, and then it all got shut down as you've known, and I'm sure our listeners will be somewhat familiar with. Do you see that happening again? Do you think there's a vulnerability to this industry? Or do you feel like it's matured past that? It's-- the research is robust enough at this point?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:10:59
I would love to say the answer is yes. But I'm still trepidatious. I think if we can use an analogy for anyone who's listening who hasn't experienced psychedelics in therapeutic practice, which is very different than what you did at college. I liken it to a tricycle versus a Ferrari. So, what we're used to is something in the medical sphere that moves relatively slowly, and we can kind of control it, and we have a lot of visibility on what's going to happen. When you utilize psychedelics at these therapeutic doses, you're in the seat of a very powerful vehicle.  And it has very tight handling. And it's a beautiful ride. And it can take you all sorts of places.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:11:35
But if you don't understand the road, it cannot go well. And I think there is still potential for people who hear about the healing power of psychedelics to take matters into their own hands, to do unguided journeys where they don't have someone who has the map for the road to help them handle the Ferrari. I think my greatest fear is that there are one or two negative stories that come out about folks who've done that kind of thing. And a lot of people can't discern between good science and pop culture. And my great hope is that people start to pay attention to the difference and that what we are talking about is clinical practice.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:12:26
There is, though, something I think is really important to know, which is traditional practice. And traditional practice also has their hands on the wheel. They know where they're going. They-- you know, this has been done.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:12:43
There's a map.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:12:45
There's a map. It's quite clear.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:12:46
There's a lot of shared collective knowledge that's passed down and guarded well.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:12:50
A lot. And so, I think people should, you know, have reverence for that as well, and I don't think it's an either or. I think it's a both and. So, there is value for both of those ways in the world around psychedelic medicine. But I do-- I do fear a bad story.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:13:07
And that may diminish trust?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:13:10
I think so.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:13:11
How do you hold the traditional and the cutting edge startup nature of your work within yourself?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:13:20
I always try and do my level best to say upon whose shoulders we stand, you know. And it's not just the folks that we all hear a lot about, the Rick Doblin's and the Stan Grof's. It's the people before them and before them and before them. And, you know, five generations from now, no one will remember my name in the same way that very few of us remember theirs. But they held wisdom and knowledge and passed it down.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:13:42
So, for me, in this work, it is remembering and holding to this. Not idea, this to me, it's the truth that there is value to both forms of the practice. We need the clinical data-driven understanding for specific indications. And traditionally, there has been another use for psychedelics, which is in spiritual and performance context connecting to self and others in the universe. And I am not here to place any kind of like judgment or anything on those practices.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:14:12
And if anything personally, I think the future of psychedelics will go beyond the clinical practice and will go into a space where people are utilizing psychedelics for a greater understanding of self and connection to self and performance. And I don't think that future is going to be as far off as many might think.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:14:44
Is that part of what you're pushing forward in your work with MINDCURE is whether that's legalization or access? Is that part of the work? Or are you pretty focused on the clinical components at this point in your story with it?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:14:59
I mean, I think the access piece is important to us. It's a part of the technology piece of our business is ensuring that we're able to provide therapists with a backbone that they can provide more care to more people and that we can unlock insurance payment for more people for this kind of work. That's important. I think legalization and regulation are, of course, part of the drug development process for any drug that we're developing. In a general sense, we're supporting the people who do that work. We've made some financial contributions to some of the early people in the industry.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:15:30
TheraPsil being one of them doing great work. But I also feel like, you know, we have to stick to our lane. Like, "What do we grade at?" And I'm okay with that. I think what's beautiful about the psychedelics collective is here we have all these capital organizations and all these historical organizations and all these cultural organizations and nonprofits. And surprisingly, we're all pulling in the exact same direction.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:16:02
Which is not often true of the capitalists and the, you know, the indigenous and those from-- coming from a historical or spiritual context. Not often are those goals aligned.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:16:13
And not often are they. And even insofar as we all may have a slight different version of what utopia in this space can look like. For the most part, it's like singing to a chorus and everyone's on the same page, which is quite lovely. And I have never experienced another capital environment where CEOs are as collegiate and where people look at one another as building an industry together as opposed to being competitive.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 00:16:43
In a race against each other.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:16:46
We're in a race against time. Everybody likes being first, myself among them. Maybe not everybody, but I certainly do. But we recognize that without one another, without one another advancing, without a multiplicity of opportunities across the psychedelic medicines to treat different indications, we don't create the culture for people to feel welcome to trying these new ways of healing. So, it's-- it's a really fabulous environment to work in.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:17:18
It sounds inspiring. Who's inspiring you right now? Who on your team? Who in the industry?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:17:25
I would say I'm most inspired by our team like I'd love to give props to lots of folks in the industry and there are a lot of people doing great work. But every Friday, we have this meeting. It's called the Friday Jam. And because we're a virtual company, meaning, you know, we started in COVID so people live around the world who work with us and it started out there were five of us on the screen and then there were seven and then 10 and 20 and 25. I think the largest number on our-- on our Friday Jam is 42. And it's inspiring to look at the faces of every single one of the people on the call and think, "I'm so glad you're here." I think the great thing about building a team is to be able to identify entirely different individuals like people who for no other reason would ever come together and knit this kind of fabric where what you lack I have, but with the humility and the competence to be able to have that conversation.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:18:26
And I think that's really one of the most inspiring things about the team that we have is everyone is tremendously competent at the things that they do and the things that they don't. They're happy to let the others hold that space. And I haven't seen that before in this kind of way.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:18:54
It's a beautiful dance between humility and competence. I know what I know. I'm not ashamed or iffy about it. I can own what I own, but also happily accept help and support and other ideas.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:19:09
Yeah, it's really. It's a thing to behold. So, that's what's most inspiring to me at the moment is the opportunity to work with our team.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:19:20
Anything keeping you up at night these days?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:19:23
What? Oh, my God. Of course. I have a time. It's 2:14 AM. That's the time I wake up when things are on my mind. And it's the same time, I don't know if that's an actual medical thing or if it's just a me thing, but 2:14 is the time.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:19:39
The time you're familiar with huh?

Kelsey Ramsden - 00:19:40
I'ts-- yeah. I look and I'm like, "Yeah, it's 2:14." What's keeping me up? Oh, there's a mountain of work to do. Patience isn't a virtue I was given. I have a number but patience is not one. And we have big plans and we have a strong team, and we have so much capacity and ability, and we get messages from people who are looking for care. And that's generally-- that's generally, when it gets me.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:20:04
A couple of nights ago, I got one and it was pretty urgent and it just keeps me up at night thinking like, "That person is out there and I could probably help them, but I can't just yet." You know, we have a lot of work to do and that keeps me up at night. All the rest of this stuff is kind of-- it's fun and it's engaging, and it's challenging, and I love it. But, you know, the whole purpose of all of this is just human connection and being kind and advancing how we care for and treat each other. And that's, I suppose, why we're existing as an organization, you know. Why we're here?

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:20:53
Anything that I didn't ask about that feels important? This is the last episode of the season of the podcast. We've done-- had lots of conversations on the podcast as you know.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:21:06
So, I'm going make a couple of assumptions to frame this. One is, I'm assuming you-- if you're listening, you've listened to more than just this episode. So, you have the curiosity around psychedelics and/or mental health and the convergence of the two. So, that's one assumption. I suppose the second assumption is that we're a world in need of some form of healing that's different than what we've been doing. And if that's true, then the thing I think is most important is to be an open skeptic.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:21:31
I love the idea of saying yes to everything. And I love the idea of big promises. And I love bright futures and big dreams. But mostly, I want people to listen and ask the questions and help us provide the answers in a way that people can understand and feel safe and confident that psychedelics is a form of medicine in the clinical setting is something really to behold because I know it to be true in my experience. And I think it's going to take a lot of open skeptics to convince themselves that beyond the research, these are soul choices and they're made one at a time.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:22:26
And I suppose that the thing that's left unsaid is continue your open skepticism. Listen and ask your questions and recognize that there's a lot of work to be done but one person at a time. That's just how it gets done.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:22:46
Sounds like that's a kind of a mantra for you.

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:22:51
Well, my real mantra is it's a street fight and a footrace and I'm just over here meditating on a rocket. That's what it feels like all the time. There's so much work to do and it's going so fast and there's, you know, so many conversations about if this way is right or that way is right. Or do we need the psychedelic experience? Or should we be altering things?

Kelsey Ramsden - 0:23:13
Is there an entourage effect? There's just so many questions. So, that's the street fight part. And the footrace is, you know, patents and speed of science and speed of thought, speed of culture. And meditating on a rocket is just the ability to stay calm and centered while we raise a lot of money,  and our team grows quickly, and we change the world that pays. That's my mantra.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:23:44
And that's a wrap on season one. Thank you so much for journeying with me as I've talked with guests and explored the various corners of this new world of psychedelic medicines. We'll take a holiday break before releasing any more podcast episodes. But look for us as the snow begins to thaw next year. In the meantime, please keep track of all that MINDCURE is doing. The podcast is just one piece of the educational material that we are putting forth into the world.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:24:07
Our other content includes blogs, videos, opportunities to participate in research projects. Many ways to fuel your curiosity around psychedelic medicine. So, please don't be a stranger and in the meantime, be well. 

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