Breaking the Taboo Around Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Investor Sylvia Benito speaks about psychedelic-assisted therapy and its transformative potential.

By Sylvia Benito

August 1, 2022


Dan Miller (Spora Health), Sylvia Benito, and Evan Richardson (Form Health) at Future Perfect

My name is Sylvia Benito, and I am an investor and a practicing shaman. My primary work is as a Chief Investment Officer who invests across the spectrum, but with a focus on emerging opportunities in psychedelics. I am also CEO of litigation finance fund, Justice Partners, where we invest in cases that address concerns of corporate governance and sustainability.

Shamanic approach to investing

One of my many passions is to explore alternative lenses of investing. For example, I’m curious to see what investing looks like through a feminine framework and/or a shamanic framework. In other words, I like to ask the question: what does investing look like if you’re considering the consciousness of the company itself? What happens if you remove your traditional biases and are able to measure, understand, and support the consciousness of a founder? What kind of impact is that founder going to have on the planet?

People call me the Shaman VC because my investing approach is to align capital behind founders with the highest consciousness and the most transformative power.

How psychedelics change lives

Profound awakenings in my life led to the foundation of my work with psychedelics. As a practicing shaman, I've been in many healings with people who have profound trauma. Inspired by them and M13’s health founders, I want to share a story that reveals the transformative power of psychedelics-assisted therapy, hopefully shedding a different light on this field.

Over the past two years, we have witnessed a surge in information and interest in psychedelic assisted therapy. This is still an emerging field. I believe that we need to be mindful that this is not a cure-all therapy; there are critical needs for safeguards and ethical frameworks- but the potential is compelling.

One area of high potential use cases for psychedelic assisted therapy is end of life. Collectively, humans hold a fear of death. In fact, death might be one of the most interesting areas of human experience that are ripe for innovation. In my work as a shaman, I am occasionally called on to work with someone who is facing imminent death. Psychedelic therapy is a powerful tool at the deathbed.

I once worked with a woman in her early 50s who was facing a premature and painful death from bone cancer. This woman was terrified, and her family was terrified.

I remember when I first walked through the door of her bedroom that day. She was so thin, fragile, and looked haunted by the pain. Psilocybin has very low toxicity and there were no contraindications with the drugs she was actively taking. So it was safe to work with her, despite the advanced cancer. She went on a profound journey that day, over a five hour period. What psychedelics can help us to see, at their very best- is the deeper meaning behind the seemingly random and unfortunate events that befall us. They can make meaning out of the mess of the human experience.

She started that journey feeling like a victim of cancer and ended the day in peace and ready to die. In fact, her husband, who observed the session, said to me, “I believe in miracles now.” The entire family was able to enjoy their last few days with her in peace instead of fear.

How did that happen? By accessing a mystical experience inside the medicine journey. In fact, studies involving psychedelics often use what is called “the mystical scale” to measure how deeply a person has experienced transcendance. The higher the score, the more impactful the outcomes are on not just fear of death, but depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Collaborating with science

The Beckley Foundation, which was founded by Amanda Fielding, one of the early psychedelic pioneers who has been funding psychedelics research for 30 years, has created an entire ecosystem around it spanning drug development, retreats, and therapist training. I serve on the board of Beckley Retreats, which holds legal psilocybin retreats in Jamaica.

We have had strong interest from veterans, and currently are partnered with Heroic Hearts and The Imperial College of London to collect data on the results with vets who are participating in our retreats. In my personal work, I have seen astounding results with vets- from resolving alcohol abuse to alleviating suicidal ideation. As a result I am particularly hopeful for the ways in which this therapy can help our heroes to heal.

Future prospects

We are predicting a need for thousands and thousands of facilitators over the next five years. In terms of investing, businesses that have solid and well organized frameworks to offer retreats will continue to have strong demand from consumers, and the businesses that train the facilitators are compelling investments.These are the early days of this ecosystem developing, so I am well aware of the pitfalls and generally more bearish than bullish when analyzing companies.

Some investors look at this in a similar frame to the legalization of cannabis but I believe this is a very different thesis. Regarding the drug development aspect of psychedelics, it is important to remember that they are true biotech companies and should be analyzed with the same metrics.

For the past two years, I felt like my role was to normalize the conversation around psychedelics. In many ways, I feel that we have moved past that milestone as a culture. For me, now, the conversation should move to the responsible and intelligent frameworks we need as investors so this renaissance can flourish into a real part of the future of medicine and wellness.

To learn more about speakers at our Future Perfect conversation series and why M13 invests in the future of health, check out our event roundup blog and health investment thesis.