Smashed Peaches

Drug Research Studies

Issue No. 210: Sports x Psychedelics – Fitt Insider

Opening up about personal experiences, pro athletes are changing the perception of psychedelics.

Big Business

As we detailed in Issue No. 174, the mental health crisis is fueling a psychedelic renaissance.

  • 50+ psychedelic companies are listed on US exchanges.
  • The global psychedelic drug sector is set to reach $10.7B by 2027.
  • Psychedelics startups raised ~$2B from public and private market investors last year.

Despite looming legal hurdles, and recent cooling of the market, psychedelics continue to show promise in treating depression, addiction, PTSD, and more.

Athlete Advocates

Grappling with life in the spotlight, athletes have become mental health advocates.

Instead of suffering in silence, superstars like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Michael Phelps have spoken publicly about their struggles. A step further, athletes are partnering with mental wellness companies to increase awareness.

  • Soccer champion Megan Rapinoe and Vikings’ Eric Kendricks backed mental healthcare startup Real.
  • Osaka, an investor in Modern Health and Hyperice, teamed with both companies to launch meditation content.
  • NBA star Kevin Love invested in emotional fitness startup Coa and launched a mental health program for high schoolers.

Signaling a broader shift, mental fitness has become essential to elite performance, with athletes honing mind and body in pursuit of greatness.

Running on Fumes

A multifaceted issue, the athlete mental health crisis impacts everything from general well-being to pain management and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

  • 35% of elite athletes suffer from disordered eating, burnout, depression, and/or anxiety.
  • Mental health concerns among NCAA athletes have doubled in recent years, with only half believing mental health to be a priority to their athletics department.

Leaning in, the NFL and NBA require every team to employ a mental health professional. But, the MLB and NHL don’t have similar mandates. And nearly every pro league receives criticism for failing to provide adequate resources.

Among NFLers, fear of judgment or retaliation breeds a “play-through-it” mentality. As Packers QB Aaron Rodgers puts it:

“There’s a stigma around talking about feelings, struggles and dealing with stress. There’s a lot of vernacular that seems to tag it as weakness.”

Similarly, a study of current and former NHLers revealed a culture of “silence and suspicion” surrounding mental health, discouraging players from seeking help.

Open Minded

Taking matters into their own hands, sports stars are turning to psychedelics.

Among active players, Rodgers regularly talks about using ayahuasca (a DMT-laced tea) and its “healing” effects. And free agent wide receiver Kenny Stills was vocal about using ketamine-assisted therapy during the 2021 season.

After using psilocybin to treat his post-concussion syndrome and traumatic brain injuries, retired NHL player Daniel Carcillo co-founded Wesana Health. The psychedelic therapy company has raised nearly $17M to date, including backing from Mike Tyson.

Making inroads into the sports realm, Wesana partnered with the World Boxing Council to study the effects of psychedelics on TBIs. Similarly, the UFC is reportedly working with Johns Hopkins University to explore the use of psychedelics on fighters’ brain health.

Zooming out: As the mental health crisis intensifies and athletes seek out alternative treatment options, the use of psychedelics will present a host of new challenges — from efficacy and drug testing to performance enhancement and sponsorship deals.

Some leagues have already eased restrictions on marijuana use, while the NFL invested $1M to study cannabis and CBD for pain management. Elsewhere, athletes have invested in CBD companies like Beam, while Kevin Durant partnered with cannabis marketplace Weedmaps.

Takeaway: Sports have always pushed the limits of human potential, and psychedelics may be the next frontier. Helping move the conversation into the mainstream while espousing the benefits, taking a trip could soon become the latest trickle-down trend from elite athletics.