Legalize It… All? Why Big Pharma Is Suddenly Backing Illicit Drugs

Is Big Pharma running out of tricks?

Will the fate of your health soon be decided by the market value of illicit drugs like mushrooms and LSD?

The latest news is telling.

Just last week, the FDA shocked folks when it approved Spravato, an antidepressant nasal spray that’s made from a variant of ketamine.1

Yes… ketamine, aka Special K, the deadly party drug that was developed in the 1960s as a general anesthetic. In modern clubs, stolen ketamine is sold right alongside ecstasy and bath salts.

Over the years, the recreational use of ketamine has led to countless deaths from overdoses, drownings, traffic accidents and even suicides.

Here’s an excerpt from one sad U.K. story:

Nancy’s body was beginning to disintegrate because she was taking ketamine but rarely eating, exercising or drinking water. At 21, because of the effects of heavy ketamine use on her bladder and appetite, Nancy was incontinent, suffering from a weak heart due to malnutrition and weighed 33 kilos. Her kidneys and bladder were barely functioning.


After reading that, you might think it’s crazy that the FDA would approve an antidepressant that’s essentially just a freshly packaged version of Special K.

But it gets crazier.

You see, this is only the latest example of a notorious drug getting past the censors…

Legalize It… All?

Few people noticed back in October when the FDA gave “breakthrough therapy” designation to another unconventional antidepressant. The driving force behind that drug? Psilocybin… the psychedelic active ingredient in magic mushrooms.3

And you probably didn’t hear about the FDA-regulated trials of MDMA (ecstasy) to treat post-traumatic stress disorder4

Not to mention the renewed attention being paid to LSD as a treatment for a host of psychiatric issues.5

And lest we forget Epidiolex, the recently approved early onset epilepsy drug that’s made up of 99% CBD.

As I noted back in February, the landscape surrounding cannabinoids is shifting rapidly – but at the time of its approval, Epidiolex’s chief ingredient was technically a Schedule I drug.

So what gives? Are the old “miracle” drugs no longer working?

Why is Big Pharma – and the FDA – all of a sudden turning to illicit drugs as legitimate treatments?

In a word… opportunity.


Profiting From the Fringes of Medicine

Notice that all of the drugs and trials I just mentioned are tackling very specific, very niche issues.

In the case of Spravato, Johnson & Johnson isn’t putting its ketamine-based drug up against heavy hitters like Zoloft or Prozac. It’s a fringe product that will be used to treat the folks who’ve tried all available antidepressants with no success.

As noted in a study published in Psychiatric Services, as many as 20% of depressed patients suffer from what’s known as “treatment resistant” depression.6

It’s a phenomena that, according to the study’s authors, “may present an annual added societal cost of $29 billion to $48 billion.”

That’s not to say Johnson & Johnson can (or should) expect Spravato to generate that much in annual revenue. But you can bet that range of numbers was tossed around in some initial marketing meetings.

At any rate, the high-margin drug will surely pay for itself and then some.

Similarly, the psilocybin, MDMA and LSD treatments are all highly specialized. They’re not butting against any existing, highly profitable drugs.

And that’s really the goal. Big Pharma will always prioritize its bottom line, first and foremost.

Occasionally that will lead to something truly groundbreaking (like Epidiolex). But that’s sadly more the exception than the rule.

For your health, it’s important that you understand how the machine works. Ask questions. And don’t ever start taking a new medication without fully interrogating the health professional who prescribed it.

Remember… behind every new “blockbuster” pill, there’s a highly orchestrated marketing plan.


Dr. Sanjay Jain, MD, MBA