Picture this: you enter a pharmacy, hand over your doctor’s prescription, and the pharmacist hands you back a small, lightweight, analog device, about the size of a pager. It is, the pharmacist explains, the equivalent of an insulin pump. After having it calibrated according to your recommended dosage, you go home, lift your shirt, attach the pump to your stomach and, at whatever frequency and intensity best suits your needs, receive a regular and recurrent dose of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the so-called “spirit molecule.” Or LSD. Or mescaline, the active ingredient in peyote.
There is no sudden onset of hallucinogenic effects, no nausea or vomiting or strung out anxiety. Nothing, other than the vaunted therapeutic effects for which these kinds of psychedelic compounds are becoming increasingly revered.
This is the future that Gregg Peterson and Jeffrey Becker, founders of Bexson Biomedical, are working towards. A not-too-distant future, all things going to plan.
“We are actively developing our psychedelic formulations and would like to have them in humans in 2022,” Peterson told VICE World News. “We’ve got some work to do beforehand, but that would be our target.”
Last year, the small California-based company announced that they were developing a wearable ketamine device that administers small doses of liquid ketamine subcutaneously – that is, into the layer of fat between your skin and muscle – via a tiny needle. That device, which is still in the development stage but slated for human trials in the first half of next year, is designed for the purpose of delivering pain relief to patients, specifically those experiencing acute postoperative pain following surgeries and other medical procedures.
Importantly, it would allow individuals to continue using the drug medicinally in a controlled, at-home setting.
Peterson said the wearable ketamine pump was inspired by the global opioid crisis, and a desire to lower opioid addiction rates within the U.S. and globally by “creating a non-opioid therapy that patients can go home with.” But by October 2020, he and Becker realised that the device they’d created to address that particular problem – a wearable, tunable, slow-release drug pump – could be used to optimise the user experience in relation to a number of other substances, particularly psychedelics. Namely, by giving users as much control as possible over their high.
“We realised that what we had done was to hack the problems that are associated with a whole host of other molecules,” Becker explained, “and a whole bunch of other possible repurposing projects came into our awareness.”
When he says “problems,” Becker is referring to the unpredictability of psychedelic substances, and the inherent difficulty in nailing down the exact dose needed to give a particular person a particular trip. The amount of time it takes for the drug to kick in; the length of time that the trip lasts; liver enzyme variability that leads to some patients having trips and other patients not – all of these factors can disrupt the user experience, and are difficult to adjust in real-time when the drug is being ingested orally, as is the case in most therapeutic contexts today.
“When you swallow a bolus dose of something that doesn’t come on for an hour it’s very hard to get the dose right, and people’s liver enzymes are so variable that you can get 300 percent differences out of a given dose,” Becker explained. By way of analogy, he pointed to recreational situations where one person needs three ecstasy pills to feel the drug’s effects while another is flying high on one. “Why does that happen? A lot of it is liver enzyme stuff, and that doesn’t play well in a medical office.”
The benefit of Bexson’s adjustable, subcutaneous device is that it allows the user to fine-tune their psychedelic experience. An individual will be able to guarantee what kind of trip they’re going to have; they can preprogram how intensely the effects are going to kick in, how long the experience will last, and how deep into it they’ll go. Depending on the substance, users might also be given the option of an attunement process where they can elect to turn up the rate of infusion or give themselves an additional bolus dose – within certain safety parameters and under the direction of healthcare providers – to bump them up to the appropriate level.
All of which, in theory, will give the patient and practitioner more control over the therapy, accounting for differences in patient sensitivity and drug metabolism while also allowing them to target certain psychic effects. For a class of substances that is already showing great promise in treating symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, that could have significant implications for the efficacy, safety and accessibility of psychedelic treatments.
“We really see [this method of delivery] as substantially increasing the safety and also probably increasing consistency, so that patients can prepare for an event, go in, and it’s going to happen; they know they’re going to get into the space, and it’s not going to be a guessing game about ‘do I drink one cup of this brew or two cups?’” said Becker. “Our goals are to be much more in control of the dosing. The pump is programmable, so when we’re looking at a different molecule like a psychedelic, where you’re really wanting to get a blood level that’s going to get it into the brain, it’s really just a matter of changing the programming in the pump.”
Bexson is currently looking at a range of molecules and compounds that could be put to use with the wearable pump device – including those from the phenylethylamine class, the mescaline 2CB class, and “some of the simpler scaffolds” like DMT – as well as the development of other potential delivery devices, like injector pens. Healthcare providers will be able to adjust the dosing increment and the time between doses, and program the devices to deliver the substance all in an hour, bit by bit, or in bolus fashion over the course of several days.
The benefit of Bexson’s adjustable, subcutaneous device is that it allows the user to fine-tune their psychedelic experience. An individual will be able to guarantee what kind of trip they’re going to have; they can preprogram how intensely the effects are going to kick in, how long the experience will last, and how deep into it they’ll go.
Becker stressed that the rate and method of administration and the environment in which the device is used, however, will depend on the medically prescribed dose and the advice of relevant practitioners.
“What you are trying to treat, and with what kind of molecule, could determine whether you’re going to go all in with an injection or you’re going to do an infusion with the pump,” he said. “High dose? Supervised settings. But if you’re looking at low dose, microdosing of LSD or any psychedelic, this would be more something that we would think of for home use because the dosing is low enough.”
“There’s just so much optionality,” he added, “it’s been a bit shocking how many things we could possibly do with all this.”
It’s still early days. Neither the wearable ketamine pump nor its psychedelic equivalents have been tested on human subjects, and the rollout of Bexson’s pharmaceutical tech for medical use among real, flesh-and-blood patients is pursuant to regulating bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) giving them the green light.
“Our goals are to be much more in control of the dosing … when we’re looking at a different molecule like a psychedelic, where you’re really wanting to … get it into the brain, it’s really just a matter of changing the programming in the pump.”
Decriminalisation is another thing. Currently, only a handful of U.S. cities have decriminalised the use and possession of psychedelics. But that tide is turning – and Bexson will be watching closely to see whether ongoing developments in the legislative space might expand the company’s horizons in the future.
Peterson went as far as to suggest that a wearable psychedelic device for performance-enhancing microdoses, in the fashion of Silicon Valley’s fabled techpreneurs, is something that could be on the cards down the line. He hastened to add, however, that “getting that FDA approval is a little further away than what we think about in terms of treating a disease or treating a disorder.”
“We think we’ve got some of the best tech around that would maximise safety, [and] it’ll be interesting to see how decriminalisation plays out,” Peterson said. “[But] in the near-term we are a drug development company going down the regulatory pathway for medical use.”
He feels confident that the company will be able to get its ketamine therapy over the line for pain management, and that “definitely some [psychedelics] are going to get approved” given their demonstrated potential to treat mental health conditions. Becker further speculated that the leading contenders on that front would be natural molecules like LSD and mescaline – those that have the most research to back up their efficacy. They’re aiming for human trials in 2022 and FDA approval in 2025-26.
“We think we’ve got some of the best tech around that would maximise safety, [and] it’ll be interesting to see how decriminalisation plays out … [But] in the near-term we are a drug development company going down the regulatory pathway for medical use.”
“I don’t know which molecule will end up playing out,” said Becker. “I am a fan clinically of LSD, and I think some of the other phenylethylamines that might be long-lasting could be very interesting, including mescaline … [But] I don’t want to sound cavalier. We’re really by the book in our company, so I’m excited about all of this but we see the long regulatory pathway ahead of ourselves in anything we’re talking about.”
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Correction: The story originally said psilocybin is one of the drugs the device is working on administering. We regret the error.