- Insider is taking you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series “The Inside Story.
- This week, we spoke to Yeji Jesse Lee who covers the psychedelics and cannabis industries.
- So what exactly is it like to cover psychedelics? Read on.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
I began covering the cannabis industry on sort of on a whim. Back when I was in grad school, South Korea ended up legalizing medical cannabis. It seemed like a big deal to me, especially considering how conservative the country was when it came to “illicit substances,” but I was barely seeing any coverage of the news.
I ended up wanting to write the story myself, so I pitched the idea to a cannabis-focused trade publication, they loved it, and I ended up freelance writing cannabis stories. When I saw that Insider was hiring a cannabis reporting fellow a bit over a year ago, I applied and then began to cover the industry here, first as a fellow and then full-time.
During my first month at Insider, I tagged along as my colleague Jeremy Berke spoke at a psychedelics panel alongside some of the biggest industry leaders at the time.
I wrote about the event, not knowing whether or not there would be any interest in the topic. But we quickly saw that there was a readership.
My focus on psychedelics has grown as the industry has burgeoned over the past year. Whereas in early 2020, there were hardly any public psychedelics companies, today there are dozens; investor money is flowing into the industry and institutional interest has peaked in recent months as these companies gear up to develop and bring psychedelics-based treatments to market.
So….”psychedelics.” What exactly do you write about?
The answer to this question has changed over the past year- whereas in early 2020 there were only a few compounds that companies were focusing on, psilocybin and MDMA being some of the main ones, the list has now expanded. I’ve since covered companies working with mescaline, DMT, LSD, Ibogaine, and others.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I love feeling like I’m part of an industry that is growing alongside me. A year ago, hardly anyone had heard about the potential of psychedelics as treatments for mental illnesses, despite the promising academic studies that had gone on around half a century ago. Today, serious companies are valued at more than $1 billion and even smaller startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build out their businesses.
How has the scope of your beat changed as marijuana and psychedelics have increasingly become legalized?
It’s definitely kept me busy. The November elections were a game changer for the industry, as five states voted to legalize cannabis in some form or another and Oregon became the first state in the US to decriminalize all drugs– which has since prompted other jurisdictions to consider doing the same. The legislative changes keep me on my toes because no one is really sure what’s going to happen in the coming months and that leaves lots of doors open.
What do you think increasing legalization of psychedelics means for the war on drugs?
It means that more and more people are acknowledging the detrimental effects the war on drugs had on the world. Decriminalization and legalization are two very different things- one means ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession while the other potentially would create a market for these substances outside of a FDA-regulated pathway – but I think both signify a sort of shift in mentality that we’re having as a larger society where we’re seeing these compounds in a different light.
Where do you see the industry in 5 years?
It’s so hard to say. With cannabis especially, there is a lot that’s riding on the legislative changes we’re expecting to come down the pipeline in the coming years. I don’t foresee the industry slowing down at all despite what happens (or doesn’t happen) on the federal level, but whether cannabis will be a fully legal drug in the US in five years’ time, like it is in Canada, remains to be seen.
In the psychedelics space, it’s a little easier to say because most of these companies are trying to develop drugs through the FDA pathway, meaning they’re not dependent on any legislation to really shape out what their industry could look like in the coming years. In five years time, I think we may potentially have one or two psychedelics-based medications on the market – based on the timelines that some companies have provided – but there’s also a chance that the drug development process could take much longer, meaning things, wouldn’t look vastly different then than they do today.