Luminous: Building The Psychedelic Revolution

To The Best of out Knowledge presents Luminous

Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original images via Usona Institute/Steve Paulson (TTBOOK).

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Original Air Date: 
May 17, 2023

In the last decade, an unlikely place has emerged as a hub for the latest psychedelic renaissance — Madison, Wisconsin. And the Usona Institute is a major part of that. 

Usona is currently building a 93,000-square foot structure devoted to psychedelics. There’s nothing else like it. The man behind it all is the psychedelic CEO Bill Linton. He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but he recently sat down for a rare interview with Steve Paulson.

In this episode of "Luminous," we go inside Usona’s chemistry lab and go deep with Bill Linton about his pioneering work with psychedelics.

An illustration of a scientists synthesizing mushrooms in a lab

A psychedelic research center in Wisconsin is gearing up to manufacture enough medical-grade psilocybin to supply the world. Steve Paulson went to Usona Insitute to see where the magic's made, and got a peek inside the lab of chemist Alex Sherwood.

an illustration of a man who's mind is being expanded by psychedelics

Bill Linton is on a mission. He wants to get FDA approval for using psychedelics to treat depression and addiction. So he co-founded his own nonprofit psychedelic center, Usona Institute, to help revolutionize the treatment of mental illness.


Show Details 📻
May 17, 2023
Bill Linton
Executive Director, Usona Institute, and CEO, Promega Corporation
Full Transcript 📄

- [Steve] Hey, it's Steve and this is Luminous, a podcast series about psychedelics from To The Best of Our Knowledge. If I had to pinpoint where the psychedelic revival first took route, there are a few places I'd mention, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and Imperial College in London, which did some of the big early studies, or maybe Burning Man where a lot of this energy was swirling around. But in the last decade, some unlikely places have emerged as hubs for this psychedelic renaissance. One is my own town of Madison, Wisconsin. Just a few miles from where I live, the nonprofit Usona Institute is building a 93,000 square foot structure devoted to psychedelics. There's nothing else like it. I mean, this is a building that's designed to launch the coming psychedelic revolution, and the guy behind it all is Usona co-founder Bill Linton. Now, he actually prefers to stay out of the spotlight, so you won't find many news stories about him, even though he's a major player in the psychedelic world. I've known Bill for years. We're both obsessed by questions about the mystery of consciousness, but this is the first time I ever sat down with him for an interview. So we had a really wide ranging and fascinating conversation, and I also got an inside look at the Psychedelic Institute he's building. I hope you enjoy the show.

- [Anne] It's To The Best of Our Knowledge. I'm Anne Strainchamps. The psychedelic revolution in mental health treatment is on the way. FDA approval is likely in just a few years, which means that before long the treatment of choice for depression and addiction could be a hallucinogen like psilocybin.

- [Steve] Okay, tell me again .

- [Alex] These are fractions. So each individual has two.

- [Anne] In the upper Midwestern heartland of America, a nonprofit drug manufacturer is gearing up to synthesize enough medical grade hallucinogen molecules to supply the world.

- [Steve] You have a lot of cool stuff in here.

- Oh, yeah.

- To say, I mean, this is my image of a chemistry lab, I guess.

- [Alex] Yeah, it's about as close to a chemistry lab as you can get, it's great.

- [Anne] Steve Paulson went to see where the magic's made.

- [Steve] So there are a whole bunch of machines and gadgets here. Tell me what's here.

- Sure. So closest to us here. This is a UPLC mass spectrometer.

- [Steve] Alex Sherwood is the medicinal chemist at Usona Institute.

- [Alex] This instrument here is called the electrospray ionization source.

- [Steve] A nonprofit medical research organization in Madison, Wisconsin, and an FDA drug sponsor.

- [Alex] This is a flash chromatography apparatus.

- [Steve] And we're standing in Alex's playground, the R&D lab.

- [Alex] So over here, this is actually, this is an experiment that Elise is running. So Elise is manufacturing some novel, some new tryptamine compounds. These are compounds that are structurally related to psilocin and psilocybin, but have never been made before. So that is the only source on the planet, maybe in the universe right now of these two structures.

- [Steve] Usona is investigating new psychedelic compounds and also running clinical trials on the therapeutic effects of these mind-expanding medicines like psilocybin. So what's the difference between the psilocybin that you are synthesizing in the lab here and what someone would get picking magic mushrooms out in the forest?

- [Alex] So synthetic psilocybin is an exact copy of what nature has taught us in mushrooms. I like to say nature is always the best chemist. Sometimes we decide nature did it perfect, we'll just go with that. Other times we use our chemistry toolkit and say, oh, what if we modify this structure a little bit, make it so that it absorbs into the body a little bit better? Or what if the duration of action is too short?

- [Steve] So you're constantly tweaking. If we just focus on psilocybin for a moment, I mean, there's sort of different versions of it then?

- [Alex] That's exactly right, yeah. Well, what if we put a carbon atom over here, or what if we put a bromine on this part of the ring? Or what if we substitute a nitrogen into this part of the molecule and then you test it.

- [Steve] Along with the stainless steel machines, the beakers and boiling flasks, there are drawings in magic markers scrolled all over glass doors, diagrams of molecular structures.

- [Alex] This is maybe a snapshot into the mind of a chemist.

- [Steve] When I asked Alex how he actually creates these new compounds, he rattles off a series of chemical steps that I don't understand. Can you describe those four steps in the simplest layman terms possible?

- [Alex] Like without saying oxychloride, I don't. Well, it's like Legos, right? You know, you got a bucket of Legos and you want to build something with a shape, so you're gonna reach into that bucket and it's like connecting things that want to stick together to make a shape. But as to what's really happening in that flask to arrive at these transformations to make new compounds, there's a little bit of magic there somewhere, for sure.

- [Steve] Anything else of note in this room here? Should we go over here?

- Oh sure, sure. There's the vault, the controlled substances vault. You wanna take a peek?

- Sure, yeah.

- [Alex] That bucket contains 2,000 capsules of psilocybin.

- [Steve] There's also MDMA, mescaline and LSD.

- [Alex] And then these represent all of the building blocks that we would use to make new compounds. It's like being in a well-stocked kitchen.

- [Steve] Alex does all this tinkering with molecules in his R&D lab. But once the compound is perfected, then his job is to manufacture it in a different lab in massive quantities.

- [Alex] When you're at the manufacturing stage, we want to do this exactly the same way every time and get the exact same product.

- [Steve] Can you give me some sense of the scale of what you're working on there? I mean, how much stuff are you producing?

- [Alex] So the most recent batch of GMP psilocybin was about 1.85 kilograms of pure synthetic psilocybin. And if my math is correct on that, that translates to about 74,000 25 milligram doses.

- [Steve] Wow. You're talking major production here.

- [Alex] Yep.

- [Steve] You said that was the latest batch. How many batches do you manufacture, I don't know, in a six months or a year or whatever?

- [Alex] Well, the goal is to just to move beyond that two kilogram scale and go up to say a 10 kilogram scale. So obviously we're still in clinical trials, but the goal is to match the amount of psilocybin that's really needed to support eventual commercialization.

- [Steve] What you're really saying is, potentially, Usona, I mean, what you were doing in these facilities could supply most of the world's therapeutic needs of psilocybin.

- [Alex] That's correct. If this goes in that direction, I think Usona is poised to be a world supplier of psilocybin.

- [Steve] Wow. So that's Alex Sherwood's vision. He's the medicinal chemist at Usona Institute. And now the man behind Usona is Bill Linton, a chemist by training who started a biotech company some 40 years ago. Today, Promega has branches around the world with revenue last year of more than $750 million, which has given him the resources and scientific know-how to start his own psychedelic institute. I've known Bill for more than a decade, we're both fascinated by questions about the nature of consciousness, what it is and where it comes from. His name rarely comes up in news stories about psychedelic research, but he's funded and facilitated a lot of the studies, and it's his Usona Institute that's helping shepherd psilocybin through the FDA approval process. If psychedelic therapy takes off in the US, it'll partly be because of Bill Linton. So let's go back to the '60s when Bill was in college at Berkeley where everything seemed possible.

- [Speaker] This is a beautiful day.

- [Bill] I got there in the spring of 1967.

- [Speaker] I wish today that all of America could be here.

- [Bill] What an amazing place that was. But that was where there was really an awakening to the power of psychedelics amongst other things. You know, the free speech movement had preceded that, summer of love.

- Yeah.

- [Bill] And I just thought something is going on here. One day, it was in October, some people I had met just said, "Hey Bill, do you wanna try LSD?" It dawned on me at that point that probably about half the population of Berkeley had tried LSD. Okay. And why was that? Well, a couple reasons. First of all, at that time it was still illegal or you know, it was just on the verge of becoming illegal. But as you probably know, the CIA had produced and distributed about 3 million doses of LSD. So it was all over the place.

- [Steve] I did not know that actually.

- [Bill] Yeah, yeah. They had a program. They were really curious as to the impact on society. So was around.

- Yeah.

- [Bill] And I had, that October, I was given some by these friends, and I was walking down Telegraph Avenue and it was about six or seven in the evening, so it was just kind of getting dark and the lights were coming up and there was a Harley-Davidson chopper, this absolutely beautiful, immaculate, all chrome chopper. And I just stood there and I watched it and it just started to move and shapeshift and it just kind of came alive. And this woman said to her boyfriend, "I think we need to get him home." And so we walked a couple blocks into my apartment and they stayed with me there for the evening. But I spent most of the time just by myself in my bedroom. It was just one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. Following that, I felt that something had changed, something fundamental had changed in how I perceived the world.

- [Steve] So I'm guessing you wanted to do more of that after that experience?

- [Bill] Yeah, and I did maybe another over the next three years, maybe up to a dozen times. And then at some point I just, I thought that was nothing that I needed to do further. There just wasn't necessarily a reason for it. But that if it came back to me that this was something important to pursue, that I could come back to it later. And it was three decades before that happened.

- [Steve] Bill was busy during those decades, building up Promega into a global business. It went from one building on the outskirts of Madison to an entire campus and manufacturing and sales branches in 16 countries. And then one of Bill's neighbors was diagnosed with terminal cancer and fell into a deep depression. Bill found out about a research program at Johns Hopkins University where the psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths was using psychedelics to treat end of life anxiety and getting remarkable results. So Bill told his friend Betty, and she flew to Baltimore for the treatment.

- [Bill] When she came back, I could see, and her family could see, and her friends could see that something fundamental had changed. And what had changed was that this sense of impending doom and sadness had lifted. And instead there was this joy in embracing every day with a sense of gratitude.

- And this was psilocybin?

- Yes.

- [Steve] A single experience with psilocybin did this?

- [Bill] Exactly. Yeah, and she only lived about another three or four months. And while the impact on her was enormous, I would say the impact on her family and friends was even greater. Kind of this ripple effect of being in each day in a state of grace. And that kind of reawakened in me at that time, this sense that maybe this is now the time to kinda reengage and study and to see what's going on. And so I got to know the researchers in the field, and then that just progressed over time.

- [Steve] So how do you explain what happened to this friend? Why would this single experience with psilocybin be so transformative?

- [Bill] My opinion is that it opens a level of awareness that we don't normally perceive. That these molecules that are very similar to serotonin in some way unlock perception that enable us to not only see, but to actually perceive in different ways, and often a different perspective on life and death itself. Which I find to be remarkable. The fact that a molecule one time can change a person's view of life and death itself.

- [Steve] Oh, it's astonishing. How is that possible?

- [Bill] I don't think people know. And that's one of the mysteries I think, of the work that's still going on.

- [Steve] Well it sounds like you're saying that for all the science that has been done, all the research on psychedelics, especially over the last decade, there's something about this experience that is just, it's ineffable, science kind of runs up against a wall as to what it can explain here.

- [Bill] Yeah, at least at this point it does. But an analogy would be, if we live in a world where like dogs, we can only see in black and white or gray, shades of gray, and one day someone gave you a capsule and for four or five or six hours you could see color. And then you went back to baseline and your friends gathered around you and they said, "Steve, tell us what you experienced." How could you describe what a color is to people who had never seen a color? And this is one of the challenges in people trying to describe their experiences. They really don't have the words to describe exactly what they were able to experience during that time.

- [Steve] After seeing how that psychedelic trip changed Betty's experience of dying, Bill Linton plunged back into the world of psychedelics. He got to know the scientists who were studying psilocybin, funded some of their research, and then in 2014, co-founded his own psychedelic center, Usona Institute. His mission: to get FDA approval for psychedelic therapy.

- [Bill] Well, it's a very difficult path to follow to try and get that through. The number of studies that have to be done that show safety are remarkable. The whole manufacturing method, we've spent years in perfecting to make sure that every time it's produced, you get the same molecule and it's got the same level of purity. And even putting it in a capsule is a whole process by itself. FDA is intrigued by the possibilities of what this can mean in the treatment of certain disease states.

- [Steve] The FDA is notoriously conservative about approving new medications, new drugs, and certainly this is gotta be on the top of the list of a substance they would be suspicious of.

- [Bill] You know, their number one concern is safety. Because once a drug is approved in the market, they can't just go in and withdraw it from the market. It is now approved and people are able to prescribe it and they're able to use it. So before it gets there, they're going to ensure that it has gone through every step and every box is checked. I think the efficacy question is going to be easier to answer in the sense that the studies that have been done, whether it's on depression, anxiety, addiction, show a pretty good and strong signal of improvement.

- [Steve] And for depression, far more effective than the SSRIs, the traditional antidepressants that we've were very familiar with, right?

- [Bill] They are, yeah, because the SSRIs tend to dull us and they tend to numb a person to perhaps whatever's causing the depression. SSRIs are like a neutralizing effect, but it doesn't really get at the underlying reason for depression, is just kind of papering over the problem.

- [Steve] But why would psilocybin be able to treat the underlying cause? I mean, I get it that it might be opening up the mind in some ways, getting certain parts of the brain to fire. Is that treating the underlying depression?

- [Bill] I think the experience is, and this is what is such an unusual approach to medicalizing a treatment like this, because we always wanna know, well, what has actually changed physiologically? And many of the research scientists and psychiatrists and people, at first, years ago, many of them thought well there's still has to be a few of those molecules like dancing around in a person's brain months after. And it turns out, no, it's pretty much all gone out of the system within about 12 hours, 10 to 12 hours. So it's gone. But something has changed. And I think what has changed, it's not this massive rewiring of the brain, it's the experience itself, which stays with a person for a lifetime. Just like I remember this experience I had back in 1967, I recall elements of that experience today as though it had just happened. It's that remarkable. It makes such an imprint in a person's memory.

- [Steve] But not everyone wants a mind-blowing psychedelic trip, which raises a fascinating question. Could you get the same therapeutic benefits from taking psilocybin without actually going through the experience itself?

- [Bill] There are studies that people are doing during a sleep state to give someone psilocybin. And what they're interested in knowing is, can a person with no conscious memory of the experience still have a positive outcome?

- [Steve] Wow, that's fascinating to think about it.

- [Bill] The people who are doing this, yeah, the University of Wisconsin, there's a group that's giving individuals midazolam, which it kind of erases memory. And the problem they've had so far is that people still remember the psychedelic experience.

- [Steve] Even though you've taken this drug to try to wipe out the memory.

- [Bill] Yeah, for some reason it's still, they still remember it. And so they haven't quite gotten to where they want to go on that. I was curious, you know? But it is an area of deep interest. Could you create a molecule or create a scenario where somebody would have the drug, have no psychedelic experience, but still it would end up being effective on the treatment of depression? I'm skeptical that that can happen, because I don't think it's possible to work through a positive outcome, depression, addiction, or anything else without the experience. But that's my hypothesis.

- [Steve] And I appreciate what you're saying 'cause otherwise there's this sense that, oh, you can just medicalize this like we've medicalized so much else, we're gonna perfect the pill, we're gonna perfect the experience, but we're gonna wipe out any of the possible negative impact on our consciousness. And the whole point of this is there's something deeply mysterious about this experience.

- [Bill] Exactly, yeah. The premise seems to be that there's something very negative about the psychedelic experience. Well, you know, a psychedelic is something that reveals the mind. I'm not sure what's extraordinarily negative about revealing the mind or opening the mind to experience things in a different way. To me, that's a very positive thing. But that's kind of what I've been interested in all my life is to see things from different perspectives.

- [Steve] And meanwhile, with the FDA on track to approve psilocybin in the next three to four years, Bill Linton is also investigating another molecule.

- [Bill] It's called 5-Methoxy-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT. My description of that molecule is that it's not really a psychedelic, it's more of a transcendelic. And so if a psychedelic reveals the mind, this molecule seems to open pure awareness into a state of transcendence or the somani state.

- [Anne] Coming up, the wonders of toad venom aka the God molecule. We'll be back with more of Steve's conversation with Bill Linton, the psychedelic CEO, after this. I'm Anne Strainchamps, it's To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio.

- [Speaker] I wish today that all America to be here.

- [Anne] And PR. Okay, let's pick up Steve's conversation with Bill Linton, the co-founder of Usona Institute, and one of the driving forces behind the current movement to get FDA approval for using psychedelics to treat mental illness. They're about to tell us about a new molecule on the scientific horizon, 5-MeO-DMT, aka the God molecule.

- [Bill] It's been probably in the new world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But in 1983, there was a person in Texas who discovered that the Sonoran Desert toad had a toxin or a venom and for some reason decided to smoke that venom. And in doing so, that extreme heat would destroy the toxins, but it would release the 5-MeO-DMT in a vapor form. I had my experience with that about five and a half years ago in Mexico at a retreat center. We had a number of physicians, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, and that was my first experience with it. We were probably only about a mile away from the ocean. And so we were on the coast, on the west coast, and of course that west coast is very steep cliffs at least in that part where we were. And on the third day that we were there, there were two individuals that arrived and they had these little kits with them, and they had measured out three different doses of the dried toad venom. One was what they called the handshake amount. And so this is a very small introductory amount just to kind of get a sense of it. Then there was the next level, which was the hug, and then there was the full embrace. And so I would sit across from one other person and we would hold this pipe and there was a butane lighter, and this thing would fire up and it would vaporize, it would really burn this dried venom, which was in kind of these golden crystal forms. And then you would, you know, inhale this, try to keep it in as long as you can. So when I was given the small amount, which was about 30 milligrams of this dried material, within about 10 or 15 seconds, well within about five seconds I could feel it. And within 15 or 20 seconds I thought, I need more. I mean, it was just like this sense that I'm ready for the next amount. It was just this sense that I was getting close to like a cliff or like looking over the edge but I was ready to jump. But an hour later I had the second amount and the second amount wasn't the medium amount, it was the high amount. That's where I had just this beautiful, profound, and it was like a death and rebirth. But I felt very comfortable in the death and rebirth In that state there's no sense of time, there's no sense of this is who I am. It's a sense of pure essence. That's really terrifying for some people. The person I was sitting across from thought that she had died and thought that she would never be around to see her daughter grow up. Literally in two or three minutes she was going through that sense of grief. At the end of that, it was a good experience, but again, it was just this sense of terror, "Hey, I'm dying. I'm not gonna be around anymore." For me, for some reason it was like, good riddance. I'm happy for that to be gone and I'm happy to be in this place that really felt more like home than even this does.

- [Steve] So an incredible experience. Did it just dissipate after that or does that stay with you for days, weeks, months?

- [Bill] For, well, forever, Steve. It does, it's just always there.

- [Steve] So you said that you are starting to study this, you and your team of scientists, and presumably with the idea that maybe this would be another substance that would be put forward to the FDA for approval.

- [Bill] Yeah, this 5-Methoxy-DMT, I think it's got just profound implications for awakening the sense of being, the sense of who we are. Some people feel that it can be very helpful in addiction. Our first indication will probably be something related to major depressive disorder because it would include then a lot of other indications underneath that, including PTSD.

- [Steve] Bill, I wanna shift the focus a little bit and ask about how you see your role in all of this 'cause you have been a major player in this whole renaissance in psychedelic research. You've funded research, you've started your own psychedelic institute, Usona, you have facilitated a lot of connections between different scientists, but you've largely kept out of the public eye. We've heard a lot from the wonderful work that scientists like Roland Griffiths and Charlie Grove and Steve Ross have done. We almost never hear your name in the media.

- [Bill] Well, that's a good thing.

- [Steve] Why? Why have you chosen that? 'Cause you are, I mean, I've talked with a lot of these scientists. You're a major player in all of this.

- [Bill] You know, when people ask me, what is the work that you do or what is your job? I kind of like to refer to myself as a stage hand. I mean, kind of as a job description and a stage hand kind of gets the set. They maybe build the stage and the backdrop and the lights and the sound and make sure everything works. But then you do that so that other people can really get on the stage and perform. And that's a role I like to play.

- [Steve] You are the founder and CEO of a major biotech company with branches all over the world. I mean a non-psychedelic company. And I'm wondering what you see as the role of someone like you, an entrepreneur, a capitalist, a businessman, when most of what we hear about are from the scientists who study this. I mean, what can you provide, you and other people in the for-profit world, how do they advance this agenda?

- [Bill] Well, first I've never seen my interest in the business world as a means of making money. What is important is that any enterprise, whether it's a for-profit or not-for-profit, needs to have positive cash flow. This is something I learned very early. If you're not generating money, then that means you're losing money and ultimately you're gonna have to close things down.

- [Steve] What do you see as the goal of Usona, your psychedelic institute?

- [Bill] Well, the ultimate goal is to provide the pathway and the means for an awakening through these drugs.

- [Steve] An awakening, so not necessarily treating just mental illness, I mean, I don't mean just, but you're talking about something bigger than an awakening.

- [Bill] I am, yeah. And while FDA will only approve something that is treating a disease state, I think in the long term, when you talked about 10 years, I think in the long term there will be opportunities for these treatments to be available to more than just people who have been referred by a psychiatrist for some mental illness.

- [Steve] You think, legally, you think this will happen, this will be available to anyone potentially. Do you worry about this? These are powerful substances.

- [Bill] I'm concerned that people will potentially use them in ways that are not productive. But I also think that there's enough concern about this that nobody wants to see what happened back in the 1970s when everything was made illegal. But of course, once momentum builds in a particular field, and particularly if there's money to be made, then boundaries get crossed and it's not always the best outcome.

- [Steve] Well, let me ask about the money to be made here 'cause there's a gold rush, right now there are a lot of startup companies, a lot of venture capital out there wanting to cash in on this new psychedelic revolution. And the fear is that this will become one more tool in the big pharma toolbox. What do you make of this?

- [Bill] I think the fear is monopolization to the extent that a pharma company or for-profit organization will be so intent on trying to control the field, that they'll take the steps to have that control in a way that's not productive.

- [Steve] And by control they would have to claim intellectual property rights.

- [Bill] Exactly. Yeah. For example, there are companies that have had patents issued that they probably should not have been issued, but it was because patent offices just simply didn't have the information at hand to deny the claims of the patent. I think that's changing because there are an increasing number of groups, Porta Sophia being one of those.

- [Steve] A group that you have started.

- [Bill] Yes. Yeah. Together with patent lawyers, patent attorneys, to make sure that information that has been in the field for in many cases decades, is available to patent examiners. And so as they look at a claim, they can say, well, wait a minute, this has been out there for 10 years, 20 years. And so we're making a lot of information now available primarily to patent examiners, but also to companies so that they're not gonna try to pursue patents that in the end are not gonna get approved.

- [Steve] Just so I'm clear about this, so Usona is not trying to patent any of these drugs that you are manufacturing.

- [Bill] The only reason we would patent something would be to ensure that nobody else patented them. And so a strategy could be, for example, to file for a patent and then abandon the patent, but you've already now got the patent on file and then you either donate it to the public good or you abandon the patent and it basically means nobody else could patent it. So that's a bit of an odd patent strategy, but it's something we've discussed.

- [Steve] Yeah. I would think another problem with trying to cash in on psychedelics is if it's true that you might only need a single experience or just a few experiences, I mean, that's a very different business model than giving people a Prozac pill every day. The cost benefit of psychedelics is not quite so clear to me.

- [Bill] It's not clear to me either, because yeah, if you're a typical pharmaceutical company, you wanna create something that is unique, that you can patent, and that is taken every day and then you charge quite a bit for it. This doesn't fit any of those models. So these molecules, the ones that are known, what we call the heritage molecules, psilocybin or LSD or DMT, or 5-Methoxy-DMT, or Mescalin, they've been around a long time. They are generics by definition. And the fact that a single experience with one of them, or maybe a couple in a person's lifetime can have that kind of effect is not a good business model for pharmaceutical companies. And that's why you haven't seen any major companies coming into the field.

- [Steve] So I wanna come back to this question again and ask you to look into the crystal ball. And I realize all of this could go in a lot of different ways, but 10 years from now, how do you think our whole system, let's just talk about in the US of treating mental illness might change?

- [Bill] I think these molecules open up just a whole new way of thinking about mental illness. Again, if you look at the underlying cause of addiction or mental illness or obsessive compulsive disorders or eating disorders, a lot of it comes from, again, this is my view or my interpretation comes from a sense of disconnection. Psychiatrists sometimes call it a spiritual break, often a person who has lost their sense of meaning and purpose. And when an experience can reestablish that sense of connection, that sense of relationship, then these symptoms can begin to resolve themselves in a remarkable way. And it's gonna change how people think about how do we treat these, how psychiatrists treat these. There's an estimate of a billion people in the world that suffer from some form of addiction, depression, anxiety, things that have profoundly affected their ability to live a normal life.

- [Steve] You're talking about a potentially revolutionary change in how we treat various mental illnesses.

- [Bill] Yes.

- [Anne] That's Bill Linton, the co-founder and executive director of Usona Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization based in Madison, Wisconsin. And he was talking with Steve Paulson. It's To The Best of Our Knowledge at Wisconsin Public Radio and PRX.

- [Steve] And that's it for this episode of Luminous, a series about psychedelics from To The Best of Our Knowledge. You'll find more interviews on the science and history of psychedelics on our website at And I hope you're subscribing to the podcast feed. We have a lot of great shows coming up. I'll be digging into some really big and complicated questions like, can neuroscience explain psychedelics? Can psychedelics be decolonized? Do these experiences actually make us better people? To The Best of Our Knowledge is produced in Madison, Wisconsin. Our technical director and sound engineer is Joe Harkey with additional help from Sarah Hopeful, and I'm Steve Paulson. Thanks for listening.

- [Speaker] PRX.

Last modified: 
May 19, 2023