Investors and startups are becoming rapidly more interested in psilocybin as a mental health treatment. However questions remain about the ownership of and access to a substance that is arguably a part of collective human heritage. Existing frameworks for protecting indigenous genetic resources and traditional knowledge have struggled to keep up with advances in science and medicine, challenging attempts to develop drugs equitably and in integrity. Meanwhile, the international community is also grappling with whether and how these frameworks apply to synthetic biology – dilemmas with implications for the ongoing development of psilocybin into a medicine.
We will begin with a brief overview of how intellectual property works (and what communities can do to challenge overbroad patenting efforts). We will also introduce relevant international frameworks (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol) to situate emerging concerns within broader dialogues about the commercialization of biological resources and traditional knowledge around the world. Then we will shift to an interactive discussion that will explore the ethics of legalizing and commercializing psychedelic plant medicines such as psilocybin, and principles for equitably sharing the benefits of indigenous knowledge.