🫠 Psychonaut POV

[5-min read] Q&A with Bryan Hubbard, Lawyer & Policymaker

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While working for the state, Bryan Hubbard got an up-close-and-personal view of the public health care system. When he realized it was hopelessly twisted by perverse incentives, he started looking for solutions. Then, he found ibogaine.

We spoke to Bryan about his plan to funnel $42 million of opioid settlement funds into ibogaine research; how his initiative almost died but got a second chance in a new state; and his grand vision of accessible psychedelic medicine for all.

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Bryan Hubbard Psychonaut POV
What motivates you to do this work? How did you become interested in ibogaine as a potential solution to the opioid crisis?

I’d go all the way back to my upbringing in a tumultuous family environment in Appalachia. My parents fought constantly, but my grandparents gave me sanctuary from the chaos and taught me about resilience in the face of adversity. Their embodiment of hope and purpose left a lasting imprint on me. It’s what drove me to pursue a career in law to advocate for justice and equity.

However, the reality of my legal practice quickly revealed the limitations of the law in addressing the roots of societal issues, particularly the opioid epidemic. Representing employers in workers' compensation cases, I encountered countless individuals whose chronic pain and reliance on opioids painted a grim picture of despair—not just physical, but deeply emotional and spiritual. The pattern was impossible to ignore, and it compelled me to search for more meaningful solutions.

My transition into overseeing Kentucky's Social Security disability system and later, the Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Control, gave me more perspective on the opioid crisis. When we analyzed decades of data on disability enrollment and opioid prescriptions, the trends were disturbing. Enrollments far outpaced population growth, especially among children. In 2001, children were receiving 400 doses of psychotropic medication per capita per year. It was glaringly obvious that the government was incentivized to grow this dependency system, regardless of the outcomes to the individuals caught within it.

It was in my search for alternative solutions that I became interested in ibogaine. The traditional and pharmaceutical interventions were clearly insufficient to address the root causes of this crisis. We needed something groundbreaking. Then, I encountered the writings of Julia Christina Reibelt. Soon enough, I was meeting with pioneers in the field of plant medicine, who introduced me to ibogaine's potential as a transformative treatment for opioid dependence. Exploring it wasn’t just a scientific interest; it was a moral imperative.

What happened in Kentucky? What went well, what were some of the challenges you faced, and what did you learn?

There was a lot more that went right in Kentucky than went wrong. The initiative got off the ground thanks to the open-mindedness of then Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who saw the potential in using a portion of the opioid settlement funds for ibogaine clinical trials when I made the case for it as chair of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission. He was willing to challenge conventional paradigms and explore revolutionary treatments. Despite the justified cynicism a lot of people feel toward the government, not all policymakers are resistant to change.

However, the path was fraught with challenges, notably from established recovery and treatment centers concerned that ibogaine might disrupt business as usual. Kentucky's conservative ideology added more friction. Many were skeptical of using a psychedelic for substance abuse treatment. Through a series of public hearings, we highlighted ibogaine's unique capacity to address opioid dependence by restoring neurochemical balance, fostering personal autonomy, and eliciting spiritual awakening. The evidence and testimonies in those proceedings turned skeptics into allies, even in a politically and religiously conservative state.

Yet in the end, our initiative couldn’t overcome the barrier of entrenched political and financial interests. Despite overwhelmingly positive public reception, the state's political machinery, swayed by deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies, ultimately hindered progress. This experience taught me that real change unfortunately requires navigating forces that may not always align with public health objectives.

Why move the initiative to Ohio? How do you see things playing out differently there vs Kentucky?

After the initiative in Kentucky was halted, I was contacted by the founder of the REID Foundation to pick things up in Ohio. He’d tragically lost his son to a fentanyl overdose and named the nonprofit in his honor.

Like Kentucky, Ohio ranks among the nation's highest rates of opioid fatalities and deaths of despair. But unlike Kentucky, Ohio's political landscape seems less tainted by entrenched interests and more open to innovative solutions for its opioid crisis. Ohio also has the academic support of The Ohio State University and its Center for Psychedelic Drug Research & Education. By contrast, in Kentucky, research is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical funding.

Finally, Ohio's OneOhio Recovery Foundation is tasked with managing $1.1 billion in opioid abatement funds. In other words, a smaller percentage of the overall budget would be needed to fund the ibogaine research initiative in Ohio, compared to Kentucky. Relatively speaking, we’re asking for very little to give this transformative treatment a chance. All of these factors together set the stage for a different and potentially more successful outcome.

What steps are you taking to make sure ibogaine therapy is accessible to as many people who need it as possible, should the initiative be successful?

The first step will be to educate Ohio's leaders and influential figures about the potential of ibogaine. We have a head start now that Dr. Nolan Williams' recent research has demonstrated ibogaine’s therapeutic effects in various brain-related conditions. However, we still need to make the science of ibogaine widely known, so I’ll advocate for a thorough exploration like we did in Kentucky.

Once we have public buy-in, I’ll push for ibogaine's development through a public-private partnership. Any funding proposal will strictly preclude exclusive pharmaceutical company control over ibogaine's development or commercialization. For this funding model to work, we’ll have a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process, open to a diverse group of applicants capable of conducting ibogaine clinical trials. The selected entity will have to outline a comprehensive plan, from FDA application to trial execution. Public funds will only be paid out for clinical trial costs within Ohio—for instance, at Ohio State or Cleveland Clinic.

Any state funding towards ibogaine research must ensure state ownership in resultant intellectual property, so that broad access to this therapy is guaranteed. I want to be clear about this part because there are counter examples in our nation’s history. This public-private partnership model explicitly counters the monopolistic tendencies of pharmaceutical companies, who might otherwise erect financial barriers after taking government funding. That cannot happen, and as long as I’m involved in this process, it will not happen.

What's the end goal? In your master plan, what comes after Ohio?

The overarching vision extends far beyond Ohio; it's about igniting a collective movement among states to embrace the therapeutic potential of ibogaine and other psychedelic treatments. My goal is for Ohio's initiative to serve as a catalyst, inspiring policymakers across the United States to pool resources and accelerate the adoption of ibogaine therapy for opioid dependence. But that’s just the starting point.

From there, I see ibogaine's success paving the way for a broader acceptance of psychedelics. The next step is for our government leaders to acknowledge the deeper psychological and societal factors at the root of mental health issues and consider that psychedelic therapy may provide a solution. Ultimately, this movement has the potential to transcend medical applications. Psychedelics could contribute to healing societal divisions and promoting a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.

I’m convinced psychedelics can help raise human consciousness and move us toward a more compassionate and unified society. If doing this work contributes to a world where we all recognize and act upon our kindred divinity, I can’t imagine a greater legacy for the project.

Want more from Bryan?

Consider donating to the REID Foundation to help bring emergent therapies like ibogaine to those impacted by the opioid crisis.

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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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