The Psychedelic Copywriter’s Guide: 5 Marketing Trends to Know in the 2023

In 2013 nearly every medical provider considered psychedelics to be objectively harmful. Yet in 2023, ketamine is used across the nation, MDMA is close to FDA approval, and psilocybin isn’t far behind. The shifting landscape of psychedelic medicine is growing faster than any other medical industry – and this is only the beginning. 

Fresh business opportunities are arising every day in this expanding industry. Psychedelics startups collectively raised over $236 million between 2021 and 2022 alone. Today, there are over 50 public companies in the psychedelic space, and most of these substances aren’t even legal yet. Will your psychedelic medicine company be the next unicorn? Not without great marketing. 

In a shifting ethical and regulatory landscape, precise words have power. Psychedelic copy can elevate your mission – or erode your brand. I think I know which one you want. 

I’m an ICU nurse-turned-copywriter, and I’ve written extensively in the psychedelic medicine space. Last year, I helped Psychedelic Support grow their web traffic by more than 400%. I’ve also consulted with several other psychedelic startups on building audiences. These days, I’m helping leaders in cutting-edge medicine write books that build million-dollar businesses. Read on to get the inside scoop on the latest trends in psychedelic copywriting and marketing. 

Since it’s top-of-mind for most marketers these days, let’s first break down the use of AI in psychedelic marketing. 

1. The Temptations – And Downfalls – of Using AI in Psychedelic Copywriting

AI and psychedelics have both surged in applications since 2020, and many startups are combining them to develop new strategies of pharmaceutical development. But don’t make the mistake of believing you can ChatGPT your psychedelic copywriting. 

I get asked all the time by concerned friends and family: “Is AI going to take your job away?”

And if I was a sh*tty writer, then yeah, probably. But just because AI can write copy doesn’t mean it can write copy that converts a stranger into a client. And it’s even further away from being able to strategize a marketing campaign for your psychedelic startup. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I use AI every day as a writing and research tool. I love how it speeds up the writing process for me. But if you’re inexperienced and DIYing your marketing words with ChatGPT, you can run into some serious problems. 

First, the writing AI gives you is going to be boring. This is fixable, and you can play around with your prompts to get a more dynamic tone. But even then, it tends to blow past the mark into obscene over-enthusiasm. Humans are very sensitive to tone, in writing and speaking, that’s a hard thing to teach robots. 

You should be especially wary if you’re using ChatGPT as a research tool in psychedelic medicine. For data purposes, ChatGPT is stuck in October 2021. It won’t be able to tell you about this essential roundup from 2022, or the latest trials on MDMA for PTSD. If you rely on AI as your only research tool, you’re going to lose the last two years of development in this quickly-evolving niche.

Last, these predictive language models don’t have a sense of ethics. They can make claims that are unbased, they can give advice that isn’t warranted, and they don’t have emotional sensitivity. If you do choose to use AI in your psychedelic copy, don’t copy and paste. Use it for ideas and to generate writing flow, but don’t let it make you lazy. 

Speaking of ethics, let’s talk about the broader conversation around ethics and non-legal substances. 

2. The Ethics of Promoting Non-Legal Substances

While ketamine has gained standing as a method of healing treatment-resistant mental health disorders, other psychedelics remain federally illegal. The ethics of marketing non-legal substances is still mushy – not because the law is right, but because breaking it creates risks for some people more than others. 

Additionally, psychedelics still pose safety risks, from microdose to hero dose. We have yet to set standards for dosage, care plans, or ongoing support beyond sessions. There’s more research to be done, and people can be taken advantage of while under their influence. The psychedelic retreat industry is unregulated, and many people seeking enlightenment have been harmed while vulnerable. 

It’s a privileged position to be able to use these substances within a clinical or research setting – single IV doses of ketamine start around $1200. Getting into research trials can be a complicated process, and the placebo group may be left frustrated. Abuse and dependency are still possible. 

As public perception shifts, we also have to acknowledge the groups that have been systematically abused because of the war on drugs. Indigenous peoples, whose wisdom and work have been appropriated and stolen. Read about how psilocybin and ayahuasca were taken from indigenous groups. We can’t continue to steal teachings from people we neglect to include. More on this later. 

As psychedelic copywriters, we have to balance advocacy with responsibility. We can’t encourage folks to partake in substances that are unregulated, unapproved, and still being researched. We have to be stewards of safety. We also have to acknowledge the roots of these substances, and the people they come from. 
Psychedelic copywriters have to hold themselves to strict ethical standards. For more information about medical writing ethics, check out the American Medical Writer’s Association Guide

The good news is that as research evolves, policy is changing. So let’s talk about how to stay nimble amidst regulatory changes in psychedelic medicine copywriting.

3. Staying Nimble Amidst Regulatory Changes

Earlier this year I spoke with a startup leader who was in crisis. Their service model depended on remote sublingual ketamine prescriptions, which would soon be illegal. During the pandemic, the FDA relaxed the Ryan-Haight Act, which meant that patients wouldn’t have to physically see a provider to get prescriptions for controlled substances. But in May, the law went back into effect. 

They’ve since pivoted their model, but this is a great example of the ways that shifting regulatory changes pose challenges in the psychedelic industry. Regulators and policymakers are navigating uncharted territory to strike a balance between safety, accessibility, and innovation. Founders – and copywriters – have to stay updated on these changes.

As psychedelic copywriters, this may mean going back to update content that no longer reflects policy. Editing claims or offers on sales pages, and updating subscribers of policy changes on your email list. Reacting to these changes swiftly is essential, whether you’re planning to launch a startup or building a sales funnel. 

Overall policy changes are moving in favor of psychedelics. But there are still myths and misconceptions out there about empathogens and entheogens. It’s our job to distinguish truth from fact to keep consumers informed. 

4. Stigmas & Misconceptions Abound

Dating back to the 50’s, psychedelic substances have been plagued by a campaign to criminalize and stigmatize the people who use them. And it’s great to see that turn around in the last decade, as media and public perceptions have changed. One survey found that nearly half of Americans support legalizing some substances for therapeutic purposes. 

But there is nuance to this shift, and as psychedelic copywriters, we have a duty to communicate the benefits and drawbacks of these substances honestly. These are some of the myths I see still present in the industry in 2023: 

  1. Psychedelics are not addictive. True, most are not chemically addictive, but this is a misleading conclusion. Psychological abuse and dependency are possible with any substance. Psychedelic substances have exciting therapeutic potential, but it would be naive to think that they can’t be abused. 
  1. Psychedelics are a “magic pill” that eliminates the need for therapy. In research, psychedelics have been most effective when paired with evidence-based therapies. It’s unlikely that we’ll see them promoted as stand-alone treatments anytime soon. 
  1. Psychedelic experiences are unpredictable and uncontrollable. Not always. Set and setting protocols can help mitigate the risk for “bad trips”, but these are being researched for safety and efficacy. People who embark on a psychedelic journey need support systems in place in case of
  1. Psychedelics are dangerous for people with a history of specific mental health issues. They can be in an uncontrolled setting. But increasing research is showing that these substances benefit people with treatment-resistant mental health conditions. 

Psychedelic copywriters play an important role in educating consumers on the nuances of psychedelic research. And we also have to acknowledge the roots of conflict and appropriation that some of these substances came from. 

5. Respect for Indigenous Populations and Substance Appropriation

Indigenous populations have a rich history of using psychedelic substances in their sacred ceremonies and healing rituals for centuries. The commodification and appropriation of these substances in the Western context have raised concerns about cultural misrepresentation, exploitation, and disrespect.

Psychedelic medicine copywriters have to approach our work with sensitivity and respect for these groups. We’ve benefitted from their cultural heritage, yet many are still marginalized by the psychedelic medicine industry. Recognizing the historical significance of these plants and their profound role in indigenous communities is essential to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and inaccuracies in marketing materials.

Psychedelic medicine copywriters should avoid appropriating indigenous symbolism, language, or practices in their marketing content. Instead, startups should collaborate with indigenous communities and involve them in discussions about the responsible and ethical use of traditional plant medicines. Amplifying the voices of indigenous leaders, organizations, and practitioners in the psychedelic field can help raise awareness about the importance of cultural preservation and respect. 

Additionally, we have to emphasize preserving biodiversity and protecting the environments where these plants grow. For example, telling people how and where to harvest DMT from endangered Amazonian frogs is an ethical problem for so many reasons. Your marketing words have the power to shape decisions that can hurt native people and biodiversity. Don’t take this lightly.  
Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Challenges in Psychedelic Copywriting

Psychedelic medicine is one of the most exciting, quickly-evolving medical industries today. These fascinating substances could have a much larger place in mental health treatment in the coming years. And as a psychedelic copywriter or founder, you have an integral role in bringing these substances to the public.  

In the years ahead, the psychedelic marketing landscape will continue to evolve, presenting new opportunities and challenges. As passionate and responsible copywriters, we have a duty to stay informed, adaptable, and empathetic. 

If you’re curious to learn more about marketing ethics, check out my blog about the four things that surprised me about the ethics of medical marketing.

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