Launching the Cannabis and Psychedelics Industries: An Interview with Dr. Nigam B. Arora
Image credit: Marcu & Arora
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Analytical Cannabis’ Scientific Advisory Board grew by one new member earlier this year thanks to the addition of Dr. Nigam B. Arora, a founding partner of the consulting firm Marcu & Arora and co-host of thepodcast How to Launch an Industry.
To mark the addition, we caught up with Dr. Arora to discuss his podcast, his role as an advisor to cannabis and psychedelic businesses, and what the future holds for both sectors.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): How did you come to specialize in cannabis and psychedelics?
Nigam B. Arora (NBA): Traditional and alternative medicine has been an interest for as long as I can remember. Eastern and indigenous cultures have used a variety of plant, fungi, and other natural remedies for millennia. The value of the modern western medical model is also undeniable; my PhD pursuit in interdisciplinary life science with a focus on organic and analytical chemistry was directly influenced by these perspectives. I trained in separations/extractions of compounds from natural products, synthesis of novel molecules, as well as the translational process – developing innovations from the lab into products and technologies that impact the field of health and medicine. These experiences primed me well for work in cannabis and psychedelics as both fields seem to be converging at the nexus of ancient knowledge and modern medicine. Since then, I’ve been working day in day out in a variety of roles in the cannabis space, including building and operating state licensed business infrastructure, formulating novel products, and working on a variety science-based projects for Marcu & Arora’s clients.
The deep dive has continued into the psychedelics industry: reading all the peer reviewed literature in the space and following both major and emerging players. This includes a variety of entities. The work going on at well-funded and publicly traded companies like Compass, Atai, Cybin, MindMed, etc. are of course of interest. There is equally interesting science and major potential at smaller companies working on niche technologies or their own suite of novel chemical entities. There are some very meaningful non-profits in the space as well, Chacruna Institute, Decriminalize Nature, Psychedelics Bar Association, among others, are doing important work.
Beyond reading, studying, and doing hands-on work, the opportunity to interact and work with a variety of leaders in both the cannabis and psychedelics industries has been invaluable. Many of these folks have been guests on our podcast, How to Launch an Industry, so interested readers can check out howtolaunchanindustry.com to learn more.
LBM: What type of work does your firm Marcu & Arora do?
NBA: Our firm is highly active in all things life science related in cannabis and psychedelics. In the cannabis space we’ve worked with multi-state operators (MSOs) and multinational cannabis companies supporting their R&D and safety initiatives. This can take the shape of designing highly specialized laboratories and experimental protocols or technical reporting on a variety of niche scientific topics that are of interest to our clients. In the psychedelics space we’ve worked closely with manufacturers who are supplying active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for research studies and clinical trials. We also provide valuable resources to investors and venture capital firms by performing scientific due diligence.
LBM: How did you come to start your podcast? And how has it been received?
NBA: We started the podcast in conjunction with the launch of Marcu & Arora. We hold an abundance of knowledge about the science and policy of cannabis and psychedelics at our firm and believe in the importance of starting open access and fact-based conversations in those areas. The podcast is our way of doing just that. The show has been well received and we’ve attracted numerous prominent industry experts as guests including founders, medical doctors, attorneys, and of course PhD scientists. For our most recent season, several of our guests have joined the cast of the show, allowing us to offer even more in depth and diverse perspectives to our listeners.
LBM: With so many podcasts out there, what makes How to Launch an Industry unique?
NBA: There are several unique aspects of our show. For each episode we curate a conversation among a diverse group of experts. Episodes are not focused on a particular individual or company, but rather on the group discussion of hot topics in the industries. Each episode is structured into three segments, we share a fun and educational game with the listener, followed by news, and we conclude with Rapid Fire Science, where we perform a critical review of a recent peer reviewed publication.
Another unique aspect: we collaborate with an artist to create custom cover art for each and every episode. We believe in the power of art to help convey and interpret ideas and feelings. We’ve worked with some incredible artists and encourage everyone to check out the fantastic album covers for each episode.
LBM: In the podcast, you regularly discuss good practices for cannabis businesses to keep moving forward. These tips may be more useful to business in certain locations. California, for example, still has a thriving illicit cannabis market four years on from the legal market’s opening. How can businesses affected by such stiff competition keep moving forward?
NBA: Different markets certainly have individual concerns but there are good practices that standards organizations and the literature would suggest are applicable across the board.I’ll share some examples that have come up over the last couple years on the podcast: standardized and ethical practices in analytical testing of biomass and products; consistency and transparent reporting in the manufacturing, storage, and handling of products; product labeling and consumer-focused education that is easy for consumers to understand and use to consume in an informed fashion. As the industry matures, these will become a requirement for companies that want to maintain trust and brand loyalty with their customer base.
California is unique in several ways. For one, some analyses suggest it is the world’s largest cannabis market and that it was that way long before recreational legalization. Your question is a good one, though. There is no silver bullet here but there are a few key things we know from other sectors that the industry and regulators can strive for to improve the legal market’s ability to compete with the illicit market. The first, and one that advocates and business owners alike have been actively calling for, is a reduction in cannabis specific taxes. Cannabis is currently one of the most highly taxed consumer goods. This level of taxation has been, and will continue to be, prohibitive to companies seeking to put quality products on the market at a price that’s palatable to consumers. There is some potentially good news on that front recently in the form of Assembly Bill 195.
The second is for cannabis companies to continue to implement some of the items mentioned above, which lowering the tax burden will be a boon to. These types of changes can improve consumer trust in products from the legal market and provide strong differentiation compared to products from the illicit market. It should also be mentioned, there are likely some shifts regulators could make to licensing structures for outdoor cultivation that would allow more legacy growers, whose shoulders we all stand on, to participate in the legal market rather than being pushed out of it. To sum up, improving quality, lowering costs, and including the folks who built the industry in the first place would all benefit the legal market in California.
LBM: You speak to so many cannabis experts but seem to have a growing focus on psychedelics. In your view, how far behind is the field of psychedelics testing from the cannabis testing sector? What has to be figured out?
NBA: Whenever speaking about psychedelics, I segment the industry into two very broad buckets: the pharmaceutical path and the natural whole plant or whole fungi path. For the pharma path, folks working in that area generally have the dual benefit of licensure for working with scheduled substances and analytical chemistry capabilities of pharma at their disposal. Because of this they are able to move more rapidly in the testing and development of compounds. Folks working on the natural path are commonly at the reciprocal disadvantage of not having licensure to work with scheduled substances and not necessarily having a suite of high-quality analytical instruments at their disposal. In either path there is significant work to be done on making standards for a broad range of molecules as well as protocols for analysis widely available. Currently, on the natural path, those doing the work seem to have enabled access to their own instruments and the know how to put together workable protocols. As the industry matures and decriminalization efforts continue, it would be great to see more analytical testing companies be able to offer services for natural psychedelics. Our team would love to work with groups interested in moving those types of analytical services forward.
LBM: You’ve recently launched a new season of the podcast. Is there anything new on the horizon listeners can look forward to?
NBA: We are planning a few live recordings at events and conferences. Make sure to follow How to Launch an Industry and Marcu & Arora on social media to stay up to date on those occasions. And if you’re planning an event, let us know and we might bring our team! Feel free to reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Nigam B. Arora, founding partner of the Marcu and Arora firm and co-host and co-producer of the How to Launch an Industry podcast, was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness, science writer at Analytical Cannabis.