Discover more from BIG by Matt Stoller
Weird Monopoly: A Ketamine Clinic Roll-Up
Irwin Naturals is trying to be the Coca Cola of psychedelics and cannabis. The firm seeks to become the dominant distributor, and has embarked on a lobbying strategy at the Veterans Administration.
Welcome to BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power. If you’d like to sign up to receive issues over email, you can do so here
Today’s weird monopoly, or aspiring monopoly in this case, is Irwin Naturals, a ‘nutraceutical’ company that is seeking to dominate both the cannabis and psychedelic sectors. One of the key strategies is take advantage of the mental health crisis, which hits about a quarter of Americans, and push various substances as a treatment. Cannabis is one, but ketamine, an anesthetic with some hallucinogenic effects, is being marketed aggressively these days as a means of treating depression.
Enter Irwin, which is seeking to buy up as many ketamine clinics as possible to become the Coca Cola of psychedelics, in what the CEO calls a “lifetime opportunity” for a “rollup of psychedelic mental health clinics featuring psychedelic treatment with ketamine.” Recently they bought Ketamine Media, an advertising firm for the industry. Here’s the basic monopolization strategy, from a marketing document.
The ultimate controllers of the industry are the clinic brands at the end-user interface, where the patients exist. Pharmaceutical brand owners must go through clinic brands – the companies that employ medical doctors. Irwin Naturals is poised to be the world’s first and largest household brand of psychedelic mental health clinics acting as the gateway between big pharmaceutical companies and patients.
Basically, Irwin is trying a middleman play. The psychedelics and cannabis space are new industries, and thus prone to monopolization, as Luke Goldstein showed in a profile of a different attempted monopoly in that area. They are also prone to influence peddling. Here’s another part of that strategy document: “At an early stage, the company plans to engage with pharma companies, such as J&J, as well as major payors, such as Anthem and the Veterans Administration.”
Mind-bending chemicals, market power, and lobbying do not mix.