Your face will not melt. That is what Keith Stein reassures everyone about his newest product, Psychedelic Water, a blend of legal, non-hallucinogenic psychedelic herbs and green tea extracts. Before he became the founder of the recently-launched mood booster, he spent part of his career in the legal profession working with clever, successful entrepreneurs. Stein’s interests extend far beyond the law. He was the founder of the Toronto Phantoms arena football league. In addition, he partnered with Belinda Stronach, former Member of Parliament in the House of Commons of Canada, Gene Simmons, legendary lead singer of KISS, and Universal Music Canada to create Simmons Records, a label devoted to Canadian artists.
Working with these “pioneers,” as he refers to them, from many different industries and backgrounds inspired Stein to think creatively and to consider more than “how to make money, but how to do things in business that could have an impact and be constructive.” This way of imagining led him into the cannabis industry, where, beginning in January 2019, he served on the board of Invictus MD Strategies Corp., a Canadian cannabis company. He saw that legal cannabis could improve people’s lives but also noticed how many cannabis companies were jumping on the bandwagon. As someone who searches for new directions in business, he began to think of what could become “Cannabis 2.0,” something that could positively impact people. This product could shift thinking, a product that could be an adventure beyond the normal expectations of the market.
Where did the idea of psychedelics come from?
So, how did Stein arrive at the idea of psychedelics? Part of his thought process journey was reading about several Silicon Valley CEOs who were micro-dosing a drug similar to LSD that contained a small amount of psilocybin. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic found in particular mushrooms—it brings the “magic” to magic mushrooms. It is well-known tech lore that none other than Steve Jobs himself regarded acid trips as integral revelations in his approach to business. “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life," Jobs said. "LSD shows you that there's another side to the coin, and you can't remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money and putting things back into the stream of history and human consciousness as much as possible."
While Jobs was referring to full-blown hallucinogenic trips, micro-dosing does not get you high; people who use it for professional reasons claim it gives them a mix of focus and creativity that they need to keep ahead of the game. At a conference in Berlin in 2018, Third Wave Founder and CEO Paul Austin told an audience that micro-dosing can “help the brain be more present in the moment, more adaptable and creative, and better at unlearning and relearning.” Many people seem to agree with him, but there aren’t many studies out there about the long-term effects of micro-dosing, and some people claim that the subtle feelings of lightness and ease can drop pretty hard once the dose wears off. And not every company sees the benefits of this behavior: In April of this year, marketing startup Iterable fired its CEO, Justin Zhu, for micro-dosing before a 2019 meeting. Then there is the issue that psilocybin and LSD are Schedule 1 drugs combined with heroin and cocaine. These are not exactly the things associated with positively affecting people.
So, Stein started his research and found several legal psychedelics, many used for hundreds of years, that gave participants a “gentle” experience. Musing over his findings led him to believe that water being “so fundamental and obvious,” could be an excellent partner to psychedelics. The first move he made after that “eureka” moment was trademarking the name globally. “It’s like when Vitamin Water came out, owning certain names that can not only be compelling names but can also really define a whole sector and create a moat around you.”
And with that in place, he and his CEO, Pankaj Gogia, readied themselves to create the first legal, psychedelic, consumer packaged goods company.
Gogia, an engineer with extensive business experience in technology, having managed multimillion-dollar deals at Jingu Apps Inc as co-founder and CFO and at Sigma Systems as Vice President of Corporate Development, says that building out Psychedelic Water “has been quite the interesting journey compared to what I’ve done in the past.” Although the unfolding of Psychedelic Water with Stein has been a distinct path, Gogia’s interest has always been in business. No matter what kind or differences, he has been able to rely on his learnings from previous endeavors.
Gogia believes that curiosity is the key selling point for Psychedelic Water. “The name and the packaging that we have is extremely unique. We’re producing so new and innovative that it doesn’t exist.”
The packaging Gogia refers to is the holographic can which gives the product a fun, sleek, almost futuristic look, but it was not a simple task. “Nobody's ever done it, and we ended up going through at least six different packaging companies trying to create this label, the concept.” Gogia emphasizes, “Everything about this product, whether it was the formulation, the packaging, how we approach the market, you're creating this whole new category.” Who is not going to want to try it?
Inside the Can
Of course, it is natural to be curious about a product that proudly proclaims itself to be psychedelic, especially when most people think about hallucinogenics like LSD or magic mushrooms when they think about psychedelics. But those are not the ones used for Stein and Gogia’s new product. Instead, through the work of an NYU food scientist and a formulation team in California, Psychedelic Water uses kava and damiana leaf to help bring its users a sense of uplifting calm. Kava or piper methysticum (intoxicating pepper) originated in the South Pacific 1500 years ago. Known also as keu, awa, ava, and yogana, kava has since been used in religious, spiritual, and casual gatherings to calm the mind and bring tranquility to one’s mood. In recent years, in cities like New York City and San Francisco, kava bars have been established as an alternative to boozy bars or frenetic coffee shops, with overall positive reception from the locals.
Damiana leaf, which is less known in the United States, has been used in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America literally before recorded history. In those areas, the damiana leaf was used as an aphrodisiac for all genders, though Psychedelic Water employs it as a stress reliever, as most users do nowadays.
Stein is quick to point out that Psychedelic Water does not have the taste of kava, which can be too earthy or bitter for many palates. They decided to hire a food scientist and a formulation company not only to determine which legal psychedelics combined with green tea extract would deliver the intended effect of Psychedelic Water but to create several flavors that would be pleasing, avoiding any kind of overly herbal or medicinal taste. No one wants to hold their nose for 12 ounces of liquid, the current volume of Psychedelic Water.
Gogia notes, “A lot of the things that we wanted to incorporate into the product for the consumer that we were reaching out to was trying to have a healthier alternative to things that exist, and it was not an easy feat to put through.”
The team at Psychedelic Water has found that consumers are using their product to turn away from more toxic substances like alcohol. “There are people who are recovering addicts who have embraced our product,” says Stein. “People who suffer from opioids, people who have PTSD, a constituency suffering from anxiety that feels that our product has helped them.”
Many people on Instagram are including Psychedelic Water, along with the hashtags #soberoctober or #sobercurious.
“It’s also a non-mind-altering substance! I’m clean and sober for over 3.5 years and still enjoy Psychedelic Water because it does not alter my mind or ability to think,” says Cory Litwin, Executive Vice President of Hallwood Media.
Brittany Butler echoes Litwin, writing under her Instagram handle @blovebutler, “I love this product and what it stands for!”
Psychedelic Water also feels the love from performers such as Roy Woods and Murda Beatz (founding investor), who, over on Twitter, is letting us know that “Psychedelic Water is the future. We are changing the game.”
It’s making waves on Tik Tok, where its account @psychedelicwater has 28,000 followers. Their followers have made cute, Gen Z-type unboxings where viewers are invited to “taste Psychedelic Water” with the TikTok users. And it seems like all their hard work and effort paid off because the response to the taste and the effect has been overwhelmingly positive.
And it is not just social media that reflects Psychedelic Water’s initial success. Their initial launch in February saw them sell out a three-month inventory in three weeks—that is 50,000 cans! They made $1M in the first few months, and Gogia expects $4M - $5M by the end of the year.
Knowing how popular Psychedelic Water became in such a short time, it is probably a common assumption among entrepreneurs who are just getting their foot in the door that Stein and Gogia started with a lot of capital. This must be true given that they had to go through so many steps of research and development with the formula for easeful mood-boosting effect and execution of design of the holographic can. Still, Gogia would like to correct that assumption.
“But I didn't say we spend money on it, necessarily,” he says. “We spent time on it and put effort into it. You don't always need money. As much as you might think we had a lot of capital, I think we have been extremely frugal.” Even as they were doing their research and development process, they heard stories of other entrepreneurs putting in millions of dollars in the first two or three years. Still, he promises, “We did not have millions of dollars.”
Stein reiterates the necessity of frugality. “One of the things we did that allowed us to be frugal was something that I think entrepreneurs should do more often,” he says. “I think founders with great ideas often guard their equity too jealously, too carefully. You will get people to join the mission if you have a compelling vision, a great idea, and a good plan for executing it. And they will work for equity in the beginning. And that's what we did. We didn't hog the equity. We spread it around.” He sees giving people skin in the game early on as a viable method to encourage them to stay around for the long haul.
Being able to work with somewhat shallow pockets and finding the right people to go the distance were obstacles that the team was able to work around “in terms of the everyday challenges of starting a company,” says Gogia, “and trying to build that during a pandemic like no other. So, I think it just added another layer to the challenge.” One that they once again found themselves able to surmount.
About other obstacles, Stein says, “It's not easy being the first kid on the block with a new concept, especially a concept that will rub some people the wrong way.” And that although there are no illegal substances in the new product, “there are a lot of haters out there about Psychedelic Water, people who are against psychedelics, people who are against the growing trend of decriminalization.” But he thinks it’s important that they continue their journey because their team isn’t just about a product but an ethos, which they call a “psychedelic state of mind.” Because they see the study and destigmatization of psychedelics as important not just for their brand but for brands that might be interested in dipping their toe in the water or for consumers who have found—on their own or through Psychedelic Water—the benefits of gentle psychedelics. They plan on working with legislators and lobbyists to help “move the needle.”
“There are so many great things that will emerge from this field of psychedelics. We've only scratched the surface,” he continues. “There’s now all sorts of pharma companies on the bandwagon, but still not enough. There's research and development, but not enough. But it's growing. And there's real momentum behind psychedelics. In a short time, we have probably become the leading psychedelic brand in the world. With that success, we also have a duty.”
Stein, Gogia, and the rest of the Psychedelic Water team may see this as a clear and ethical vision. Still, they realize and understand that many groups will want to pigeonhole the team and the consumers just because of the connotation with ‘shrooms or LSD. They think that to move forward, it is important to look at some of the more conservative groups in the United States and in the world and how they interact with the more progressive factions. “I certainly don't want to get into some of these other heated debates,” Stein concedes, “but there are heated debates around all sorts of things. One would ask why.
“There are progressive thinkers and progressive groups that supported cannabis and support cannabis and CBD today, and other new frontiers, including psychedelic, and then there are groups that are very traditional that will not take their blinders off and open their eyes to the possibilities that exist about all sorts of new areas and concepts.”
The company, it must be said, took a big risk from the beginning baby steps when it decided to name the product very forthrightly “Psychedelic Water,” leaving no room for innuendo or double entendre. Unfortunately, according to Gogia, “There is just an assumption in the market that if it is psychedelic, it is illegal. I think that's the challenge with, you know, even larger corporations or house or government things, you know, some people are not thinking outside the box.”
It is to the company’s credit, then, that they have seized a moment when people are willing to step outside the conservative paradigm and try for themselves something that may bring them a better, brighter outlook. And that is one of the main takeaways Stein wants his consumers to have.
“What you're doing is participating in a new phenomenon. And that's not often the case where you can,” he says. “The reality is, we are creating a new category here that did not exist. Those people who are supporting us, and we're very grateful for their support, are supporting not only our company and our product but the new psychedelic movement.”
And how just far does Stein believe this movement can go? He has no qualms whatsoever about being lofty. “I'll tell you something if psychedelics become ubiquitous one day, if everyone is taking psychedelics—I know it's cliche to say—there will not be war. Now, that day is a long way off. But psychedelics have so much to offer.”
Because the psychedelic movement goes beyond their product, the team truly values all the support they receive from consumers, whether online or in person. The team understands that everybody simply, and fundamentally wants to feel better.
“And I think that's why many people turn to various stimulants, drugs,” says Stein. “And I understand they want to feel better all the time. It's a common feeling, but to be able to do it with a product that will enhance your life will not take anything away.” He notes that some of Psychedelic Water’s biggest fans are MMA fighters. “We have MMA fighters, who've become gigantic fans of our product and ordered all the time because they say it takes the edge off when they're doing these very intense workouts, and it’s not going to give them a hangover.” They're always going to be conscious but just feel better, with no effect on their games—or their game.
And that goes for anyone who chooses to consume the product—as long as you are 18 or older. Whether you are a lawyer, an engineer, a journalist, or a musician, Psychedelic Water will enable you to find a little more calm and euphoric without sacrificing mental or spiritual clarity.
“At its core,” declares Stein, “it’s going to enhance people’s lives.”
Psychedelic Water can be ordered on psychedelicwater.com. The flavors currently available are Blackberry + Yuzu and Hibiscus + Lime. Pre-orders for the flavor of Oolong + Orange Blossom can be made now. Unfortunately, at the moment, Psychedelic Water is only available in the United States, though the team is looking to expand to other countries soon. They are also excited to reach beyond water into cookies, brownies, and other edibles. They are especially excited to introduce their micro-dosing products, which Stein predicts will be a real game-changer.