A champion hockey veteran believes there’s money to be made in mushrooms.
That’s a belief shared by a cohort of early-stage investors who participated in the $4 million seed round raised by Chicago-based Wesana Health.
Co-founded by two-time National Hockey League (NHL) champion-turned mental health advocate Daniel Carcillo and cannabis serial entrepreneur Chad Bronstein, Wesana will allocate fresh funding towards the use of psychedelics in the treatment of traumatic brain injury.
Known as “a 30 and one-er.” – thirty NHL teams and fanbases hated him and one team and fanbase loved him, that one being the Blackhawks – Carcillo suffered seven concussions over the course of his professional hockey career, forcing him into early retirement in 2015 at the age of 30. While Carcillo earlier in life was never diagnosed with mental health issues, he attributes brain and body trauma he incurred on the ice to a chemical imbalance that contributed to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
While he experimented with psychedelic mushrooms, “at concerts and those types of things”, up until that point he “never had the intention of using them for medical benefit.”
The practice of using plants as illegal medicine, however, increased over the course of his playing career.
A recreational cannabis user since his teens, Carcillo self-medicated with pot and booze during his playing days along with opiates prescribed by team doctors. Never a fan of “synthetics” and distrustful of the “consortium of doctors from sports teams who get paid to carry the narrative of the league”, he began to view pot as more of a healer than a party drug.
Belying his reputation as a tough hockey enforcer, Carcillo over the years has emerged as an erudite advocate for patients with traumatic brain injuries. While some remedies he experimented with have addressed symptoms, he believes there is no prescription available today that treats underlying conditions.
Eighteen months ago he decided to give psychedelic dosing (both macro and micro) a whirl.
“My intention was recovering brain health,” he said. “For the better part of six months, I started experimenting with loading doses and maintenance doses. Within a month or two, I found the right protocol and things began to click. Eventually my brain scans showed no abnormalities.”
A venture wonderland
After one year of personal experimentation, which included facilitated hallucinations that he says helped him capture a “spirit” to heal and move on with his life, Carcillo decided he needed more bodies and brain energy to advance his new mission.
“If you want to start embarking on this road you need a big team,” he said.
With a need for capital, Carcillo reached out cold through LinkedIn to his now partner Chad Bronstein, who still holds a day job as CEO of Fyllo, a cannabis-specific software company that raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital over the last two years.
“When you are in the cannabis marketplace, psilocybin is brought up a lot,” says Bronstein, who serves as executive chairman of Wesana Health. “I met Daniel a year ago and I support his mission. We moved pretty quickly and used the same recipe we used at Fyllo, which is to find the best experts in the space you are focused on.”
New hires include former Biogen and Novartis executive Dawn McCollough as chief operating officer and former mixed martial arts world champ and psilocybin evangelist Ian McCall for the position of Director of Athlete Relations. In addition to marketing Wesana to athletes recovering from head trauma, the company also seeks to serve veterans and victims of domestic violence.
The company’s $4 million convertible seed round was led by institutional investors The Conscious Fund and San Juan-based Ambria Capital. Mitch Kahn, founding CEO of Chicago-based Grassroots Cannabis, which sold for $840 million to Curaleaf last year, is also an investor and board director of Wesana Health.
There are a myriad of reasons investors are becoming interested in mushrooms, says longtime cannabis venture capitalist David Friedman, who also invested in Wesana.
“Cannabis broke down the barriers for elicit or what were deemed to be non-beneficial drugs to be considered beneficial in some way or form,” said Friedman, CEO of Panther Capital and also a stakeholder of Fyllo. “While this is a very, very, very nascent space, startups will benefit from a more rapidly accelerating market which is a result of cannabis.”
Friedman added that while he believes psilocybin will be a smaller market overall than cannabis, its medical potential is enormous given what we are learning how the plant’s “chemical reactions can change the body.”
Carcillo’s breakaway backstory also encouraged a financial assist.
“People who are tenacious get my money,” Friedman said. “He’s a tenacious mother f#2ker.”
As Carcillo builds a team, navigates through Schedule I drug testing lab restrictions and markets a product for people in pain, he is learning the importance of scale.
“I always wanted to start my advocacy work to help one person,” he said. “Now I want to help one million people.”