From NHL Enforcer To CEO: Daniel Carcillo’s New Company Wants To Treat Traumatic Brain Injury With Psilocybin

Forbes

January 20, 2021

The newest CEO in the psychedelics space is a former NHL enforcer who wants to treat traumatic brain injury with psilocybin.

Since he retired from professional hockey more than five years ago, two-time Stanley Cup winner Daniel Carcillo has made raising awareness and advocating for survivors of traumatic brain injury, or TBI his full-time job. Now, as the founder and CEO of Wesana Health, a company focusing on developing treatment for the condition that took him out of the game, he wants others who have suffered TBI’s debilitating effects to experience the potential benefits of psilocybin.

The NHL And CTE

In 2015 at the age of 30, Carcillo made the tough decision to retire after post-concussion syndrome destroyed his quality of life. At the time, the recent and unexpected deaths of several fellow players who suffered head trauma and mental health issues including Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and especially his former teammate Steve Montador weighed heavily on him.

“What ultimately pushed me out was my seventh diagnosed concussion, and the symptoms,” he recalls. “I couldn’t look at my phone for a week because of the light sensitivity. I had a newborn son at home and I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted everyone to leave me alone.”

Montador, a close friend of Carcillo’s, died at age 35. Carcillo remembers watching his friend suffer in the months leading up to his death, and says the two often discussed their shared symptoms, including headaches, difficulty sleeping, slurred speech, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

“He didn’t have any support from anyone,” says Carcillo. “Not from the league, and not from the player’s association.”

It was later revealed that Montador had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, brain degeneration caused by repeated head trauma. His family sued the NHL, alleging the league profited from its players while failing to inform them of the risks of repeated concussions.

Four years after his death, the NHL argued that Montador’s brain degeneration was caused by his “own lack of due care.” Despite countless calls from players like Carcillo, healthcare professionals, and even a U.S. senator to reassess the NHL’s stance on CTE and professional hockey, Commissioner Gary Bettman continues to vehemently deny any link between the two.

A subsequent lawsuit filed by more than 300 retired players (including Carcillo) accused the league of failing to protect them, and while the league settled, it assumed no liability for concussions.

At no point did Carcillo let the NHL’s resistance get in his way. In fact, the lack of resources available to former players galvanized his commitment to seeking out treatment solutions, and led him to eventually becoming the case study that would lead to the founding of Wesana.

‘This Definitely Isn’t A Miracle Drug’

Today, Carcillo credits an alternating protocol of regular ‘hero’ doses (generally 5 grams or more) and ‘maintenance,’ or microdoses of psilocybin mushrooms with treating his brain injury and ultimately saving his life. But after 18 months on the protocol, regular brain scans and a recent qEEG scan showing his brain has “no abnormalities,” he’s hesitant to say he’s cured, and is quick to clarify that mushrooms don’t do all the heavy lifting on their own.

“This definitely isn’t a miracle drug. It’s a medicine that allows you to create good habits and then stay on those habits, but you have to do the work,” he says.

“[In bigger doses], it has the potential to change our perspective on our injury. A lot of TBI patients want to become the person that we were before the injury, but I’m trying to show people that you can actually get better.”

Carcillo endeavours to do that through his company, Wesana Health, with the ultimate goal of developing a drug for TBI survivors based on his own success with psilocybin. The company announced yesterday that it successfully raised $4 million in a financing round led by The Conscious Fund and Ambria Capital.

“The core focus is to go to market using our formulation for TBI-related depression,” says co-founder and executive chairman Chad Bronstein. The raise will help the company fund studies on psychedelic-assisted therapy for the treatment of TBI, and to apply for an IND filing with the FDA, as well as the equivalent with Health Canada.

“What Chad’s been able to coach me to do is put together a championship team, and that’s something I’ve been a part of for a really long time and know how to play my role in,” says Carcillo, adding that members of Wesana’s clinical team have completed over 400 trials and brought well over a dozen drugs from concept to realization.

The new company’s team includes chief operating officer Dawn McCollough, formerly of Novartis, board director Mitch Kahn, formerly of Grassroots Cannabis, and director of athlete relations Ian McCall, a retired UFC fighter.

For Bronstein, partnering with a dedicated former professional athlete like Carcillo was an obvious choice.

“He took his personality from the NHL, the ‘car bomb,’ and he still has that mentality,” Bronstein says. “He protected people on ice. In hockey, that was his role, and in the real world today, he’s protecting people that are dealing with the same problems that he is.”

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