Since the advent of hormonal contraception in 1960, there has been little to no innovation in women’s health. And that isn’t just in reproductive matters; because early medicine didn’t recognize the impact of sex on health, women were historically underrepresented—if not outright excluded—in clinical trials for nearly every modern over-the-counter medication.
This patriarchal disinterest in women’s health has serious implications. Generations of women have endured monthly pain, discomfort, depression, anxiety, infertility, and long-term post-partum health issues, in shame and silence. In its study published in the journal Contemporary Clinical Trials, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital concluded that due to “potential sex-based differences in treatment responses and toxicities, adequate inclusion of females in clinical trials remains critical.” Now, more than ever, we need to study women. We need be heard.
And yet, we continue not to be heard. It seems like every woman has a story of a doctor who outright dismissed her health concerns, choosing to write a prescription instead of really listening. Why isn’t there more of a conversation?
Enter Olivia Mannix: woman, entrepreneur, innovator, risk-taker, and advocate of plant medicines and research. She founded Felicity Pharma, the leading women’s health biotech company, to lead a distinctly female charge into a climate that has long neglected them.
“Biotech is very male dominated, and so is psychedelics,” says Mannix. “I have to always show up and work my tail off in a very competitive space.”
Felicity Pharma is taking on female mood disorders and sexual dysfunction with an integrated approach. “I am a healer and I want to help people,” Mannix says. “Psychedelics have a lot of potential. We are changing things and making female-specific drugs.”
She and her team are hard at work on solutions with natural psychedelics, and these explorations are breaking boundaries for what we’ve come to expect for women and their treatment plans.
A Different Depression
It is well known that women are disproportionately affected by mood disorders, with two to three times more diagnoses than men. It is less well known that there is one mood disorder that only affects women—one so intense that it leads 30% of its sufferers to attempt suicide.
That disorder is known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. A severe form of PMS, PMDD affects one in 20 women of reproductive age. With an estimated five million sufferers in the United States, it’s likely that you know someone who has it. That someone might even be you.
This was the case for one woman, whom we’ll call MJ. MJ has always had intense PMS. But whatever physiological symptoms she had were vastly overshadowed by the emotional symptoms: MJ would, in her words, “reach the brink every month.” She felt nothing but hopelessness and despair until the moment her period began. Then, the feeling would completely disappear.
MJ recalls people trying to sympathize with her by sharing their own accounts of cramps and mood swings, and she would nod along. But she knew what she was feeling, and it was not “crabby.” Something more was happening.
Despite its evident links to hormone fluctuation, PMDD is treated as any other mood disorder, typically with antidepressants. MJ’s gynecologist prescribed Prozac, but it didn’t help. She tried to explain her symptoms to her psychiatrist, that she just knew it was tied to her period. But he could see no other treatment than antidepressants—since those weren’t working, he basically told her she would just have to white-knuckle through it, month after month, until menopause.
To MJ, this advice was nothing less than a death sentence.
Modern medicine is obsessed with symptom management. Rather than working to end illness, medications are designed to mask illness by treating only the symptoms. Keeping the mask intact means staying on that medication for the rest of your life.
Holistic medicine, on the other hand, aims to reach the root of pain and disorder. This is the approach Felicity Pharma prefers, and it sees psychedelic medicine derived from psilocybin as the best way to get there.
Psilocybin is a serotonergic psychedelic that works in harmony with your biochemistry. It causes your neurons become malleable, giving you the ability to alter the fundamental beliefs and traumas that are otherwise immutable aspects of your identity. The idea is that, rather than concealing your illness, psychedelics reveal your true self for examination and change.
It is the single most effective method for getting to the true roots of mental disorder, and Mannix believes it will do more than heal—it will bring out the best in you. “It can make you realize how beautiful life really is and how lucky you are to be alive,” she says.
MJ finally discovered this for herself after doing her own research. She found other people with similar stories, many of whom reported that these alternative treatments were what actually worked. So, without the guidance of a doctor (hers had already given up) MJ sought these more natural treatments. She even tried microdosing, though she didn’t always get the levels right.
MJ, now 45 years old, says she didn’t think she would live this long.
Continuing the Conversation
We know more about PMDD now than when MJ was first diagnosed. But we are still missing the conversation about its most viable treatment. What if her doctor had told her about this breakthrough psychedelic treatment and had her sign up for a clinical trial? How many months of suffering would she have been spared if she knew she had more options?
Despite working against our natural systems and being unreliable in their effectiveness, antidepressants remain incredibly profitable, with the global antidepressant market set to earn $21.28 billion by 2025.
Felicity Pharma knows it must disrupt the antidepressant market to shift toward a more natural and beneficial solution for those in need. Step one of this shift is licensing its natural extract of psilocybin, which is currently in Phase IIa clinical trials. The first trial will be a single “megadose,” 25mg, which will take the patient on a six- to eight-hour journey guided by at least two people—a therapist or psychiatrist will be one of them. Following these larger doses, Mannix and her team would like to make a smaller maintenance amount (a microdose) to extend and deepen the impact of the megadose.
Mannix has stood against the odds since the day she launched Cannabrand. As a woman who had to fight to be taken seriously, this push to deliver psychedelic medicine is not just business. This is personal.
Psylocybin is not the first powerful plant. Mannix knows it won’t be the last, and understands that by not fighting for better medicine and better information, women like MJ will continue to suffer needlessly.
Felicity Pharma is breaking down the barriers of women’s health. We will be heard.
The Multitudes of Mannix
Olivia Mannix entered the cannabis space in 2013 with her company Cannabrand, a full-service marketing agency and the first ancillary cannabis brand. Long before the industry was widely accepted, Cannabrand helped cannabis companies brand and position themselves. In 2019, Cannabrand created a subsidiary, Psilocybrand, to offer similar services the emerging psychedelics space.
As her company grew, so did her influence. Mannix began speaking at cannabis and psychedelics trade shows and conferences, where her ambitions only grew. She was already a destigmatization pioneer in an otherwise male-dominated industry. But for Mannix, branding and marketing was the tip of the iceberg; what she wanted now was to directly contribute to the development of the naturally derived medicines she spent the better part of a decade advocating for.
And it was when she was introduced to Geraldine “Gigi” Kuo, MD, a medical expert specializing in pain management and traumatic brain injury—with a particular interest in psychedelic pharma—that those plans would be set in motion.
Mannix and Kuo immediately clicked. “We are both go-getters and high energy and experts in our fields. It was an energetic fit!” says Mannix.
Both saw the need for solutions in women’s healthcare; both were confident that psychedelics could help; and both realized their skill sets happened to complement each other perfectly. From there, Mannix and Kuo decided to go into business together, a decision that would soon begin to transform modern medicine.