By Brad Dunn
Alzheimer’s disease — and the toll it took on both their father and grandfather — prompted Chris and Joe Claussen to make drastic career changes. Chris, a former commercial photographer, and Joe, a former charter-boat operator, spent years researching brain chemistry and experimenting with different diets and compounds to help their father. After an astonishing outcome with psilocybin, the brothers decided to dedicate their lives to brain health.
They launched First Person Group in 2021. The company sells three proprietary functional-mushroom supplements, created at their facility in Olympia, Wash., and has two pending patents related to a natural psilocybin extract and a novel combination of psilocin and ketones, which they developed at their lab in Jamaica. Chris and Joe recently discussed microdosing, brain chemistry, building their business, and the family illness that spurred a turning point in their lives.
Your interest in psychedelics began from a personal place: Your grandfather and father both suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years, and the available treatments didn’t help much. How did those experiences affect you?
Joe: Yeah, we saw this horrible disease unfold twice. And because it’s genetic, we knew it was coming for us next. But when Chris and I did the deep dive into Alzheimer’s dementia and brain health in general, we were just trying figure out what we could do right now to help our dad. We tried Lion’s Mane, ketosis, MCT oil, you know, the basics for trying to slow down the neural inflammation of his disease. It did help, we think it helped slow his progression over the 13 years.
But near the end of his life, the doctors put him on all these crazy drugs to make him compliant with getting bathed, eating, going to the bathroom, you know, the reality of dealing with someone with dementia. With sundowning, Alzheimer’s patients get confused in the afternoons and become really difficult and argumentative. So they put him on antipsychotics, SSRIs, diazepam, a cocktail of drugs. It was hard to watch. We decided we needed to do something different. We started with cannabis, but found we had to give him a really high dose — like 100mg of edibles — to calm him down at all. It helped get him in the shower, but it wasn’t really doing anything extra for his brain.
That’s when we went the route of psychedelics. We researched neuroplasticity and found anecdotal reports that seemed positive. We started with microdoses of psilocybin for a week or two, but nothing happened. We decided to step it up to a full dose. It wasn’t going to hurt him at least, there’s no toxicity. So, one day I put 3 grams of powdered mushrooms in his coffee. And that’s when it happened. About 45 minutes later, he popped up out of his wheelchair, didn’t say a word, and walked off to the bathroom. It was amazing. He hadn’t stood up on his own in two years. He came back out and just sort of walked around the house, checking things out. He took flowers out of a vase and looked inside it. He went over to the window and started playing with the blinds. We just watched him in amazement. Our mom was at the sink, and he came up behind her, put his arms around her, and said, “Honey, thank you for taking such good care of me for so long.” He hadn’t said anything like that in years. We were blown away.
Chris: You have to understand how atrophied his brain was. We’d seen the scans. He was operating with about 40% of functioning brain matter. There was just no blood flow because of the buildup of amyloid in his brain. I think the psilocybin had the ability to create some new neural networks.
Joe: He started talking, telling crazy stories, and joking and being funny. He’d also just stare out the window and start laughing at some thought he had. Chris and I were astounded. This substance had given him his mind back. We decided to make this our mission. It was the impetus to start the company.
How did the experience change your own habits?
Chris: When you have a genetic disposition for Alzheimer’s, you want to do everything possible for your brain. We started microdosing, practiced meditation and mindfulness, exercise, we went all in on brain health. Lion’s Mane, functional mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms. We also started studying everything we could about neural chemistry, how neurotransmitters work, how synaptogenesis works, how different compounds affect the chemistry. We started going to medical conferences, then participating in medical conferences. We came up with our own microdosing stack. And the result of all this has been powerful for us personally: We both feel that our brains are functioning at the highest levels that they ever have.
What’s your microdosing stack? How does it compare to, say, the Stamets stack?
Joe: Ours stack is based on our First Person products, which contain curated amounts of Lion’s Mane and cordyceps — the cordyceps is important because it has an MAO inhibitor, so it provides a longer duration. Stamets uses niacin, but I never liked the niacin flush you get.
And do you feel you’ve taken the right steps to avoid what happened to your father? Have you figured this out?
Chris: Oh yes, 100%. Knowledge is power. We know that once you get Alzheimer’s there no cure for it. But we also know that you can prevent it by keeping your brain healthy, to always be creating new neural connections, and maintain neuroplasticity as you age and avoid going into cognitive decline. We want to enter our 70s and 80s still charging ahead, and not saying “Where’d my keys go?”
You’re starting a trial soon at Charles River Labs in Canada to test improvement in psilocin crossing the blood-brain barrier?
Chris: We’re really excited about this. We believe there’s a real potential to improve the efficacy of psilocin. Our scientific advisor Dom D’Agostino, a pioneer in the science of the health benefits of the ketogenic diet, is working with us to prove our hypothesis.
Joe: When proven, the improvements in neurogenesis and synaptogenesis could be very powerful.
Does researching different combinations of compounds also support the idea of the entourage effect in general?
Chris: Yes, there’s just so much to be learned still. Breaking down different tryptamine analogs and researching what they do in isolation or in different combinations is work that needs to be done. You’ll hear the synthetic psilocybin people say, “It’s just psilocybin, that’s the only compound that matters.” But as everybody knows who’s eaten different varieties of mushrooms, the psychedelic effects are different. They know there’s more to the story than psilocybin.
Joe: And different mushrooms can have different entourage effects. There is a particularly exciting compound called aeruginascin. Mushrooms that contain aeruginascin are reported to be more euphoric, more like an MDMA experience. It’s just another tryptamine analog that we don’t know much about.
You’ve developed three functional-mushroom supplements — for “motivation and focus,” “connection and joy,” and “deep, restorative sleep” — that contain different combinations of Lion’s Mane, reishi, maitake, turkey tail and cordyceps. Are they intended to be used as standalone supplements or as part of a microdosing stack?
Chris: We think our functional mushroom products work wonderfully on their own. But they were definitely designed for a microdosing regime. We deliberately engineered them to stay away from the serotonin receptors. A lot of other nootropics contain everything and the kitchen sink, which will flood your serotonin receptors and interfere with your microdosing. We didn’t want to do that. We targeted our functionals to the dopamine, oxytocin, and GABA receptors. We left serotonin alone, so the psilocybin could do its work.
Chris: It’s been amazing. We launched in March, and we sold out within three months. We thought we had enough product to last the year, but we ran out. And it’s mostly been organic word of mouth. We’ve done some marketing, but it’s really amazing how rapidly people have found us. Of course, we’re riding a very nice wave of interest in mushrooms right now, so that’s been fortunate.
Working with both legal functional mushrooms and illegal psilocybin mushrooms gives you a revenue flow while doing R&D in a market that awaits policy changes. Which of those sides of your business is more core to your mission?
Joe: Working in both was the central part of our corporate strategy. There are tons of psychedelic companies that go out and raise money on the hope that they’ll make money in the future when things are legalized. But how long can you make that last? Many of them are now running out of time and funds. We didn’t want to go down that path. We said, let’s first make a fundamental revenue-generating business so that we can survive and grow. And then, let’s pursue the real science behind psychedelics while the policy evolves.
Chris: Which side is more core to our mission? We see ourselves as a brain health company. Our mission is to improve people’s brains. This makes us more than a functional mushroom company, and more than a psychedelics company. We don’t want people to ever fall off the cliff as they get older. We want people to just get better and better. Everything we do is in support of that.