Dr. Jackie von Salm is a natural products chemist and the Co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Psilera Bioscience, an early-stage psychedelic drug discovery company.
Dr. von Salm earned her Bachelor’s degree (in 2011) and Ph.D. (in 2016) in Chemistry at the University of South Florida. While working toward her BA, she conducted research in natural products chemistry, isolating small molecules and seeking anti-malarial compounds in coastal microorganisms. As a doctoral student, her research focused on isolating terpenes and metabolomics from Antarctic marine corals in an effort to discover compounds with medical application potential.
Prior to founding Psilera in 2019 with Dr. Chris Witowski, Dr. von Salm previously served as Director of Laboratory and Director of Research and Development at medical cannabis firm AltMed, and as a Formulation Scientist at CoreRx pharmaceutical company. She completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at Simon Fraser University in Canada, supporting early-stage drug discovery in natural antibiotics.
Dr. von Salm’s fascination with chemistry and psychedelics was influenced early in life by her psychiatrist grandfather’s philosophies on consciousness and her mother’s interest in alternative medicines. Her mission to address the mental health space formed from having witnessed various forms of addiction, trauma, and neurological disease in her own life. In her interview with women in science-focused blog Milkshake from Mars, she stated, “During my Ph.D. in Chemistry, my father was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia with no current treatments or therapies to help. Between my father’s condition and witnessing the opioid crisis first hand in Vancouver during my postdoc, I was determined to find answers.”
She told Psychedelic Invest, “This perfect storm of events had me instantly move back to Florida and find whatever I could to get me into the mental health drug discovery space. I have personal friends that were kept from committing suicide because of trying DMT after trying many other psychedelics and pharmaceuticals, so I know there is something very special about this ‘spirit molecule’ as the late Dr. Rick Strassman put it.”
On an Isn’t Life Curious? podcast episode, Dr. von Salm critiqued the indiscriminate lumping of compounds with diverse mechanisms and effects under the term “psychedelics,” telling host Jason Wilson, M.S., “Even though we say all of these things are ‘psychedelics,’ it’s also still very personalized and it’s going to likely take lots of different options for different people…it depends [on what the patient is dealing with]…and how their mindset is…[so] even though we put all these things under a similar umbrella, we really only did that because the government did that…we don’t really do that because we want to do that as scientists.”
Adding her aspirations for the future of the field, she stated,
I hope [psychedelic drug development] stays open and collaborative and keeps including academics and universities…just as much as the government and industry because that’s what these compounds represent and that’s what they stand for.
In the Milkshake from Mars interview, Dr. von Salm spoke about her advocacy for female involvement in STEM and expressed hope for increased diversity in the sciences. “Diversity will only lead to greater creativity, and in this day in age, we need all the creativity we can get.” Her advocacy involves engagement with the Great American Teach-In and Million Women Mentors, as she shared with Babes who Hustle. Other volunteer positions of Dr. von Salm’s include her positions on the Biotech Advisory Board at Hillsborough community college since January 2020 and on the Publication Committee for the Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since August 2020.
Dr. von Salm has earned several honors and awards, including an ElSohly Award from ACS (2020), a Cosmic Sister Emerging Voices Award (2019), an Apple Polishing Award for her mentorship of undergraduates at USF, an Antarctica Service Medal from the US Department of Defense, and was ACS’ Most Read Author in 2016 for her discovery of Darwinolide.1
She was also featured in a September 2021 Wall Street Journal article about Psilera’s use of virtual reality technology in drug discovery and analysis.
As of October 2021, Dr. von Salm has four patents, three of which are related to cannabis (as listed on her LinkedIn profile).