Is your boss tripping on acid? New research suggests so

By Jack Ramage

Published Nov 28, 2023 at 08:00 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes


Charlie Howes’ revelation of how magic mushrooms could benefit his business didn’t occur within the confines of his office; instead, it happened in front of a television screen. “I was taking mushrooms with some friends and we decided to watch a film,” the CEO of the marketing agency, Klatch, tells SCREENSHOT. “It was a Spike Jones type of film—sober, it would almost be a bit boring, but I looked at it completely differently.”

It was an epiphany that led Howes to micro-dose mushrooms strategically, giving both himself and his business a competitive edge. These small doses don’t result in a full-blown trip, instead, they’re believed to enhance creativity and foster a different perspective when making decisions.

“When you’re an employee, you need to focus. You’re getting stuff done, it’s very task-based, and can often be monotonous,” he explained. “But when you’re a CEO, you need to connect the dots—you must look ahead. And I think that’s where psychedelics come in handy, for strategy and creating a path for your business.”

Howes is not the only one with this mindset. An owner of a small business in the PR industry based in Wales, who wished to remain anonymous, also claims that psychedelics have had a positive impact on their business. “I micro-dose magic mushrooms most working days and it’s been absolutely life-changing,” they told SCREENSHOT, noting that they began to micro-dose after being refused an ADHD assessment.

“Around a year in, I’m still blown away by how clear and more focused I am,” they added. “A big part of my job includes making tough decisions and having uncomfortable conversations. Psychedelics help me to think more clearly and to make the most powerful decisions.”

The rise in psychedelic use among business leaders

You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, across the highly competitive tech landscape of Silicon Valley, several business leaders have openly admitted to using psychedelics. Take Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, for example, who has reportedly micro-dosed both magic mushrooms and ketamine.

According to Business Insider, Musk has been known to openly discuss the benefits of psychedelics and mushrooms. One friend described the tech mogul as having been on “mild exploratory journeys,” suggesting that he might have indeed experimented with these substances.

A report by Wired also hinted that Musk has used ketamine in micro-doses, while Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, reportedly dabbles in “small amounts of magic mushrooms.” The trend is spreading, and it’s manifesting among some of the most powerful individuals in business.

This new movement is backed by academic research too. A recently published study in the peer-reviewed journal Substance Use and Misuse, which investigated the use of psychedelic substances among American adults, revealed that business leaders and managers are engaging in LSD consumption more frequently than their subordinates.

The research, covering the years 2006 to 2014 and involving over 168,000 adults, discovered a significant rise in LSD use among individuals identifying as managers in the last year of the study. This increase was notably higher compared to other full-time employees who did not hold managerial positions. While this data may not be current, it reflects a change in perspective and acknowledgement of how psychedelics can be beneficial for business leaders.

“Silicon Valley has a long history of psychedelic use,” David Luke, an associate professor of psychology at The University of Greenwich, whose research often focuses on psychedelics, told SCREENSHOT. “In fact, the whole computing industry grew up around the epicentre of the psychedelic movement in the Bay Area during the 1960s. There’s a long history [of CEOs taking psychedelic substances]. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the guy who invented the computer mouse—they all took LSD.” 

“It’s not like this is anything new, but it was given a new sheen when micro-dosing became popular around ten to 15 years ago. If it does benefit the individual, then of course, people who are working in a competitive environment (such as business) will be drawn towards optimising their abilities,” the professor continued.

Why do CEOs micro-dose?

But what exactly makes micro-dosing so appealing? And why are tech-industry heavyweights incorporating it into their lives to determine which rockets to launch into space, and which social networks to buy (and ultimately destroy) next? 

One of the common assumptions is that micro-dosing boosts creativity, something that Luke asserts “isn’t a guarantee.” Instead, the expert notes that “the little research that has been done so far seems to favour, or indicate, the possibility that psychedelics can enhance divergent thinking.”

Put simply, divergent thinking is the opposite of convergent thinking, which, Luke describes as our “normal everyday thinking, something that is logical and linear. We look at the facts, and we come up with a solution.” 

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves generating a broad spectrum of potential solutions to problems: a thinking approach that is “great for those initial stages of creative problem-solving, where you want lots of diverse ideas on the table.” Basically, it’s an opportunity for you to embrace your inner Tris from Divergent.

“Psychedelics can be particularly useful in this way,” Luke continued. “They reduce the normal everyday control mechanisms in the brain, the default mode network, and increase connectivity across other brain regions. This gives rise to the ability to put together memories and ideas in novel and interesting ways.”

Alongside creativity, there are other potential benefits to why CEOs might be micro-dosing that the professor notes too. This includes the tendency to increase nature-relatedness and ecological consciousness, to increase empathy and to increase pro-social behaviours, which have all been seen in research on non-clinical populations. 

“There’s a potential benefit of some of those features, filtering down and making business leaders operate in a more pro-social, pro-environmental friendly way,” Luke concludes, emphasising the provisional nature of these findings. So, can psychedelics contribute to addressing the climate crisis by inspiring CEOs to make more environmentally conscious decisions? Possibly. However, even if that’s not the case, it’ll probably lead to employees being treated with more empathy.

Is micro-dosing on the job a good idea?

While many advocate the benefits of psychedelics in the workplace, in reality, it’s not a quick fix for skyrocketing productivity. In fact, there can be many drawbacks to micro-dosing in the office, particularly in regard to one’s health. Ultimately, psychedelics are unpredictable. What effect you have one day, might have a different effect on another day. Issue psychologist Jo Perkins, is keen to highlight this. 

“The market also isn’t regulated,” Perkins explains. “There is a health risk because you don’t know what you’re taking, which can cause huge implications. Psychedelics also cause anxiety levels to rise, and you never are sure what kind of trip you’re going to have. The long-term impact that can have on your mental health can be severe.”

It’s not black and white: while the rise in CEOs reporting using psychedelics in the workplace—along with a growing body of scientific research—suggests the possible benefits that they can have on productivity, there’s still room for caution. 

Yes, taking these substances in small doses may help you solve difficult decisions, thanks to their ability to promote divergent thinking, but there’s also a health risk too. There’s no magic wand (or in this case, mushroom) that can multiply your sales. The rise in tech bros taking psychedelics indicates a greater need to research these substances, for the benefit they can have to productivity, creativity and, perhaps even, the environment. 

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