At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland got to experience the Psychedelic Medicine House. An event hosted by psychedelic investment company Tabula Rasa Ventures and Energia. One of the discussions held at the house covered employment and psychedelics. What happens when work and tripping collide?
Some in the industry think it’s a great idea to have employers instruct insurance companies to cover experimental psychedelic treatments for mental health. One is example is the 150-year-old soap company Dr. Bronners. The family-owned and operated business was pretty basic until the 1960s and 1970’s when the company moved to California and embraced a message of peace for the planet. The company is also known for its organic products and promotion of hemp, less known is that the original Bronner was never a real doctor, he just began calling himself Doctor and the name stuck.
Fast forward to today and Dr. Bronner’s products are sold everywhere. Its early adoption of hemp-based products put it squarely in the camp of using plant-based products for a variety of solutions. Dr. Bronner’s showed it had no fear of thinking outside the box and is continuing that trend with its decision to expand its mental healthcare benefits to include ketamine-assisted therapy. The company sees this as a first step in providing access to psychedelic-assisted therapy to employees to promote mental health. According to a company statement, “This innovative benefit plan is administered by Enthea, a nonprofit healthcare organization responsible for medical policy development, provider network management, and benefit plan administration. Enthea establishes high quality of care standards for the treatments offered, including credentialing and managing a network of specialty providers.”
However, allowing an FDA-approved drug to be used by employees is one thing, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD or ayahuasca is a whole different level of treatment. The drugs are not FDA-approved and are still undergoing numerous studies. Still, some company CEOs after experiencing a psychedelic trip want to share that with their employees and that’s where opinions diverge.
Those in the industry are all for it. They hope these enlightened CEOs will generate lots of business for their companies as employees begin signing up for treatments. Retreats, clinic visits, and microdosing are all ways for these emerging companies to earn revenue. The CEOs that had great experiences truly just want to share that with their employees. I.e. if it was so life-changing and eye-opening for them, imagine what it could do for others. The stress of today’s world with climate change, wars, and a post-pandemic landscape has affected people’s mental health so if this can help then why not.
There have been many anecdotal stories out of silicon valley about workers using tiny amounts of psilocybin mushrooms each day or microdosing. Just enough to get the positive effects but not enough to detach from reality. Despite there being no studies on the long-term effects of microdosing, people are doing it anyway.
One executive in Davos spoke about how his life was a mess until he tried psychedelics and afterward found true love with a new partner and new meaning to his work. If it could do this for him, why wouldn’t he want others to have this too? Another executive also shared a story about how psychedelics changed his career path and that all people should be released from their self-imposed work rigors to find their true calling in their work life.
These stories all sound so amazing and positive, but the truth is that companies suggesting psychedelic experiences can be problematic.
In the discussion that followed, several negatives were discussed that the workplace would have to grapple with if employers decided to offer these types of treatments. One was abandoning regular life. One psychedelic company executive told a story about explaining his position to another executive who was very much against it. Why? He said after several of his executives tried psychedelics, they all quit. The pro-psych people say this is a good outcome. Leaving behind what isn’t working and moving towards what is working. The negatives say that it is detaching from the real world. Walking away from jobs, companies, and investors with no warning isn’t always seen as productive or healthy.
One well-documented example was a story about an early cannabis company called Tradeiv whose CEO had an LSD trip in Alaska. The company CEO Aaron TK said God spoke to him during the trip and suggested a different career path so he came back and shut down the company. Leaving investors and employees completely blindsided as he jumped ship. With little known about this type of response on a large scale, it’s impossible to know whether these career escapes turn out to be great moves or impulsive decisions that actually jeopardize the individuals and their families.
Not every experience in psychedelics is a good one. This is an issue that lots of people in the psychedelic industry avoid discussing. Bad trips happen and can be just as disturbing and profound as good trips. Does an employer want to be responsible for sending an employee to a dark place, one that could potentially have long-lasting effects? Pro psych people say bad trips are just a sign of deep-rooted negative experiences that are getting purged from a person’s psyche. But some people report getting totally derailed from their lives after a bad trip, what employer would want to be saddled with that responsibility?
Just Say No?
Another potential unwanted outcome could be an employee’s decision to reject the suggestion of a psychedelic trip. Psychedelic experiences go way beyond that of cannabis. In Davos, some executives saw rejection as an employee not being a team player. These pro-psych people are such huge believers in the benefits of the treatment, they truly want the best for their workers and think this is a massive gift to give. To them, it’s like offering a week’s paid vacation or salary bonus. It’s an amazing gift to give. Plus, they feel like an employee that doesn’t partake can’t relate to the others that have. To them, it’s like a company golf outing that one employee decides isn’t worth doing or participating in and rains on everyone else’s parade. One even said, “I wouldn’t want that person working for me.”
However, a psychedelic experience isn’t the same as a traditional corporate retreat. To some employees, it may feel like the boss is making you take shots when you don’t drink alcohol. It’s hard to see how a company could force a person to engage in a psychedelic experience, but office politics are what they are and certainly, there could be an instance of a worker feeling like if they don’t participate, they could lose their job.
The relationship between the workplace and drugs normally centers around an employee being impaired on the job and the employer testing for those drugs. Current drug screen tests are called the 5-panel test or screen. The federal drug screen tests for metabolites of marijuana, cocaine, opiates (codeine and morphine), phencyclidine (PCP), heroin, and various amphetamines. There isn’t a screen for psychedelics at this time. If employers were against psychedelic treatments, they aren’t able to test their workers. If employers wanted to be sure a worker completed treatment, they are equally unable to confirm it.
Cannabis consumption and the workplace has gone through years of debate. States that legalized medical marijuana found that those laws didn’t matter when it came to the workplace. Employers generally win lawsuits regarding drug use and jobs. In other words, employers can decide they don’t want their employees to use any cannabis whether its a medical treatment or not.
Psychedelics though have flipped the narrative the other way around. Can an employer push for a treatment that an employee may not want? This debate is only beginning and is sure to warrant strong emotions on both sides.