Burnout and Beyond: Why Leaders Use Psychedelics

Stress only touches the surface of what leaders endure. Leaders are no exception to the rise in physical and mental health issues we’re seeing increase in the workplace. So how do you stay healthy and retain your competitive edge?

Yoga, mindfulness, distance running: all manner of efforts can help. But one is on the rise that was taboo just a few decades ago: psychedelics. They’ve been gaining popularity in executive suites across corporate sectors. Why? Our guest Paul F. Austin, founder and CEO of Third Wave, shares some answers…along with important guidelines.

Like everyone else, leaders have their trends. One of the hot growing leadership trends is Cali Sober. From Elon Musk to Aaron Rodgers, leaders of all stripes are eschewing the stereotypical stress reliever of past executives—alcohol—and relaxing with psychedelics instead. (It’s called Cali Sober due to its origins in California’s Silicon Valley.)

But psychedelics received such a bad rap in the 1960s and ‘70s that we have to wonder: are they safe for the corporate world?

From Paul’s discussion on the podcast, we’ve distilled these advantages and disadvantages to help discern fact from stigma.


1) Stress Management & Burnout Prevention

This is the most obvious way psychedelics are replacing alcohol for overworked executives. From Bewitched to Madmen, pop culture consistently showed business culture as using alcohol for everything from greeting a new client to soothing one’s nerves after losing a big account. Paul says today’s emphasis on healthier living means abandoning the potential toxic side effects of cocktails and liquor for microdosing psychedelics to “take the edge off.”

2) Maintaining a Competitive Edge

Leaders report that microdosing psilocybin, LSD, and similar drugs enhances creativity and innovation. Part of this obviously comes from stress relief; we often find solutions when we’re distracted and stop thinking about a problem. But the fact that this microdosing also changes perspectives and “opens their minds” to new possibilities clearly plays a major role; these execs are seeing problems and solutions in new ways. Obviously, the more solutions you see, and the more innovations you create, the more you’ll outdistance the competition!

3) Personal Growth and Development

Speaking of perspective shifts, these also help leaders with their own development. Leaders report profound personal insights following psychedelic experiences. Seeing themselves in a new light often results in more effective leadership styles and better decision-making.

4) Higher EQ

Those personal insights also lead to higher empathy and relationship skills. That provides a clear boost to improved interpersonal relationships. And that boost, in turn, helps leaders create more cohesive teams.

Of course, psychedelic use isn’t all upsides! Consider these potential Disadvantages, too:

1) Legality

The use of psychedelics is heavily regulated. While ketamine is legal in all 50 states of the U.S., for example, there are regulations on how, when, and why it can be used. Most other psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms, enjoy approval in far fewer states.

2) Stigma

Although natural psychedelics, such as peyote and mushrooms, have been used by humans for thousands of years, psychoactive drugs were heavily stigmatized in the 20th century. Many people still hold those stigmatic views—hence the legal issues mentioned above. In turn, using these drugs can lead to poor public perception of you and your organization.

3) Misuse and Dependency

The use of psychedelics for leaders is decidedly not the free-for-all of the 1960s counterculture. They must all be used with proper guidance, a knowledgeable facilitator present, and in controlled settings. There is always the risk of negative effects (a “bad trip” in ‘60s-speak), which can have mental health implications. And while there’s very little chance of physical dependency, unmonitored use can lead to a psychological need, such as believing you can’t be creative or relax without them. *Note that it is always advised that you consult a doctor before engaging with psychedelics, especially if you take prescription medications.

Because we are the Innovative Leadership Institute, we constantly absorb the latest research and trends in leadership development and effectiveness. Sometimes, those trends are in a gray zone—an area on the fine tip of society’s cutting edge where adoption is not clear. Psychedelics are currently in this zone.

As a result, we’re very curious about how YOU feel. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages, is it time to erase the stigma of psychedelics, particularly when microdosed?  Should they remain only a medical and therapeutic tool—or be a tool of the C-suite, too? Let us know in the comments!


This article was adapted by Dan Mushalko from our podcast episode How Psychedelics Enhance Modern Leadership.

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