Betty Aldworth envisions an office of the future where the microdosing machine sits next to the coffee maker.
As an executive at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Aldworth sees the use of psychedelic drugs, such as mushrooms or LSD, being used with more frequency to address medical, mental health and performance issues. "People who swear by microdosing report that it increases creativity and productivity while reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges with minimal side effects," she said.
Microdosing at work is getting increased attention as new solutions to pandemic-era burnout and issues tied to the Great Resignation come into play. With more employees working from home, some labor experts believe microdosing is increasingly becoming a factor among workers. "It's a lot more widespread than you would think," said Alex Atwood, a "psychedelic coach" who helps design protocols for people to integrate their microdosing experience into their day-to-day lives.
Certainly, that may be cause for concern for employers and managers, who are still in many cases adjusting to the prevalence of another popular drug: marijuana. But some experts say psychedelics offer help that other drugs and medicines don't.
"Psychedelics, from what I see, are the most cutting-edge and most impactful in terms of efficacy," Atwood said. "If you look at addictive substances, you're looking at caffeine, you're looking at nicotine, you're looking at, you know, alcohol and cocaine. These don't live in the same world as the psychedelics."
Microdosing entails taking a miniscule amount of a psychedelic drug, amounting to 5 percent to 10 percent of a complete dose. Psilocybin, a key ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, and LSD are the psychedelic drugs that are most frequently microdosed. At this tiny amount, people don't feel high or experience a psychedelic drug trip. However, people who microdose say it does improve their mood and sense of well-being, and bolsters their focus and creativity.
"Microdosing is more widespread and popular than ever, including in business settings," said Vincent Sliwoski, an Oregon-based managing partner at law firm Harris Bricken. He specializes in laws governing controlled substances. "It has been a trend in Silicon Valley for more than a decade, with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates acknowledging their use of psychedelic drugs. The dynamic creates an awkward tension between business culture and practices, on one hand, and the law on the other."
The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 2.7 percent of adults used psychedelics in 2019, and the 2021 Global Drug Survey reports that, among respondents, about 22 percent of those who used psychedelics microdosed. "Reading these survey data together, we can guess that [about] 1 in 200 adult Americans tried microdosing at some point, and maybe sometimes at work," Aldworth said.
MUD\WTR, a beverage brand that makes a coffee alternative, and the liquid soap maker Dr. Bronner's stand out among companies that encourage, or at least allow, their employees to microdose at work. This year, Dr. Bronner's became the first company in the U.S. to provide Ketamine therapy through its employee health care coverage.
"Plenty of people microdose at work, they just hide it from their managers," said Shane Heath, founder and CEO of MUD\WTR. "Encouraging drug use in the office is not unprecedented. Most offices put coffee and energy drinks in their kitchens, encouraging the overuse of caffeine. Most companies have beer and cocktail parties promoting the use of alcohol. We're not even going that far. We're not providing drugs, but we also aren't telling people not to partake in whatever helps them to improve their creativity, productivity and mental well-being. If I go to jail for that, then, whatever. Our attitude toward psychedelics in the workplace is informed by science."
From a manager's perspective, there is, of course, a major issue with microdosing—at work or otherwise—that it's illegal in most parts of the country. Despite promising data, trace amounts of psilocybin, LSD and other psychedelics are classified as Schedule I narcotics under the Controlled Substance Act, Sliwoski explained. There are limited regions where the drugs are legal, or where law enforcement does not prioritize prosecution if someone possesses these substances. Oregon is the first state to consider legalizing and licensing psilocybin mushroom commerce, but the proposed law in that state is unresolved and controversial.
Indeed, one guide to the challenge managers face on this issue can be found in the employer response to marijuana use. Many companies still don't have marijuana policies, even when that drug is legal for recreational and medicinal use in their states. Still, Sliwoski noted that when it comes to marijuana, "many employers have relaxed or modified policies in recent years to accommodate changing cultural norms. They may do well to follow suit with respect to psychedelics."
Sliwoski recommends employers ask themselves a series of questions when evaluating how to handle the issue. What positive or negative impact on employee and business performance might there be from workplace microdosing? Is a tiny dose of LSD more helpful to employee performance than a double shot of espresso, or e-cigarettes? Would repealing a drug-free workplace policy have harmful effects on a company's safety, brand or insurance rates? How do employees feel about the issue?
Atwood believes that microdosing will go the way of marijuana use: As more studies are done, it will be legalized in more places, and then companies will need to address the issue. For companies that promote wellness, the issue may have a certain appeal.
For Heath's company, the management style is to support this kind of use.
"Our policy is informed by our management style," he said. "It's not a dictatorship, and micromanagement is a dirty word around here. Instead, employees are empowered to find a way of living that allows them to be the best version of themselves, however that might be."
Holly Rosenkrantz is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.