The Psychedelics Industry Could Offer a Whole New Approach to Work
This column is a collaboration with DoubleBlind, a print magazine and media company at the forefront of the psychedelic movement.
As the world of psychedelics matures to include both a grassroots movement and a burgeoning legal industry — echoing the process that cannabis went through a few years ago — many are wondering what kinds of new jobs will become available in the psychedelic space. Will psychedelics come to resemble most other mainstream, corporate North American industries — or can we expect something that more reflects the spirit and ethos of the medicines that have been used for generations?
For the question of what of jobs will be available, the short answer is, all different kinds. “As psychedelics go from the fringe to the mainstream, the same types of jobs for every other industry that went from fringe to mainstream apply to this one,” says Lewis Goldberg, a managing partner at KCSA, a communications consultancy that works with a handful of companies in the psychedelic space. “I would tell anyone who wants to get into the space to do it, but you better move fast. I’ll steal a line from Aldous Huxley: ‘The doors of perception are wide open, but the doors of opportunity are still closing.’”
In the last couple of years, there’s been an exponential growth in the number of drug development companies seeking to take psychedelic compounds through the FDA approval process. MDMA, sometimes referred to as “ecstasy,” and psilocybin, one of the primary psychoactive components in psychedelic mushrooms, are both projected to be legal for prescription in the next five years. Meanwhile, more than a dozen drug development companies have now brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to research compounds from 5-MeO-DMT for depression to novel psychedelics they’re hoping will remove the possibility for a “bad trip.”
Indeed, it’s not just those developing the drugs who will be in on this industry — careers will span from lawyers who specialize in helping entrepreneurs navigate the legal landscape, to therapists who help patients integrate their experiences after a psychedelic trip, to receptionists who greet visitors at psychedelic clinics across the country.
“If you think that in the last three years, something like $3 billion of venture money has been pumped into the industry, that’s a tremendous amount, but not a lot of money — it’s building the foundation for a multi-trillion-dollar industry,” says Goldberg. “Five of the top 25 selling drugs in the world are designed to treat central nervous system disorders. This collective group of [psychedelic] companies is going to disrupt that. Some are going to be the equivalents of Google or Amazon and some are going to be Pets.com.” Although Goldberg is a self-proclaimed “regular mainstream capitalist,” he says that “the companies looking to be open-source are more likely to be successful and have a societal impact than those that are looking to solely work on their own.” In the field of psychedelics, being open source means allowing everyone in the field access to your data and research, in the spirit of progressing the movement as a whole — as opposed to prioritizing your company’s profitability.
Of course, open source alone is not enough to ensure that key players in the space are working toward a compassionate and equitable psychedelic industry. “This will require a lot of personal and internal decolonization work by the emerging ‘leaders’ of this space,” says Charlotte James, co-founder of The Ancestor Project, an educational platform designed for people of color that offers workshops and resources for members on the plant medicine journey. “We believe that by doing this work first, it then becomes natural to understand your role in the collective liberation movement that this medicine wants us to usher in. An equitable ‘industry’ won’t be an ‘industry’ as we currently understand it to be, and instead a mycelial-like network of co-creation across diverse communities and environments.”
So far, James doesn’t know a single BIPOC-led organization that has significant financial support in the psychedelic space, which, she says, leads to a widening gap between the grassroots movement and the corporate. “More folks are recognizing that in order to move away from capitalism, we have to break the work patterns that are ingrained in us, [since] those patterns that contribute to the glorified ‘hustle and grind’ culture are actually just extensions of systemic oppression,” says James. “Reclaiming our relationship to creativity and productivity will support us in being able to imagine a different and more equitable future in which our value is not defined by our bodies or our productivity.”
The psychedelic approach to work culture may lie in the way we regard our professional life versus our personal life. There’s a paradigm shift in being able to “bring your full self to work,” says Gareth Hermann, co-founder and CEO at Magic, a marketing agency in the psychedelic space. “At Magic, we don’t like the term ‘balance’ because it brings up the image of being on a seesaw, so we’re creating a culture that’s more celebratory of work-life ‘presence’ to create a space for the whole human to show up at work,” says Jennifer Ellis, chief people officer at Magic. The agency even goes so far as to offer programs that support repatterning, helping teammates recognize states of response and triggers so that they can develop better emotional literacy. Ultimately, Hermann explains, those shifts in beliefs and values create more possibility for us to make foundational impacts in the world at large.
What psychedelics offer is an invitation to look at professional and economic systems more, well, psychedelically. But it takes time leaning into the paradigm shift: Mike Margolies, founder of the educational conversation series Psychedelic Seminars, used to work a corporate job before an ayahuasca trip set him off on a journey that led to quitting, traveling, and creating a career in psychedelics. “The irony was that after all that, I had created myself a desk job, and I was like wait, what am I doing here?” he says. “I was thinking a lot about how you spend your time is how you spend your life.”
Among tactics like designated days dedicated for “work or task mode” versus “flow mode,” he now makes space to “allow for ‘productivity’ to happen in a different way.” “We have this idea of what a job is, what being productive is, but even though we’re all psychedelic, we’ve put ourselves in the same old boxes,” he says. “Because we have to have a work ethic, a mission, and so much urgency, we end up embodying the systems that we’re purportedly working to reinvent.” Indeed, a question not uncommon among psychedelic folk is whether a company can really heal the ill effects of capitalism in individuals and the collective, while also working within a capitalist system. Capitalism has us thinking that “work” has to be a certain way—a 40-hour a week grind. “It’s crazy that that’s become the standard,” Margolies says. “The goal isn’t to get everyone working” — in the standard capitalistic sense — “but how do we get everyone self-actualized? Achieving collective self-actualization is intrinsically the pathway to creating the most value for each other.”
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