Business tripping: The professionals trying drugs to get better at work

There’s no magic pill for career success, but an increasingly vocal, if tiny, share of professionals swear a capsule of psilocybin or an infusion of ketamine comes pretty close. ILLUSTRATION: SAM KELLY/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
There’s no magic pill for career success, but an increasingly vocal, if tiny, share of professionals swear a capsule of psilocybin or an infusion of ketamine comes pretty close. ILLUSTRATION: SAM KELLY/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


A small but vocal share of workers swear ketamine and psychedelics can boost creativity and focus on the job.

So, what happens when the boss tries ketamine?

At insurance brokerage Frontier Risk, the remote team of 12 gets summoned to a weekly, hourlong video call that mostly involves watching each other work. People are free to talk, but there is no agenda.

The workers aren’t on drugs, but Chief Executive James Whitcomb hatched the idea for the sessions during a $1,000 psychedelic experience at a ketamine clinic in Connecticut.

His sober self would have dismissed the notion of sitting in shared silence as too woo-woo for the workplace, he says. On ketamine, however, he figured it was worth a try to spark unscripted moments of collaboration.

There’s no magic pill for career success, but an increasingly vocal, if tiny, share of professionals swear a capsule of psilocybin or an infusion of ketamine comes pretty close.

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, a vanguard of Silicon Valley leaders and workers see psychedelics and similar substances as a creativity and productivity hack. And the legal status of ketamine and decriminalization of psilocybin, better known as magic mushrooms, in Oregon and Colorado, have lessened taboos around drug use.

Psychedelics are beginning to find some adherents beyond Silicon Valley who say the drugs make them better at their jobs by expanding imaginations or taming doubts about their abilities, though supporting research is limited.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning last fall about ketamine’s popularity as an off-label mental-health treatment, saying it “has not determined that ketamine is safe and effective for such uses." The FDA also warned that using ketamine without monitoring by a healthcare provider puts people at serious risk of adverse reactions, including psychiatric events, increased blood pressure and urinary problems.

Whitcomb says he initially turned to ketamine to treat depression and found it helped him think more expansively about work problems. “It sounds very hippy-dippy—it does—but I really believe professional services firms these days have to be looking inwards to find an edge in problem solving," Whitcomb says.

Rave reviews and cautionary tales

Some people are curious about psychedelics, some skeptical. (Others are just uninterested in hearing about the boss’s latest trip.)

“I’m like, ‘How is this legal?’" says Marcus Hutchins, a cybersecurity analyst in Los Angeles. He abstains but says drugs that produce psychedelic effects are so common at some big-name technology companies he consults with that employees tell him they feel pressure to join in to keep up.

“I don’t like the idea of work culture getting to the point where working insane hours is not enough," he said. “On top of that, you now need to be doing drugs to work even harder."

A handful of companies’ benefits plans now cover ketamine for mental health. The drug is available through clinics and mail-order businesses where doctors prescribe it off-label to treat a range of conditions.

Talking with more than a dozen people who’ve used or administered psychedelics, I heard about one positive experience after another. Some true believers flagged the risk of a bad trip with co-workers (somewhat worse than getting tipsy at the company Christmas party) and concerns about overhyped expectations. Most—save those working in or alongside the psychedelics industry—didn’t want their names used.

Juan Pablo Cappello, co-founder of a Miami provider of ketamine mental-health treatments, Nue Life Health, said a third of the roughly 50,000 people who inquired about treatment during his first two years in business had no mental-health issues. They were simply curious about the drug’s potential to spark brilliant ideas.

Nue Life turned those folks away. Cappello sold the business last year because he says it couldn’t compete financially with other companies that give out the drug more freely.

Cole Butler, founder of a mental-health trade association called the Integrative Care Collective, recalls an uncomfortable session with a group of co-workers at a ketamine-assisted therapy clinic where he used to work. Participants reclined with blankets, pillows and eye shades as he read poetry aloud to create a soothing environment. Next came the injections. One woman’s mind went to a dark place, leaving her visibly emotional and colleagues unsure how to respond.

“She had some trauma surfacing, and it was maybe not good to open that up," Butler says.

Pushing toward the mainstream

Peggy Van de Plassche started taking small doses of magic mushrooms—capsules containing about 5% to 10% of the psilocybin chemical that someone might consume while partying—when her financial advisory firm struggled early in the pandemic. She got her first supply at a wellness clinic that she visited for massages near her home in Canada and found she could focus on important tasks for long stretches.

She quit her day job in 2022 to turn her personal experience into a program for others, which she calls the Microdose Diet. (Her book by the same name drops next month from Simon & Schuster.) Van de Plassche is quick to acknowledge that medical research to support the performance-enhancing effectiveness of psychedelics is limited and notes that her template for microdosing involves journaling and meditation, too.

“This is the next level of biohacking," she says. “If I can be more creative in two hours than the person next to me is in eight, that’s an advantage."

Andrea Millen, a psychologist and co-founder of an executive-coaching business called Lead Embodied, is organizing a three-day off-site for female tech execs in California this fall that includes daily ketamine injections supervised by a doctor.

Millen says the participants had to apply for one of the dozen slots, answering written questions about their management styles and their interest in joining the retreat. She is trying to manage expectations, especially for people who might assume that one trip will radically change their lives, by telling those who’ve signed up that it’s unlikely they’ll emerge from the $2,000 weekend with billion-dollar ideas. More realistic, she says, is that ketamine will help them let down their guard and accept coaching more readily.

Tales of uninhibited brainstorming make Chris Giuseppini, a freelance marketing professional, curious about ketamine. He can be his own harshest critic, he says, generating ideas only to question whether they’re any good. He often spends much of the day pacing around his home office, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Several creative professionals he admires have shared positive experiences with ketamine diminishing their tendency to second-guess themselves.

Giuseppini hasn’t experimented yet, but he’s considering it.

“Is there another realm I could unlock—a few more chambers of my brain?" he wonders.

Write to Callum Borchers at

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