Jonathan Henkel and his cofounder have been running an efficiency experiment at their Eindhoven-based startup this month.
Rather than analysing the company’s KPIs, ROIs or customer success strategies though, the pair have been trying to rewire their brain chemistry with the help of magic mushrooms to see if that helps.
Microdosing — the method of taking mind-altering substances at low dosages — has been a popular trend in Silicon Valley for years, where it’s said a drop of LSD in the morning coffee can improve creativity, problem solving and focus. Now, a European startup is making it easier than ever to try the technique.
Henkel (not his real name) is a customer of Earth Resonance, a Dutch company that sells one-month programmes of low-dose psilocybe truffles (the part of so-called "magic mushrooms" that grows under ground), promising benefits ranging from improved motivation and productivity, to spiritual awakenings and connection with the divine.
It’s worth mentioning that the sale of psilocybe truffles is legal in the Netherlands. The company says that customers ordering from other countries are responsible for checking the legal status of the substance where they live.
Microdosing is also not meant to make you hallucinate — the programmes are designed to give people a low enough dose to avoid the visual and physical effects that are typical of a higher dose psilocybe experience.
For Henkel, the inspiration to try microdosing came from watching the movie Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who uses a mysterious wonder drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain capacity.
“I saw the movie Limitless as a lot of people did. And I was very, very interested in that movie,” explains Henkel.
How (and how not) to run a startup.
“I did a lot of research about microdosing and then I thought, well, let's give it a try.”
Henkel says that, with the exception of a few after-work beers, he’s not normally the type for trying mind altering drugs, but he was reassured by the fact that psilocybin grows naturally from the ground. He also says he’s seen profound benefits to the way he works.
I was a bit amazed at how productive I was
“I was a bit amazed at how productive I was and how a lot of time I could just keep on working without getting distracted. The distractions were not taking the toll as they normally do,” he says.
“I could just keep on going longer. The things I did were just in a really steady quality, just not fluctuating.”
Henkel’s not the only one seeing the benefits of microdosing in his work. Thomas Jensen (again, not his real name) is a business development manager at a Amsterdam-based hedge fund, and says that microdosing helped him deal with the pressure of working in finance during an economic crisis.
“Last year the financial markets were very volatile. I had a lot going on with my job and I had a lot of noise in my head,” he remembers. “It's almost like microdosing decreases the external impulses. You're just in the moment. And it's hard to explain, but it's like it's almost hard to lose your focus.”
Better than pharmaceutical drugs?
One recent study from Imperial College London suggests that the benefits people experience from microdosing psychedelics might actually just be a placebo effect. But placebo or not, Jensen says that the psilocybin programme has helped him to manage his attention deficit disorder (ADD), which he was diagnosed with as a child.
“When I was younger, they gave me prescription drugs like Ritalin and it helped me with my focus, but it had a lot of negative side effects. But when I started the microdosing, I felt like I got my focus back without those side effects,” he says.
Jensen hopes that destigmatisation and more scientific research will open up the benefits he’s felt from microdosing to more people that deal with conditions like ADD, but not everyone microdoses without side effects.
Henkel told Sifted that he experienced headaches and mental fatigue at the start of his month-long programme, before the real positive effects kicked in.
“Your brain has to get used to the effects of the psilocybin. So that's why I also experienced a lot of headaches in the beginning. It was difficult to stay awake at night because my brain was just feeling tired,” he remembers.
Meanwhile, one user review on Earth Resonance’s website describes increased feelings of anxiety in the first week of their programme.
Answering questions via email, Earth Resonance founder Robert Nass acknowledged the possibility of negative effects from microdosing.
“The first two weeks can be really tough and emotional… If our clients experience anxiety or a fear response this means that there is often unresolved trauma that’s trying to find its way out of the body,” he says. “If you have experienced anxiety in your past, we recommend starting the microdosing cycle with one of our coaches, specialised in trauma and behaviour therapy.”
Nass adds that all microdosing programmes are accompanied by a preparatory ebook, and that users can contact the startup’s customer care team for support if needed. He says that most negative effects occur when customers don’t follow the preparatory protocols.
As well as professionals like Henkel and Jensen, Nass says Earth Resonance has a rapidly growing customer base of users who are microdosing for spiritual growth, “to feel more connected with themselves, nature, and the spirit of the world.”
He says that founding a company like Earth Resonance was challenging, as ecommerce and payments providers treated the company with suspicion of illegality. Now Nass says that investors are increasingly interested in their consumer-first approach to psychedelic therapy, showing that institutional stigma is breaking down.
So what role might psychedelics play in the workplace going forward? Sifted asked Jonathan Henkel whether he would consider offering members of his team microdosing programmes as a work perk.
“I think it could be a very interesting perk to give. I would urge them to think about it really well before they do it. Because I don't want to give them the feeling that they are obliged to do it. Like they have to do it because they need to work more. I see it as more of a personal development thing,” he answers.
Earth Resonance is just the latest in a string of entrepreneurial projects coming out of Europe working with psychedelic compounds, but one of the first with a direct-to-consumer business model.
Wherever the budding psychedelics industry ends up going, it is certainly on a trip.