This is an audio transcript of the Working It podcast episode — High at work: why so many people are microdosing

Isabel Berwick
I could have one of these in the morning.

Production team member
Easy, easy.

Isabel Berwick
Let’s just see how we feel about them if it’s going to make us fall over but it’s not one of those things in five years’ time, this might be like on the...

Production team member
Absolutely.

Isabel Berwick
Board at Starbucks.

Isabel Berwick
I think this is tastier than a normal coffee. This might rise.

Production team member
The question of their ethics. (Laughter)

Production team member
I consider your money tastes like hotel coffee. (Laughter)

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Isabel Berwick
Today on Working It with me Isabel Berwick, we’re going on a trip. Not the kind you pack a suitcase for, but the kind that could change your outlook on work, on life, on everything. We’re talking about microdosing, and more specifically, whether it’ll change the future of work as we know it. To the uninitiated, microdosing is the growing practice of ingesting very small quantities of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, better known as acid, which many people believe enhances performance and increases concentration and productivity and the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin is increasingly being used for microdosing, even though it remains illegal in many countries, including the UK where I live. But there are also softer touch versions like nootropics, and that includes brain boosting and legal mushroom varieties such as lion’s mane and cordyceps, which you just heard me and the production team trying for the first time at the Shroom Town Cafe. It’s a pop up in Piccadilly Circus in London’s West End.

Isabel Berwick
We are having coffees that will clear my brain fog in my case and make the producers feel a little bit more. So we’ve also got a selection of vegan treats and they’ve got mushrooms in as well. So we were on double mushroom Russian, so let’s see if we’re buzzing by lunchtime, but I have to say it’s absolutely delicious.

Isabel Berwick
We’ll report back later in the episode on the effects these mushroom coffees had on the rest of our working day. But until then, I’m joined by Jacobien van der Weijden, who’s one of the co-founders of the Microdosing Institute in the Netherlands, which offers educational materials and courses around the topic. I asked her to explain why she thinks microdosing is so effective.

Jakobien van der Weijden
So there’s still this sort of connotation that microdosing is really a performance enhancer and really a creativity hack. However, I will argue that it’s more than that, and that’s what we see in our work. We have a community of, I could say, 20,000 plus people who microdose and they microdose for such a wide array of reasons, mostly to improve mental health, also personal development and then cognitive enhancement would be number three. Those are some of the possibilities that microdosing offers to people, but the main characteristic is that it increases your sense of presence, which actually allows you to get a closer look at your behaviour, at your thought patterns, at self-criticism.

Isabel Berwick
That’s a really clear way of putting it. And what advice would you have for people who are just starting to find out about it and want to know more?

Jakobien van der Weijden
There’s a movie called Fantastic Fungi that is really about, you know, the true power and all the capabilities that the funky world of mushrooms offer to us humans and also how it’s related. So humans, mushrooms and the natural world, the trees are all connected. It’s a very close and intimate relationship, actually. It’s this ecosystem. And Paul Stamets, the main character in this documentary, is a mycologist who also has been very crucial in putting microdosing on the map. So his story is part of that.

Isabel Berwick
How would business is responding to this microdosing trend? Well, with big money and a sense of really big potential, the top 11 venture capital companies alone are reported to have pumped about $140 million into psychedelic start-ups in the past couple of years. And the FT has just published an article about psychedelic retreats where the very wealthy can pay thousands of dollars for supervised microdosing and tripping. I’ll put a link in the show notes. The FT also reports that psychedelics, despite still being illegal in many countries, could have a potential market value of $10bn by 2027. So one thing I have noticed, not so much a conversation around microdosing, but this word nootropics sort of performance enhancer, a cognitive enhancer. And in fact, I got some nootropic tea to try with colleagues in the office. I didn’t notice that much difference, although it tasted very nice. Is that something completely separate or is that something people could start on if they’re interested?

Jakobien van der Weijden
I see it as a holistic tool, not as a medicine, and also not completely as a hack, but supplements and supplementing ourselves and understanding how our brain works, how our whole biochemistry works. And if there are additions that we could make to, I would say in the first place, feel better. But secondly, also to make full use of the capacities of your brain. Why not? I think it’s very important to also approach this holistically. So is it not depleting you from anything? Are you not overdoing it?

Isabel Berwick
Speaking of overdoing it, though, microdosing is growing in popularity. It’s still in its early days, and this is a sort of cautionary note. Teething issues are to be expected. One Working It listener who was going to remain anonymous started microdosing for her runs. It helped her stay focus and go on longer. And in fact, it went so well that she decided to try it at work. Here’s her voice note about what happened next.

Production team member
So I basically took a dose before going to the office because I was in a bit of a rush, I wasn’t really paying attention to the dosage. And so I just took some and then went to work as I normally would.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Production team member
And then I got just remember I sat down on the toilet and I hung my lanyard up on the hook on the back of the toilet door, and it was swaying. And I could see the shroud of the lanyard as it swung. I thought, I’ve done too much. And yeah, I’ve always just thought, what is wrong with you today? You most don’t make sense and you just away with it. And I was just, yeah, I had to pretend that I was ill and I just went home.

Isabel Berwick
That’s quite an extreme lengths to go to for an early finish at work. But there are some people doing this every day successfully and often in a very disciplined way. We have to make that clear. So while microdosing is still in its infancy as a workplace activity, there are lots of Europe-based startups selling microdosing kits. And one recent report suggested that psychedelics for personal development could become a perk for staff at some forward-looking companies. So this is an industry at once on the cusp of going mainstream and yet still illegal in many places. Which brings us back to our own rudimentary trial at Shroom Town in London. And when we left, I was feeling quite buzzy.

[SHROOM TOWN CAFE]

Isabel Berwick
It feels like I’m slightly fizzing. I’ve got loads of ideas and obviously always have nice ideas, but it should be said even more. Even more than normal [laughs]. No, it’s good. It’s really nice feeling.

Isabel Berwick
While Amalia, our assistant producer, was feeling well …

[LAUGHTER]

Isabel Berwick
However later in the day, we continued to report in on how we were feeling via voice notes.

[VOICE NOTES]

Isabel Berwick
It’s one o’clock. I have felt quite energised all morning and I’m now snacking on Jaffa Cakes. So make of that what you will.

Production team member
I feel like I’m not struggling with talking anymore, so that’s good. I find myself giggling at stupid things.

Production team member
I reckon I’ve been blitzing through my script, writing a little bit faster than I usually do.

Production team member
It’s the 6pm update. The effects have subsided. I didn’t really experience an afternoon slump and I got a lot more done in the afternoon than I did in the morning. In the morning, I felt like I would end up in conversation with colleagues and focus all of my concentration on that instead of the work. So maybe the takeaway is that if you direct your concentration towards something productive, it will be productive.

Production team member
I totally agree with you Amalia. I actually ended up working until about quarter past seven today and it was because I was just on a roll. I don’t know what it was. I hope it went well for you too, Isabel.

Isabel Berwick
Sadly we’ll never know. As I forgot to send in my six o’clock report because I went for drinks, which I can tell you did not enhance my performance the next day at work. But I do have to say, I think I really was sparkling with people that night. So maybe the shroom coffee was helping me that, who’s to say? But the science behind this nootropics stuff is quite interesting. Mushrooms are having a cool moment. All sorts of health-boosting claims are made about what’s in them, including a buzz word adaptogens, meaning ingredients that offer a variety of health perks, including apparently helping you deal with stress. But more than just making someone more creative or a little loopy for a few hours, I was wondering if there were any wider, more unexpected impacts that microdosing could have on someone. Here’s Jakobien from the Microdosing Institute again.

Jakobien van der Weijden
For me, it’s always very interesting to hear why are people coming to microdosing and what were they expecting versus what were they getting out of it? This is actually quite interesting because sometimes people come with this idea of, okay, I want to fully tap into my creativity. I want to take a new direction with my life. But we also ask them always about, okay, but did you have any challenges or any unexpected things? So then it’s like, yes, I cried more than usual. I noticed, like there’s a sadness in me that I actually haven’t fully addressed. Some people notice tiredness, for instance, so psychedelics are actually non-specific amplifiers, so they can amplify those emotions and feelings that are there. And sometimes those are physical, sometimes torture, emotional. Sometimes those are even spiritual and comes up in dreams, for instance, something that wants attention or that needs to be addressed. So when it’s tiredness, it’s usually okay. The person recognises, I’m living a very accelerated lifestyle. I’m not taking any time for myself. So that keeps for me being the core in almost every person we accompany.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Isabel Berwick
I think this has been the episode that’s been on the furthest frontier of the future of work, but it’s been fascinating. We did that little experiment, going to have nootropic coffee and it did make a difference to us. We enjoyed it and I’ve bought a packet back and that’s sitting on my desk at work. So, you know, it must have had some effect. And I think in five years’ time we’ll be having a very different conversation here. There’s so much money going into mushrooms and start-ups and microdosing. I think we’re just on the frontier of, you know, something really profound, not just in the workplace, but in our lives. It’s not for everyone. It’s still not something that’s mainstream or indeed legal. But, you know, there’s something there that I find absolutely fascinating and I’m delighted we’ve covered it in Working It. Thanks again to Jakobien van der Weijden, Shroom Town Café, our anonymous microdoser and our production team for taking part in our experiment.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we’d really appreciate it if you left us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. And please do get in touch with us. We want to hear from you. We’re workingit@ft.com or with me @isabelberwick on Twitter. If you’re an FT subscriber, please sign up for our Working It newsletter for some behind-the-scenes extras from the podcast and exclusive Work and Career stories you won’t see anywhere else. Sign up at ft.com/newsletters. Working It is produced by Novel for the Financial Times. Thanks to the producer Anna Sinfield, executive producer Joe Wheeler. Research from Lee Maier and Amalia Swartland. And mixed from Chris O’Shaughnessy. From the FT we have editorial direction from Renée Kaplan and Manuela Saragosa and production support from Persis Love. Thanks for listening.

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