Psychedelics are exploding in the startup community as founders say it makes them better leaders
Ayahuasca may help with depression, addiction, PTSD, and other mental health problems. GETTY IMAGES
When Dilan Dane sold his first company, a search engine called Scoopler, to Google in 2011, he had a windfall of money and time on his hands. He knew he needed to invest some of it in himself.
“I wanted to get myself really ready for the rest of my career on a deep, emotional level,” he said.
It wasn’t executive coaching he was after. Or an MBA. Instead, Dane traveled nearly 5,000 miles from San Francisco to the Sacred Valley of Peru to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. He had heard from friends—fellow startup founders— that the Amazonian psychedelic plant medicine was positively transformative.
Having grown up in a dysfunctional family in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of a civil war that started just after he was born and lasted until well after he had emigrated to the U.S., Dane said, “I had a tremendous amount of childhood trauma. I was very much still suffering from this baggage from my past.”
As an adult, this baggage became depression, crippling social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Friends in the startup world told him that ayahuasca could help with all of that.
From his first sip of the psychedelic brew back in 2013, Dane became part of a growing trend among his peers. “Psychedelics are absolutely exploding in the startup community,” he said. “So many founders are doing it. It used to be a bit more under the radar, but now more of them are doing so openly.”
Many of those who’ve tried other psychedelics in addition to ayahuasca say the Amazonian plant is a more intense hallucinogenic than any other. Some are finding that the psychedelic trip helps them break down the barriers to reaching their full potential as business leaders and entrepreneurs.
How ayahuasca works
Pronounced i-ya-was-ka, the bitter, dark brown brew is made up of two plants both native to the Amazon—the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub.
The vine contains MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), the active ingredient in early antidepressants, which helps activate the leaves. The leaves contain the psychedelic chemical DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). When combined, they form a potent drink that alters a user’s sense of time, and induces hallucinations and feelings of euphoria. It can also cause nausea and vomiting, dizziness, increased heart rate, and seizures.
In the U.S., DMT on its own is an illegal Schedule I Controlled Substance like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. But the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows for the use of ayahuasca in some churches because the plant medicine has roots in indigenous Amazonian religions—some of which have U.S. outposts.
For thousands of years, natives of the upper Amazon basin, across Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, have consumed the medicinal distillation in religious ceremonies to make connections with supernatural forces or forest spirits.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, ayahuasca ceremonies started cropping up in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. They were attended by modern Westerners seeking a psychedelic trip, a spiritual experience or maybe healing. A smattering of research suggests that the ethnobotanical may aid in the treatment of depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health problems.
While many people turn to it as a treatment for depression, it’s dangerous to mix it with other antidepressants, including MAOIs, SSRIs, and the herbal St. John’s wort. These combinations can cause serious side effects. Reputable retreats ask potential participants about their medications and advise them on which ones aren’t safe to mix with the plant medicine.
Whether entrepreneurs try ayahuasca for a specific benefit or just the novel experience, there may be something in their nature that draws them to it.
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Published: October 06, 2022
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