In 2021, Michael Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s (and grandson of the soap company’s namesake) was feeling down. His company had recently closed its German distribution center, resulting in a handful of layoffs. The company had offered these employees a one-year severance package, but Bronner still felt like it had let them down. “I was super depressed and couldn’t sleep,” he says. fast business. “I tried increasing my dose of antidepressants and I wasn’t really getting any relief.”
And so Bronner turned to ketamine.
Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, is used as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression. Research shows that the drug can provide respite from some of the most pernicious forms of depression. Although ketamine is not approved for use in depression, doctors can prescribe it off-label. Like many in the tech industry, Dr. Bronner has been optimistic about the use of psychedelic drugs for mental health indications, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved more conventional psychedelics for medical use. In the meantime, state-of-the-art psychedelic clinics are using ketamine.
When Bronner sought ketamine therapy, options were limited. He ended up choosing a clinic owned by a paramedic and supported by two emergency physicians. Bronner did a first set of five sessions. He was so enamored with the benefits of the drug that he added ketamine therapy to Bronner’s list of benefits. He then did two more sessions this year, accompanied by a therapist.
Employees have access to both ketamine and an accompanying therapist, who assists them during the experience. So far, 22 of the company’s 300 employees have tried it. The company has long supported decriminalization of drugs, but in 2017 he became an advocate for psychedelics. That year he donated $5 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an organization conducting clinical trials of MDMA and psilocybin with the goal of obtaining eventual FDA approval for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.
Bronner spoke with fast business about his experience with psychedelics and why he opened it up to employees. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Had you tried psychedelics before ketamine?
I have. In college, I took LSD and mushrooms. I think the last time I did shrooms was at a Cure gig in 2009. I had some great experiences, and not so great ones.
Very different drugs from ketamine. How did you come to try psychedelic therapy?
I started taking antidepressants in 2008, and it felt like I was wearing glasses for the very first time. When I put these glasses on, I thought, oh my God, this is how you have perfect vision. I can see that mountain path over there. I can see that tree over there. And it was kind of the same when the antidepressants kicked in. I realized that even when I was fine, I had like this basic anxiety that I only noticed when it went away.
So what happened during the pandemic – I mean, things were stressful, but you know, I was fine – and then we had to make the difficult decision to close our German operations . We do not have completely close it, but we had to change it and get rid of the distribution. Because of COVID, we were just losing too much money. It was no longer viable.
But doing that triggered me; and it was just like, oh my god, I let all these people down. We treated them very well and gave them a year’s severance, but that sent me into an episode where I didn’t sleep. My mind was kind of going through all of these things; I was super depressed. For about a month and a half I tried to increase my dose of antidepressants and I wasn’t really getting any relief.
What has been your experience with ketamine therapy?
When I went to the ketamine clinic, I met Christie, who has been a paramedic for 35 years and is super smart and knowledgeable about everything that goes on in the human body from a medical perspective. But she’s also extremely humanistic and says things to me like, “It’s scientifically proven that you need 10 hugs a day,” and I’m like, okay, that sounds good!
In the first session, as I get the injection—it’s an intravenous drip going into me, and I haven’t started to feel it—she says, here are your pre-flight instructions: push through. So if it’s a river, dive into it; if it’s a cave, go there. If it’s a mountain, pass it.
So this first session, I expect to be shown all the things for my childhood that I need to go through. And instead, it felt like I was getting a massage for the soul. I was wrapped in that warm embrace and I could finally see permission to sleep. It was really weird. The workaholic in me felt bad, and like I was getting a spa treatment and not an intense psychiatric health session. But over the course of five treatments, it reset me. It stopped that cycling and gave me some grounding. I was able to use talk therapy to understand what my realities were and what distortions I was imposing on myself. I don’t want to say it’s a magic bullet because you have to do the work; even now I still have to do the work.
What does the job look like?
I continued with talk therapy, and actually did two more [ketamine] sessions.
Why open it to your employees?
I wouldn’t want to be told, “I’m the president of the company; it worked for me, so i think it will work for everyone. I just wanted to give them the same opportunities that I had. I know it’s a cliché to treat employees like family for some companies, but for us, I mean, we do everything we can to find out what pain points people feel and how can we improve their lives. During the pandemic, there are so many things; obviously childcare was one of the most important things everyone faced, as well as the appreciation and compensation of people who still had to come to work, even if some could stay home. So we gave employees who had to report an additional $2.50 an hour for salaried employees; so, one hundred dollars a week. Psychedelic therapy is sort of the next logical step. And we unveiled it at our end-of-year party.
It’s not a common health benefit, so how did you implement it internally?
It’s not exactly insurance, is it. Enthea [a benefit-plan administrator] handles accreditation and program management. They have all the medical professionals and ensure that each clinic in the program is properly vetted. But there are no savings that we get, like an insurance provider would.
Why have you talked so much about psychedelic medicine and your personal experience with depression and anxiety?
I’m the president of a company without shareholders, and I don’t need to edit things that are absolutely true myself. I hope I can help other people de-stigmatize this stuff. This is where I am in life.