Startup Founders Are Turning to Microdosing Psilocybin for Creativity

Estimated read time 8 min read

Scott Frohman has spent a lot of time thinking about his energy levels. The Florida-based startup founder used to wake up every morning already craving his first cup of coffee. Then his second. Then his third.

The habit caused stomach issues, so he switched to mushroom powder, a natural supplement said to improve brain function. One serving mixed into his first cup of coffee worked so well that he didn’t need his usual second and third doses of caffeine.

Frohman’s personal mushroom revolution was the genesis of his current startup Odyssey, which sells canned beverages powered by mushrooms that offer consumers energy, clarity, and balance.

It also inspired him to add something else to his morning routine.

Every few days, he takes a small dose of psilocybin. It’s a mushroom that in large doses causes people to hallucinate, but in small doses can have positive effects on clarity, focus, and creativity, according to multiple founders interviewed with Business Insider alongside doctors researching the substance’s effects.

“Microdosing relaxes your mind and helps it be more clear so you can make better decisions,” Frohman said of the practice. “The first time I tried it, I felt this clarity and this ability to be more present in conversations. I was more connected to who I was with and less distracted. I realized that this is how I want to be.”

Frohman is part of a small but growing community within the startups industry that is experimenting with small doses of psilocybin to improve focus and productivity. Once only associated with 1960s-era hippies looking for an intense, psychoactive trip, psilocybin — which is commonly referred to as “‘shrooms” or “magic mushrooms” — is having a resurgence.

Under federal law, ‘shrooms are illegal in the US, although a handful of places have decriminalized the use, sale, and possession of psilocybin, including San Francisco, Denver, and Minneapolis. In Oregon, it’s legal for supervised adult use, but legalization pushes in California, Iowa, Washington State, and Vermont have so far failed.

That hasn’t stopped founders from experimenting with the substances to tap into their creative side.

“Microdosing has really just helped me slow down to be more measured,” Frohman said. “I become a vessel that’s more open to things I may not otherwise have noticed, and I have time for things I otherwise couldn’t have done because I felt too busy.”

People have likely been ingesting psychedelic mushrooms for millions of years, according to a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology. In early civilizations, shrooms could have helped ancient humans collaborate and live together while sharing common goals.

In the last century, the Psychedelic era of the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s was categorized by rapid music, art, and social change, which many attribute to the growing popularity of psilocybin and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in counter-culture.

Microdosing is a much more recent phenomenon, and the practice can refer to taking small doses — between one-twentieth to one-tenth of a regular dose for a “trip,” according to microdosing researcher Dr. James Fadiman — of many different substances, including psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, cannabis, ayahuasca, or DMT.

The startup founders who take small doses of ‘shrooms on a semi-regular basis told Business Insider that the practice is an important part of their wellness routine.

“I truly think that microdosing mushrooms can get rid of anxiety and reprogram your neural pathways,” LA-based Koel Robinson, founder of wellness platform Celia Collective, told Business Insider in an interview. “It’s the difference between being an observer in your life versus the main player in it.”

Robinson regularly takes what she calls a “nano-dose” of psilocybin, or around one-eighth of a full dose, a few times a week in the morning. It “completely gets rid of anxiety,” and lets her fully focus on whatever’s in front of her, whether it’s family, friends, or the startup she founded four years ago and is currently trying to raise a seed round for.

Froman, the Odyssey founder, has experimented with large doses of various psychedelic substances and said that he found small doses of psilocybin provide a completely different experience that enhances his day-to-day life.

“Microdosing felt really nice, and then I still felt like the next day and the day after,” he said, adding that he’s taken small doses of ‘shrooms before business meetings and busy days at work.

Frohman added that he’s bonded with potential investors and business partners who also enjoy microdosing. His startup, which raised $6 million in funding earlier this year from investors including Rocket Beverage Group founder Richard Laver, is sold at Erewhon Markets, Whole Foods, and other grociers.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence about the benefits of microdosing mushrooms and other psychedelic substances — Steve Jobs was just one of many folks in the tech industry who sing the praises of LSD — the science is mixed on whether the practice is actually helpful, and there are only a handful of studies that have looked into it in the first place.

“Everyone who does it thinks it helps them, but there’s an amazing gulf between people who believe it helps and the few random control trials that have been done on microdosing,” explained Dr. Peter Grinspon, a primary care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School who also researches psychedelics.

Grinspon said that the current gold standards of research — being randomized, controlled, and double-blind — don’t lend well to studying microdosing for a number of reasons, including the fact that its purported benefits are hard to objectively measure.

“When it comes to creativity, we just don’t have a great marker for that, the way we would for a randomized control trial for something like cholesterol,” he said.

Grinspon added that microdosing psilocybin, like taking any other substance, isn’t completely risk-free, but it is likely more “benign” than taking larger doses of shrooms or other psychedelic substances. But as of right now, any benefits are far from being scientifically confirmed.

“It could be that we’ve just started studying microdosing and are early into the psychedelic renaissance,” he said. “As with so many other things, this might require a paradigm shift between doctors.”

Peggy Van de Plassche spent more than a decade working at Canadian financial institutions and later offered consulting services to financial clients including investment bank BMO and public pension fund OMERS. But during the pandemic, she stepped back from her work to deal with anxiety, stress, and depression — and stumbled into a new career entirely when she discovered psychedelics

“Microdosing made a massive, massive change in my life,” she told Business Insider, adding that psilocybin helped her overcome mental health problems which, in turn, boosted her creativity and productivity.

Today, Van de Plassche runs a company that espouses the benefits of psilocybin through corporate speaking engagements and a 90-day online course. She’s also written two books about how microdosing can be beneficial in a wellness and productivity routine.

“Microdosing isn’t a magic pill, but it’s one tool in the toolbox,” she said. “The days seem longer, and I’m going to do in one day what would usually take three. Everything is connecting, the ideas are coming faster, and you just know what to do and how to do it.”

Even Van de Plassche and other startup founders open up about their microdosing practices, ‘shrooms and other psychedelic substances are still stigmatized in certain pockets of the tech community, which is known to be more freewheeling about drugs and alcohol, as well as various fringe wellness practices, compared to more rigid industries such as finance.

Business Insider spoke with multiple founders and investors who microdosed, but wished to be anonymous. These founders also said that they had plenty of VCs in their networks that were somewhat open about microdosing. But most felt uncomfortable going public with their microdosing, for fear of judgement from investors.

In 2021, Justin Zhu, the CEO of a $2 billion email marketing startup Iterable, was fired after he admitted to taking a small dose of LSD before a business meeting.

“Microdosing has really helped me, but I’m really concerned about the backlash and about it coming back to haunt me,” an early-stage fintech founder told Business Insider. The person said that while microdosing has been “life-changing,” they grew up in a religious family that would not approve of the practice, and they’re also concerned about people in the finance industry who might be judgemental.

The person declined to share their name for publication, but their identity is known by Business Insider.

It doesn’t help that psychedelics remain illegal throughout much of the US, meaning innovation — and, subsequently, shifting societal perceptions — is largely happening outside of the country. Vancouver-based Filament Health is working to expand access to natural psychedelics through an extraction and drug-discovery process, while brick-and-mortar shops Shroomyz and Fun Guyz are further fueling the Canadian “‘Shroom Boom”.

In the US, there is a growing focus on turning psychedelics into medical treatments, mostly for mental health, and there are several VC firms making investments in the space, including PsyMed Ventures, Noetic Fund, and Palo Santo.

And if and when consumer psychedelics become more broadly legalized in the US, Frohman and Robinson both said they’d like to expand their businesses to include microdosing mushrooms, they said.

“It would be a spiritual product because the entire world communicates of mycelium,” Robinson said. “It’s not just healing, it’s an optimization of life.”