In his penthouse suite in London’s Old Street, under the watchful gaze of a small stone statue of a mushroom god, Christian Angermayer recalls a life-changing experience with psychedelic drugs. It was many years ago, on a tiny island in the Caribbean. The trip was so meaningful for the investor that he decided to back biotech firms using psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental-health conditions. Such startups are increasingly catering to corporate clients. A growing number of firms want to offer psychedelics to staff, either for the sake of mental health or to organise a mind-bending corporate retreat.

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This surge in interest is being driven by the growing evidence of psychedelics’ safety and efficacy, when consumed in controlled settings. Ketamine is already legally available, both as an anaesthetic and to treat depression in clinics across America and Europe. Psilocybin (which gives magic to mushrooms) is available legally in Amsterdam and will become legal in Oregon next year. And America’s drugs regulator is soon expected to decide whether to approve mdma (ecstasy) for use in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

In February Dr Bronner’s, an American soapmaker that has long supported efforts to loosen laws around the use of psychedelics and cannabis, added therapy that combines ketamine and counselling to its employee mental-health-care plans. Daniel Poneman of Beyond Athlete Management, a sports agency, says he has seen psychedelic medicine be extremely effective in helping clients struggling with performance anxiety, pressure and isolation from constant travel. Ronan Levy, co-founder of Field Trip, a provider of psychedelic experiences from Amsterdam, tells of nba basketball players who were about to quit and were put back on their career path.

Psychedelics have corporate uses beyond improving workers’ mental health. Anne Philippi, boss of The New Health Club, a German psychedelic-retreat outfit, says some firms are also experimenting with such drugs to make executives more empathetic, enhance team bonding, boost creativity or change company culture. Field Trip offers a weekend retreat for “leaders” to allow them to experience “a heightened level of consciousness”.

Care is needed to avoid misuse. Psychedelics are not suitable for some mental-health problems, such as schizophrenia. As with after-work drinks, not everyone wants to, or can, take part. An asset manager at a big family office reports agonising over whether or not to accept an invitation from a firm in her portfolio to an (illegal) Ayahuasca retreat at a villa in California, with a shaman flown in for the occasion. And a mind-bending experience can lead workers to question everything—including capitalism and the nature of work. Keith Ferrazzi, an executive coach, knows of several business founders who quit after a trip. As trippy options expand faster than the mind of a ceo on acid, companies would be wise to make any decisions about their business use with a clear head.

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Correction (June 9th 2022): A previous version of this article misspelt Mr Levy’s name.

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