why dr Bronner’s offers ketamine therapy to its employees

In 2021, Michael Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s (and grandson of the soap company’s namesake), depressed. His company recently closed its German distribution center, prompting a handful of layoffs. The company had offered these employees a one-year severance package, but Bronner still felt he had let them down. “I was super depressed and I didn’t sleep,” he says Fast company. “I’ve tried increasing my antidepressant dose but no real relief.”

And so Bronner turned to ketamine.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, is used to treat treatment-resistant depression. Research shows the drug can provide respite from some of the most damaging forms of depression. Although ketamine isn’t approved for use in depression, doctors can prescribe it off-label. Like many others in the technology industry, Dr. Bronner optimistic about the use of psychedelics for mental health indications such as post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve more classic psychedelics for medicinal purposes. Now, newfangled psychedelic clinics are using ketamine.

Michael Bronner [Photo: Dr. Bronner’s]

When Bronner looked for ketamine therapy, his options were limited. In the end, he settled on a clinic owned by a paramedic and backed by two paramedics. Bronner conducted a first round of five sessions. He was so excited about the drug’s benefits that he added ketamine therapy to Bronner’s list of employee benefits. He then conducted two more sessions this year, accompanied by a therapist.

Employees are given access to both ketamine and an accompanying therapist to support them throughout the experience. So far, 22 of the company’s 300 employees have tried it. The company has long supported decriminalize drugs, but in 2017 it became an advocate for psychedelics. This year it has donated 5 million dollars to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an organization conducting clinical trials on MDMA and psilocybin for eventual FDA approval in post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

Bronner spoke up Fast company about his experiences with psychedelics and why he made them available to collaborators. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Had you tried psychedelics before ketamine?

I have. In college I took LSD and shrooms. I think the last time I made mushrooms was around 2009 at a Cure concert. I’ve had some great experiences and not so great ones.

Completely different drugs than ketamine. How did you come to try psychedelic therapy?

I started taking antidepressants in 2008 and it was like wearing glasses for the first time. When I put these glasses on, I thought, oh my god, this is what perfect vision is like. I can see that mountain over there. I can see that tree over there. And it was about the same when the antidepressants kicked in. I realized that even when I was fine, I had this underlying fear that I didn’t realize until it went away.

So what happened over the course of the pandemic – I mean things were stressful but you know I was fine – and then we had to make a difficult decision to shut down our German operations. We are not Completely shut it down, but we had to change it and get rid of distribution. We just lost too much money because of COVID. It was no longer viable.

But in doing so, it triggered me; and it was just, oh my god, I let all these people down. We treated them really well and gave them a year’s severance pay, but it got me into an episode where I didn’t sleep. My mind would just run through all of these things; I was super depressed. For about a month and a half I tried increasing my dose of antidepressants and got no real relief.

How was your experience with ketamine therapy?

When I went to the ketamine clinic I met Christie who has been a paramedic for 35 years and from a medical perspective knows everything that goes on in the human body. But she’s also extremely humanistic and says things to me like, “It’s been scientifically proven that you need 10 hugs a day,” and I’m like, okay, that sounds good!

At the first session, when I get the injection — it’s a drip going into me and I haven’t started to feel it yet — she says, here are your pre-flight instructions: Whatever gets in your way , you have to go through it. So if it’s a river, dive through it; if it’s a cave, go inside. If it’s a mountain, go over it.

So in this first session I expect to be shown all the things from my childhood that I have to go through. And instead, it was like getting a massage for the soul. I was wrapped in this warm hug 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 rather than an intensive psychiatric health session. But over the course of five treatments it gave me a reset. It stopped cycling and gave me a bit of baseline. I was able to use talk therapy to understand what my realities were and what distortions I was putting myself under. I don’t want to say it’s a miracle cure because you have to do the work; even now i still have to work.

What about work?

I continued with the talk therapy and actually did two more [ketamine] sessions.

Why are you opening this up to your employees?

I don’t want to be seen like this: “I’m the president of the company; It worked for me, so I think it will work for everyone else too.’ 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, we really do everything we can to find out what the pain points are that people are feeling and where we can improve their lives. There are so many things during the pandemic; Childcare was obviously one of the most important things for everyone, and appreciation and pay for the people who still had to come to work, although some could stay at home. So we gave employees who had to come in an extra $2.50 an hour for hired labor; so a hundred dollars a week. Psychedelic therapy is the next logical step, so to speak. And we unveiled it at our Christmas party.

This isn’t a common health benefit, so how did you set it up internally?

It’s not exactly insurance, right. enthea [a benefit-plan administrator] handles all accreditation and administration of the program. They have all the medical professionals and ensure that every clinic in the program is properly vetted. But there is no type of savings that we receive like an insurance provider would offer.

Why have you been so vocal about psychedelic medicine and your personal experiences with depression and anxiety?

I am President of a corporation with no shareholders, and I have no need to correct things that are absolutely true. I hope I can help other people just destigmatize things like this. That’s where I am in life. why dr Bronner’s offers ketamine therapy to its employees


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