Dr. Bronner’s, the vegan soap company with a cult-like following, is now offering psychedelic ketamine treatments for its employees.
Psychedelic therapy is proving effective at treating a number of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Dr. Bronner’s wants its employees to have access to these potential benefits. It now offers treatment with ketamine, a dissociative drug legal in the U.S., as part of its employee health care package.
“Our grandpa was all about shifting consciousness and opening hearts and minds,” David Bronner, grandson of Dr. Bronner’s founder, Emil Bronner, and the company’s CEO, told the New York Times. “He probably would have put LSD in his soaps.”
“Let’s face it, the world would be a far better place if more people experienced psychedelic medicines,” he says.
Bronner prefers “cosmic engagement officer” to traditional CEO definitions. He runs the company alongside his younger brother Michael, the company’s president, their sister Lisa, who works on environmental sustainability and fair-trade issues, and their mom Trudy, the CFO.
Cleaning up mental health
The company has been a leading advocate for psychedelics, supporting efforts across the country to decriminalize recreational use and legalize therapeutic use. And while ketamine is not legally defined as a treatment for mental health issues—technically it’s used for pain management and anesthesia—off-label use is allowed.
According to the Times, nearly two dozen Dr. Bronner’s employees have taken advantage of the ketamine offering since it was made available in January.
The company is working with Enthea, the health insurance plan that oversees the psychedelic treatments. It says a number of other companies are also following suit as a viable alternative to traditional mental health treatments.
Part of the reason companies are exploring psychedelics is the same reason therapists and patients are looking into it as well. It can be highly effective, often with a single dose offering benefits for up to a year. That makes it more cost-effective than traditional drug therapies such as SSRIs. Those can come with a host of side effects both physically and mentally, making it more challenging for people with severe or chronic depression.
As many as 30 percent of patients diagnosed with depression will not respond to conventional drug therapies, an issue known as treatment-resistant depression. Psychedelics including psilocybin and ketamine have proven highly successful in breaking that barrier. Celebrities including members of the Smith family have come out about their experiences with psychedelics.
For the Bronner family, it’s been a calling card, particularly as it relates to the company’s “all one” philosophy that can be found crowded into every corner of its soap labels. The soap was always a mechanism for Emil Bronner’s message of world peace and supporting fellow earthlings. Psychedelics, the family says, is an extension of that, evne though Emil didn’t use them himself.
Bronner’s grandchildren have taken that ethos to heart, donating millions of dollars to nonprofits over the years, including more than $23 million to psychedelic research and advocacy. It’s supported efforts spearheaded by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. It has been focused on MDMA in the treatment of PTSD for veterans.
“When it comes to corporate philanthropy, you’d be hard-pressed to find another company with the courage to publicly back an end to the war on drugs,” Rick Doblin, who runs MAPS, told the Times. To date, the soap company has donated nearly $6 million to MAPS, and it will receive an additional $1 million per year over the next five years.
Dr. Bronner’s has also supported decriminalization efforts in the nation’s capital as well as in the state of Oregon—both measures passed in 2020.
The Bronner family has their own reasons for supporting psychedelics. David says psychedelics helped him out of toxic masculinity patterns and pulled him out of a “dark hole” that put him on the path toward the CEO position he now holds. Cut from his grandfather’s eccentric cloth, David has been outspoken about the causes he and the company care about, including two arrests to promote the benefits of hemp, a core ingredient in its soaps.
Michael, the yin to David’s yang, had a change of heart about psychedelics himself after traditional anxiety medications failed to help him. He turned to ketamine. “I don’t want to oversell ketamine therapy as a miracle cure but it just stripped the rust away, gave me a reset and got me to a really good space,” he said.
Trudy—she’s now 79—lived through the psychedelic heyday of the 1960s and ’70s. She supports the cause, despite its complicated history. “I had friends who did the trippy stuff and it wasn’t always good,” she said. “On the other hand, this country has a lot of mental health issues that need to be addressed.”