The article Elon Talks Psychedelics: Is he Helping or Hurting the Movement? was originally published on Microdose.
“Amphetamines negatively affect empathy, psychedelics do the opposite.”
So Tweeted Elon Musk on November 13th, the latest in a string of pro-psychedelic comments and Tweets. The controversial billionaire CEO of SpaceX, “TechnoKing” of Tesla, and Twitter’s “Chief Twit” has not been shy about his support for psychedelics, and though he has never admitted it publicly, it is an open secret that he partakes in mind-altering experiences.
Now, depending on who you ask, Elon Musk is either a visionary technologist dragging humanity into the future, or a corrupt billionaire with a cult of personality, who makes wild claims that will never be realized.
And while I will not solve that debate in this article, perhaps I can try to answer a different question: Is Elon Musk helping or hurting the psychedelic movement?
The answer, it seems to me, is that to the extent that Musk influences the psychedelic space at all — more on that later — he has an overall positive effect.
The reason is quite simple. Elon Musk has a huge following of fans who hang on to his every word. If he pushes for psychedelic acceptance and destigmatization, millions of people who would have otherwise had no opinion on psychedelics will be less inclined to believe the decades of anti-psychedelic propaganda, and may even decide to try psychedelics themselves.
On the flip side, those who distrust, dislike, and perhaps even fear Musk will likely not have their opinion swayed either way. No one who is pro-psychedelics will see Musk’s Tweets and decide, “Hey, you know what, I’m anti-psychedelics now.” After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Psychedelics and MDMA can make a real difference to mental health, especially for extreme depression and PTSD. We should take this seriously.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 10, 2022
In sum then, Musk becoming a psychedelics advocate will push at least some people who listen to him into having a reasonable position on psychedelics, while having no effect on those who don’t listen to him.
There are, however, a couple of nuances that should be discussed.
The first question is, just how large of an opinion shift will be caused by Musk making sporadic pro-psychedelic statements? While I am fairly confident that the effect leans in the positive direction, the size of said effect is difficult to gauge. If even 1% of his 115 million Twitter followers change their minds because of him, it would have seismic ripples in public perception. But as of yet, there is zero evidence that his stance has shifted the minds of anyone, let alone over a million people. Perhaps one day we will have an understanding of whether Musk moved many people in the right direction on this issue, but today we just don’t know.
Next, there is the fear of many that the psychedelics movement is being hijacked and “led” by the wrong people. This is an argument often made by people who are distrustful of those on the right of the political spectrum talking openly about psychedelics. For example, as he has shifted towards the cultural right in recent years, Joe Rogan has gone from a hero who mainstreamed psychedelics to millions, to a dangerous right-winger co-opting the psychedelics space.
Now, I would quibble with this line of thinking for a couple of reasons. First, even accepting the premise that people like Musk and Rogan are on the political right — they definitely are on certain issues, but on others they could clearly be characterized as center-left — the idea that conservative public figures being pro-psychedelic is a bad thing is absurd. If we truly want to see legislative and cultural change on the psychedelics front — and perhaps even end the War on Drugs — we should celebrate the fact that we have prominent voices across the political spectrum advocating a change in culture and policy.
If there is bi-partisan and bi-cultural support for normalizing psychedelics, we are more likely to see great progress than if it is an issue owned solely by “the left.”
I’ve talked to many more people who were helped by psychedelics & ketamine than SSRIs & amphetamines
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 30, 2022
Next, the idea that by voicing their positive opinions on psychedelics, people like Elon are “hijacking” the movement doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. They are adding to the chorus, not directing it. If someone enters the intellectual world of psychedelics through Elon Musk, upon even the most basic of research they will still be exposed to voices such as the McKennas, and they will quickly learn about the thousands of years of Indigenous use in ceremonies.
Finally, there is the question of what the goals of the “psychedelics movement” are, what they should be, and whether Elon is aligned with those. Outside of the most corporate settings, in general I believe that most people in the psychedelics space hope for progress in three areas.
First, scientific study of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions such as depression. Second, legalization and regulated retail markets for substances such as magic mushrooms, paired with a decriminalization of most, if not all, other drugs — in other words ending the War on Drugs. And finally, in accomplishing the above two, not infringing upon the rights and traditions of Native groups that have used these medicines for generations, and perhaps learning from their expertise.
On Twitter at least, there is a palpable fear that Elon would only support the medicalization aspect of the psychedelics movement. Or, in other words, the only part that can make money. And while I could see this being an issue, there is no evidence — yet at least — of this being the case. Every time Musk has commented on psychedelics, they have been broadly supportive comments on their effectiveness in general. He has never done a deep dive into his beliefs on the subject (Elon if you’re reading this, call me) so these fears stem solely from a perhaps not unfounded distrust towards billionaires. I am sure that eventually we will gain a fuller understanding of Musk’s philosophy on psychedelics.
To summarize, in answering the question of whether Elon Musk’s occasional pro-psychedelic statements are having a positive effect on the psychedelic movement, we have to look at the effects in a holistic manner. It seems certain that given his huge and dedicated fan base, his musing will have at least converted some into the pro-psychedelics camp — though we have no way of knowing how many. This is not hijacking the movement, but rather it serves as one more entrance into the psychedelics world. People who first learn about the benefits of drugs such as psilocybin through Musk and are interested will soon discover other voices in the space.
Finally, Elon Musk has only made several comments and Tweets on the matter, so any fear of him only supporting the for-profit side of the psychedelic revolution is — at this moment at least — premature.
psilocybin mdma ketamine psychedelic depression ptsd decriminalization research legalization psychedelics