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Let Elon Musk enjoy drugs

Elon Musk inspires strong emotions in people. Some admire his pugnacious entrepreneurial spirit, advocacy of open debate, and willingness to challenge politicians. Others question his business practices, oppose his embrace of free speech (or tire of his inconsistency on the issue), or recoil from his hard-to-pin-down politics. But even as states embrace marijuana legalization and lawmakers who fight over everything else find common ground over the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, Musk is coming under attack for his taste in intoxicants.

Drug Panic

“The world’s wealthiest person has used LSD, cocaine, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms, often at private parties around the world, where attendees sign nondisclosure agreements or give up their phones to enter,” Emily Glazer and Kirsten Grind reported over the weekend for The Wall Street Journal. “Musk has previously smoked marijuana in public and has said he has a prescription for the psychedelic-like ketamine.”

Tales of drug use are attributed “to people who have witnessed his drug use and others with knowledge of it,” which sounds like another term for folks with an axe to grind. Of course, Musk has been open about at least some drug use, including smoking marijuana with Joe Rogan.  Last summer, he suggested ketamine is a better treatment option than antidepressants after the Journal reported he “microdoses ketamine for depression, and he also takes full doses of ketamine at parties.”

And good for Elon Musk. He’s not alone in seeing both recreational and therapeutic benefits in many intoxicants disapproved of by lawmakers and scolds.

“Two-thirds of Americans with treatment-resistant anxiety, depression or PTSD believe that psychedelics should be made available for therapeutic means,” according to a 2021 survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Delic Holdings Corp., which incorporates psychedelics in treatments at its clinics.

A 2022 YouGov poll found that 28 percent of Americans have actually tried one or more psychedelic drugs, including LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), MDMA, mescaline, ketamine, DMT, and salvia. More than half (54 percent) of respondents supported allowing research into psychedelic substances for military members with PTSD.

Therapeutic Promise

Such efforts are already underway and have been promising. Research published last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a single 25-mg dose of psilocybin “was associated with a rapid and sustained antidepressant effect.” Researchers reported “no serious treatment-emergent adverse events.”

In September 2023, a paper published in Nature Medicine reported that, relative to therapy alone, therapy accompanied by MDMA “reduced PTSD symptoms and functional impairment in a diverse population with moderate to severe PTSD and was generally well tolerated.”

In 2022, writing for a Harvard Medical School blog, Dr. Peter Grinspoon noted that, while ketamine should be used under medical supervision, “relief from [treatment-resistant depression] with ketamine happens rapidly. Instead of waiting for an SSRI to hopefully provide some relief over the course of weeks, people who are suffering under the crushing weight of depression can start to feel the benefits of ketamine within about 40 minutes.”

The therapeutic potential of these drugs is one of the few things that get U.S. politicians to work across party lines (at least when it comes to increasing rather than decreasing liberty). Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) and Rand Paul (R–Ky.) have sought to make it easier to study the medical benefits of psychedelics with an eye to making them more readily available for legal use. They haven’t had much success at the federal level, though some states have been more open.

And the feds pose a problem.

“Illegal drug use would likely be a violation of federal policies that could jeopardize SpaceX’s billions of dollars in government contracts,” add the Journal‘s Glazer and Grind.

Let’s remember that SpaceX largely dominates America’s presence beyond the atmosphere. That’s why the Planetary Society observed that “without SpaceX, the only U.S. company currently capable of carrying cargo to the ISS would currently be Northrop Grumman, and NASA would still be reliant on the Russian Soyuz for crew transportation.”

If we’re going to link performance to attitudes about drugs, maybe Musk should be setting the tone for NASA. Perhaps a microdosing schedule would get federal employees out of their ruts and set their creative juices flowing.

Glazer and Grind also report that “some executives and board members at his companies and others close to the billionaire” are concerned that drugs may be responsible for “his contrarian views, unfiltered speech and provocative antics.”

Problem or Solution?

Maybe that’s true; intoxicants can certainly change our behavior, sometimes for the worse. Or maybe the tech entrepreneur is naturally contrarian, unfiltered, and provocative. In 2022, Musk told an interviewer that he and other SpaceX employees were required by the feds to submit to random drug tests for a year after he publicly smoked weed with Joe Rogan. Whatever he’s doing now, that probably would have curbed his chemical indulgences for a while. There’s little evidence that Musk’s critics consider that period a golden age when they were happier with his conduct.

That’s not to say Elon Musk is immune from criticism. He’s been called out as a recipient of corporate welfare, attacked for championing free speech, criticized for inconsistency in his tolerance for free speech, and questioned over his business ethics. Some executives apparently find him hard to work with. If he’s a human train wreck, he wouldn’t be the first one to find success despite (or maybe even because of) character flaws.

Reports that Musk uses drugs recreationally and therapeutically aren’t, in themselves, proof that they’re the source of his quirks. If he’s indulging rather than overindulging, they may enhance his ability to function. A straight-edge Elon Musk would not necessarily be an improvement.

It’s possible that Musk really does need to sober up. Or maybe he’s a flawed person functioning better than he would otherwise because of the relaxation offered by the occasional hit of acid and the relief from microdosing ketamine. Drugs are tools, and reports that somebody likes reaching into the toolbox doesn’t tell us whether they’re being misused or just used to good effect.


January 2024