Microdosing Timothy Leary

Climate Voices

Microdosing Timothy Leary

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From Ibiza to Japan, trend-setting elites are ushering in a new era of climate friendlier spending.

In the 1960s, a young clinical psychologist at the Harvard University Psilocybin Project went rogue. A binge martini drinker, Timothy Leary, began an experiment that would change the world forever. He introduced students at America’s most elite college to psychedelics in studies of the mind-altering effects of Psilocybe Mexicana, a mushroom used in religious rites by the indigenous Mazatec people of Mexico. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg soon joined Leary and his Harvard merry pranksters. Ginsberg, in turn, converted a growing party of intellectuals and artists, including Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac and Charley Mingus. 

Harvard’s purple haze 

In a burst of orange sunshine and purple haze, the great countercultural revolution of the 1960s was born. Leary’s writings about the “far out” effects of LSD and psilocybin in his Psychedelic Review-Journal went viral by 1960s standards. Demand to be part of his study outstripped supply, and soon there was a thriving black market for psychedelics on Harvard Square. Shortly after being fired by freaked out Harvard administrators, Leary would set up shop in a rambling 64-room mansion owned by three heirs of the Mellon steel fortune in Millbrook, just outside New York City. Manhattan’s cognoscenti were his next target.

The explosive demand and consumption of substances that changed the consciousness of millions was soon deemed a danger to America and outlawed. Psychedelics sunk into the unregulated underworld of America’s trade. 

Sixty years later, the use of psilocybin is all the rage. It’s being studied again at Harvard. It’s being decriminalized in states and cities across America (including Cambridge, MA, and Washington DC). The federal government and big pharma are spending millions to understand the therapeutic effects of hallucinogens better. 

The God dose

Only this time, many are consuming it in a very different way. In Leary’s day, a typical tab of acid was a 250-microgram, “God dose,” of blotter LSD, mescaline and other psychedelic derivatives, says our finance editor and longtime senior editor at High Times, John Howell. Today, however, the trend is to microdose with amounts 100 times less potent, causing an almost imperceptible effect, leaving many expecting a flashback to the 1960s disappointed.

Microdosing was a breakout topic of discussion at a weekend ideas festival hosted by the normally money-focused Financial Times. 

But to a growing army of creatives looking for a balanced mood, increased focus and enhanced creativity, it is just the right amount. That is why it is a discreet favorite of serious influencers of popular culture, including Silicon Valley techies, Oscar attending actors and apparently, the denizens of that perpetual college town, Washington D.C. Earlier this month, microdosing was a breakout topic of discussion at a weekend ideas festival hosted by the normally money-focused Financial Times. And just a few blocks away, luscious bars of dark Belgian chocolates laced with psilocybin can be discreetly purchased at drug dispensaries –– updated versions of the kind of head shops that used to populate M Street or Dupont Circle in Tim Leary’s days. 

So what does this rediscovered interest in psychedelics have to do with climate change? A lot. 

A psychedelic climate discovery 

Just as Leary’s hallucinatory experiments triggered the counterrevolution of the 1960s, the psychedelic drugs’ resurgence may also signal that a new cultural shift is underway, driven by America’s technocratic media and artistic elite.

The seriously rich are embracing purpose-driven, mindful spending. In fashion, the great global consumer arbitrator, the most desirable style among Hollywood types is fashion that does not look like fashion at all –– check out the wardrobe on Succession. 

Where outlandish, conspicuous consumption was once seen as aspirational, it is now increasingly seen by trendsetters as gauche. Swiss watches, Lambos, G-5s and superyachts have gone from being celebrated baubles of success to the confiscated loot of wealthy oligarchs beholden to Russia’s genocidal leader, Vladimir Putin. 

Mexican shaman huts

Today you are more likely to find a Hollywood A-list celebrity experiencing sensory exploration in a Mexican shaman hut than sipping champagne at an Aman Resort. 

The seriously rich are embracing purpose-driven, mindful spending.

The magical, mysterious American consumer

There is no data to prove this phenomenon –– there never is. The American consumer is as mysterious as the drugs they consume. But pull it all together –– the yoga, farm-to-table restaurants, Headspace meditation, mindfulness, Goop, electric cars, purpose-driven investing, eco-exploration, plant-based diets and it all adds up to a profound shift in how America’s entitled class is spending.

This new approach was the cover of the global elite’s lifestyle bible, the FT’s How To Spend. This weekend it reports on emerging Balearic bohemia. The gauzy, clubby nightlife of Spain’s legendary party island of Ibiza is being abandoned by rich expatriates searching for “solitude, craft communities and the chance to start again.” 


Also in the edition is a fashion story set in Lotusland, a fashionable Santa Barbara botanic garden whose sustainable practices and repository for threatened and near-extinct plants have fans dubbing it Eden. “It is heaven on earth,” says HTSI Editor Jo Ellison.

It’s easy –– and fun –– to dismiss all this as just another frivolous chapter in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there is nothing like an existential climate crisis, a genocidal war in Europe and a global pandemic to cause even the most pampered influencer to rethink how to spend it. 

Like Leary’s acid adventures, it also spills over into mass consumption. Have you been to a sold-out Phish concert lately where giant whale drones float above the audience? And exactly when did a Hilton Hotel become a health spa?

This reawakening of eco-consciousness among the world’s most significant carbon emitters may ultimately have as great an impact on future climate progress as the big tech or policy ideas that now dominate the climate resolution agenda.

Freedom to spend

Preposterous? We don’t think so. The affluent American consumer’s post World War II victory spending binge turbocharged the looming global climate crisis. Post-war baby boomers ushered in the most incredible splurge of carbon-emitting spending the world had ever seen. No house, no steak, no bank account, no dose of LSD was too big.

How you spend it may be both a leading and lagging indicator of future consumption habits –– lagging because the rising middle classes of the Middle East and Asia are still bedazzled by conspicuous consumption. But it may also be a leading indicator if wealth trendsetters are going the way of Tim Leary. 

The world’s greatest marketers already sense a shift in consumer preference away from unlimited consumption. They are carefully tracking emerging trends from Japan and Scandinavia. Most of their citizens are happy to live in modest homes, relish micro amounts of disposable goods, drive micro vehicles and entertain in microbars and restaurants.

Our future depends on how we decide to spend. And as Tim Leary’s acid experiments confirmed, consumer habits can change on a dime. Everything will change if a new generation tunes into living a more mindful, less wasteful life.

And perhaps all that is needed is a mind-altering boost of psychedelics to push us over the top. 


Written by

Peter McKillop

Peter McKillop is the founder of Climate & Capital Media, a mission-driven information platform exploring the business and finance of climate change.