5 min read

Warm take: out of bounds!

Opining (since 2013!) that controlled substances are a bad look for a workplace.
Warm take: out of bounds!
Photo by Greg Rosenke / Unsplash

It was the early 00s. A group of friends and I had traveled to a college in the Boston suburbs. We were with about 150 other affluent, mostly white, women from the northeast (US). We were there to practice yoga with a noted instructor.

That day, we probably listened to some live New Age music, warmed up with Sun Salutations, and watched teachers demonstrate advanced postures. At the apex of the class, we were instructed to find partners; it was time to practice handstand in the middle of the room. My friends and I had done this hundreds of times at home. That day, I somehow wound up partnered with the stranger on the mat next to me. While upside down, I found that my “partner” didn’t know what they were doing. I wobbled, and came down safely, emerging unscathed. And wiser.

Over the next 7-8 years, I continued to attend this sort of workshop. But I never let a random have my back again. When partner exercises came up, I found a friend, or headed to the bathroom.

When that instructor was discredited for sexual (and financial) improprieties, 7-8 years later, I sort of kicked myself. All along, part of me had known that the guy hadn't been...safe. I hadn't raised questions, really, to my friends. Or even to myself.

An educated adult, I had gone along with my peers.

Just like we might do at work. We want to belong. This can bend our attitudes, wardrobe, vocabulary, goals. If we’re not careful, our values can warp.

In 2018, I wrote about alcohol in the workplace. In 2020, I wrote about an article in the NYT about people who sought to bring spiritual rituals to the workplace.

Regular readers won’t be surprised. I’m in favor of neither.

These interventions, so to speak, are not for everyone. Many people don’t wish to consume alcohol, or share why it’s not for them. Or feel comfortable participating when leaders bring their sacred ideas to a venue that is, to them, mundane.

It's about boundaries.

In June, 2023, I read an article on whether the "vibes" in a workplace could be improved with ketamine, an anaesthetic (and, an animal tranquilizer.)

“Chase Hudson, the co-founder of HempLucid, a CBD company in Provo, Utah, has gathered his five-person leadership team for ketamine sessions overseen by Robison and other doctors….

Hudson's goal is to "bridge the gap between the psychedelic world and the corporate space."…He's also explored doing group ketamine sessions with his employees. At times, it's gotten weird—"We learned quickly it's too intimate, you're not in control of your body, you say things," he says. Now they do sessions separately and debrief together afterward: "That has made our company culture even stronger."

"Can Workplace Ketamine Retreats Improve Vibes in the Office?" Ellen Huet, Bloomberg, 6/2/23

I was floored by the notion of bringing ketamine to the workplace. A few people in my circles have used ketamine in conjunction with therapy; their stories aren’t all rosy.

On the other hand, I wondered whether the article was a trend piece in search of a trend. So I filed it.

Last month, 9 months later, I came across another Bloomberg article.

Helping businesspeople try to optimize their performance by using hallucinogenic drugs is an eccentric and growing offshoot of the unregulated $5 billion field of executive and life coaching.

"Magic Mushrooms Are Risky New Tool Touted by Executive Coaches," by Tiffany Kary, Bloomberg, March 11, 2024

This idea really pushes several of my professional buttons.

  • Substance (alcohol) use as a workplace benefit.
  • Coaches as unlicensed therapists. (Yikes, pharmacologists?!?)
  • Professional development programs that look like (cult-adjacent) large group awareness trainings. (One red flag: a coach/facilitator’s guidance leads someone to tears in front of a group.)

And now, are addictive substances actually being touted as a professional development strategy?

I have more to say on all of this than today’s Warm Take can contain. Here’s what I’m gnawing on right now: four years ago, many learned that their jobs did not require daily, long, expensive commutes; they could have a better boundary between work and personal time.

Today, there's still a (quieter) power struggle over this boundary. Also today, at the very least, a corner of business culture is pushing a new frontier: asking people to chemically breach their personal boundaries in the name of professional development.

“Eccentric?” Imo, the word "eccentric" evokes something interesting and harmless. Like my late Great Aunt Lucille.

Being asked to alter your brain chemistry, for work?

Just, no.


I've seen, and heard about, professional development interventions where participants were asked/pressed to transgress their personal boundaries. However, I have no firsthand knowledge of workplaces where addictive substances are on offer in the guise of professional development.

What do you think – is this real, or have I been sucked in by clickbait?

Send me a note, if you're so moved; I would love to hear from you.

My thoughts about substance use and the workplace are fraught with my own baggage – family members and friends with substance abuse disorders (including some who could not handle supposedly "safe" drugs, with devastating consequences.) Also, some long-ago post-college work experience in drug abuse research and treatment, and more recent volunteer work that was 12-step-program adjacent.

Thank you for reading my newsletter. Today's Warm Take actually started out as last Sunday's missive; it needed to steep a bit! That said, I will certainly re-read this tomorrow, and find that I didn't catch every typo or clumsy turn of phrase. I will repair any issues I find later on, on the Internet.

Bounteous thanks to people who've renewed paid subscriptions in the last few weeks – I hope to talk with you at my Office Hours.

May you and your loved ones be safe, healthy, and free,

Anne Libby

The More You Know logo, text flies across a dark background with an exploding star with a rainbow contrail.
As a Gen-Xer, I associate this logo with 80s-era anti-drug PSAs?