$100 million for psychedelics: 5 Questions for philanthropist Blake Mycoskie
Mycoskie on his psychedelic philanthropy and investments, and what he hopes that accomplishes.
Blake Mycoskie founded Tom’s Shoes in 2006 on the idea that the company would have a philanthropic mission, too: for every pair of shoes the company sold, it would donate a pair. The company was sold to creditors in 2019, and Mycoskie is now focused on another philanthropic venture: psychedelics.
Mycoskie’s donations have supported the launch of Johns Hopkins’ new Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and MAPS. This May, he committed to spend $100 million on donations to psychedelics non-profits and investments in psychedelic companies over the next 10 years, and has encouraged others to join him. Now one of the largest donors in the psychedelics space, he was the top funder of Colorado’s psychedelics ballot measure, Proposition 122, which passed last month. The Microdose spoke with him about his philanthropy and what he hopes it accomplishes.
(Editor’s note: U.C. Berkeley’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics, which funds this newsletter, recently received a $5 million donation from Mycoskie.)
How did you get interested in psychedelics?
A friend of mine has anxiety, and after he sat in an ayahuasca ceremony, I noticed he was quite different afterwards. He was calmer — he seemed more sure of himself and very relaxed. That was back in 2016, and I was going through a lot then in my personal life; I’ve always been a seeker, and I’ve always been spiritual. I did some research on ayahuasca and it seemed to be safe enough, so I decided to go down to Central America for a one-night ceremony. It was amazing — a life-changing, eye-opening, heart-opening experience where I saw the connection of everything in the universe, in myself, and in the plant world.
From that point on, my curiosity was piqued, and I did some guided MDMA and psilocybin journeys in a therapeutic setting, and I found them to be very helpful with things that were going on in my life at the time. Later on, I was on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, and we had this shared interest — he really opened me up to the philanthropy side of things. My first big donation was helping endow the Johns Hopkins center, followed by helping MAPS with funding to commercialize MDMA. I gave a million dollars to the Healing Advocacy Fund that’s working on the Oregon [Measure 109] rollout. I made multi-million dollar pledges to Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, and MAPS. I’ve also given money to the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund, veterans programs, and the Colorado Initiative. It’s really opened up a new way for me to serve and help people who are suffering through my philanthropy.
Whereas some funders have focused their efforts on advancing specific causes within psychedelics, you’ve donated to a broad swath of organizations. What’s your strategy in deciding what to fund, and what will that $100 million be going towards over the next decade?
I went to a conference in May put on by the Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative (PSFC), and that really opened my eyes to all of the amazing work being done. I was a bit like a kid in a candy store because I was like well, gosh, I want to support Indigenous medicine! But also, gosh, we really have to make sure that Oregon gets off to a good start, because there’s going to be a lot of eyes on them, looking at how they deploy psilocybin treatment. But then also if we don’t invest in the Colorado ballot initiative, that’d be a missed opportunity.
So I didn’t really have a strategy, to be honest — I just fell in love with each of these organizations, and I wanted to give as much as I could. My goal was to learn this year and see which organizations are moving the needle the most, and then come back to the PSFC conference next year and decide, okay, how much am I going to give in total again? Which organizations do I want to lighten up on, or to go heavier on? I want to see where the pulse is. The only long term commitments I’ve made are to Berkeley and Hopkins; all the others are single-year commitments.
I want to put more money into the psychedelics space in general — making donations to non-profits, but also investing in for profit companies, and I’m helping build a retreat center in Central America. My vision is that I want to do anything to help further the movement; my biggest concern is getting more people more access.
There has never been a more exciting – or bewildering – time in the world of psychedelics. Don’t miss a beat.
How do you choose grant recipients?
I have a project manager who helps facilitate the paperwork, but it’s mainly just me. I take a very entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy as I did to business; what I liked about going to PSFC was that they had really vetted these organizations, and they had either supported those organizations themselves, or there were other donors in the crowd that had supported them.
I thought about things like: Do I really connect with their mission? Do I believe that they’ll be effective in moving the needle for the movement? Do I feel their leadership is competent? I'm not really one for relying on a lot of bureaucracy or infrastructure to make decisions. I kind of go with my heart.
Currently, a huge amount of psychedelic research is funded privately. Do you think that’s a problem — and is that even sustainable?
We need to see more funding coming from the private sector. I’m a high net worth individual, but there are people who have an interest in psychedelics that have net worths that are ten, twenty, thirty, fifty times mine. When I look at the donors in this space, I’m amazed at how little has been given to these organizations. Even though $10 million is a lot of money, it’s not a lot compared to what gets donated to cancer research or Alzheimer’s research — any other sector where research could affect people’s health. So I think large foundations and high net worth individuals funding research could make a huge difference, and that’s got to happen first. Then I hope the government will see the promise of that research and start funding more work, too.
When you think about the future, what’s your hope for these projects you’re funding?
I think a lot of small victories will ultimately create more access and more research, and over time, that will create a culture shift. I'm 46 now and my dream is that when I’m 95, sitting around and talking about my life, I will be able to see that I played a supporting role in the cultural shift of recognizing that what we currently call drugs are really medicines.
I’ve struggled with depression myself and this medicine can be really powerful in not just changing lives, but saving them. If you look at statistics around suicide in our country, they’re staggering — especially among young people. If these medicines can give people the peace and freedom that leads them to take other steps to live a better life, I think it's worth the effort.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
(Editor’s note: The Microdose will be on break until early January. Have a restful end of the year, and see you in 2023!)