I’ve attended many conferences, but this one had the strangest session I’ve ever seen

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LAST SPRING I COVERED the HR Transform conference in Las Vegas for a website I founded and used to edit — TLNT.com.

I also attended HR Transform last year, and it’s a smart conference that’s clearly on the rise. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a cutting-edge event in the HR and talent management space.

When you attend a lot of conferences, you sometimes find yourself in strange and unexpected sessions that aren’t quite what you thought they would be.

My two-year experience with HR Transform is that they have top-notch content and good breakout sessions, but this year’s event also had the oddest session I have ever attended in my 20 years of HR and talent management events.

The title of the session says it all: Leveraging Psychedelic Drugs to Deepen your DEI Practice.

Here’s the description from the HR Transform 2023 agenda

“Clinical trials involving psychedelic drugs are booming — seeking to understand the potential treatment for a number of ailments like depression, PTSD and opioid use disorder. But could they also be used as a tool for anti-racism? Early research indicates: yes. We will review the existing, published research and hold space for Transform attendees to share their psychedelic experiences; how altered states of consciousness may be a novel tactic for DEI practitioners seeking transformative change.”

THOSE OF US WHO  attended the session were encouraged to come up to the podium and “share their psychedelic experiences” with the audience. This was interesting, to say the least, but there was very little talk about the legality of psychedelics in the U.S. and the possible legal entanglements for any employer that encourages their use.

An odd but cutting-edge conference session

The potential for a workplace lawsuit was on my mind as I heard the panelists, led by moderator Steven Huang, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Officer at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, talk about their own experiences with psychedelics. It made me wonder how an employer would deal with an employee who is encouraged to use a psychedelic like LSD and has a bad reaction, aka, a bad trip.

And although I’m not an expert on this topic, just a quick Google search yields information like this that I found on WayofLeaf.com. It answers the question Can I Get Legal Psychedelics in the United States? like this:

“The answer is yes, but with extreme caveats. Realistically, only a tiny percentage of people have a chance of using psychedelics in America legally.

On a federal level, the United States classified all psychedelic drugs as Schedule I substances as part of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Unfortunately, the implementation of the CSA led to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) halting studies into the therapeutic potential of LSD.”

There are a lot of caveats, of course — you may be able to get legal psychedelics if you join a clinical trial, or a church that uses psychedelics as religious sacraments — but in general, psychedelics are going to be problematic for most employers in the United States and probably a lot of other countries as well.

SHRM probably won’t have a session like this

HR Transform Executive Director Samara Jaffe touted this session in her comments kicking off the Day 2 keynotes, and I applaud her for really pushing the envelope with this one. I’m pretty sure you won’t EVER see SHRM having a session like this at one of their events, but if I was the conference organizer, I would have made sure the panelists addressed the legal challenges for workplace use of psychedelics.

IN MY MANY YEARS of attending HR and talent management conferences, this is the first time I have ever heard of psychedelics as a workplace issue. That alone should tell you that it’s a topic that is WAY out of the mainstream for any employer. I’m also betting that it’s an issue that is only relevant to a tiny group of people on the job anywhere.

However, it does show that HR Transform is willing to take some risks with the content in their conference sessions, and that’s something you just don’t see a lot of HR or talent management conferences doing.

It easily tops the second oddest conference session I’ve ever seen that was put on by a Grammy-winning rock guitarist for both Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers who was also the chair of the U.S. Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense. He is Jeff ‘Skunk” Baxter, has a top-secret government clearance, and is an expert on missiles and nuclear weapons.

I never thought I would see a conference session stranger than that one — he played his guitar and sang while talking about nuclear weapons — but never say never because talking about using psychedelics in the workplace as an anti-racism tool easily beat Jeff Baxter out. 

Aaron Rodgers is also lobbying for psychedelics

ONE MORE THING: Psychedelics have popped up in the news since I attended HR Transform last March.

Aaron Rodgers at psychedelics conference in Denver.

Aaron Rodgers, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback who will be playing for the New York Jets this fall, has been talking about psychedelics and how they “unlocked that whole world” for him.

He said this at a psychedelics conference in Denver in June, and although NBCNews.com published a very positive article about the event, they did make note of the fact that “Psychedelics are illegal at the federal level, though acceptance and interest in studying their potential benefits has grown.”

Sports Illustrated also wrote about Rodgers lobbying for psychedelics, writing that “The Jets quarterback spent the week at a psychedelics conference in Denver, and he made an argument for the legalization of these kinds of drugs.” They also added that Rodgers said,

‘Is it not ironic that the things that actually expand your mind are illegal and the things that … dumb you down have been legal for centuries?’ Rodgers said at the conference, via ProFootballTalk. “We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to change that. It’s through awareness and education.”

Rodgers has used psychedelics in the offseason as a way to decompress following grueling NFL seasons, a practice for which he has been criticized by some fans and analysts. However, the quarterback is under the belief that anyone who jokes about it hasn’t actually tried psychedelics.

‘I guarantee you all these bums who want to come after me online about my experience and stuff, they’ve never tried it,’ he said. ‘They’re the perfect people for it. We need to get these people taking it.'”

Given the problems states are having with legal marijuana — and that’s especially true out here in the People’s Republic of California — I just don’t see psychedelics getting legalized anytime soon.

However, in a country where voters boot one terrible politician only to replace them with someone far worse — and I’m talking about you, Chicago — just about anything is possible.

Even legalizing psychedelics.

1 comments on “I’ve attended many conferences, but this one had the strangest session I’ve ever seen”

  1. Great column, John. We live in strange times indeed. In my opinion, these strange sessions are symptomatic of people seeking transcendence as an answer to societal ills. What to make of the trend in “mindfulness” and yoga at work? Employers have to walk a fine line here, but I agree that the panelists should have been prepared to discuss the legalities of pyschedelia in the workplace.

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