The Trips That Made Us
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The Trips That Made Us

Mud's founder and CEO, Shane Heath, gets candid about the trips—both psychedelic and intercontinental—that inspired him to start MUD\WTR

Andy Ritchie

“MUD\WTR supports psychedelics.”

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard some version of that from a friend, in an article or on Instagram. But what exactly does it mean? 

Maybe you already know that we donate to psychedelic research. Maybe you’ve read our psychedelic manifesto, or our employee benefits breakdown that lays out our company support for, among other things, microdosing in the workplace. 

Maybe you know those stories.

This story is about why we do it. 

Journey to the Center of Mud

Speaking to Trends w/ Benefits from the sauna at our LA homebase, MUD\WTR’s founder and CEO, Shane Heath, is winding down from the week. The sauna, one of his daily rituals, offers a space for reflection and exhalation.

Shane founded MUD\WTR in 2018, off the back of a trip to India that helped to shake him free from his day-to-day routines. On his return to the U.S., and looking to quit his addiction to coffee, he began experimenting with his own morning ritual drink: one made of masala chai, powdered adaptogens and natural ingredients. Shane would mix up his concoction and take it wherever he went. Friends and family would ask him what he was drinking. “It’s mud,” he’d say, waiting for a raised eyebrow or a laugh in response.

That trip to India broke Shane free from normality, allowing him to experience a world outside of his own programming, outside of the American culture he’d been fed since infancy. Travel, like psychedelics, has a funny way of showing you a new perspective on old problems.  

Have a Good Trip

Like most other twentysomething Americans, Shane’s first 28 years on the planet were dictated by the narratives he told himself. Outwardly, his life was together, comfortable and successful, but his inner monologue told a different story. 

“Before mud, before ayahuasca,” Shane begins, “I was very aware that I was being held back by my beliefs about myself: what I was worthy of, what I was capable of. It’s really tough to shake those narratives. I had been living with them all my life. There was no separation between me and them.”

After India, Shane took another trip. While India freed Shane from his programming, ayahuasca took his preconceptions of himself and the beliefs that were holding him back, and shattered them to smithereens.

“All of a sudden, on an ayahuasca journey, you’re like, ‘I totally see that I’m no longer in my body now,’” he says. “The connection is completely severed and you’re able to see how that is all playing out through this third-person view. It was funny, in a way. 

“When you come back into your body, that perspective seems to weave its way into a lot of decisions that happen. It was a shift in how I was living my life.”

When he returned to LA, Shane began exploring other modalities to maintain a healthy mind—things like breathwork, morning rituals and committing to a good sleep routine became the foundational tools of a new self-belief that he could walk his own path. All the while, he was drinking his own magic brew.

“As I was drinking this drink, seeing other people struggling with the same things I was, I thought, ‘maybe I can bring this to the world,’” he says. “Two, three years prior, I wouldn’t have had a landing spot for that idea to take.”

As Shane began to sow the seeds of what would become MUD\WTR, another psychedelic experience, this one much less intentional or introspective, provided the nutrients. Ahead of an evening out with friends, Shane mixed his muddy concoction with some psilocybin—little more than a microdose—and set out for the evening. It wasn’t a magical, mystical experience that left him with a profound epiphany; it was just a fun, connected night out with friends. 

The next morning, Shane woke up and thought, “I think I see it.” The grand picture of what was to come began to take shape. He saw his creation as a drink that could change culture, a company that could give back in different ways, and how it could all be unified under a larger mission of empowering people to think differently by drinking differently. 

“From there, it all just came out of me,” Shane recalls. “It felt more like art than a business plan. I wasn’t asking, ‘Is this a good idea? What’s the market opportunity? What should the name be?’ It just came through me. I was a conduit. I wasn’t high, but I was connected. I was downloading.

“I had the site, the brand, the logo, the name, everything. It was all there, I put it out, and began figuring out the ‘why?’ afterward.” 

Ultimately, Shane credits his travel experiences as much as his psychedelic ones with giving him the ability to disconnect from the beliefs that had been holding him back all of his life. He realized that when your mind steps out of the way, a deeper knowledge—an innate  wisdom—begins to come through.

“I’m really interested in finding out what I’m a conduit for,” he says, recalling that prolific morning after the psilocybin. “What is that? What is that intelligence that’s coming through, and how do I make myself more open to that versus the monkey mind? I want to channel that intuitive wisdom. That’s my deep calling. There’s this deeper wisdom that sits below intellect, below instincts, the wisdom that’s guiding my lungs to breathe and my heart to beat, the plants to grow and the ants to walk. What is that? How do I do less and be more quiet so that can be the guiding principle in my life?

“I just want to be a satellite dish for that signal.”

Read more: MUD\WTR's Official Stance on Psychedelics

Responsibility to Others

To get MUD\WTR off the ground, Shane quickly raised a million dollars in seed funding. But not all of that money came from established venture capitalists or investors with the capital to take risks: A fair chunk of it came from family, friends and even his sister. It was a radical experiment in trust, as Shane’s nearest and dearest put their faith in what he was building.

“That was a huge responsibility,” Shane offers. “Within eight months of getting that money, I knew that I wanted to accept that responsibility with something that was deeper than a thank you message. That responsibility could not just be held by me and my intellect. In order for this to be successful, I needed to be that conduit. I needed the support of that deeper wisdom in the company, my actions, my instincts; my ideas needed to be guided by that.”

After the initial funding round, ayahuasca weaved its vines back into Shane’s life again. This time, it was more subtle. Over three months, he committed to a clean dieta —no alcohol, red meat, sugars or caffeine, and only simple foods—and microdosed ayahuasca daily with a one-hour morning ritual. 

“It’s not a psychedelic trip at all in the traditional sense,” he explains. “But it’s much more of a deeper relationship you’re building with that spirit, if you want to call it that. What’s interesting about those types of experiences is they’re not as noteworthy like, ‘Here’s what happened!’ It’s more like, ‘Here’s what’s happening, and continuing to happen.’ That mindset feeds into all of our work today.”

MUD\WTR’s Open Psychedelic Policy

Shane’s experiences with psychedelics didn’t create MUD\WTR, but they informed how he would bring the idea to life. Today, they play a part in how the company is run and, for many members on the team, the open psychedelics policy has allowed them to explore new avenues of creativity and personal growth.

Community Manager Blair Atkins has been microdosing psilocybin to recover from a spinal injury (and to get off the opiates she was prescribed that made her feel like shit), while another mud team member, Ryan Rosenthal, recently followed in Shane’s footsteps with his own ayahuasca journey. Many others on the team have similar stories. We openly share them. 

But, Shane is keen to drive home, this isn’t mindless drug-pushing. Our attitude toward psychedelics in the workplace is informed by science, and our work with individuals like MUD\WTR ambassador, Dorna Pourang, who is working in the trenches of clinical research.

“We don't promote the mindless use of psychedelics,” Shane offers after reflecting on our initial conversation. “We work with people like Dorna and actively seek to promote messages about the medicinal and therapeutic value of these compounds. We also don't promote psychedelics as a panacea. But we do encourage the exploration of altering one’s perspective to make way for new patterns to emerge.” 

Equally, the policy is informed by MUD\WTR’s management style. It’s not a dictatorship and micro-management is a dirty word around here. Instead, employees are empowered to find a way of living that allows them to be the best version of themselves, however that might be.

“The owner of a company doesn’t have the right to dictate what their team puts into their bodies,” Shane states. “Encouraging drug use in the office is not unprecedented. Most offices put coffee and energy drinks in their kitchens, encouraging the overuse of caffeine. Most companies have beer and cocktail parties promoting the use of alcohol. We’re not even going that far. We’re not providing drugs, but we also aren’t telling people not to partake in whatever helps them to improve their creativity, productivity and mental well-being. If I go to jail for that, then, whatever.”

So, while a CEO standing up for psychedelic use among his employees might seem evangelical, that’s not what’s happening at MUD\WTR. Psychedelics are one tool to unlock new ways of thinking. There are many. “Breathwork and meditation are the medicines that I advocate much more strongly.”

Shane can only speak to his experience. “I would be remiss not to mention that I’m not an expert in any of this. I’m a student, too.” And when it comes to his employees’ growth, the results speak for themselves.

“I’m proud of our team’s performance,” he says. “And there definitely haven’t been any concerns. As I’ve gotten to know the team, I’ve noticed an openness to new ideas, but also, a more general calling to finding their individual potential, whether physical, mental or emotional. And aligning that potential with something larger than just themselves. Those are the shifts we’re starting to see.”

Read more: A Complete Guide to MUD\WTR's Employee Benefits

Psychedelics as a Tool for Global Change

As Shane’s sauna session winds down (there’s still Friday afternoon to tackle before the week is done), our focus turns to the bigger picture. Ultimately, MUD\WTR’s position on psychedelics is just one part of a larger vision. Unhealthy minds are causing a cascade of societal problems down the line. Our support of organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) is not just a case of “let’s bring psychedelics to the masses.” These groups are working to treat the root problems we have as a society using these tools, and not sticking Band-Aids over the surface issues. When it comes down to it, that’s what MUD\WTR is here to do: Tackle the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is that we’re all suffering from unhealthy minds. 

“When we look at society, we look at things like pollution, or the environmental crisis, the financial crisis, food disparities,” Shane considers, “these are issues of a diseased or disordered mind. You don’t have to be diagnosed with schizophrenia to suffer from a mental illness. You just have to be not fully connected.

“If we align our company with improving mental health as a whole, to me, we’re contributing to everything else. If our culture has a healthy mind, all of these other problems start to take care of themselves.”

Andy Ritchie is MUD\WTR’s assistant editor.

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