Quirky Dr. Bronner’s Throws Its Brand (and Money) Behind Legalizing Psychedelic Drugs

Say what you want about 'shrooms and ecstasy, studies show they can treat mental illnesses

Known for tiny type and big ideas, Dr. Bronner's labels now feature "Heal Soul!"—a call to action for psychedelics. Courtesy of Dr. Bronner's

Key Insights

One of the lesser-told stories of the coronavirus pandemic is how the virus, apart from infecting millions of Americans, has exacted a brutal psychological toll on most everyone else. A survey published on Sept. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that depression has tripled since the pandemic started, with nearly 28% of respondents exhibiting at least one symptom. Tulane University is currently studying the rise of compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion affecting first responders. And the University of Baltimore reports that opioid overdoses have risen by 18% since Covid-19 began stalking the country earlier this year.

A bleak picture to be sure, and a public-health crisis that’s unlikely to get additional government funding at a time when the national debt is on track to hit $20.3 trillion. So who’s going to help? Well, a Southern California brand that makes organic peppermint soap, for one.

Earlier this week, Vista, Calif.-based Dr. Bronner’s began shipping 32-ounce bottles of its popular liquid soap with a label that reads “Heal Soul!” It’s a call to action for the company’s latest cause: pushing for the FDA to legalize psychedelic drugs for the treatment of PTSD, depression, anxiety and a raft of other trauma-related conditions.

“We’re actively dedicating our brand—not only our financial resources—but leveraging our label and marketing to really mainstream this conversation,” CEO David Bronner told Adweek. “A lot of the population is suffering. A lot of the ones who can be most helped are veterans and first responders. They can really benefit from this medication.”

The medications Bronner is referring to are psilocybin and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. In case those names don’t ring a bell, their more common monikers are mushrooms and ecstasy. Despite their reputations, these substances are in fact currently the subjects of entirely serious clinical testing that shows them to be potentially far more than just something to go clubbing with.

According to clinical trials conducted at leading medical institutions including UCLA and Johns Hopkins, psilocybin can help with major depressive disorder, and MDMA has been shown to be a valuable tool in PTSD treatment. The results have been promising enough that the FDA has classified them as “breakthrough,” a designation indicating that a drug not only treats “a serious or life-threatening condition” but that “clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement … over available therapies.”

A certified B Corporation that already gives 33% of its profits to social and ecological causes, Dr. Bronner’s has pledged well over $3 million to the psychedelics effort this year alone—$2 million to the Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Measure (which would regulate mushrooms for therapeutic applications), $1 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an advocacy organization that sponsors clinical studies, and smaller amounts for initiatives and projects ranging from peyote conservation to helping veterans find alternative-based treatments for PTSD. The MAPS donation is part of a standing 10-year, $10 million commitment to that nonprofit group, whose other financial supporters include Walden Venture Capital and GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons.

Though funding is the key component of Dr. Bronner’s support, Bronner puts equal weight behind the power of his product labels to reduce stigma and boost awareness of psychedelic drugs’ therapeutic potential.

To that end, the “Heal Soul!” label might look and sound a bit clunky, but it’s actually in keeping with Dr. Bronner’s longstanding, and highly effective, branding.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.