It may come as no surprise that artists like Lil Nas X and Harry Styles have spoken up about their use of psychedelics, since substances like psilocybin mushrooms and LSD have influenced musicians since the Sixties. But professional sports have typically been a different story, with advertisers and coaches demanding a “clean” public image. Today, as study after study touts the benefits of psychedelic therapies and legalization movements gain steam, stigmas are lifting, social norms are shifting, and sports stars are becoming part of the change.
Increasing numbers of professional athletes in the US are revealing their relationship with psychedelics, either during or after their playing careers. whether for entering a flow state in which there are no thoughts and only sheer focus, addressing grief and drug dependency, or confronting the ego. So who has already extolled the potential benefits of psychedelics?
1. Mike Tyson
Once known for his ferocious fighting style and macho persona, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world recently admitted that at the peak of his fame, he struggled to connect to his wife and children and battled an ego crisis so big it brought him to the brink of suicide. After being convicted of rape in 1992, Tyson had experiences with cannabis, and later shrooms and 5-MeO-DMT (a compound derived from toad venom) that he says completely changed him as a person, helping him become more grounded and vulnerable.
After bufo experience in Mexico in 2019, the boxer said: “I killed the monster I had inside … I killed myself, and I killed my ego. My life totally changed. The old Tyson was toxic to my family and wife.” Today, he is an outspoken advocate for psychedelics and an investor in former hockey pro-Daniel Carcillo’s effort to use them to treat traumatic brain injuries.
2. Aaron Rodgers
The four-time NFL most valuable player recently credited ayahuasca for his two most recent MVPs. “I really feel like that experience paved the way for me to have the best season of my career [in 2020],” the highest-paid player in the NFL told the Aubrey Marcus podcast, after consuming ayahuasca in South America. The experience vastly improved his mental health since it allowed him to “unconditionally love” himself and become a better leader and teammate, he added.
3. Dock Ellis
In 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher threw a no-hitter (in which not one of his throws was even touched by an opposing batsman) while tripping on LSD. In MLB history, from 1876 to the present day, there have been just 317 no-hitters thrown over a couple hundred thousand games. “I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the [catcher’s] glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much,” he told the New York Times years later.
4. Kerry Rhodes
Former NFL safety Rhodes (who played for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals from 2005 to 2012) struggled with headaches, pain, and memory issues associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a condition caused by repeated blows to the head that has been observed in as much as 99 percent of former NFL players. Fears about CTE kept Rhodes from addressing his symptoms—until he traveled to Costa Rica for an ayahuasca ceremony, which he says profoundly relieved his issues and transformed his life for the better. Rhodes got emotional discussing his experience on an episode of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel in November 2020—along with other publications.
“During the treatment, you’re peeled away, and you have no choice but to confront the truth,” he told the Guardian. “And once it’s over, you get this knowledge, this access to this space that you’d forgotten about.”
5. Kelly Slater
Slater, an 11-time world surfing champion widely regarded as the sport’s all-time greatest, has long been a proponent of sobriety. He grew up with an alcoholic father, encouraged youth to seek “natural” highs, and spoke out against recreational drug use in pro surfing—but also endorsed the legalization of all drugs. In 2017, Slater visited the luxury ayahuasca retreat Rythmia in Costa Rica, which he later described in a video testimonial as the most profound experience of his life, granting him “a miracle of information” that “opened up some sort of doorway in my future.” In August, Slater joined the retreat’s board of directors, which also includes human rights activist Martin Luther King III.
6. Dan Carcillo
During a decorated 10-year career in which he won two NHL championships, the enforcer was also diagnosed with seven concussions, though believes he suffered another 100. The scraps caused him serious trauma, and he later had insomnia and serious angst, which led him to consider suicide. But ayahuasca, magic mushrooms, and cannabis turned his life around. “Plant medicine … changed my perspective of this world and has allowed my brain to regenerate pathways and stimulate regions of my brain that were inaccessible and shut down due to trauma,” he tweeted.
7. Anna Symonds
Last year, Symonds retired from playing rugby after a 20-year, championship-winning career that spanned both US and Australian leagues. Yet before leaving the sport, she’d already become a vocal advocate for the benefits of cannabis, spearheading a petition (signed by Tyson and 150 other athletes) to remove THC from the World Doping Agency’s Prohibited Substances List. She works closely with Athletes For CARE and other initiatives that promote athletes’ access to alternative medicines. Symonds spoke on Microdose’s “Psychedelics & Sports” panel in 2020 and is currently an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the University of California San Diego, where she’s working on a project to study cannabis as a pain management tool for professional NFL players.
8. Ian McCall
The Kung Fu blackbelt—also known as “Uncle Creepy”—was taking oxycontin, Xanax, and fentanyl to relieve serious pain. Amid two decades of dependence on painkillers, he regularly contemplated suicide. Repeated concussions from his UFC fights left him, “stuck in a prison cell” in his mind and struggling with alcoholism. Then he took five grams of magic mushrooms. “I was addicted for so long, and I couldn’t break it,” he said. And psychedelics [are] what helped me through that. I mean, that’s what got me off it.” He told himself during a seemingly near-death hallucination: “If I wake up, I’m going to do things different.”
9. Mark Messier
This hockey player and six-time Stanley Cup winner’s career was shaped by his use of psychedelics at a young age. He told Macleans about a profound experience with magic mushrooms aged 19: “I had no idea the mind was that powerful … Obviously, it turned out to be an amazing experience, but more important was the question afterwards: wow, how can I use my mind to empower myself to be a better player, to be a better person, to have more energy, to create a better aura?”
10. Lamar Odom
In 2006, basketball star Lamar Odom (who played on a bronze medal–winning US Olympic team and later won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers) turned down an invitation to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup after the untimely death of his 6-month-old son. He credits that traumatic event with partly fueling his turn toward cocaine and alcohol as forms of self-medication, since he felt stymied by the stigma around mental health treatment. His addiction culminated in a high-profile overdose hospitalization in 2015, after which he turned to meditation and clinically administered ketamine to address his longstanding issues.
It “felt like going to heaven and coming back,” he told Benzinga. “This time, I tried going inside myself for healing, and it made all the difference in the world.” He then worked with the African psychedelic iboga. “I got to hear my mother’s voice for the first time in more than 25 years, and I also got to see my son, who passed away, grow up to the age he would be now,” he said. “It was life-changing for me, and I wish this for anyone who has lost someone or is dealing with addiction.”
Lamar Odom Reborn, a documentary chronicling Odom’s healing journey, was released in 2021 as part of his ongoing efforts to normalize psychedelics.
11. Kenny Stills
The New Orleans Saints football star, like Rodgers, recently spoke out about his use of ketamine therapy, after also microdosing psilocybin. “Psychedelics combined with therapy and mindset work get me to a place where I feel a lot freer and have more empathy and joy in my heart,” he told Inside Hook. “I’ve broken some of the patterns that were passed on to me from my parents and the generation before that … The data is out there, and we know how much cannabis and plant medicine can help people.”