Steve Jobs informed the Department of Defense in 1988 that taking LSD “was a positive life-changing experience for me and I am glad I went through that experience.” Furthermore, he revealed that he used cannabis and hashish as “it would make me more relaxed and creative.”

Believe it or not, this college dropout, also known as the iconic founder of Apple, told all this to the Pentagon when applying for security clearance. Nevertheless, it seems that Jobs never felt at home with the government or big business. He claimed to always feel like an outsider in Silicon Valley, with his roots being in the 60s and 70s counterculture. Today, Jobs has grown into an icon. The New York Times published a profile after his death proclaiming he “touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”

In this article, we will explore everything known about the relationship Steve Jobs had with LSD and examine its potential impact on the design and vision of the Apple products that are integral to our lives today.

Steve Jobs Growing Up in the 60s and 70s

Steve was adopted and grew up in Paolo Alto, as known as Silicon Valley, in a neighborhood where engineers tinkered with cutting-edge technology in their garages. He spoke highly of his parents and was recognized as bright but intense.

In high school, he hung around with older kids, smoked pot, dropped acid, and claimed the experience was “the most wonderful of my life up to that point” in his biography by Walter Isaacson.

From a young age, Jobs displayed a rebellious spirit. Jobs and his best friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak figured out how to trick telephone networks into making long-distance calls to try. They even once came close to prank-calling the Pope. The duo’s first profitable project was selling this “Blue Box” that hacked the telephone network.

Steve Jobs University and Spiritual Quest

He famously dropped out of Reed University in 1972, auditing whatever classes for 16 more months while couch surfing and living communally on an apple farm. In this period, he also experimented with fasting, became a vegan, and dived deeper into meditation. Walter Issacson’s biography also confirms Jobs would play chess with his friend Daniel Kottke while both were tripping on acid.

After leaving Reed for good and working at the early video game manufacturer Atari to save money, Jobs embarked on a spiritual journey through India in 1974. Jobs was inspired by the book Be Here Now written by Harvard LSD researcher Dr. Richard Alpert, turned spiritual teacher known as Baba Ram Dass. Jobs searched for Ram Dass’s guru, Baba Neem Karoli, only to discover that Karoli had died.

Job’s returned home after seven months of exploring India. Back in California, he audited classes at Stanford and studied Zen meditation, which would become a lifelong influence. Walter Issacson’s biography of Jobs claims he even considered becoming a monk but was convinced by his teacher Kobun Otogawa that he “had work to do” in Silicon Valley. Jobs maintained regular Zen meditation practice. His Zen philosophy and minimalist aesthetic would become part of Jobs’s lifestyle and work.

Did LSD Influence Steve Jobs’s Personality?

While dropping acid and meditating might make Jobs seem like an open and accepting guy, his reputation in the early years of business, specifically a notorious perfectionism and temper, is a cautionary tale for anyone assuming that taking psychedelics creates an easygoing personality.

There is evidence that psychedelics create changes in people’s personalities who take them. For example, studies with psilocybin mushrooms show increased “openness,” a personality trait associated with curiosity, creativity, and imagination.

Steve described his success with building products as giving people not what they thought they wanted but what they didn’t know they needed. He also emphasized empathy and intuition over market research, which is unique in business culture and makes one wonder if Jobs’s experiments with his consciousness helped open Steve’s mind up to see what others could not.

Jobs told the US government he took LSD 10 – 15 timesResearch has shown changes in people a year after taking a single dose of psilocybin. Steve also claimed LSD could have made his competitor at Microsoft, Bill Gates, “a broader guy,” implying that perhaps Steve thought LSD had opened up something within himself as well.

What Impact Did LSD Have on Steve Jobs and Apple?

Despite being a multi-millionaire himself, Steve Jobs was famous for valuing people not for how much money they made but for what they created. While he never publicly stated LSD for giving him this reputation, his explanation of what LSD taught him in his biography hints at the origin of his values.

“LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important-creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and human consciousness as much as I could”

There is an interesting bit of history about Steve Jobs asking a certain “uptight” job candidate about his drug experiences, specifically how many times he had done LSD. This interaction is documented in Issacson’s biography of Steve and points to how Jobs used this tactic to scare off hopeful employees who Jobs felt wouldn’t fit into his alternative team.

Steve Jobs’s “Reality Distortion Field”

In Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs didn’t code or engineer. Instead, he relied on his eye for design, intense drive, ability to hire talent, and sales skills so powerful they became known within Apple as “the reality distortion field.”

Apple employees claimed, “In his presence, reality is malleable.” Considering the rate at which Apple created innovation, it seems Steve had an uncommon talent for making what engineers routinely told him was impossible to happen. Distorting reality, or Steve Jobs’s desire to “make a dent in the universe,” does suggest an expansive awareness we might associate with psychedelics.

At the very least, Jobs’ comments have done a great deal to promote associations between LSD and innovation. Currently, Jobs is often listed as one of several highly successful and creative individuals who have openly talked about psychedelic experimentation. But Jobs alone does not get credit for merging tech and LSD. He was following in the footsteps of the existing psychedelic culture in the tech industry.

Silicon Valley, Psychedelics, and Creativity

Today it is estimated tens of thousands of Silicon Valley workers could be microdosing. Google founders party at Burning Man, and a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company was fired because of being caught taking LSD before a meeting. In a land where endless innovation is the path to success, psychedelic drugs are built into the culture.

Myron Stolaroff and the First LSD for Creativity Research

Myron Stolaroff, an electrical engineer, was given LSD by “The Johnny Appleseed of LSD,” Al Hubbard. After his first trip, he declared LSD “the most important discovery that man has ever made.” Myron was devoted to studying the potential of LSD and, in the 60s, created the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, California. Until prohibition, he gave LSD and mescaline to hundreds of bright minds in tech to study its effects on creativity. Today, Myron is regarded as a pioneer in personally exploring and researching the effects of psychedelics on human consciousness, and IFAS for being intertwined with Silicon Valley’s history.

Douglas Englebart, LSD, and the Computer Mouse

One participant of Myron Stolaroff’s early LSD research was Douglas Engelbart. He, too, was impressed by psychedelics’ potential, and when he later created the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at Stanford, Englebart allegedly gave his employees LSD.

Englebart’s lab produced Inventions like the internet, the optical computer mouse, and graphical interfaces. Apple would later use Englebat’s inventions to replace text-based computer interfaces with the computer mouse and colorful graphical “desktops” we are familiar with today, a massive leap for personal computing.

Englebart’s focus at ARC was to “use computers to augment human intelligence,” yet LSD may have been augmenting Englebart’s brilliant mind as well. Author and investigative journalist Michal Pollan explains that engineers need to find patterns in complex systems and points out in an interview about psychedelics and tech – “That’s what LSD does – it helps you find patterns.”

Was LSD the Secret to Job’s Success?

In an early demo of iTunes, Steve Jobs asked, “What if we could see music? What would it look like?” when debuting the psychedelic visualizations resembling synesthesia, hallucinations like “hearing the colors” or other unique combinations of our senses when on psychedelics. When a reporter asked about the visualizations after the live demo, Steve claimed: “they reminded him of his youth” with a smile.

Yet, Job’s early tipping buddy, Daniel Kottke, points out that Steve Jobs “didn’t need psychedelics” to make Apple successful. It rings true that a person with Jobs’s drive and vision would succeed no matter what the odds, but still, it is reasonable to assume that psychedelics influenced Steve Jobs. Jobs himself claimed that people who had not done psychedelics had trouble understanding parts of who he was.

Also hard to ignore is the influence of psychedelics on not only Jobs but the entire tech industry that paved the way for his legacy. Yet, understanding the relationship between psychedelics and Silicon Valley’s ability to innovate is far more complex than smart people consuming psychedelic drugs. In Job’s own words:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things… …The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Is Linking Creativity with LSD Part of Steve Jobs’ Legacy?

Steve Jobs left behind Apple, which created the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad – devices that changed how humans interact with technology. Jobs also is behind Pixar, which produced Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and many other award-winning animated movies. His vision could connect technologies like the computer mouse, graphical interface, and fonts, and he understood how to put these tools into the hands of millions.

Jobs was vocal about LSD during prohibition, and people noticed. The creator of LSD, Albert Hoffman, even reached out to Jobs for research funding. Some may say that Jobs was a true pioneer and was decades ahead of current psychedelic research, validating psychedelics and creativity. Even today, up-and-coming entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley attempt to imitate Jobs.

Pinpointing the exact moment or practice that created Jobs’s brilliance is impossible. Yet Steve Jobs famously stated when addressing a Stanford Graduating class regarding how life works out – “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” And it seems one of the dots in Jobs’ life was LSD.