GoDaddy Billionaire Dishes About His 4-Day Psychedelic Trip

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
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In 2018, GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons was sitting with two self-styled shamans in Hawaii, one of whom had brewed a small pot of psilocybin tea. The pot held three cups, enough for three people, but Parsons was feeling indulgent. He drank the entire vessel, down to the drop. Then he ate the tea bags.

“I was sailing,” the billionaire says.

Psychedelics have become a clichéd pastime for the ultra-rich, with Elon Musk and Google founder Sergey Brin reportedly among the devotees.

“I wonder… when you realize you have everything you could possibly want, but you still have the vulnerabilities of being human and are eventually going to die, maybe the psychedelic experience sort of fills that gap,” says Jerrold Rosenbaum, director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Mass General Hospital.

But Parsons is not just a bored rich man licking toads. Until his four-day psychedelic whirlwind, he suffered from crippling post-traumatic stress, which he attributes to a rough childhood and the horrors he lived through in Vietnam.

“I grew up in East Baltimore, mean streets, mean streets,” he told a state legislative panel in Arizona this week. “[The] guy across the street from me was beat to death. They found him and his teeth in different parts of the house.”

In two interviews with The Daily Beast, Parsons, 73, elaborated on the turbulent life that led him to natural medicine. As a kid, he was the victim of an armed robbery. At 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps with two of his buddies; one of them was stabbed to death before he could deploy, the other lost three of his limbs in combat. Parsons himself was evacuated from the war after he set off a tripwire and eviscerated his legs and left elbow.

He says psychedelics helped him process the trauma. Now he is funding more research into the drugs. Last year, The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation gave $6 million to the University of California, Berkeley. The couple has distributed millions more to Mount Sinai Health System and the Bronx VA, among other institutions. In Arizona, Parsons is pushing to legalize psychedelic-assisted therapy centers.

Rosenbaum lauded Parsons’ commitment to funding scientific research, though he cautioned that psychedelics are not a panacea. “Even for the conditions that we’ve studied, not everybody gets better,” he said. “We don’t know how long it lasts or how you maintain it or how often you have to do it.”

Rosenbaum emphasized that patients should be screened for family histories of bipolar disorder, psychosis, and other mental illnesses. “I would worry a bit about people who really need to have more comprehensive care,” he said.

Parsons, convinced of the upside, has become a champion of the drugs. After his 2018 experience, he finally relinquished decades of repressed pain. “It was over,” he says, pausing for several moments. “It was over.”

Below, Parsons shares more details about his work. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Beast: I’m curious about the environment you grew up in. Can you tell me a little bit more about your childhood?

Parsons: I grew up in East Baltimore. My parents were both gamblers but not very good at it, so my family was always broke. I mean, stark broke. My mother had an untreated nervous breakdown when I was about 8 years old. And when I was 8, my father for some reason or another transferred me to Catholic school, and not because he was going to church. The nuns there, all of them were nuts. They were pretty brutal with their punishment and their treatment.

I was transferred back to public school in seventh grade, and then to high school. And I was a terrible student. Senior year, I didn't think I’d graduate. I joined the Marine Corps with two buddies, and I came back and showed my teachers my orders, and they all passed me. It was mostly, I would say, a pity pass.

The Daily Beast: Tell me about your experience once you deployed.

Parsons: I served with a Marine Corps rifle company during the Vietnam War. And when I left for there, I was a pretty happy guy, and, you know, pretty gregarious and so forth. And then, I saw combat. And when I came back, I was a different guy. I mean, I had PTSD to beat the band. The guy who came back had a flash temper and was very intense, didn’t smile an awful lot.

My experience also had positive effects. It helped me focus. I carried myself in my work to block out the PTSD, and I was able to accomplish what I did with literally nothing.

Bob Parsons

Bob Parsons at the iConic Conference in Washington, D.C, in 2015.

Paul Morigi/NBCUniversal via Getty

The Daily Beast: How did the PTSD impact your personal life?

Parsons: PTSD cost me, without a doubt, two marriages. I mean, both of those ex-wives were good women and good partners, and they held on as long as they could. And then I got the boot. And then my third wife, Renee, she hung on and really tried to work with me on this. And I read this book called How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan, about what psychedelics can do and how they work and how healing they can be. And the book was like shining a flashlight in a dark room.

So Renee linked me up with two guides that travel under the radar and help people, particularly veterans with PTSD. So I worked with them for the better part of a week and took three different psychedelics. It was a lot of tears. I mean, you deal with everything, it all comes back. And I mean, it is hard.

The Daily Beast: Can you walk me through the experience of taking the drugs? How does it feel when they start to kick in, and where does your brain go?

Parsons: You're sitting there with your guide and you take the drug. Probably about 40 minutes to an hour later it starts to take hold and you can feel a buzz and a warmth and you see things. For example, I walked into what I thought was this very regular water closet, with just, you know, a white commode and a closet all painted white inside. When I went in there, it was the most ornate and beautiful thing.

The Daily Beast: Did the psychedelics stir up any specific memories?

Parsons: One of the memories I had forgotten, because I had blocked it out, was from the last couple months of my deployment. I was in troop processing in Okinawa, where I’d put guys on flights to come home and verify their units on the way to Vietnam. And I would look at these guys, and I knew they were all going to units with the heaviest combat. I knew a lot of them would be cut to ribbons, and none of them would come home the way they arrived. The mushrooms brought out the fact that it bothered me horrifically. I mean, I was back there. I could see them. And I cried. I cried as hard as I can ever remember crying. But now I can talk about it.

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The Daily Beast: How else did the drugs change you?

Parsons: After I was finished, people could not believe the change in me. My son told his wife, “You know, dad keeps calling and he's just so nice and so happy. I think he found out that he’s going to die soon.” So anyhow, when I took psychedelics, it had been 49 years since the war. And I finally came home.

The Daily Beast: After that experience, would you say you felt like a new person or that you finally felt like yourself again?

Parsons: I’d say both. Because there’s some issues I believe the psychedelics helped correct that I always had. You know, like so many of us, I grew up tough, and I carried all that to the Marine Corps. So when I went into the Marine Corps, I was probably halfway to PTSD, and the war did the rest.

The Daily Beast: Were the psychedelics a one-time cleansing for your brain? Or are they something that you continue to use for ongoing treatment?

Parsons: I went through it another time with two guys from my squad. One was a machine gunner and one was the squad leader. And, you know, I'm happy to say I went ahead and brought them both home.

The Daily Beast: Tell me about the bill to legalize therapy centers in Arizona. Are you optimistic that it will pass?

Parsons: I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. There are a lot of different personalities involved when it comes to the government. Do I think it will pass? Yeah, but that’s more of a hope than a know.

The Daily Beast: Maybe this is stereotypical, but I would guess that Arizona is more conservative about this kind of thing. Has that been your experience?

Parsons: It can be. But marijuana was passed for therapeutic use, and five years later, it was opened up for recreational use. Arizona is a little more liberal about that kind of stuff than you might think.

The Daily Beast: You’re writing a book, Fire in the Hole! Can you explain that title?

Parsons: I’m a descendent of coal miners, and they use that term when they send a charge to loosen some rock. And when I was in the Marine Corps and we'd find an enemy tunnel, we would never go down it. We would just set a charge and throw some plastic explosives down in it. When you look at the rest of my life, how it happened, how it came about, that term just works.

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