It’s true what they say, no one genuinely knows what’s going on behind the scenes, and that applies to everyone, even celebrities. It might seem like entrepreneur, philanthropist, comedy club owner, and part-owner of the Lakers Johnny Buss has it all figured out, but behind the scenes, he’s so much more than a man with a famous last name.
From the outside looking in, Johnny’s life may seem charmed, but that life came along with ups and downs within relationships, within the sports industry that his father, Dr. Jerry Buss, helped cultivate in L.A., and most recently, with purchasing The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, slated to open early 2023. When it comes to depression and anxiety, it’s never a game of “who you know” or how kind you are. Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate, they just torture.
After “trying it all” to help relieve an internal clock that seemed to always be ringing and a pandemic sending him sinking into a deep depression, he decided to try ketamine under a doctor’s care, and found the experience to be a miracle cure. Riding that trip but moving into an all-natural lane this year, right before his 66th birthday, Buss got on board with psilocybin when he heard it provided the same relief. Minus the IV.
High Times: We can read all about your sports background, so let’s talk comedy. How did you and The Ice House Comedy Club come to be?
Johnny Buss: My dad and I loved watching live comedy and going to variety clubs, so that was our thing. We talked for over 40 years about opening a club together and when he passed in 2013, we never did get to live out that dream of ours. When I saw that The Ice House was up for sale I thought, now this is the place I can honor that dream. It’s a legendary club and I plan to honor that legacy as well. It’s been slow moving getting it open because of the pandemic and unforeseen obstacles, but it’s rolling along now and it’s going to be the place to be when we open it back up. It looks incredible.
I can imagine that’s been stressful. Is that what led you to trying ketamine?
Kind of. A lot of people developed depression during COVID, and COVID came at a very difficult time in my life. I was just getting over grieving for my parents, my father died in 2013 and my mother passed away in 2019, just prior to covid. When COVID hit … it made me think, where are my parents? Why can’t I talk to them? I had all of these emotions and it felt like nothing could go right in my life, except for the comedy club. I was happy, but at the same time, when the city comes and shuts down your business– this is really serious. People are dying and getting sick and now you have to hunker down so, I hunkered down at home with my kids and their mother. We were never married, but we had a relationship so I felt really happy being a family again. It was nice, but knowing that relationship was never going to rekindle, I started feeling lonely and upset, like everything was going wrong with my business, how was I going to explain a pandemic to my kids—I felt like I lost love. It was a horrific period of time for everybody in the world and it just seemed like life was lost. So, I’m feeling all of these things and I’m walking down the street from having coffee. I see this little Medi-spa and it says, “ketamine treatments here.” I’m thinking, OK, ketamine sounds very familiar, but I didn’t quite remember what ketamine was. I did remember thinking it sounded like an illicit drug.
The first time I heard it my mind went to, is that what some people dip joints into? It’s not by the way.
Yeah, I was never big into trying much, but I looked it up and it said Special K and I remembered that as “a nightclub drug.” I’m thinking, what is this ketamine treatment at a Medi-spa? What could it possibly do for you? I did some research and found a doctor who had a ketamine treatment center, had a consultation with him, and he explained to me that ketamine treatments are being used to treat depression. I thought, I need this treatment because I’ve never felt this kind of depression before. So I get hooked up to this IV, it takes about an hour, and I went on one of the most incredible journeys that I could ever imagine. Slightly scary, because what ketamine does is, it takes you away from reality. At least for me, it made me believe that the world was actually digital. That everything and everybody was really digital and that we are all some kind of technological creation rather than a natural creation. Until you come back down off of it and you’re like, is the world real or not? Now that is quite a trip for a first time experience. I would’ve suspected I’d see people or animals, the pink elephant idea, but not one natural subject was in this trip that I took!
So after you completed the sessions, did you feel like it helped you deal with your depression or is it just in those moments?
I cannot tell you enough about the incredible benefits. Not only did it relieve me of any depression, but it also took away any anxiety, it took away anger from road rage or anything like that, and it just gave me all of the patience in the world. All of the sudden, I didn’t feel angry anymore. Not only did it get me out of depression, it got me out of an impatient anger that I’ve had for years and years. My life changed. It reset my brain.
That’s incredible. Since the phrase “better late than never” exists for a reason, how did trying mushrooms for the first time this year happen?
I’d been telling everyone my ketamine story and someone said, “It kind of sounds like you’re telling a story about psylocibin.” I was thinking, mushrooms do the same thing? They told me, “Well, kind of!” They suggested I try some to see how I felt after it. My friend gave me some mushrooms in chocolate, which I guess is the common way to microdose. I took some, didn’t feel much. Took a little more, still didn’t feel much. So I ate this whole chocolate bar and I’m like, OK, I’m starting to feel something here that is very similar to what I felt with ketamine. Not the same trip, but the body experience. My brain started relaxing and I thought, I’m going to take a little walk outside. The wind was blowing through the trees and it looked like slow motion. I looked up at the clouds in the sky, and the sky itself, and the sky was so blue and the flowers were brilliant. I was actually on a trip and I didn’t notice it because I didn’t overdo anything. I had that same euphoric feeling where now I didn’t care if someone said something mean to me or honked at me or a tree fell in front of me—everything seemed funny and interesting. It was a trip of beauty, peacefulness, and incredible tolerance for all of the problems that were in my life. It was amazing.
How did you feel afterwards?
There were no side effects! There was no “coming down” like you have with alcohol and hangovers. What I was thinking was, I’m liking these mushrooms and I’ve got to get some more. Someone told me about this little mushroom farmers market were people set up their stands and sell psilocybin. So, they bring me some and these are actual mushrooms. I had gotten myself to a dose where I thought, OK, this is where I want to be, but now I have real mushrooms. I’ll tell you what, it was a little bit stronger than the chocolate, but it was right where I wanted to be. It was a lot of fun. It took me back to where ketamine took me and I thought, wait. You can do this without having an IV?
Isn’t nature just the coolest?
It’s really good. It’s something that I’m so truly pleased that I found in my life and it was only because I told the ketamine story to others. This might be the key to us going back to being a productive society again. I really believe that. At 66 years old, I’m not doing it to get high. It’s fun and I’m enjoying the high, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I’m in a high stress situation and ketamine taught me something, and mushrooms are carrying me further.