There are more and more companies setting up psychedelic retreats for people to have a controlled experience in Jamaica, The Netherlands, Mexico, and other countries. There are more coming wherever psilocybin is already or will soon become legal in the U.S.—Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and California.
Jamaica and The Netherlands, where London’s The Psychedelic Society has been offering psilocybin-assisted retreats since 2016, are primary destinations because of their liberal laws around psychoactive substances.
But while some retreats seem to play up more of a sort of recreational side of psychedelics, as if it’s just a sort of summer camp for tripping at one of the most comfortable resorts in the world, the reality is that there are profound changes a person can experience if guided by a qualified psychedelics-trained psychotherapist in a carefully designed set and setting.
These retreats are not supposed to be joyrides through astral planes for the rich and famous, as some websites make them appear. And that has researchers concerned. Some researchers are afraid that, with the newfound popularity of psychedelics especially in American culture, the risks of ingesting them in a far-flung location with strangers who may or may not have been properly vetted are not fully understood.
Roland Griffiths, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, told the New York Times that’s a real concern to him. “I think we’re underestimating the risks involved,” he said. “The retreat center question is, buyer beware.”
Just a handful of companies understand the serious nature of the work that is to be done digging around inside a person’s mind before the retreat, during the retreat, and after the retreat. They are structured to use a careful balance of empathy, nurturing, and going on a journey of personal discovery that may be in equal parts mentally dangerous and physically wonderful.
One of those companies is Mind Foundation, a Berlin-based non-profit. A core tenet of the Mind Foundation is to “facilitate human societal advancement in the direction of a Bewusstseinskultur (a culture of consciousness).”
Such a culture fosters working towards an understanding of the relational aspects of the human species to its surroundings. “We want to create the social spaces and the supportive network to explore and cultivate potentially valuable states of consciousness together,” Patrick Wentorp, communications manager at the Mind foundation wrote in a blog about dealing with the human condition.
He makes the point that some people already know how to embrace a state of consciousness and that those people are experienced mentors who should help others help themselves in retreats. “They represent role models toward which others can orient themselves,” Wentorp wrote. “This empowers their mentees to cultivate valuable states with increasing responsibility.”
The crucial element to a successful retreat are about creating a perfect set and setting for the person or group who want that psychedelic experience. Set refers to the intentions, mood state, and expectations of the individual after taking a psychedelic, while setting refers to the context in which the experience happens, including all sensory modes (e.g., auditory, music; visual, tactile), and social environment (e.g., being alone or in a group, in nature or in a building, or in the presence of a leader).
Malin Uthaug, a researcher with the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, found that individual intentions and expectations of healing play a prominent role in ayahuasca retreat sessions. These goals are made explicit in group discussions prior to drinking ayahuasca and are directed after the experience during integrative group sessions.
In an interview for the Mind Foundation, Uthaug said these sorts of retreats have to emphasize the importance of connection and empathy because of what the psychedelic experience may uncover. “That is one of the things that I find highly relevant for people: to feel secure enough to face the hardship that they might have repressed. And that’s not easy. Not only do you have to make sure that the therapeutic support is prime; you also have to make sure that these people are ready to face what they need to go through.”
The whole process of properly conducting psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy is difficult because people generally experience some sort of a “mystical experience” that is sometimes hard to describe, and therefore, hard to plan for.
All of this inner exploration, uncovering positive but sometimes scary things about a person, is what the psychedelic retreat is supposed to do. It’s a sort of mental reset. A cleansing of the soul. And if you have the time and money, it can be a mental health journey disguised as a vacation in some of the sweetest vacation spots in the world.
There are dozens of psychedelic retreat centers, most in the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Jamaica, and most featuring working with psilocybin.
One of the first psilocybin retreat centers in the U.S. is the Sacred Heart Medicine Sanctuary based in Vancouver, Washington, and conducting psilocybin ceremonies for “spiritual connection.”
Denver-based Sacred House of Eden has three invite-only psilocybin-ready retreat packages: the 3 night private and semi-private for up to $30,000 per guest; the 2 or 3-night couple’s retreats for up to $25,000 a couple; and the 3-night group retreat for up to 25 people, at $4,000 per guest.
On the East Coast is Pachamama Sanctuary, an ayahuasca center, located in Southern New Hampshire, which was founded in 2019. Since its inception, its mission is to raise collective consciousness through the sacrament, Ayahuasca. Founder and Lead Pastor, Derek Januszewski oversees individual sanctuaries and is responsible for general oversight of the organization as a whole and oversight of safety guidelines and standards. At a reasonable $675 for three days and two nights, the guest accommodations are more spartan than some of the luxury resorts. That means shared dorms and foam memory mattresses.
Outside the U.S., the Buena Vida Psilocybin Retreats, based on a two-acre beachfront resort in Punta de Mita, Mexico (near Puerto Vallarta), offers 5 and 7 day retreats with different psilocybin ceremonies that promise such experiences of intense love and bliss; releasing suppressed emotions; deep, profound forgiveness of self and others; and revisiting beautiful memories.
The 5-day retreat is $5,500; the 7-day retreat is $7,500.
MycoMeditations is a psychedelic retreat experience in Jamaica that combines psilocybin sessions with private and group therapy. There are three retreat options, each with three doses of psilocybin distributed over the 8-day retreat held in group settings of no more than 12 people: the Classic Retreat, in a guesthouse of the Jamaican private cove, Treasure Beach, for $5,500 each; Comfort Retreat, at the Blue Marlin villa on the Great Bay, for $8,000 each; and the Comfort Retreat in Billy’s Bay, Treasure Beach, for $8,000 each. (MycoMeditations has worked in collaborations with the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, sharing results of guests feedback.)
The Essence Institute in The Netherlands offers group retreats for 12-18 people for up to $1,700 each, and uses psilocybin truffles for participants to “experience a profound sense of unity and interconnectedness, gaining more self-awareness and breakthrough results.” Most of their 14, 2-day retreats for 2022 are already sold out.
But if you want to get away for a few days and actually get paid to experience a psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy session, monitored by a researcher, there are other, much less exotic and much more science-based psilocybin retreats, aka study groups, that aren’t modeled like all-inclusive luxury vacations.
For instance, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is always working with groups of volunteer participants in their psychedelics work “to develop new treatments for a wider variety of psychiatric and behavioral disorders with the aspiration of treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients,” and “expand research in healthy volunteers with the ultimate aspiration of opening new ways to support human thriving.”
It’s more of a “greater good” retreat aspiration. But either way—luxury retreat or study group—builds on what is known about psychedelics and the human condition. And that is, after all, what we all want to experience.