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jamaica beach myco meditations

You’ve heard me say it before: psychedelics have incredible potential. The caveat I should’ve added is that the context of the experience plays a huge role. If you look at the studies that boast the impressive results that are making headlines then you’ll find a steady theme – a controlled setting, a safe and supportive environment, and at least one carer on hand.

John Hopkins Psilocybin Study

Research setting for a study into the effects of psilocybin to treat depression and acute anxiety in cancer patients. John Hopkins University.

Because of the illegal and stigmatized status of psychedelic substances, finding a setting conducive to the most deeply moving experiences isn’t that easy. There is an option in Jamaica though, where magic mushrooms are still legal: Myco Meditations.

Myco Meditations

myco meditations psilocybin retreats logo

Myco Meditations was started by Eric Osborne, an ethnomycologist (mushroom geek) who was arrested and sent to jail in 2015 for holding mushroom ceremonies in the US (read his story here). Eric now runs beach side retreats every month – legally – in Jamaica. I skyped with him to find out more about Myco Meditations.

“I’ve seen the enormous benefit of psilocybin on others and experienced it for myself” Eric says when I ask him why he set up MycoMeds. “It’s commonly held that only a small percentage of the population would benefit from psychedelic experience, but I actually believe it’s a small percentage that wouldn’t benefit.” I’d have to agree with Eric here. And he’s seen that benefit in quite a few people, having dosed over 300 visitors since setting up in the Caribbean, with visitors from their early 20s all the way into their 70s. He believes that by facilitating these experiences in a legal setting, people’s stories can be public and therefore help to raise awareness of the safety and efficacy of psilocybin. But if you go, don’t expect him to just be handing out the shrooms.

myco meditations retreat group

A retreat group in Jamaica

“This isn’t something people should be doing willy nilly” he says, “psychedelics aren’t risk free, so experiences are approached with the utmost caution.” It’s clear that Eric has a deep respect for these experiences and accordingly an integral part of the retreats is the surrounding atmosphere: supportive conversations, preparation and aftercare. The care extends to the mushrooms and dosages too.

After they’ve been collected on the island, mushrooms are dried and ground before being put into capsules – each one containing 0.5g. “This method allows for consistency and for us to effectively target the desired dose” Eric says. The doses generally start low and graduate up over the sessions, taking into account the person’s experience with psychedelics, their increased tolerance over successive sessions, and their stability and level of comfort within the experience. It also depends on what the person is after. Eric makes clear that there’s no fixed pattern to the dosages and each course is tailored to the individual – “it’s based on consultation and open dialogue”.

I have to say I like the sound of this approach. My main hesitation with retreats is the inability to choose your own dose – most retreats I’ve come across will have a set amount they’ll give you and there’s not much discussion on if this can be altered – you can drink a cup full then maybe a bit more, or it’s a loaded bowl in a pipe. It’s not exactly like the carefully measured doses you’d find in a research setting. I think this more scientific approach is the way forward, it seems the best way to avoid both the risk of an experience stronger than someone is ready for, or the disappointment of an underwhelming experience.

jamaica beach myco meditations

How does psilocybin increase sense of wellbeing? “A word that we’ve kept coming back to here recently is authenticity” Eric says. He believes that by connecting to our authentic self we can alleviate ourselves of the conditions causing our suffering. And the suffering is real for a lot of those who’ve been on retreat there, with around 90% of participants wanting to work through some trauma or emotional state; people suffering from PTSD, addiction, and depression, including several stage 4 cancer patients. “They can come to a level of comfort with their diagnosis” Eric says. “These are people who have given up on life, and I see them reinvigorated, coming back to life with enthusiasm”.

The work with victims of cancer is something Eric is developing with his non-profit organisation PLEDG (Psychedelic Liberation Education Discipline and Guidance) whose focus is to bring therapies to people in need and to contribute to research and advocacy. His hope is that through the organisation they will be able to raise money to sponsor low income victims of cancer and make their journey to Jamaica and the mushroom therapy 100% free.

pledg psychedelic libersation education discipline guidance

Visit pledg.org for more info

Until then, retreats are paid but expanding. At the end of November is a psychedelic specialists retreat and mini-conference. The event will feature comedian Shane Mauss, who recently finished a stand up tour based around psychedelics, and psychedelic scientist Katherine Maclean, who worked as one of the lead scientists on the psilocybin research at Johns Hopkins university. I love the idea behind combining psychedelic experience with education and entertainment and I hope that this type of event is something that we’ll see more of in the future, if we ever get those much needed revisions on drug policy.

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Have you ever been on a retreat with Myco Meditations? Please share your experience in the comments below.

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

On a recent mild weekend in Denmark I went to a psychedelic conference in the country’s coastal capital. Held in a sleek and modern building on the city’s metropolitan university campus, it turned out to be a hugely impressive event. Something that struck me early on was how well organised everything was – I guess a part of me was expecting stoned hippies in tie-dye shirts to be running the thing. Though I’m sure that would’ve been fun in its own way, that was absolutely not the case. It was an excellently organised and professional event put on by the psychedelic society of Denmark: clearly a smart and competent group of individuals that understand the value of these stigmatized substances.

psychedelics conference denmark merchandise stand

The atmosphere around the building and in the main hall was of an almost tangible positivity and you could tell everyone was excited to be there. It was awesome to connect with others who share an interest in psychedelics and being around so many like-minded people made me feel that I’m part of something much bigger. A pretty good feeling.

lsd magic mushrooms mescaline dmt flyers

There were workshops on tripsitting and integration on the Friday and the main conference was held over the weekend with two full days of presentations on subjects ranging from neuroscience to psychotherapy to social ecology.

Serious Work Is Being Done

There was a moment I enjoyed on the second morning when an older lady asked me if I was a scientist. I smiled and said “well, I do conduct experiments.” It turns out I’m not the only one. There are like, actual scientists doing (slightly more rigorous) experiments and clinical trials with these substances and writing papers and PHDs on them. And there are a lot of them.

psychedelic plants presentation

Pharmacologist Jordi Riba

Nearly all of the presentations were done by scientists and researchers from  a diverse range of fields and while the research into how psychedelics can be used to treat mental illness is currently getting the most attention, there is plenty more going on. I enjoyed one talk about how the type of hallucinogen present in a culture might influence its prevailing religious beliefs – especially thought-provoking when we consider today’s most popular drugs. There was another interesting one in which pharmacologist Jordi Riba presented his findings that suggest the alkaloids of the plant source of ayahuasca stimulate adult neurogenesis. I should mention that he did also note that aerobic exercise also does this, so if you fancy growing your brain and aren’t quite up for a massive psychedelic trip in the jungle, you can just go for a run. Slightly less intimidating.

Science Is Leading The Movement

Today science is a door to credibility. Open any statement with ‘well, studies have shown that…’ and you’re guaranteed to have your point considered more seriously. As psychedelics gain more attention its clear that many leaders within the movement know this. They don’t want to see mistakes made in the 60’s made again and are very conscious of public perception. Hence the amount of scientists and academics giving presentations. In a panel debate at the end of the first day, neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris used the word ‘hippies’ more than once and its clear that he doesn’t want to be labelled one. He wants the respect that comes with science and he’s not alone in wanting that respect to be extended to psychedelics.

Robin Carhart-Harris psychedelic brain presentation

Robin Carhart-Harris

I do think there should be room for non-science based discussion too though. On looking through the program ahead of the first day I saw a presentation with an intriguing title – ‘Psychedelic Pleasures: An effective understanding of the joys of tripping’. I read it to my friend and he smiled. “That’s more like it. All this science can miss the point.” The talk turned out to be steeped in science and methodology and disappointingly, not very fun at all.

Whilst all the scientific research is important to the wider perception of psychedelics, I think it’s important to remember that technical understanding has its limits. Sure, science has granted us incredible advancements in medicine and technology, but alone it doesn’t have all the answers. Technology has isolated people, globalisation has fragmented communities, and if we look at where all this technical, rational understanding has landed us today we see a world with increasing rates of mental illness in the midst of an ecological crisis. I think we can go a little too heavy on the science at times and there should be room for other types of understanding too.

Small Event In A Big Year

2017 has been a big year for the psychedelic movement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designating MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD in August, and much larger conferences like Psychedelic Science, Breaking Convention, and The International Transpersonal Conference taking place in California, London and Prague. Whilst the gathering in Copenhagen was a modest affair compared to those events, it still gave me a sense of how big the movement is and how fast its growing.

psychedelic presentation meditation

I appreciated the relatively small size as it meant that I had the opportunity to talk with some of those presenting. It was interesting to hear neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen (who you may be familiar with from this VICE article) talk about how he considers ‘hope’ to be a crucial aspect of music in a session, and speaking to Jordi Riba, I found out why I can drink cup after cup of ayahuasca without any real effect (turns out I’m not a beast of resistance, it’s more likely that my body just metabolizes certain enzymes very quickly). Whilst it’s possible to find out almost anything online, nothing replaces those in person connections.

Overall the conference was equal parts enjoyable and eye-opening and the cornerstone of an inspiring week in Copenhagen. I think I might make this an annual trip. See you at the next one.

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If you enjoyed this you might also wanna check out:
7 Remarkable Things I Learned At Psychedelic Science 2017 – by Aaron at Freedom & Fulfilment