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experience psychedelic psilocybin retreats around the world

Welcome to PSYJuly Day 19 🙂 

Today’s post comes from Mark Haberstroh. I first met Mark in 2017 during my first experience of working at a legal psilocybin retreat in late 2017, and its very interesting to have read this post and hear his experiences at other retreats since then. Also interesting that we both later went on to work with the same retreat in 2019, his fourth center in this post, based in the Netherlands. With pleasure, over to Mark…

Working at Legal Psychedelic Retreats Around The World

When I was 27 I discovered a new purpose in my life. I had been getting obsessed with mushrooms and their potential for healing the planet as well as our own minds and bodies. Holding space for myself, and eventually friends, I found a new purpose in life.

This is a path of work I am now devoting myself to. Oftentimes vulnerable people are coming to these spaces and being made more vulnerable by the medicine in an effort to heal or overcome trauma. Sometimes this can be someone’s last ditch effort at overcoming a deep depression or addiction. It is important to be present with people. To be there with them as they integrate whatever material comes up during a journey. To guide and to hold space for them as they learn to heal themselves.

By the fall of 2017, I had been working with entheogenic mushrooms for a couple of years with little guidance. Reaching a point where I felt a bit out of my depth and desiring experienced facilitators to be with me as I took my first large dose journeys, I googled legal magic mushroom retreat centers. At the time there was only one search result that came up. It was an incredibly positive experience for myself and many of those around me.  This is where I first met John, the creator of this blog, and we have been in correspondence ever since. Not only were my mushroom experiences profound and beneficial, some of which I am still processing to this day, but so were the connections that I made there. I hit it off with the retreat center’s founder and he invited me back to help facilitate a future retreat. This is how I began working with as many legal retreats as I could, knowing that each space has its own unique leadership and style that I could learn from.

I worked at 4 different centers which utilised psilocybin over the course of 2018 and 2019. In this post I will share a bit about each one.

Retreat 1 – Jamaica, 2018

I came to the first retreat center in Jamaica in early 2018. This first retreat was rather austere: there was little to no music, and there was not much guidance during the journeys. This was a 10 day retreat with mushroom experiences every other day. The ceremony was in a beautiful yard of a local Jamaican family, a short walk from the ocean. There was a fair amount of preparation before the journeys and plenty of on-site integration. The preparation was general psychedelic information around what could be expected and what the group journey would be like. The integration came in the form of group sharing circles.

The after care once everyone left the space was lacking. I would find this to be a theme among all of the places I have worked. There was some miraculous healing and community bonding that occurred over a short span of time. Mushrooms are excellent for building community and even speeding up the process. This was evident at all of the retreat centers that I have visited. With the journey being unique to every individual, participants on these retreats never run out of conversation material. One young man came because he suffered from a severe case of cluster headaches. Four cluster headaches a week for four year. I have kept up with him and he has not had one since this retreat.

After returning to this first retreat center, I realized there was much I did not agree with in how the space was being held, the leadership, adequate after-care, and the safety precautions being taken. Perhaps I was a bit paranoid or overcautious as this retreat is still going strong and becoming one of the better-known spaces in the field. My personal opinions and disagreements on the ways in which things were being run became a common thread for me over the next couple years of adventuring and holding space at different retreat centers around the world.

Retreat 2 – Mexico, 2019

The second center was located in Mexico near Tulum. I visited in February of 2019 and they took a more ceremonial approach. The leaders had volunteered at ayahuasca retreats and wanted to mirror that model with mushrooms. It was a ten day retreat with mushroom ceremonies every other day. The setting was a beautiful compound/resort located within the jungles near to the city. They hired a “shaman” to sing for the duration of the journeys and did their best to hold a closed container. Every one of the participants got a lot out of their journeys. The journeys occurred every other day. On the days in between there were excursions to the beach or to see the local ruins. Many of the participants I have kept up with have returned multiple times with great satisfaction from each of the retreats. The women running this retreat are very capable and wonderful people. I am always happy to see anything being run by non-white men in this space as we are currently dominating the field.

Retreat 3 – Jamaica, 2019

The third retreat I worked for in April of 2019, located in Jamaica as well, allowed me to use the model of my choosing. We took a more therapeutic approach. With more resources at the ready we were able to offer a two on one experience. Though this raised the cost quite a bit, we were able to have a male and a female sit for each participant as they took a large dose journey. Having this much freedom I was able to test the waters of an approach I had done a lot of reading about.

I had a mentor who had shown and taught about this model.

It was a week-long retreat with one large, 5 gram, journey in the middle. This is the ideal method for deep trauma and therapeutic work. There is a tremendous amount of benefit to using these medicines in groups, but it is a very different experience when alone. Especially when working with a guide with whom you have had time to get to know one another. The setting here was in a room on a permaculture farm overlooking the ocean. The participants laid on a bed wearing eye shades and listening to a playlist through headphones.

Retreat 4 – The Netherlands, 2019

The most recent retreat center that I worked for used a more therapeutic model in a group setting. They were located in the Netherlands and I worked over a few months in the summer of 2019. This center is the one that resonated the most with me.

Retreats varied between three, seven, and ten days. People were educated about the experience upon arrival and took a dose every other day during their stay. Integration took place in small groups, large group sharing circles, and nature walks. The journeys were rather large doses and progressively higher as the week went on. This method allows people to grow more accustomed to the effects over their stay, allowing more ease when going inward and familiarity with the territory. The setting was indoors, with every individual laying on their own mat. Guests were provided with eye shades and blankets to promote a more inward journey. A calming non-evocative playlist was played over speakers in the room. There were spaces set up outside of this room for those who wanted some alone time, as well as the ability to go outdoors for a walk.

Long-Term Integration and Aftercare

Many centers in operation are run by wonderful, kind-hearted people who bring unique approaches to their holding spaces. One of the more glaring drawbacks to all these spaces is the lack of long-term integration and after care. Many of them rely heavily on WhatsApp groups. It allows the groups to integrate with each other but inevitably some individuals who are less socially inclined fall through the cracks. Integration is a buzzword these days and has many different meanings. Essentially it is readjustment back into everyday life. Taking what has been learned from the journey and bringing it into our daily walk.

Choosing a Retreat Center

My approach may not be the best fit for everyone, but it is important to understand the space these journeys take place in. I would like to encourage people who are exploring the retreat model to do their own research. Investigate each space thoroughly. Some of these centers are more focused on being profitable rather than the individuals that are coming. Get to know the staff and the facilitators who will be present. What model are you looking for? What models are being offered? What is your price point? Enquire about what kind of integration work they offer. What does their aftercare program look like? This is where the bulk of the work lies. The work can be broken up into three parts. 10% preparation, 15% journey, and 75% integrating the lessons learned afterwards. Of course, these numbers are flexible. It does shift a bit from journey to journey.

Final Thoughts

Working in these various capacities has highlighted my own need to further my education around therapy, therapeutic practices, trauma training and becoming more trauma informed. All of this is a part of my personal pursuit to help individuals maximize the benefits from a single session. I say this to share a bit of my story. In general, I think that if people have a safe space to try entheogenic mushrooms they will benefit. Everyone who participated in one of these retreats felt they had gained something from the experience. My purpose is to help someone maximise the benefit of a single journey and to maintain a high standard of integrity. Reminding individuals that they are whole. I do not know what anyone needs, they do. Redirecting people back to the inner healer within themselves.

This is a taste of some of the insights I have picked up over the last few years working in this field. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunities and experiences I have had so far, but I am always learning and fine tuning my craft. Feedback is very welcome. If you have any deeper inquiries, questions, or your own personal insights you feel called to share with me, please contact me at  ourcelium.mark@gmail.com and @our.celium on Instagram.

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About Mark

Mark Haberstroh, an entrepreneur, has been working with mushrooms of all varieties since early 2016. In 2017 he started his first gourmet and edible mushroom farm in Alabama and has since begun 2 more in Oregon and California. In 2018 Mark began to travel abroad to legally offer psilocybin to individuals interested in the experience. This has been his true passion since he began to work with this medicine on himself as a teenager. Currently waiting for the legal climate in the U.S. to change, Mark is taking a break from work with entheogenic mushrooms to focus on his education. He is a student at the School of Consciousness Medicine out of Berkeley, California.

2019, three quarters through and so far, what a year. This blog has been quiet, falling behind my average snail’s pace of one post a month, but I have good excuses. My year has been jam packed with a healthy blend of projects along with the usual and ongoing quest to simultaneously find and create myself in an ever changing world.

I’ll get to some of the other stuff in other posts as I take stock to digest and process in this final quarter but today I’m writing about the entity that has by far and away received the most of my time, energy and focus this year:
New Moon Psychedelic Retreats.

new moon psychedelic retreat

New Moon Retreats is the culmination of my journey over the last decade; a psychedelic retreat integrating meditation and mindfulness practices. 

My first psychedelic experiences, almost a decade ago, made me more creative and curious, and encouraged me to adventure and explore the world. They also kickstarted my meditation practice. Because of how much I felt I’d benefitted, I was inspired to create this blog in an effort, amongst other things, to share information and make the experience more accessible to others.

I see New Moon as a natural extension of what I aimed to do with Maps Of The Mind; making psychedelic experiences accessible, but more than by means of information: by directly offering physical spaces and in person guidance. 

Finding My Way

Two years ago I had an experience that was itself a culmination of my journey to that point – a fruit of my travels inner and outer, readings and writings, studies and practices; a peak experience that I felt profoundly grateful to have had. It gave my path a new direction and clearer purpose, and a vision crystallised.

That vision was a centre where people can go to learn meditation and have deep psychedelic experiences. A place where anyone can go and have the opportunity to dive deep within, to develop understanding of themselves and others. Not everyone has access (yet), but creating New Moon Retreats has been a significant step towards that vision.

The venue we host New Moon Retreats

With direction and fresh inspiration, I committed more fully to my path and began going to trainings, workshops and conferences. I began to facilitate privately in the therapeutic model of using headphones and eyeshades, and was fortunate enough to spend time and work on retreat with Myco Meditations in Jamaica, where I learnt a tremendous amount about psilocybin mushrooms and group retreats. After moving to Berlin, I completed a mindfulness coaching course and began a meditation meet up. Through it all, my personal practice has remained fundamental, and I’ve continued to write about my learnings to consolidate them, journal my thoughts to reflect on them, and continued to make an effort to develop and evolve my personal meditation practice.

Finding The Others

psychedelic psilocybin retreat

On my way I met the others who currently make up the rest of New Moon. During my year travelling through Latin America – when I documented my explorations with ayahusaca in the amazon, San Pedro in Peru, peyote and DMT in the Mexican desert, and mushrooms in the mountains of Oaxaca – I met Tuk whilst staying at a hostel Buenos Aires. He was in the continent to explore psychedelics too and our shared interest provided fertile ground for a budding friendship. After exploring the capital together we reconnected in Peru and remained in touch after our American travels.

Whilst visiting Tuk in Copenhagen, I met his mother Ulla at the Psychedelic Symposium, and then a couple months later volunteered alongside Maria at Altered Conference in Berlin. A year later, whilst at Beyond Psychedelics, I decided to move to Berlin, where, finding myself two weeks later, I reconnected with Maria and together we began to organise psychedelic integration events at her studio. When the seeds for New Moon began sprouting, the team was already connected.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls”
Joseph Campbell

What Is Different About The Retreats?

Meditation
Our retreats place the psilocybin sessions amidst meditation and mindfulness practice because I understand this to be the perfect container for deep and rewarding psychedelic sessions. I haven’t seen meditation as an integral part of the program on other psychedelic retreats and is something I wanted to offer. Our program includes an accessible course of meditation practice with guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.

Small groups & high ratio of facilitators to participants
We have 4 facilitators for each group of 8 participants. This is so that we can give each person due attention and care, allows us time for one to ones with everyone, and aims to enable a deeper level of connection and intimacy with each group.

Option of 1 or 2 psilocybin sessions
We currently have two retreat formats: a 3 night and a 5 night. The 3 night format is with one psilocybin session and the 5 night format is with two. The five night is for people who want to explore psilocybin more deeply and includes further integration activities and awareness practices. Having multiple sessions on a retreat is something I felt was excellent about Myco Meditations as it allows people to go deeper.

A New Moon Dawns

new moon psychedelic retreats

The garden at the retreat venue

On the New Moon of the 1st August, we commenced our first retreat, and over the next 11 days guided 11 participants through two retreats: a 4 day with 1 psilocybin session, and a 6 day with 2. We had two groups of people who came with honest and earnest intentions to learn and grow, and we were fortunate that everyone who came was understanding and accommodating in that it was our first retreats.

Working with people so intimately over these 11 days was humbling, heart opening, inspiring, and ultimately, meaningful. Spending time in a small community in nature surrounded by people who are making an honest effort to work on themselves, in an environment where everyone is encouraged to open up and share themselves, was hugely enriching.

Reviewing The First Retreats

So how did the retreats go? Overall, I’d say they went as well as we could’ve hoped for. Though I don’t believe psychedelics are a panacea or cure all, they certainly can facilitate potent and powerful experiences capable of triggering significant shifts. And our participants did have powerful experiences. From their end, the feedback we have received has been good and of the 8 people who’ve completed our anonymous feedback form, all have given us a final 5/5. That is something I wish to maintain.

psilocybin psychedelic truffles

Psychedelic truffles used on the retreats

Our initial aim was to do 2 retreats this year as pilots and then to assess if we’re doing a good thing and should continue. The first wave of feedback has been enough to affirm this and has supported my belief that this is the most impactful way I can have a positive influence on a world on which I feel significant and drastic change is needed.

Though the retreats have given me confidence and courage to go on creating these spaces and offering this experience, I feel now more than ever the importance of developing as a facilitator, a leader, and a person. The feeling has only become more certain and one of my favourite adages, that ‘there is always room for improvement’, remains as true as ever. In a new field that is directly involved with people’s mental wellbeing but that has no cultural container or tradition in the West, I feel a growing sense of responsibility and the requirement to live with integrity and be accountable for my actions. I realise too that the people I want to work and surround myself with are also those who won’t rest on their laurels or get caught up patting themselves on the back, but who seek continued growth.

Moving Forward

With the encouragement from our first groups, New Moon will move forward and we have booked our next retreat for the end of November. Moving on, I would like to develop the mindfulness part of the program and, after being inspired by seeing Vanja Palmers talk recently, feel more drive than ever to make it happen. I have some exciting ideas to integrate these schools and look forward to implementing them.

community hands group

The integration, follow up and aftercare is also an area I would like to develop. Specifically, I’d like a focus on community, empowering people to find and create communities where they can find support and accountability on their path. I’d also like to introduce aspects of habit formation psychology that I’ve found hugely beneficial, and some means of loosening the grip of digital addiction, something I want to continue working on myself and which I honestly see as a major epidemic contributing to much of the mental health problems in the world today.

As for a longer term vision, we would ultimately like to make the experience more financially accessible. As I’ve mentioned before, something like vipassana system where anyone can go for free and make an optional and anonymous donation at the end would be ideal. That is something we can only do once we are financially stable, but in the shorter term, having a free spot per retreat or a donation based retreat a year might be a good stepping stone.

Much to do and plenty to be getting on with then. But, one thing at a time, and as we go, let’s try to enjoy the ride.

sunrise mountains

Thanks for reading and hope to see you on retreat soon.

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

At the end of last year I went to Jamaica to work at a psychedelic specialists psilocybin mushroom retreat. In case you’re wondering if you read that right, I’ll repeat. Psychedelic specialists. Magic mushroom retreat. In Jamaica. Yes, I know. My life sucks.

jamaica myco meditations treasure beach

Put on by Myco Meditations, the 10-day retreat was on the south coast of the island and had plenty going on outside of the 4 psilocybin sessions – there were group activities like art integration and guided meditations, presentations on psilocybin and session prep, and optional day trips to local areas. Comedian Shane Mauss did some of his ‘A Good Trip’ standup on psychedelics and a talk on DMT, and psilocybin researcher Katherine Maclean gave talks and acted as a facilitator for the sessions. Frankly speaking it was as awesome as it sounds and definitely a highlight of a what was personally an unpredictable roller coaster of a year.

myco meditations jamaica psilocybin retreat

shane mauss poi lights trippy psychedelic

How Did I End Up There?

A question I asked myself a few times. The short answer: by following my passions. The longer version is that I came across Myco Meditations online some time last year and after a brief email exchange with founder Eric Osborne we set up a skype call. Over the next couple of months we continued to connect and the next thing I know I’m booking a flight to Jamaica to film at the event.

eric myco meditations mycomeditations jamaica shrooms

Eric – a man who is happy whenever around mushrooms

Filming & Integration

I was there primarily to film some videos for the MycoMeds website and youtube and the filming interestingly merged into psychedelic integration, an emerging field I’m becoming increasingly interested in and one I think will develop rapidly in the coming years.

I sat down and did interviews with those on the retreat, asking them about their experience of it – the group dynamic, the facilitators, Jamaica – and more specifically their experiences during the psilocybin sessions. Doing these interviews was rewarding in itself and as people opened up I was reminded how important and powerful this work is. It really got me, and during one interview as someone talked to me about family troubles and how they’d come up in one of his high dose sessions, I was struck deeply with compassion. People were gaining new perspectives and the ability to see things in a more positive light. Good to know the mushies were working their magic.

jamaica beach landscape

The interviews gave me ideas for a type of video integration – where people can speak about their experiences and have the videos to help reconnect them to their experience and their new perspective, and continue to work with the insights they’ve gained. If you have any further ideas on how this might be developed, contact me.

Sitting

As well as filming I was also a sitter/facilitator for half of the sessions. Being entrusted in this role to be there for people during their psychedelic experiences is an absolute honour and privilege. Truly humbling. There is a lot to get into here and too much for this post so I’ll just say that sitting really is a skill and something which I learn more about with each experience – this was no different and I learned things which will inform my approach next time. Until then, my basic advice as a sitter to a tripper would be: if you encounter difficult emotions, relax, go towards and into them, and explore them with curiosity.

Let your guard down and walk naked into the fire.
(Metaphorically speaking. Please don’t actually walk into a fire.)

The Importance Of Vulnerability

The retreat made me realise that this willingness to vulnerability isn’t just important in the psychedelic experience – it’s important as a part of life. The group on this retreat bonded as the week progressed and conversations became deeper as we started opening up to each other more and more. I was reminded, yet again, that we’re all human and all have our troubles and struggles in life. Something that’s surprisingly easy to forget.

This is something that should be acknowledged because ignoring problems is never a good long term game plan. Whilst I don’t think it’s healthy to focus too heavily on problems – of course we should take time to count our blessings and enjoy life as it is – I do believe that the areas of our life we struggle with should be looked at honestly and strategically. If problems are left without inspection they may grow into a beast that is hard to even look at, let alone begin to decide how to take down. Naturally, looking at our problems isn’t comfortable, sharing them with others less so, and that’s exactly why it takes courage to be vulnerable. It seems natural to think of vulnerability as a weakness but the truth is the opposite. The ability to be vulnerable is a strength.

deep conversation mycomeditations jamaica

Having a group setting where you can sincerely share your problems is powerful. Talking about your problems or fears can give you the chance to say out loud things that have never been truly acknowledged. This can lead to a new understanding of your own feelings and opinions on things. Having someone patiently and sympathetically listen to you reinforces that its OK and normal to have problems and that we don’t need to hide from them. Once they are acknowledged then we can start to formulate a plan to tackle them. By talking with others we can receive support and advice on how to do this. If it is something out of our control, we can begin to learn acceptance.

The other side – hearing other people’s problems – is also helpful. We usually get so caught up in our own worlds that it’s easy to forget that everyone else is fighting their own battles too. But when someone is sat in front of you telling you they struggle with a difficult relationship, social anxiety, depression, direction in life, or whatever it is – you can’t ignore it. It shatters the facade of the world that deceives us through advertising – that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time – and hearing it directly from someone else gives you a very real reminder that you’re certainly not alone in your struggles. This can be empowering; a shared burden feels lighter and you can share with each other things that have helped you.

The Necessity Of Retreats

Most people don’t really take the time to properly reassess their position and direction. Too busy distracted. Or trying to earn or spend more money. Because apparently that’ll make us happy. But we know that really this isn’t true and instead of chasing the next hit of fleeting pleasure we should just stop for a second (or a week, or a month). We should take the time to see where we are and where we’re going, otherwise we’ll unwittingly end up somewhere we never wanted to be – ‘somewhere’ being the type of person we are and the life we’re living.

reflection retreat jamaica

Retreats by their nature offer us that opportunity to stop, reflect, have those important conversations, and realign ourselves. They give us the distance from our normal lives that is needed to get some perspective, and after we can go back into the world with our priorities in order. Combine this with psychedelics and a deeper mental reset and you have a powerful combo. But even without psychedelics I think that making time for this type of self-assessment is important. This is my way of saying; take time for yourself where you can really look at your life without distractions. Find your own retreat or ‘workation’, however it might take shape, where the work isn’t job-related but is work on yourself. Then take an actual break after, because if you’ve been working hard, you’ll need it!

Final Trip, 7.5g

Back to Jamaica, I figure I’ll finish where we did – the fourth and final trip. After facilitating for the second and third, I took part in this session as a tripper. The first three were in the evening but the final trip was to start in the afternoon so that there could be an outside and daylight option for those that wanted it. As well as the outdoor which would be a more sociable setting, there was an indoor option for those who wanted to do more internal personal work. I went for the indoor.

There was around 7 of us in the room, most people with doses of at least 5g, some going up to 9. We all lay down on and mats and music was played through a speaker. I can’t really comment on the music as I opted for headphones and put on a playlist by Mendel Kaelen – a psychedelic neuroscientist whose job it is to select music for people on psilocybin. I figured it should be fairly appropriate.

psilocybin capsules magic shrooms

I was allowed to choose my own dose and went for 7.5 grams. I know that might sound like a lot but I have a really high tolerance to psilocybin and I’d guess that 7.5g for me is probably what 3g would be for the average person. After knocking back the capsules I went for the classic therapeutic procedure –  sleep mask and headphones – and tried to relax myself as much as possible.

About 2 hours in the vivid sight of a family member on their deathbed came to me. I could see them so clearly that I could see the lines on their face. I felt sadness and fear at their imminent passing and started to cry. I tried to cry quietly to not disturb the others in the room, but at the same time to let it go. As I cried, I felt a hand softly rubbing me on my back. It was one of the facilitators, their touch told me “It’s ok for you to feel that sadness, it’s OK for you to cry. You are OK here”. After probably 10, 15 (?) minutes the sadness and accompanying tears eased up. I dried my eyes, blew my nose, and lay waiting to see if there was more to come. After a short time I could feel there was no more – the chapter had ended and the sadness had passed. And I kinda needed a pee.

I got up and went to the bathroom. I still had the Kaelen playlist playing in my ears but the purging was done and I was in a different space – I had a real urge to listen to some dirty riffs and big ass pumping rock tunes. Time to go off playlist. I grabbed a lighter from the kitchen and then went out on to the back balcony where I remembered there was a half a joint that had been hanging out there for a couple of days. I didn’t realise it before but I knew it now: that joint was waiting for me. I pulled up a seat to get a view of the lush green landscape and interrupted a soft and soothing tune for some Japandroids – crunching garage punk rock with anthemic choruses. Cranking the volume as the intro began, I lit up that joint.

smoke

Ah man. Glorious. The sweet ganja washed over me with a warm fuzz that somehow fused with the gnarled distortion on the guitars, and in a crazy life-affirming haze of noise, I felt fucking great. I heard the detail of the tone on those guitars like I haven’t heard in a long time and I closed my eyes tight, feverishly bumping my head to a beat that was pumping me up with a fresh lust for life, simultaneously satisfying and whetting my appetite for adventure and exploration. Wild, ecstatic, euphoric. It was reminiscent of my first ever trips and again reminded me that all life is an adventure, the message echoed by the chorus flying through my headphones…

“It ain’t shit, it’s just kicks… And like the world I’m going on and on and on.”

Now I know that might sound like some cheap adolescent wisdom but it’s a message that is much needed when life starts to seem heavy and a little too serious – ultimately life is nothing, it’s just kicks… pressure’s off, don’t sweat it too much, go explore and have fun.

Message received, I jammed out to another stone-cold rocker on the balcony as the rest of the group did a final meditation inside. The closing of the meditation signalled the end of the formal session, and we headed for the beach to meet up with the outdoor group.

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

We arrived at the beach to find the others already there, some in the sea, some exploring the nearby terrain. I found a spot to lie on the sand and got comfortable. “Inspiration and beauty for the next half hour!” Eric said announcing the immediate schedule. As I looked out to the colours starting to appear over the horizon, I had to agree. I lay there smiling to myself until Kristjan, an Estonian retreater with a brilliant accent that I’d come to love over the course of the retreat, appeared from behind a mound of sand. He wandered over with a characteristic smile and typically perfectly rolled joint in hand. Holding it up, he asked “Wanna try some of this sweet hash?”

As advertised, it was sweet. As was pretty much everything else about that evening on the beach. I caught up with the others about their journeys as we bobbed on the waves, and shared joints over conversations about dreams and the world. After the sun had set we made it back inland for dinner where Shane let our table in on some more of his crazy brilliant ideas. Engaging and heartfelt conversation over dinner with good people, before stepping out to gaze up at the full moon. What else can I say? It was the perfect end to the retreat.

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.

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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.