Why wellness retreats are adding psychedelics to their offering
Once a taboo subject, the wellness world has seen a sharp increase in conversations surrounding the use of drugs and natural psychedelics, such as ketamine and psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms), as a tool for depression, relaxation, mental health, and more.
When Amazon Prime released Nine Perfect Strangers, an adaption of Liane Moriarty’s best-selling book of the same name, in 2021, it opened a Pandora’s Box of conversation surrounding the impact of drugs when used safely and as part of a bigger wellness programme.
Now, consumers can do a simple Google search and be met with dozens of retreats in locations like Amsterdam, Jamaica, Thailand, and Costa Rica, with “ceremonies” scheduled in alongside yoga classes, breathwork sessions, and more, but are there real benefits from this new wave of wellness?
The magic of the mushroom
North African and European cave paintings from 9,000 BC indicate possible early use of magic mushrooms, which, according to Talk to Frank, can lead to euphoric, energised, excited feelings, as well as a risk of paranoia, anxiety, and panic.
However, recent studies have highlighted possible medical benefits for those who ingest the substance, with potential benefits including long-term relief for depression and anxiety, alcohol addiction, other psychiatric disorders, and more.
This year, Australia became the first country to legalise the use of psychedelics to treat mental health conditions, with MDMA now available to prescribe for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, and magic mushrooms for depression that has resisted other treatments. Israel, Canada, and the US also have clinical trials underway.
“Our retreats are aimed towards people who have been struggling with mental or behavioural health diagnosis, major life changes, and those who are in need of an interpersonal change,” explains Josh Wilson, Silo Wellness Psilocybin Retreat’s customer success manager.
Silo Wellness, which was founded in 2020 by Mike Arnold, offers its guests a four-night, five-day stay in Jamaica starting from £3,069.30 per person, complete with two psilocybin-based sessions on days two and four.
“We chose to use psilocybin due to its ease of use, multisensory experience, and the minimal negative responses it can cause,” explains Wilson.
Silo Wellness offers its guests the ingredient in the form of psilocybin-infused chocolate, capsules, or ground mushrooms, which are grown locally to the retreat, as well as its Silo Wellness magic mushroom nasal spray, co-invented by the retreat’s intake coordinator, Dr Parag Bhatt, and pharmaceutical product developer, Michael Hartman.
“Or mushrooms are grown, processed, and tested in Jamaica,” explains Wilson.
“All of our psilocybin-based ground mushrooms and products are certified lab tested within three weeks of use before being stored in a freezer to protect the strength and quality of the mushroom products.”
Unlike more conventional wellness retreats, a stay with Silo begins months in advance, with guests required to disclose medical history and previous diagnoses, any medication and supplements they are currently taking, and their purpose for taking this journey.
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What happens before the psychedelic retreat?
Ahead of attending the retreat, guests have three preparation calls with the Silo Wellness team.
“During the third preparation call, Dr Bhatt reviews the chemistry, history, and research currently available,” explains Wilson, giving guests scientific insight into the substance they’re about the ingest.
When it comes to how guests approach the retreat mentally, Wilson explains that “We encourage our guests to move into the experience with 3 intentions,” adding how, “all are individual in nature, all are private.”
The retreat caters for no more than 14 guests, with a maximum ratio of one staff member for every four guests, ensuring each guest is given the time and attention they need on their journey.
What happens at the psychedelic retreat?
The retreat kicks off with a group meeting and evening meal to help guests settle into their surroundings and prepare for the days ahead.
At Silo Wellness, there are two psilocybin-based sessions, taking part on the second and fourth day of the retreat.
“Days two and four include yoga and meditation, group and individual meetings with the Silo Wellness team, with the dosing session around lunch, and a buffet dinner,” explains Wilson.
To support the guests through their journey, day three allows time for a one-to-one meeting with one of Silo’s experts to reflect on and review the previous day, and ensure the guest is ready for a second round of psilocybin on day four. This also gives the opportunity for the team to assess the dosage given to their clients and adapt accordingly.
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“We have found that the ability to modify the session within the experience is key to the participants,” explains Wilson.
“This includes individual dosing requirements, up-doses, and format of administration that allows us to include both fast and slow onset psilocybin-related products.”
The retreat starts every day with yoga and meditation, with massages also available during the five days, and guests welcome to take part in the other experiences the Coral Cove Wellness Resorts (which hosts the retreat in Little Bay, Jamaica) offers at the end of their stay with Silo.
After a psychedelic wellness retreat
While television has depicted substance use as life-changing, Wilson shares that the reality of life after psilocybin looks different for everyone.
“Every experience is different so some people’s ‘change’ is not visible. However, guests generally leave with a positive sense of self, a newfound certainty of who they are and in the process of becoming, content knowing they took a huge step forward in their personal health journey and hesitantly excited for what is to come.”
The team is on hand to help support the transition back to day-to-day life after the retreat, with a further three calls to check in on guests.
As for those who wish to return, the retreat has a strict six-month break policy to allow all the effects of the psilocybin to come to a close before taking more.
“We often have guests return; however, we maintain a window-of-return policy of no sooner than six months or so.
“The neuroplasticity and other cognitive changes may still be in the process of unfolding prior to that, meaning we would be creating a reliance on the molecule versus doing the work necessary to receive the full benefit and impact of the medicine.”
Founded by couple Robert Grover and Gary Logan in 2018, The Journeymen Collective works with smaller groups of between one to four people at its retreat centre in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
“We have worked with more guests than that, but we believe that personalised, focused, and bespoke attention is what people are yearning for,” explains Grover.
The duo launched the retreats following their own wellness journeys, with Grover starting to work with a spiritual teacher in 2003 before coaching others in 2015.
In 2017, when Logan’s mother, who had been living with the couple, passed away, the pair experienced a wave of grief and depression they were unable to pass through.
“A lovely individual came into our life and introduced us to the medicine man that we worked with,” reflects Grover.
“I went on my first journey with him as a solo client, and I came back from that journey and felt I had found my joy again. I had rekindled a deep desire to have high-level conscious conversations with people.
“I was devoted and committed to bring that same experience to my clients, and was set to train with the medicine man – at the time I didn’t tell Gary [Logan] any of this.”
Following in his partner’s footsteps, after seeing the change in Grover following his experience, Logan decided to take a journey too.
“My mother passed away, I was going through grief and depression, and had a bit of a loss of direction for my life,” explains Logan.
“When Robert came back from his journey with the medicine man…. We jokingly say he found his ‘joy spot’, and I thought maybe I should embark on this journey… so I gifted it to myself for my birthday.
“Sure enough, I experienced a lot of expansion and growth over those few days.”
The couple’s individual experiences led to them wanting to create a safe environment for others to grow and learn as they did.
“We both sat down after Gary’s experience and decided to combine 40-plus years of Gary’s personal professional development, with 25-plus years of my personal professional development, metaphysical, and spiritual teachings, and weave everything together to create The Journeymen Collective,” explains Grover.
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What happens before a retreat?
The Journeymen Collective, which describes itself as a journey centre rather than a retreat, has an intensive preparation programme for those starting a four-month journey.
Prospective clients are asked to submit an application, followed by between two and three “discovery calls” with the team to understand what the client wants to achieve, and their intentions for the journey.
“This is where we look at overall wellness,” explains Grover.
“We have a very high level of intuition that really hones in on if we're actually able to work with people. If not, then we redirect them to other trusted places.
“After someone has come through the discovery process and we have invited them into a journey with us, whereby we believe there's a mutually beneficial fit, there are three phases.
“There's a preparation phase, there's the intensive immersive process where people are with us, and then the integration phase.”
Ahead of their journey, guests undergo at least four weeks of preparation.
“We meet online, and there’s about four hours of video content during that time as well to help people prepare so that they’re ready to come into the immersive intensive experience when they're with us in person, and that is phase two,” says Grover.
During the psychedelic wellness journey
On the first day of their journey, guests settle into the location before a lesson on the Alexander Technique, a method of rediscovering natural balance and poise through thinking in activity.
“The technique gets guests to embody themselves, and to actually sense into how the holding is affecting their whole humanism,” explains Logan.
“They learn how to let go of the stress that's in the body or the tension that's being held, and, with that knowledge, when they embark on a journey, they have some sort of awareness of how to let go of the holding pattern within the body so they can relax and release and rest into the journey process.”
Following the lesson, the first “ceremony” takes place.
“That's when the integration starts, so there have been a lot of integration conversations around our dining table, whereby we help people create context around what they have seen in their journey,’ says Grover.
The Journeymen Collective, like Silo Wellness, harnesses the power of mushrooms.
“If we look at the science of what a mushroom actually does in the forest, mushroom colonies will actually help to decompose that which is no longer necessary.
“We're witnessing a lot of people coming to us in their 40s, 50s and 60s, with a lot of baggage that they have yet to deal with.
“The mushroom helps to decompose the old energies, the old emotional, mental stories connected to what has happened in their life. And it's not about forgetting what has taken place in someone's life, but it's removing any negative emotional, mental stories connected to those life experiences.”
Part of the journey is allowing guests to make decisions for themselves and listen to their bodies, even when it comes to dosage.
“Each dosage is tailored to the individual and we empower our clients to actually make the decision for themselves,” explains Grover, adding that, “we're never ever telling people how much ‘medicine’ they need to take. We provide a range of what we sense is the best way forward for people.”
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The mushroom is taken in its whole form at The Journeymen Collective, as Grover explains, “Typically, we serve that with chocolate because there's just a synergy between the cacao and the mushrooms that makes the medicine more bioavailable, so it is taken up by the body more quickly.”
Other activities include hiking, journaling, and meditation, and clients can self-lead yoga sessions or spend time by the saltwater pool. The team also allow for a lot of downtime to rest.
“There’s a lot of resting because there's been an unfurling of the old self and embodiment of the new,” explains Grover.
“We help people really embody and be grounded in their transcendental experience.”
Journeying back to reality
For guests, the journey continues well beyond the flight home, as The Journeymen Collective finishes with a further four weeks’ integration, including weekly calls and video contact to support its clients, followed by a fortnightly meeting for a further two months.
As for the transformation from the start to end of each journey, Grover shares that, “Our guests move from discontent and being constantly irritated to being very peaceful and content.
“They're able to recognise when they enter the hyper-mental activity that a lot of high achievers have, and they're able to allow the mind to stop so they can tap into a deeper intelligence within themselves.
“That deeper intelligence then gets expressed into their life, their love, and their business. They have a deeper connection with self, which allows for deeper conscious conversations with people.”
Logan adds, “Their awareness of their inner and their outer world is connected, so there's no disconnect [between mind and body] and they're not just in their head anymore.
“I always say: Think with the heart. Love with the mind.”
Would you ever try psilocybin for wellness purposes? Let us know in the comments!
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