Cannabis, which contains the compound cannabidiol (CBD), has been recently legalized for recreational purposes in many countries, including Canada and Uruguay, but has been decriminalized for quite some time in many other countries. The lax laws around cannabis in recent years have given way to the use of CBD, in particular, as a healing agent for stress and anxiety or chronic pain. Moreover, its use is becoming increasingly prevalent in spas and other wellness facilities.
Other wellness centers around the world have even gone a step further. Some, in fact, promote the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms (“magic mushrooms”), ayahuasca, and ketamine. While ketamine is used at several US-based practices, psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca are used at retreat destinations in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Netherlands, among other countries.
Magic mushrooms and other psychedelics are often synonymous with multi-day music festivals or full moon parties, but they are becoming more and more popular as a component of all-inclusive wellness retreats thanks to their perceived abilities to boost creativity and promote spiritual growth. This is because psychedelics can help individuals access deep emotions by altering the brain’s serotonin receptors.
In the past, those looking to experience the aforementioned effect might have ventured on a self-guided retreat into the Amazon or other inspiring scenes of nature. While this might work for some, others prefer to take mind-altering drugs in a safe, controlled environment, which can help explain the rise in popularity of psychedelic spas and wellness retreats. The growth of these retreats can also be attributed as somewhat of a revolt against pharmaceuticals. Jessica Grotfeldt, who co-founded Sol Medicine retreats in Mexico, notes that psilocybin and other plant-based medicines promote communication in areas of the brain, whereas synthetic medicine tends to cloud feelings and emotions.
Sol Medicine is just one of the several psychedelic wellness retreat companies that have attracted a wide range of visitors from around the world. The company, which intends to implement a sliding pay scale to make psychedelic healing more accessible, in addition to offering women-only retreats, is joined by others such as Synthesis in the Netherlands and Atman Retreats and MycoMeditations, both in Jamaica.
Synthesis offers three-day retreats where guests stay at private apartments surrounded by soothing gardens and access to a sauna and a private yoga space. Each guest’s spiritual journey includes private one-on-one coaching, educational workshops, and meditation and breathwork supported by qualified professionals. The retreat attracts wealthy professionals ranging from doctors and investment bankers to CEOs.
MycoMeditations, meanwhile, offers a week-long retreat near Treasure Beach in Jamaica that can range from $4,147 to $10,528 depending on the services and amenities requested. Guests start with a 3-gram dose of magic mushrooms in the form of a capsule and receive increased dosages at the subsequent two sessions. Many people seek out these retreats to alleviate mental health ailments.
“About 90 percent of the guests on our retreats are dealing with some form of depression or anxiety, sometimes alcohol addiction to varying levels,” notes MycoMeditations CEO Justin Townsend. “These are people who have spent years trying . . . conventional mental health options such as talk therapy and/or medication.”
Featured in Netflix Series
Psychedelic wellness retreats aren’t just fringe experiences. Speaking to its status as an emerging trend, psychedelic wellness was the subject of an episode of the Netflix series The Goop Lab, which showcases actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop and its staff members. In the episode, staff members traveled to Jamaica to explore the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.
Participating staff members drank a tea infused with 3 grams of magic mushrooms and were guided on their respective journeys by psilocybin experts and therapists. The effects of the tea are documented in the episode, with many employees breaking down in tears and others sharing feelings with the on-site therapists. Elise Loehnen, chief content officer at Goop, experienced uncontrollable laughter, but later reflected on how the experience helped her feel more connected to her co-workers.
Research on Magic Mushrooms and Other Psychedelics
The use of psilocybin and other psychedelics has been studied exhaustively by medical experts and, while it’s still a relatively controversial practice, there have been some studies that have highlighted its benefits. A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins researchers and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, for instance, looked at people who had had bad experiences or suffered side effects from taking psilocybin mushrooms. While 10 percent of respondents noted they felt the drug put themselves and others in danger, many still saw the experience as “worthwhile” and “meaningful.”
That survey is far from Johns Hopkins only work in the area of psychedelics. The school recently launched the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to study psilocybin and LSD, among other substances. This follows the Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, which was the first of its kind when it opened in 2019.