Tue, Nov 19, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The psychedelic retreat

Exploring the therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms at a ceremony in Amsterdam

By Amy Fleming  /  The Guardian

For some, the magical feelings brought on by the use of psychedelic mushrooms are as peaceful as an autumn scene.

Photo: AFP

I’m at a weekend retreat in a converted church near Amsterdam. There is soft, celestial music playing and I’m sipping fresh herbal tea while discussing my hopes and fears for tomorrow’s “ceremony,” which is retreat parlance for a psychedelic trip. Consuming the truffle parts of magic mushrooms is permitted in the Netherlands and my nine fellow guests and I will be eating a variety called Dragon’s Dynamite.

We’re not taking recreational drugs, but rather using psychedelics as self-exploratory and therapeutic “plant medicine.” Welcome to the age of the psychedelic retreat.

Synthesis opened its doors in April last year. It was co-founded by Martijn Schirp, a former poker player who found salvation through psychedelics.

“I had my first mushroom trip nine years ago and that changed my life,” he says. “I was walking through this forest and it was so peaceful, it was like a fairy tale. I felt this huge self-critical voice lift off me.”

Schirp believes he’d still be estranged from his father if it wasn’t for the perspective psychedelics have given him. His entrepreneurial mind saw that what was missing was a retreat with “medical supervision, private one-to-one coaching and professional standards in a modern context”.

There is no governing body for psychedelic retreats nor are there official figures for the number of retreats around the world, with many held illegally.

Schirp estimates there are a dozen or so legal mushroom retreats in the Netherlands, including events also run in the country by the UK-based Psychedelic Society. Its prices for a four-day retreat range from £600 (US$777) to £1,400, depending on your income. Synthesis charges £1,640 for a three-day programme aimed at beginners.

“We introduce psychedelics to people who can benefit from them, but who wouldn’t normally feel safe or be open to them. Most people are still not aware that retreats like this exist. They go through the underground or try to join one of the academic studies,” Schirp says.


There is an abundance of studies, following a pioneering one by Imperial College in 2016, that have examined the therapeutic effects of magic mushrooms on severe depression. The US Food and Drug Administration recently designated a new psilocybin drug a “breakthrough therapy.”

It’s being developed by UK-based Compass Pathways, which hopes it will be available on the pharmaceutical market within five years.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the trend for micro dosing on psychedelics is edging closer to social acceptability, despite its widespread illegality. Those keen to experience higher doses under guidance are increasingly traveling to retreats held in countries such as Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru and the Netherlands.

At Synthesis, guests are encouraged to bring three intentions, which might be issues or conflicts that need attention, or, as in my case, a scientific curiosity to explore a different state of consciousness.

During the trip, a medic loiters in the living room, but she’s there more for reassurance than necessity. Magic mushrooms are considered the safest and least toxic of illegal recreational drugs. The Global Drugs Survey, conducted by an international panel of researchers and academics, this year analyzed data from 123,814 respondents and found that magic mushrooms required the least medical attention, with just 0.4 percent of users reporting that they sought emergency medical treatment.

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