Some real-life wellness retreats use psychedelic drugs as therapy for their guests, just like Tranquillum House in Nine Perfect Strangers. While this story is pure fiction, the wellness practices Masha swears by are used in real retreats. We spoke to people who have actually been on a psychedelic retreat to report back on what to expect…
What is a psychedelic retreat?
A psychedelic retreat uses various plant medicines to assist optimal healing on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. If one has been raised in the Amazon, the plants that are used as healing medicine are Ayahuasca or San Pedro/Wachuma amongst others. Western plant medicine is Psilocybin, often referred to as magic mushrooms. People gather in deep respect of the plant to ask for and begin the process of healing, explains Selda Goodwin is a spiritual and energy healer @seldasoulspace.
How long do they last?
Retreats can last anything between two nights and two weeks. Some indigenous retreats last for a month or more.
What do psychedelic retreats involve?
There is absolutely no alcohol. If led under the right guidance, these ‘ceremonies’ are seen as highly ritualistic and are not taken lightly. Depending on the retreat and the shaman leading, there may be one ceremony per evening where the plants are administered according to someone’s previous experience and position of health.
On an Ayahuasca retreat, the days are often for sleeping, rest, sharing circles (minimal food) and the evenings are kept for ceremony and prayer/song. During a ceremony the group will drink medicine or eat a plant and go into deep meditation until the medicine begins to work.
Parts of the brain that are otherwise inactive become open channels. This begins the ‘journey’ or as some call it ‘trip’ or psychedelic experience. I prefer not to call them anything other than ceremony as I do not see it in the same realm as those taking drugs to get high. The ceremonies are very personal, so each individual will experience very different feelings, emotions and bodily reactions. Often groups will sit in a circle, in the dark, within a safe environment that has been blessed by the shaman. As a healer, it is their duty to hold a safe environment for the experiences.
What have been some of your best experiences?
My best experience was under the care of a Peruvian healer named Ricardo. He left home aged 11 to travel, learn and share his healing. He is very professional and really cares about the health and wellbeing of each person. From the moment I accepted the space, I prayed for six months for the medicine to be kind and gentle – my experience began long before the retreat. I also received signs that showed me I was definitely meant to be there. Our actions and thoughts around medicine all contribute to our ‘journey’. I also followed a special diet for several weeks that eliminates toxicity and prepares the body for medicine.
How do you leave feeling?
It takes time for the body and mind to integrate what has happened. One may leave feeling clear, light and excited, but if someone has endured pain and suffering, then the outcome on leaving will of course be very different.
Should everyone go?
No, absolutely not. Today medicine is being administered and used carelessly. I knew I was being called by the medicine, known as Mother, for around six years, but I didn’t want to go without knowing why. It’s not an opportunity to get high, nor is it a way out of suffering. You really have to be sure that it’s right for you and that you’re able to take on the responsibility of what may come after. Healing is a process and doesn’t happen overnight so even if you have some enlightened visions or a dark experience, it is often a reflection of where you are in life.
People should only go with recommended shamans or retreat leaders. There have been so many unfortunate cases where people have become sick and suffered terribly because too many people are just labelling themselves as ‘shamans’. Do your homework and ask yourself why you really want to go.
Experience Retreats are organised by the Psychedelic Society UK. Sebastian has attended and shares his thoughts below.
“Psychedelic retreats are retreats where participants for therapeutic spiritual or recreational reasons ingest plant medicine (Ayahuasca or Psilocybin-mushrooms). They do so in a ceremonial manner, looked after and cared for by facilitators.
I have been on two psychedelic retreats both of which were the “Experience Retreats” in the Netherlands run by Psychedelic Society UK. The first one I attended lasted four days; the other one five.
Generally speaking, there is one Preparation day, one Ceremony day and one Integration day; each with appropriate activities and exercises.
During the ceremony, everyone mushes their psilocybin-mushroom truffles and finds themselves a spot in the ceremony room. Then everyone makes tea out of the truffles and drinks the tea. Dosage varies and is discussed beforehand with your assigned facilitator. Most people opt for a dosage that induces a lot of hallucinations, a distortion of your sense of space and time and a loss of sense of self and/or a sense of being connected with everything.
I have had a lot of amazing experiences at a psychedelic retreat. Connecting with wonderful human beings, deeply profound and magical trips full of visuals and insights. I haven’t really had any really bad experiences. Challenging and sorrowful and sad experiences, yes, but nothing too terrifying.
After the retreats, I feel encouraged and inspired to show up to life and gravitate towards kindness and love. Re-entry with the modern day world where everyone is so erratic and anxious can be a little daunting.
FYI, psilocybin-mushroom truffles are legal in the Netherlands where these retreats take place.”
Elise Loehnen is the Chief Content Officer at Goop
“I found my psychedelic experience – and those I’ve had after making the show – to be transformative. It was the equivalent of years of therapy wrapped into a single session. What’s been more important than the experience themselves, though, has been the process of integration. The parts of it that I haven’t worked on in the months since, I’ve lost. I think psychedelics, in the right setting, with appropriate therapeutic support, can lower the ladder down out of the sky. And then it’s on you to grab the line and climb.“
Note: they are not legal in the UK, so really do your homework.
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Main image – Goop Lab
Is a psychedelic retreat safe?
Psychedelic retreats are generally safe when conducted by trained professionals in a controlled environment. However, there are risks associated with consuming psychedelic substances.
What are the benefits of a psychedelic retreat?
The benefits of a psychedelic retreat include increased self-awareness, improved mental health, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world around them.
Who can participate in a psychedelic retreat?
Psychedelic retreats are typically open to individuals who are in good physical and mental health and are not taking any medications that could interact with psychedelic substances.
Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.