As more people become interested in trying psychedelics, spa-like retreats are popping up all over the world. Should people with mental health issues feel safe trying them?
On a Saturday afternoon last year, I sat in a 100-year-old renovated church in Zandvoort, a coastal town in The Netherlands, and ate about 30 milligrams of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
This was out of character. I haven’t taken drugs since my early 20s. I relish the feeling of being in absolute control, and recoil at uncertainty. Handing over my brain and sense of reality to a fungus was terrifying. And yet I had come to a legal psilocybin retreat to do just that.
For the past year or so, I’ve been reporting on the resurgence of psychedelic research. People with treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and terminal illness-related anxiety have been finding what sounds like incredible relief from these drugs. As someone with anxiety and OCD, I was curious if mushrooms could release me from maladaptive habits, and the ruminating thoughts that seem to stay with me no matter how many years of therapy I do.
I was not alone in my intention; the 14 others at the retreat didn’t travel from all over the world to take shrooms recreationally. During our introductions, many talked about wanting an improved mental quality of life, accessing higher levels of spirituality, or finding ways to address a feeling that something was missing. About half had never taken psychedelics, and had no interest in doing so until reading about the resurgence of psychedelic medicine in outlets like The New Yorker or The Economist. Nearly everyone mentioned being influenced by journalist Michael Pollan’s recent book, How to Change Your Mind, a best-seller that chronicles the recent spike in research.
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