All rights reserved
The Rise of Psychedelic Tourism
March 18, 2023

The Rise of Psychedelic Tourism: How Psychedelic Companies Can Deliver Exceptional Experiences

Disclaimer | In Crisis?

In Crisis?

If you are in crisis or contemplating self-harm or suicide, please call 988 or visit 988Lifeline.org, which provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7 in the United States. An extensive list of International suicide prevention hotlines can be found there. Remember: You are needed, you deserve to be here, and you are not alone. Reach out, and do not give up.

Having a Challenging Trip?

If you are experiencing a difficult psychedelic event, or still need help processing one, call or text 62-FIRESIDE. The Fireside Project offers free emotional support during or after a psychedelic experience. You can also download their app. Their services are completely confidential, and their staff is rigorously trained, compassionate, and knowledgeable regarding psychedelics. You can also contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at (800) 622-HELP (4357). Their confidential helpline is available 24/7 in English and Spanish for individuals and family members experiencing emotional distress or crisis.

Additional support resources can be found in the Zendo Project directory. The Zendo Project was founded in partnership with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Their extensive list of harm reduction resources, emotional support services, and peer support hotlines offer a vast array of tools to help you move through a challenging experience and come out the other side feeling empowered and secure.

Having a Medical Emergency?

If you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency and require immediate attention, please dial 911 (USA) immediately.

Are You a Veteran Having a Medical Emergency?

If you are a veteran experiencing a difficult trip or crisis, please contact (800) 273-8255 and Press 1. This will connect you to the Veteran Crisis Line. Their hotline is staffed by experienced personnel, many of whom are also veterans. A trained responder will answer your call 24/7 to help you through a crisis, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm.

Emotional and Crisis Support for the LGBTQIA+ Community.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community may face unique and difficult situations during a challenging psychedelic experience. If you need emotional or crisis support, dial (888) 688-5428 or visit LGBThotline.org. Their hotline is designed for people of all ages and staffed by a dedicated team of highly trained volunteers from all parts of the LGBT+ community. They also offer a dedicated line for LGBT+ seniors that you can reach at (888) 234-7243.

Be Wary of Fentanyl-Contaminated Drugs.

The United States is experiencing a synthetic opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives due to street drugs being adulterated with other drugs, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl is an incredibly powerful and deadly narcotic, with doses as low as two milligrams (a dose so small it could fit on the tip of a pencil) being potentially deadly. While it is never recommended to consume any illicit substances, it is critical that you or the people you know test any drugs you may ingest for fentanyl. Several non-profit harm reduction organizations, such as DanceSafe, offer fentanyl testing strips and at-home drug testing kits.

Medical Disclaimer

The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. Some individuals with preexisting mental health conditions should not use psychedelics. Always consult with a trained medical professional about your specific healthcare needs.

Are Psychedelics Legal?

Most classical and non-classical psychedelic drugs are prohibited in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This family of chemical compounds are considered Schedule I drugs, the most tightly controlled and generally illegal class. This includes psilocybin (aka Magic Mushrooms), Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Ayahuasca, Ibogaine, Peyote, 2C-B, Cannabis, and others. Ketamine is also controlled under the same act and listed as a Schedule III drug. Due to the illegal or controlled nature of these drugs, it is not advised that you attempt to purchase, source, or otherwise possess any Scheduled substances, as you may be at risk of civil and criminal penalties.

Legal Disclaimer

The information provided on this website is intended for informational and harm reduction purposes only and does not constitute medical or legal advice. Nor is this information, or any journalistic stories, anecdotes, visual or artistic material intended as a replacement or supplement for medical or legal advice. It is important to understand that using any psychedelic compounds from the streets has significant risks and is unlikely to produce the promising results emerging in some clinical trials which involve particular dosing and purity, along with specific, carefully crafted psychotherapy in a safe, controlled environment. Various psychedelics purchased illegally often are adulterated with other, possibly harmful substances, making it difficult and not advisable to self-medicate for PTSD, anxiety, depression, or for the treatment of other mental health issues.

The first time I attended an ayahuasca retreat, it was, for all practical purposes, a mess. The whole thing seemed rather improvised, packing way too many people into too small a space, with little to no preparation for all sundry. In order to take the medicine, a disorganized line of participants had to stumble through a dark garden full of obstacles — I tripped into a pond. To make matters worse, the ayahuasca itself was poorly concocted. One highly experienced attendee later told me that the consistency was all wrong — way too watery. As a result, in my case, it had a disappointingly weak effect. At the ceremony’s conclusion, the dubious shaman uttered a few magic words before racing to the airport to jet to another retreat, and that was that.

Two years later, I gave an ayahuasca retreat another try under radically different circumstances, which resulted in a significantly more profound experience. Now there were only a handful of attendees. The space where we gathered was comfortable and safe, and our guide opened the ceremony with a detailed explanation of what was to come, followed by a group discussion about what had brought us there. The psychedelic medicine was well-made and well-measured—no problems with blasting off this time—and once we’d all more or less come down, we discussed our journeys and how they might be integrated into our everyday lives. The whole process was warmed by a glow of compassion.

It was among the most powerful experiences of my life.

Psychedelic Tourism Goes Mainstream

With psychedelics finding a legal foothold in the states of Oregon and Colorado and cities across the United States, these two disparate ayahuasca experiences speak to what should be a central concern for psychedelic advocates everywhere.

Psychedelic Tourism

How can we ensure that psychedelic retreats, ceremonies, and therapy clinics don’t become a milquetoast touristic cash grab? Psychedelic tourism — long relegated to the few countries around the world that had legalized the stuff in some form, such as Jamaica and Peru — is on the rise. As anyone who has ever visited a tourist attraction knows, they don’t always deliver the most authentic of experiences.

To examine this issue, I spoke with a large-scale psychedelic retreat, a retreat attendee, and a private ceremony provider about the key things psychedelic businesses and their patrons should keep in mind as we venture into the future of the emerging psychedelic tourism industry.

Justin Townsend, CEO of MycoMeditations

MycoMeditations is one of the world’s most established psychedelic retreat programs, offering a variety of psilocybin-assisted wellness programs out of its location in Jamaica.(1)

According to company CEO Justin Townsend, the biggest challenge inherent in establishing a trusted and effective psychedelic industry is the lack of trained clinicians fueled by a dearth of training opportunities. He explained that, “Research forecasts point to an estimated shortage of 30-50,000 trained psychedelic clinicians over the coming years. The majority of current training is classroom-based, videos, and role-play only, and this alone is highly inadequate in providing practitioners the experience they need.”

He went on to say that the typically illegal nature of psychedelics makes it difficult to impossible for practitioners to gain real-world experience. Prohibition also bars businesses from access to essential tools like banking and insurance.

In order for psychedelic companies to find success while helping to build trust in the growing space, Townsend asserts that they must offer — and clients must demand — “consistently high standards for safety and treatment protocols.” Adding, “Do this even if your competition isn’t. Even if your local state government sets a low bar for safety and standards, aim to exceed this. Do not sacrifice safety, quality staff, or guest experience for the sake of the bottom line.”

Townsend says that to achieve this, psychedelic businesses must prioritize staff training and self-care, provide a detailed guest application and screening process to ensure safety (MycoMeditations, for example, accepts less than a third of applicants), and respect the power of psychedelic substances.

“Always expect and train for the unexpected — it can and will happen,” he explained. Adding, “Psychedelics are not for everyone.”

Sonja Nakhai, Retreat Attendee

With little to no experience with psychoactive drugs, Sonja Nakhai decided to participate in an ayahuasca retreat at the suggestion of her partner, who described the ceremony he attended as “the most beautiful experience of his whole life.” After plenty of research, she signed up for a retreat in Finland.

She reports that on the first day, the pre-ayahuasca rapé (a powdered tobacco snuff that is blown up the nasal passages) made her too ill to keep the medicine itself down. However, during the second day, she fasted and passed on the rapé, which made ingesting the ayahuasca easier.

Psychedelic Ceremony with ayahuasca

“I was not quite prepared for that intensive experience,” she admitted, “going back to my earliest childhood — about the age of one or one-and-a-half years — and realizing the cause of the issue that had been troubling me.” Challenging as the experience may have been, Nakhai explained that it pushed her to examine why she is so reactive to certain circumstances.

“A lot of insights,” she summarized. “No negative outcomes.”

Nakhai explained that she appreciated how “the facilitator was deeply concerned with the well-being of the attendees, from providing detailed information beforehand concerning diets and lifestyle, to picking me up at the train station, to several long emails to help me process the insights of the ceremony.” While an integration session was held after the ceremony, Nakhai was unable to remain as she had to return home. Even so, the facilitator followed-up via email to provide ongoing integration support. Which is, in addition to safety, one of the most essential elements of a psychedelic journey. 

She went on to relate that prior to the experience, she had read extensively about psychedelic retreats where sexual abuse had occurred. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened during her ceremony. In fact, couples who were in attendance were requested to abstain from physical contact and instead focus on their individual experience. This is, in part, to help prevent the possibility of sexual abuse. Though it’s also a fairly standard request during ayahuasca ceremonies, to help ensure that each individual is able to give space to their deep inner work. 

Nakhai proposed that, “It would perhaps be helpful to ask the participants beforehand what sort of support they feel comfortable with if they go through a disturbing vision.” Speaking on the topic of sexual abuse, my third respondent (more on him in a moment) recommended that “women traveling alone may consider avoiding places that have only male facilitators and assistants.” With this in mind, retreat organizers would be wise to build staffs that are gender-diverse.

Nakhai also suggested that it may be important for facilitators and attendees to share the same language, as she sometimes had difficulty communicating with the Finnish guide while under the influence of the ayahuasca.

“Most important,” she emphasized, retreat practitioners should “make it clear to people that it’s not some recreational party. There is a saying that Grandmother Ayahuasca does not give you more than you can take, which was totally true for me, but people should still be prepared for unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable insights.”

Elan, Ayahuasca Ceremony Facilitator

Finally, I spoke with Elan, who happened to be the guide during my second, highly successful ayahuasca experience. Not only does Elan facilitate underground ceremonies in the U.S., but he frequently participates in ceremonies in Peru as an attendee. This lends him a 360-degree perspective on the subject.

When choosing a retreat, Elan advises, “Ideally, you would get a referral from a trusted friend. Lacking that, search for a retreat that you feel most aligned with. A place with values and practices you can relate to. A place you feel intuitively attracted to. In addition, one that meets most of your practical needs.”

Psychedelic businesses looking to address these needs should aim to “be authentic,” says Elan. “Different styles will attract different participants. Resist the tendency to do exactly what everyone else is doing. In a field often heavily influenced by tradition, it is also acceptable to innovate — when done with respect to the participants and the medicine.”

In the not-too-distant future, psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca/DMT, and MDMA will likely find themselves on the verge of FDA approval. While rapid shifts in public opinion are propelling a flurry of state and federal legislation to expand access and reduce criminal offenses for their use. Now is the time for psychedelic businesses and individuals to take the necessary steps to ensure the burgeoning industry is safe, practitioners are well trained, and, importantly, this medicine is accessible to all.(2, 3, 4)

Psychedelic Tourism 972x486@1.5 1

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.

  1. Psychedelic Psilocybin-Assisted Retreats with Magic Mushrooms. (n.d.). MycoMeditations. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.mycomeditations.com/
  2. Lamkin, M. (2021). Prescription Psychedelics: The Road from FDA Approval to Clinical Practice. The American Journal of Medicine, 135(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2021.07.033
  3. Bathje, G. J., Fenton, J., Pillersdorf, D., & Hill, L. C. (2021). A Qualitative Study of Intention and Impact of Ayahuasca Use by Westerners. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00221678211008331
  4. Inouye, A., & Wolfgang, A. (2022). Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Therapy in Hawaii: A Brief Review. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.26402
    • Mattha Busby

    Understanding Shamanism: The Origins of Counterculture’s Most Misused Word

    Shamanism is one of the most common terms used in the psychedelic community. But what does it mean to be a shaman, and who can become one? Mattha Busby explores how the psychedelic community has been misusing “shaman,” and explains the origins of the word.
    • Charley Wininger
    MDMA love drug

    The “Love Drug” MDMA Might Just Save Your Relationship

    Could MDMA be the solution to relationship problems? Charley Wininger, LP, LMHC and Author of “Listening to Ecstasy: The Transformative Power of MDMA,” talks about one couple’s successful use of the “Love Drug,” as a bolster to couples therapy. He also details how your relationship may benefit from a MDMA-inspired “chemical vacation.”
    • Nick Hilden
    Alex Grey psychedelic art

    Psychedelic Art Legend Alex Grey Reveals His Favorite Artists and Shares How to Return to a “State of Wonder”

    Legendary psychedelic artist Alex Grey speaks with science writer Nick Hilden about how psychedelics saved his life and inspired him to create stunning works of visual genius.
    • Zoe Cormier
    microdosing and psychedelic microdose banner

    The Two Sides of Microdosing: Medical Marvel or Psychedelic Placebo?

    Explore the science of microdosing psychedelics with Zoe Cormier and a range of experts in the field. Paul Stamets, Dr. David Erritzoe, and Rotem Petranker all weigh in on the how and why microdosing has captured the attention of the scientific and psychedelic communities. Zoe also shares a deeply personal story about her late mother, and how she used psychedelics to cope with end-of-life anxiety.
    • Mattha Busby
    good part of a bad psychedelic trip banner

    The Good Part of a “Bad Psychedelic Trip”

    What, if anything, can you take away from a Bad Trip? Mattha Busby examines what we can gain from “bad” (read: challenging) psychedelic experiences.
    • Zoe Cormier
    psychedelic integration with Dr. Rosalind Watts banner

    How Dr. Rosalind Watts is Bringing Integration into The Psychedelic Renaissance

    Follow-up care and integration are essential parts of the psychedelic experience. So why don’t we talk about them more? Dr. Rosalind Watts is on a mission to change that. Read more about how she plans to bring integration to the forefront of the psychedelic field.
    • Dr. Aidan Lyon
    psychedelics, meditation and overstimulation banner

    Modern Tech Giving You the Overstimulation Blues? Why Combining Meditation with Psychedelics May Help

    How can we deal with modern overstimulation? Psychedelics and meditation may be the key. Philosopher Dr. Aidan Lyon details how and why.
    • David Hillier
    psychedelic decriminalization banner

    Down The Rabbit Hole: How a Psychedelic Rabbi Became Lost in The Maze of U.S. Drug Laws

    What happens when a psychedelic Rabbi runs afoul of America’s mind-bogglingly intricate web of psychedelic regulation? David Hillier takes you on an odyssey of discovery to untangle the web of U.S. drug laws, while also helping you learn about the many potential paths to psychedelic legalization and telling an exciting tale of one rabbi’s run-in with the law.
    • Jamie Peck
    fentanyl vs mag mushrooms banner

    Fentanyl vs Magic Mushrooms: 150 vs 0 Dead a Day ― A Tale of Two “Drugs”

    Why has the United States government spent billions on prohibitive measures against psychedelics and cannabis, while opioids killed roughly 80,000 of your neighbors in a year? In her deep-dive article, Jamie Peck shows you the massive discrepancy between the dangers and costs to society of magic mushrooms versus the very real epidemic brought to America by opioids and opiates like Fentanyl.
    • David Hillier
    10 Tips Positive Psychedelic Experience banner

    Set, Setting, and Safety: 10 Tips for a Positive Psychedelic Experience

    Science writer David Hillier interviews key experts on how to have a safe and enjoyable psychedelic experience. They take you through dosing, set and setting, safety measures, and more.
    • Nick Hilden
    DMT and Entities with Rick Strassman

    Does the Spirit Molecule, DMT, Drive Our Sense of Reality? We Talk with Expert Dr. Rick Strassman

    Join psychedelic science writer Nick Hilden and leading DMT researcher Dr. Rick Strassman for a weird, wonderful, and informative conversation about DMT, and the many entities that users claim to meet during the psychedelic experience. Read about Nick’s personal tales of far-out elder gods, DMT creatures, and a surprising encounter with an aspect of femininity.
    • David Connell
    The Secret History of Psychedelics in the Military

    The Secret History of MK-Ultra and Psychedelics in the Military – Weird Warfare Part 1

    From MK-Ultra to Operation Delirium, take a trip into the weird history of secret CIA mind control experiments utilizing LSD and other psychedelics for warfare, mind control, and interrogation.
    • Kim Taylor-Foster
    Marvel Writers inspired by LSD with Doctor Strange banner

    Strange Origins, How Marvel Was Inspired By LSD―Doctor Strange Writer Steve Englehart Speaks

    Dr. Strange just got stranger. Comic writer Steve Englehart dives into the psychedelic origins of the “Sorcerer Supreme,” how psychedelics inspired Marvel’s heyday and today’s MCU, and the manifold mysteries that psychedelics could hold for humanity.
    • Madison Margolin
    LSD paradox banner

    Heaven or Hell?: The LSD Paradox

    LSD is one of the most mysterious substances ever created – and one of the most feared. Madison Margolin dispels many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding LSD, while making a case for why we should be learning more about the “Grandfather of Psychedelics.”
    • Madison Margolin
    Ego Death

    Tripping Through the Underworld: Could Psychedelics Help Us Understand Death?

    What can the psychedelics teach us about death, the afterlife, and the dissolution of the self? Ride along while Madison Margolin takes you on a psychedelic-fueled journey through the many aspects of death: fear of dying, letting go of the ego, and, perhaps, a glimpse of what comes after we’re gone.
    • David Connell
    Tripping Through Time

    Tripping Through Time: Psychedelic Art Throughout the Ages

    How much of human art has been inspired by psychedelics? We explore psychedelic art through the ages, and humanity’s relationship with these mysterious substances.
    • David Connell
    Psychedelics in military part 3

    History of Psychedelics and The Military Part 3: How Israelis and Palestinians Were Brought Together by Ayahuasca

    Could psychedelics be the key to ending conflict? We examine how one study with Israeli and Palestinian ayahuasca groups may help us with “tripping away from war.”
    • David Connell
    Ego Death

    Psychedelic Ego Death: What is Ego Death and How Can It Help Us to Heal?

    What is ego death? We decipher the mysteries of ego dissolution and what benefits the loss of self may have for mental health.
    • David Connell
    Psychedelic trip in the media movie

    Top Ten Most Realistic Depictions of a Psychedelic Trip In Movies

    There’s something unique and often indescribable about a psychedelic trip. If you’re looking to share some of what the experience is like with those who have not journeyed, here are some films that may help.
    • David Connell
    Alexander Shulgin and Anne shulgin looking at each other Illustration

    2C-B, the Forgotten Psychedelic: Understanding the “Love Child” of Alexander and Ann Shulgin

    Why isn’t 2C-B more well-known? And what can this fascinating compound teach us about the future of psychedelics?
    • David Connell
    Jaguars, Dolphins, and Elephants enjoy a good high

    Jaguars, Dolphins, and Elephants, Oh My: Animals That Enjoy a Good High

    Did you know that animals enjoy psychedelics as much as humans do? Jaguars eat ayahuasca, dolphins get high on pufferfish venom, and elephants enjoy a little booze from time to time.
    • David Connell
    MDMA afterglow

    MDMA and the “Afterglow Effect”

    Did you skip the “Tuesday Blues” and now feel great after taking MDMA? You may be experiencing the “afterglow.” Find out the causes and benefits of the MDMA afterglow.
    • David Connell
    Psychedelics in military part 2

    History of Psychedelics and the Military Part 2: What You May Not Know About Veterans with PTSD

    Two veterans share their experiences using MDMA and Psilocybin as alternative treatments for PTSD and depression.