What You Need to Know to Find a Safe Psychedelic Retreat- A Comprehensive Guide

May 18, 2024

David Connell

May 18, 2024

David Connell

May 18, 2024

David Connell

Traveling abroad to attend a psychedelic retreat has become increasingly common. From psilocybin retreats in Spain and Jamaica to intensive ayahuasca experiences in Peru, it seems like there’s something for everyone. But what do you need to know before venturing to some far-off psychedelic healing center in the middle of the vast Amazonian rain forests?

What is a Psychedelic Retreat, and How Does it Differ From a Healing Center?

Psychedelic retreats are specialized programs that offer structured experiences with psychedelic substances in a supportive and often secluded setting. These retreats should be focused on facilitating profound personal growth and healing under the guidance of experienced facilitators, such as therapists, traditional healers, or spiritual teachers.

Psychedelic Retreat VS Healing Center

Participants at these retreats engage in sessions where they consume substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, MDMA, ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT, or ketamine, depending on the focus of the retreat and the legal framework of the country in which it is located. Typically, these experiences are crafted with intention and, when done correctly, can lead to transformative experiences.


The retreats usually take place in natural, serene environments that contribute to the experience’s reflective and transformative nature. They should be safe spaces where individuals can explore their inner psyche, confront emotional and psychological challenges, and ideally emerge with greater insight and well-being.

Healing centers that focus on psychedelic therapy work similarly but may offer a broader range of health services and a more clinical setting compared to the often more rustic or ecocentric retreats. These centers are typically staffed by medical professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses, who provide a therapeutic framework before, during, and after the psychedelic experience.

The aim is to create an environment where the healing potential of psychedelics can be harnessed in a controlled, respectful, and legal manner. Healing centers may also offer additional wellness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and psychedelic integration, to support the individual’s journey toward healing and ensure that the insights gained from psychedelic sessions are effectively woven into their daily lives. Other clinics, such as ketamine infusion and therapy centers, may not offer as many additional services. Instead, they often operate more like a doctor’s office than a wellness center.

Some key differences between a psychedelic retreat and a clinic or healing center include:

1
Setting and Atmosphere:
a. Retreats typically offer a natural or serene environment conducive to introspection and relaxation, while clinics may resemble traditional medical facilities.
2

Facilitation and Staffing:
a. Retreats might be run by various facilitators, including traditional healers, spiritual guides, or therapists with different backgrounds. In contrast, clinics are typically staffed by medically trained professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses.

3

Approach to Treatment:
a. Retreats often incorporate holistic practices and may use traditional indigenous methods, while clinics generally adhere to medical models and evidence-based practices.

4

Duration of Stay:
a. Retreat experiences tend to be immersive, lasting several days to weeks in the case of treatment centers using psychedelics like Ibogaine for addiction, providing an opportunity for deeper exploration. Clinical sessions, particularly for ketamine, are typically shorter and more akin to conventional therapy session lengths. However, as other therapies, like psilocybin, become available, this will change (typically, a psilocybin session lasts up to six hours).

5

Integration Practices:
a. Retreats emphasize community and group integration, while clinics focus more on individual aftercare and medical follow-up. However, some ketamine providers also do group work, so your experience will vary.

6

Medical Oversight:
a. Clinics are more likely to have stringent medical oversight and the ability to handle adverse reactions immediately, while the level of medical care at retreats can vary significantly. Furthermore, centers specializing in things like ibogaine will often be much different, with the experience lasting at least 24 hours or longer. Ibogaine centers may also assess you for certain heart conditions.

7

Regulatory Standards:
a. Clinics usually operate under stricter regulatory and licensing frameworks, while retreats may operate in areas with more permissive legal statuses for psychedelics. It should be noted that this can vary based on your country’s laws and regulations. Always familiarize yourself with local ordinances before attending a retreat or psychedelic healing center.

8

Cost and Accessibility:
a. The cost of retreats can vary widely and may be less accessible due to travel requirements, whereas clinics might be more readily accessible and sometimes covered by insurance.
b. The cost of attending a retreat or a clinic can be high. Retreat prices generally range from $500 to $15,000, with most being between $1,000 and $3,000.
c. Ketamine infusions can cost anywhere from $175 to $1350 or more, depending on the clinic and the options available to patients.

9

Cultural and Spiritual Elements:
a. Retreats often incorporate cultural ceremonies and spiritual elements into the experience, while most clinics maintain a secular and medical approach.

These differences can influence an individual’s choice depending on their personal preferences, the nature of their mental health concerns, and their desired outcomes from psychedelic therapy.

Commonly Researched Psychedelics for Mental Health Conditions

transformative experiences of psychedelic retreats

Psychedelic retreats ranging from rustic to luxurious to clinical are emerging as potentially transformative experiences. They may benefit individuals seeking deeper self-awareness and significant personal growth.

The reasons for searching for these retreats vary. Some may simply be seeking a time to devote to self-reflection, others may be in a transitional phase in their life (such as a divorce or career change) and be in search of a fresh perspective or a way to reflect on embedded patterns, and others may have failed to find relief from traditional therapies for ongoing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

That said, it’s important to note that outcomes are not guaranteed, so research, preparation for the experience, and right-sizing expectations are essential.

Psilocybin (aka Magic Mushrooms)

Psilocybin, the psychoactive substance in magic mushrooms, is garnering attention for its potential as a depression treatment. Early research suggests that it can significantly reduce symptoms of depression in some individuals. This has led to increased interest in psilocybin-assisted therapy, which aims to create a controlled, therapeutic environment to maximize the benefits and minimize potential adverse reactions.(1)

Psilocybin:(1)

  • May enhance mood and create feelings of euphoria
  • Is often associated with increases in creativity and insight
  • May occasion improved emotional processing
  • May reduce anxiety and depression.
  • May foster a greater sense of connection and spirituality.
  • Is being explored as a treatment for depression and end-of-life anxiety.
  • In some studies, it has shown a significant anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect and reduction in depressive symptoms.

Potential short-term side effects include:(2)

  • Nausea is common, especially when ingested in mushroom form
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness and dizziness
  • Sensory distortions and confusion
  • Intense emotional shifts and possible anxiety

Though there are promising developments, psilocybin is not without risks. Physical side effects such as upset stomach and vomiting can occur. Psychological challenges like emotional duress or anxiety and paranoia are also possible.(1, 2)

The dual nature of psilocybin’s effects highlights the need for careful consideration and professional guidance in therapeutic settings. As research progresses, psilocybin may offer a novel treatment modality for individuals who do not respond to traditional treatments.(1, 2)


Ayahuasca (the Spirit Vine)

Similarly, ayahuasca retreats provide immersive experiences that may combine enduring indigenous wisdom with a modern understanding of psychotherapy. Ayahuasca, a brew traditionally used in South American healing rituals, contains powerful psychoactive compounds – most notably DMT, as well as alkaloids tetrahydroharmine (THH) and harmaline, capable of inducing deep introspective states.(3)

Ayahuasca: (3)

  • May provide an immersive experience blending indigenous wisdom with modern psychotherapy
  • Contains DMT, tetrahydroharmine (THH), and harmaline
  • May induce deep introspective states with visual and stimulatory effects that surpass the duration of intravenously administered or vaporized DMT
  • Has been studied for its effects on cognition and perception changes in healthy participants(4)

Potential short-term side effects include:(5)

  • Intense nausea and vomiting, often referred to as “purging”
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dizziness and impaired coordination
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Ayahuasca is being explored as a treatment for substance use disorders, including alcoholism and drug addiction. Research also indicates that ayahuasca may enhance emotional regulation and processing. Beyond specific conditions, ayahuasca is being studied for its ability to improve overall psychological well-being, including increased mindfulness, emotional resilience, and life satisfaction.(3, 4, 5, 6)

MDMA (the Love Drug)

MDMA-assisted therapy is also being evaluated for its therapeutic potential outside of its recreational use. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is specifically being investigated as a treatment for various conditions, including PTSD and social anxiety. It is also being explored as a tool for couples therapy.(7, 8, 9)

MDMA:

  • May significantly enhance mood and create feelings of euphoria
  • Often increases feelings of empathy and connection with others
  • May reduce anxiety and stress
  • Has been shown to alleviate symptoms of PTSD and depression

Potential short-term side effects include:(8)

  • Nausea
  • Chills and sweating
  • Teeth clenching
  • Blurred vision
  • Dehydration and hyperthermia

MDMA’s potential effectiveness lies in its unique effects. Unlike traditional medications for PTSD, which may have side effects like emotional blunting, MDMA may increase trust and cooperation. This has the potential to help patients engage more openly with therapy and process traumatic experiences. Additionally, MDMA’s ability to promote feelings of connection and intimacy may be beneficial in couples therapy for individuals struggling with past traumas.(7, 8, 9)

Ibogaine (the African Spirit Shrub)

Ibogaine, derived from the African iboga shrub, is primarily being studied for its potential to aid in treating substance use disorders. It has been reported to dramatically alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce the compulsion for substance use, particularly opioids, offering the potential for hope for long-term recovery.(10, 11)

Additionally, researchers at Stanford Medicine found that ibogaine, a plant-based psychoactive drug, effectively improved symptoms of PTSD, depression, and functioning in veterans with traumatic brain injuries when used in combination with magnesium. The study, conducted with special ops military veterans, showed significant improvements in both neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognitive functioning without serious side effects, suggesting potential broader therapeutic applications for ibogaine in treating other neuropsychiatric conditions.(10, 11)


Ibogaine:(10, 11)

  • Is derived from the African iboga shrub and is being studied for its potential to treat substance use disorders
  • May significantly alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce compulsion for substance use, especially opioids
  • Has potential risks for individuals with heart conditions

Potential short-term side effects and cardiac complications include:(12)

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ataxia: A lack of muscle coordination that can affect speech, eye movements, and swallowing ability
  • Cardiac complications, such as arrhythmias
  • Hallucinations: often involving complex, vivid visions or dreams
  • Fatigue

Ibogaine can be physically dangerous, especially for individuals with a heart condition. It is critical that you thoroughly vet any facility or organization offering ibogaine sessions.(10, 11, 12)

Ketamine (the only “legal psychedelic”)

Ketamine, a powerful dissociative anesthetic, has seen a surge in popularity as an off-label treatment for conditions like PTSD and treatment-resistant depression, among other disorders. During a ketamine experience, some individuals may have intense, open, or closed-eyed visuals and feel as if time is moving differently.(13, 14, 15)

Ketamine:(15)

  • May rapidly reduce symptoms of severe depression, often within hours
  • Has shown effectiveness in treating treatment-resistant depression
  • Has been used to alleviate acute suicidal ideation.
  • May provide relief for patients with anxiety disorders
  • Has been used to manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Potential short-term side effects include:(16)

  • Dissociation or feeling detached from reality
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision and dizziness
  • Numbness
  • May induce what is known as a “k-hole,” where users experience an intense and often overwhelming disconnection from reality

In the U.S. alone, there are hundreds of ketamine clinics spread across the country. While many of these clinics offer excellent care, you should always thoroughly vet any ketamine clinic you’re thinking about visiting. Your ketamine therapy experience can vary significantly depending on the clinic or treatment center you visit. Some focus on providing a relaxing, high-end spa experience, while others may be more akin to a regular medical or family medicine clinic. Ketamine is also potentially addictive and should only be used in a controlled, supervised setting. (13, 14)

5-MeO-DMT (“The God Molecule”)

5-MeO-DMT is a powerful psychedelic compound that is found naturally in the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad, as well as in some plant species. However, 5-MeO-DMT is also easily synthesized in a laboratory setting, eliminating the need to source it directly from animals. It is known for its rapid onset and intense psychedelic experiences. 5-MeO-DMT is noted for its more profound, introspective effects that can lead to experiences of unity and transcendence.(17)

5-MeO-DMT:

  • Is known for providing intense, brief psychedelic experiences
  • May cause profound feelings of oneness with the universe.
  • Typically induces strong emotional and mystical experiences rather than visual hallucinations.(17)

Potential short-term side effects include:(18)

  • Intense emotional reactions
  • Altered sense of time and reality
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Overwhelming fear or panic
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Research into 5-MeO-DMT is still relatively limited, but studies suggest it has potential therapeutic benefits, particularly in the treatment of depression and anxiety. These effects are thought to stem from its ability to induce powerful, mystical experiences that can lead to lasting changes in perspective and reductions in symptoms of mental health conditions.(17)

The personal journey toward healing is intricate and unique, and psychedelic therapy may provide an alternative path for many. However, psychedelics are not for everyone, and traveling to a psychedelic retreat should be seen as a major undertaking that requires extensive research and planning.

Preparing for a Psychedelic Retreat: 20 Essential Things You Need To Know

Preparing for a Psychedelic Retreat

When looking for and researching your psychedelic retreat, you should consider various factors.

These include:

  • Safety
  • Ethical standards
  • Breadth of care
  • Retreat staff’s qualifications

A personal referral is a great place to start, but if that’s not possible, you should explore reviews and first-hand testimony from the retreat’s former clients. One of the best resources for finding authentic reviews is Retreat Guru, the longest-running psychedelic and meditation retreat hub on the internet.

However, reviews alone aren’t enough to base your decision on. You should also visit a potential retreat’s website to check staff qualifications and even call ahead with a list of prepared questions for the retreat.

Important Questions to Ask Before Attending a Retreat

Before attending a psychedelic retreat, you should ask the staff questions about their facility, team, expectations, and other considerations. Some examples include:

01

What Are Their Qualifications and Experience?

  • What are the facilitators’ and support staff’s qualifications and experience
  • Can you provide details on the training and background of the individuals leading the sessions?
    • You will want to consider the years they trained and have been in practice and where they received their training.
02

How Do They Approach Safety and Medical Support?

  • What safety protocols do you have in place in case of medical emergencies?
  • Is there a medical professional on-site, and what is their level of experience with psychedelic substances?
03

What Psychedelic Substances Do They Use?

  • What substances will be used, and where do they come from?
  • How do you determine the appropriate dosages for participants?
04

What is The Integration Process?

  • How do you facilitate the integration process after the psychedelic experience?
  • Are there any post-retreat services or support available?
05

What Are The Outcome Expectations?

  • What outcomes can participants typically expect?
  • How do they measure and support the success of participants’ experiences?
06

How Do They Create Optimal Set and Setting?

  • What is the retreat’s setting, and how does it contribute to the healing process?
  • What accommodations and amenities are provided?
  • How do they help participants maintain an optimal and positive mindset?
  • Is the environment safe? Is there safe and comfortable transport to the retreat from the airport?
07

Is the Staff Trained to Handle Adverse Psychedelic Experience?

  • An adverse psychedelic experience, aka a bad trip, can happen no matter how experienced someone is with psychedelics.
  • Understanding the retreat staff’s protocol for such an event is critical to ensuring they are prepared and capable of meeting your needs should something like this occur.
08

What Safety Measures and Protocols Are In Place?

  • Any legitimate psychedelic retreat should be able to explain its safety measures and protocols.
    • A well-designed safety plan and appropriate treatment protocols can help protect you from potential unfortunate experiences.
    • What are the retreat or healing centers’ policies around touch and intimacy? How do they ensure that you are protected against unwanted attention or harassment?
    • How does the retreat’s staff ensure that participants are protected against abuse, especially while under the influence of psychoactive substances?
09

How Does the Retreat Provide for Privacy?

  • You should inquire about the retreat’s safety and privacy protocols. Will you have access to your private space, or does the retreat operate in a group setting?
  • Inquire if the retreat provides private bathrooms for individual use. This is particularly important for maintaining comfort and privacy, especially during potentially vulnerable moments experienced during a psychedelic session.
  • Ask about the retreat’s policies regarding the confidentiality and security of your personal and medical information. Ensure they have robust measures to protect sensitive data and discuss how information is shared with the retreat staff.
  • Check if the retreat offers private rooms for participants. Having your own space can be crucial for privacy and comfort, allowing for personal reflection and rest during the intensive experience of a psychedelic session.
10

How Does the Retreat Help With Preparation?

  • Ask about the specific steps and guidance provided by the retreat center to prepare mentally and physically for the psychedelic experience. This could include dietary recommendations, mental health assessments, educational sessions about what to expect, or required reading or materials.
  • Inquire about the screening process for potential participants. This should include how they assess psychological readiness, medical history, and any potential contraindications to ensure that the psychedelic experience is safe and beneficial for each individual.
  • Find out what types of support and resources are available in the lead-up to the retreat. This might involve access to preparatory counseling, interaction with facilitators, or group meetings with other participants. Understanding the support system in place can help you feel more secure and informed as you approach the retreat.

Principles of Psychedelic Safety at Retreats

Embarking on a psychedelic journey requires not just an openness to new experiences, but also a strong commitment to safety. Participants should educate themselves on the harm reduction principles and the nuances of navigating altered states of consciousness. The importance of a safe setting is paramount, as the vulnerability induced by psychedelics can be profound. Ensuring the retreat has a structured environment to prevent harm, with qualified personnel who can offer support and intervention if needed, is essential. Individuals should look for retreats that provide clear communication about their safety protocols and offer resources for preparing mentally and physically for the experience.

Legality

The Legality of Psychedelic Retreats

The legal landscape of psychedelic use varies widely across the globe, and participants must understand the laws and regulations of the country or state where the retreat is located. Some countries have clear policies permitting certain substances, while others may have more ambiguous or stricter laws. It’s important to respect these legal boundaries and not attempt to transport psychedelics across borders, as the consequences can be severe. For those interested in staying within the United States, Colorado and Oregon have created legal frameworks for psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Popular Destinations For Legal Psychedelic Retreats

While psychedelic medicine is largely still illegal in many nations, a few are on the cutting edge of psychedelic tourism. Some of the most popular destinations for psychedelic retreats are:(19, 20)

🇺🇸 Psychedelic Retreats in the USA This may come as a surprise to some due to broad prohibition on the federal level. However, several states, such as Oregon and Colorado, have begun seeing an influx of psychedelic tourism. Oregon, in particular, has multiple legal psychedelic retreats, with costs ranging from $1200 to $5000.
🇳🇱 The Netherlands The Netherlands has become a prominent hub for the psychedelic retreat industry, leveraging its unique legal status where psilocybin truffles are legal, though mushrooms are not. The Dutch government’s tolerant stance on psychedelics focuses on harm reduction and safety, allowing retreats to emphasize responsible use, informed consent, and integration practices.
🇯🇲 Jamaica Jamaica is one of the few nations worldwide to have never restricted access to psilocybin. As such, the tiny Caribbean country has become a popular nation for both psychedelic research and the psychedelic tourism industry.
🇧🇸 The Bahamas Located a scant 50 miles from the Florida coast, the Bahamas allow for the growing and sale of psilocybin mushrooms, as well as offering access to legalized 5-MeO-DMT. Several psychedelic retreats and healing centers can be found here.
🇧🇷 Brazil Brazil is, and has been, a long-time destination for individuals looking to try the powerful psychedelic brew ayahuasca. Legal ayahuasca centers can be found nationwide, making access relatively easy. However, psychonauts should be careful, as travelers have reported several bad actors in the industry, and unfortunate incidents have occurred at less professional-run ayahuasca centers.
🇵🇪 Peru Peru has a legal psychedelic tourism industry centered around ayahuasca, a traditional brew recognized for its cultural significance and used in spiritual ceremonies by indigenous Amazonian communities. The Peruvian government protects its use, fostering a tourism sector with retreats that attract international visitors seeking spiritual and therapeutic experiences. Tourists are advised to choose retreats that ensure safety and ethical practices, respecting the cultural heritage of ayahuasca.
🇨🇴 Colombia In Colombia, the legal use of natural psychedelics like yagé (or ayahuasca) is largely tolerated, particularly in traditional indigenous ceremonies in the Amazon region. This recognition of indigenous rights and cultural heritage has led to the growth of psychedelic tourism, attracting visitors interested in participating in these spiritual practices. Visitors are encouraged to engage in these experiences responsibly and ethically, respecting the indigenous cultures that host them.

Retreat Guru is the most comprehensive resource for learning about retreats, their locations, and local regulations. Operating since 2014​, they offer the largest and most diverse database of psychedelic retreats, healing centers, meditation retreats, and more, with over 2000 listings. You can easily check reviews, read guest testimonials, and find contact information for retreats worldwide.

Provider Team

Knowing Your Providers

The expertise and intentions of the individuals hosting a psychedelic retreat can significantly influence the outcome of the experience. It is vital to research the facilitators’ backgrounds, qualifications, and approaches to psychedelic therapy.

Before choosing a psychedelic retreat, individuals should consider the following:

01

Reputation and Reviews:

a. Look for testimonials and reviews from previous participants.
b. Check for any reports of misconduct or negative experiences.

02

Facilitator Qualifications:

a. Verify the facilitators’ and support staff’s credentials and experience.
b. Ensure facilitators have training in handling challenging psychedelic experiences.

03

Safety and Medical Protocols:

a. Confirm that the retreat has comprehensive safety protocols in place.
b. Check for on-site medical support and emergency procedures.

04

Integration Support:

a. Look for programs that include pre- and post-retreat integration sessions.
b. Ensure that there are resources available for continued support after the retreat.

05

Ethical and Legal Considerations:

a. Understand the legal status of psychedelics in the retreat’s location.
b. Ensure the retreat operates with high ethical standards and respect for participant welfare.s:

06

Setting and Environment:

a. Choose a retreat location that fosters a sense of tranquility and safety.
b. Consider whether you prefer a more natural setting or a clinical environment.

07

Approach to Psychedelic Therapy:

a. Determine whether the retreat’s approach aligns with your values and needs.
b. Consider whether you are looking for a traditional and indigenous practice that involves spiritual and communal elements or a clinical approach that is more medicalized and individual-focused.

08

Respect for Indigenous Traditions:

a. Respect and consider local customs and traditions properly. As a tourist, you are invited to participate in something often considered a sacred part of your host’s culture.
b. Be cautious of cultural appropriation and seek retreats that involve indigenous healers and offer authentic experiences.

09

Inclusivity and Accessibility:

a. Check that the retreat accommodates dietary restrictions, disabilities, and personal needs.
b. Evaluate the retreat’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment for all participants.

Finally, go inward and assess your availability for the unknowns inherent in these experiences. You cannot predict the outcome of a psychedelic journey, and may find yourself overestimating the impact in some cases, and underestimating the potentially decentering results in others.

Psychedelics are not a panacea, and it’s important to know that you will still have challenges in your life. Psychedelics have the potential to catalyze a deepening in your awareness about what you need to work on, more than act as a “cure.” Psychedelics also have the potential to cause us to question our very perception of reality as we currently understand it, and that’s not an experience that every individual wants to undertake.

By thoroughly evaluating these aspects, individuals can make an informed decision and choose a retreat that is committed to providing a safe, legal, and enriching psychedelic experience.

In some regions, the retreat may be led by spiritual leaders or indigenous healers who bring a wealth of traditional knowledge but may lack formal medical training. While spiritual guidance can be a valuable component of the experience, it is also important for participants to have access to medical supervision and therapeutic support.

Before booking a retreat, consider the entire team involved, including any medical supervisors, therapists, and facilitators, and ensure they operate within a framework that prioritizes participant safety and holistic care. In some cases, you may be working with traditional or indigenous healers who focus on using their respective psychedelic medicine in ways that conform to specific cultural traditions. Often, these healers will have many decades of experience to offer.

Dosage

Know Your Dosage, Set, and Setting

The therapeutic potential of a psychedelic retreat is closely tied to the dosage, the mindset of the participant (set), and the environment in which the substance is consumed (setting). However, there are many factors to consider.

Key Factors to Consider for a Psychedelic Retreat:

01

Dosage and Substance:

  • It’s crucial to understand the type and amount of psychedelics that will be administered.
  • Prepare for the duration and intensity of the experience.
02

Participant Mindset (Set):

  • Creating the appropriate mental state for the experience can profoundly impact the result.
03

Environment (Setting):

  • The setting should foster relaxation and introspection.
  • A supportive group dynamic that encourages personal growth can also be helpful.
04

Sourcing and Safety Protocols:

  • Inquire into how and where the psychedelic medicine has been sourced.
  • Confirm that the retreat’s testing and safety protocols are robust.
05

Guidance and Dosage Pressure:

  • Experienced guides should respect participants’ limits without pressuring participants to take higher doses.
  • Avoid retreats where forced consumption of large or “heroic” doses is very common and, therefore, expected. A well-run retreat will respect your limits and experience level.
06

Choosing the Right Retreat:

  • Select a retreat that aligns well with your personal needs and expectations.
  • Ensure the retreat staff is experienced and understands how to communicate effectively with guests.
Doctor

Coordination with Healthcare Providers

Before attending a psychedelic retreat, it is essential to consult with healthcare providers about the plan to engage in psychedelic therapy. This discussion should include the specifics of the substances to be used, the timing of the retreat, and any potential interactions with current medications. Transparency with healthcare providers ensures continuity of care and prepares for any post-retreat medical follow-up that may be necessary.

Additionally, the retreat’s medical staff should be informed of each participant’s medical history and current medications to provide the safest possible experience. Open communication between a participant’s at-home medical team and the retreat’s staff is a cornerstone of a well-coordinated approach to psychedelic therapy.

Contraindications for Classical Psychedelics

Classic psychedelics, recognized for their profound effects on consciousness, also carry contraindications, particularly for certain health conditions. They can cause an increase in both blood pressure and heart rate, which may present dangers for individuals with existing cardiovascular issues or poorly managed hypertension. Furthermore, psychedelic use is contraindicated for anyone pregnant, who has a history of seizures or stroke, or who suffers from severe heart conditions, such as unmanaged hypertension, heart failure, or a history of significant cardiac events.(21)

Other Psychedelic Contraindications Include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar 1 Disorder
  • Suicidal Ideation

Additionally, there’s an elevated risk of adverse reactions for individuals with a background of cardiovascular disease, seizure disorders, or a personal or familial history of psychotic conditions. Due to the interaction of psychedelics with serotonin receptors in the brain, there’s a risk of serotonin syndrome—a serious and potentially fatal condition—if combined with other serotonin-increasing substances, such as certain antidepressants.(21)

As mentioned, from a psychiatric standpoint, individuals with a history of, or predisposition to, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or severe mood disorders may face increased risks of enduring psychosis following psychedelic use. Those with significant trauma may also encounter intense re-experiencing of past traumas, which underscores the necessity of consulting with a mental health professional before considering psychedelic use.(21, 22)

Lastly, anyone who has previously had negative reactions to psychedelic substances, including extended psychosis or suicidal thoughts, should avoid their use. It’s crucial to discuss any intent to use psychedelics with a healthcare provider, taking into account the intricacies of an individual’s medical and psychological history.(23)

Psychedelic Retreat Red Flags to Watch Out For

psychedelic retreat red flags

Psychedelic retreats may offer support for those seeking therapeutic and spiritual experiences. In the best circumstances, these retreats are not only about the administration of psychedelic substances, but also about the supportive environment that fosters a deeper connection with the self and others.

However, experiencing psychedelics in a strange new setting or in a country where there may be language barriers can be a source of distress. Furthermore, as mentioned, you should never attend a psychedelic retreat or healing ceremony with the belief that it will instantly fix any problems. Psychedelic medicine requires hard work, proper integration, and commitment. As access to conventional psychedelic therapy remains limited by legal and regulatory frameworks, retreats may serve as a gateway for some ready to embark on this transformative path.

While the potential benefits of guided psychedelic use at a retreat are significant, they are not without risks. The altered states of consciousness induced by these substances can leave individuals vulnerable, emphasizing the need for a safe and controlled environment. Psychedelic retreats, operating in a space that lacks regulation, require careful consideration to ensure the safety and well-being of participants. It’s imperative for those considering a retreat to thoroughly research and select facilities that prioritize participant care, employ experienced facilitators, and uphold the highest standards of safety and ethical practice. The responsibility lies heavily on individuals to discern and choose retreats with a proven track record of providing supportive and secure experiences.

Unfortunately, every industry has its bad actors, and those who put their egos or financial needs before the needs and safety of their guests. For example, a recent story about the infamous and cult-like environment at the former Sowilo retreat center has highlighted the dangers that unscrupulous individuals can pose to guests. The article, originally run by Ecstatic Integration, includes testimonials from former guests that describe some bizarre and unethical behavior by the retreat owner, Bruno Cluzel. Some of the accounts detail Cluzel abusing the powerful psychedelic 5-MeO-DMT and forcing guests to mix psychedelics, something that an experienced and ethical facilitator will never do.(24)

When evaluating psychedelic retreats, be cautious of the following red flags that may indicate potential issues:


Lack of Transparency:

a. Retreats that are not open about their staff’s qualifications, program details, or safety protocols should be approached cautiously. Transparency is key to trust and safety in such sensitive experiences.

Inadequate Participant Screening:

a. A retreat that does not conduct thorough health and psychological screenings may overlook crucial contraindications and risks, leading to unsafe experiences for participants.

Insufficient Safety Measures:

a. Suppose a retreat lacks clear emergency procedures or does not have qualified medical staff available. In that case, it may not be equipped to handle adverse reactions or emergencies that can arise from psychedelic use.

Overpromising Results:

a. Be wary of retreats that guarantee specific outcomes or downplay the potential challenges and risks of psychedelic experiences. Honest communication about the potential for both positive and challenging experiences is essential.

Negative Reviews or Reports of Misconduct:

a. Pay attention to reviews and testimonials from previous participants. Reports of negative experiences, especially concerning the behavior of facilitators or the handling of difficult situations, are significant warning signs.
b. Being mindful of these red flags can help you avoid unsafe or unsatisfactory experiences and guide you toward choosing a retreat that prioritizes the well-being and safety of its participants.

Navigating the world of psychedelic retreats can be daunting due to the absence of universal standards and regulations. This uncharted territory calls for due diligence from potential participants to ensure that their chosen retreat operates with integrity and transparency. Prospective attendees should seek testimonials, scrutinize the credentials of the facilitators, and inquire about the protocols in place for handling emergencies or adverse reactions. Selecting a retreat that promises an enriching experience and places a premium on harm reduction principles is crucial. By taking these precautionary steps, individuals can mitigate the risks and maximize the therapeutic potential of their psychedelic journey.

Understanding That Things Can Go Wrong at a Psychedelic Retreat

psychedelic retreat potential risks

Several complications can arise while you’re at a psychedelic retreat, and participants need to be aware of these potential risks:

01

Psychological Distress:

  • Psychedelics can induce intense emotional and psychological experiences, some of which may be challenging or distressing. Participants might encounter unexpected and sometimes overwhelming emotions, memories, or thoughts, leading to experiences of panic, fear, or a psychological phenomenon known as a “bad trip.”
02

Inadequate Support:

  • If a retreat lacks experienced and skilled facilitators, participants may not receive the necessary support during intense psychological distress. This lack of support can exacerbate negative experiences and potentially lead to longer-term psychological issues.
03

Physical Health Risks:

  • Although generally considered physiologically safe, psychedelics can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which may be risky for individuals with certain underlying health conditions. These physical reactions can pose health risks without proper medical screening or onsite medical support.(25)
04

Improper Dosing:

  • Miscalculating the appropriate dose for an individual can lead to an overly intense experience or, conversely, a lack of therapeutic effect. Both outcomes can be disappointing and may detract from the retreat’s overall healing potential.
05

Lack of Integration:

  • After a psychedelic experience, integration is crucial for translating insights and emotional breakthroughs into lasting change. Without proper integration support, participants might struggle to make sense of their experiences, leading to confusion and frustration.
06

Unsafe Environment:

  • The setting of a retreat can significantly impact the experience. An unsafe, uncomfortable, or non-conducive environment for introspection can lead to a negative experience. This includes the physical location and the social environment, such as the presence of untrustworthy individuals or a lack of privacy.
07

Legal and Ethical Issues:

  • In locations where the legal status of psychedelics is ambiguous or where retreats operate in a legal gray area, there may be risks of legal repercussions. Ethical concerns may also arise if the facilitators do not uphold informed consent standards, confidentiality, and respect for the participants’ autonomy and well-being.
08

Negative Interactions with Medications:

  • Participants on certain medications, especially psychiatric ones, may experience adverse interactions with psychedelic substances. If retreat staff do not adequately screen for and manage these medications, it could lead to harmful effects.(25)
09

Exploitation and Abuse:

  • There have been instances where the vulnerability of participants is exploited, leading to cases of abuse or sexual misconduct by facilitators or other participants.
10

Unmet Expectations:

  • Some individuals may have unrealistic expectations about the outcomes of a psychedelic experience. Disappointment in the results can lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of failure, which could negatively impact mental health.

Awareness and preparation are key to mitigating these risks.

For those preparing to embark on a psychedelic retreat, and equally for those returning from one, support is crucial. It’s important to have access to a network that can offer guidance and therapy supervision and help build a co-therapy team. Resources such as educational materials, harm reduction guides, and community support can be invaluable in maximizing the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic experiences. Whether at the journey’s beginning or in the following integration phase, the right support can make all the difference in translating profound moments into lasting positive change.

Psychedelic Support and Resources

The psychedelic community has numerous options for support during and after a psychedelic experience. Some of the most well-known resources include:


  1. The Fireside Project: Run by a force of trained volunteers, the Fireside Project offers emotional support during or after a psychedelic experience. You can reach them via phone or text from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week. Simply call or text 62-FIRESIDE.
  2. The Zendo Project: Similar to the Fireside Project, the Zendo Project offers a comprehensive database of emergency and peer support services for anyone undergoing a difficult psychedelic experience or who simply needs some extra emotional support during a trip.
  3. TripSit.Me: TripSit is a peer-to-peer harm reduction and support organization that provides free, easy-to-use chat resources for anyone to use during or after a psychedelic experience. While they cannot help with integration, they have trained volunteers who can provide emotional support and guidance.

No matter what stage you’re at with your psychedelic journey, attending a psychedelic retreat can be a life-changing experience. However, thoroughly researching and vetting your chosen retreat is absolutely critical to having a safe, positive experience. Ask questions, check qualifications, and always protect yourself. Safe travels and happy tripping.

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.


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