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Jul 27, 2022


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Everything You Need to Know About Luxury Psilocybin Retreats

And our picks for which to attend this year.

In Hulu’s hit limited series Nine Perfect Strangers, a kooky healer, played by Nicole Kidman, leads people in crisis off the rails via nonconsensual and wildly irresponsible administration of psychedelics at a wooded idyllic retreat. Absent the Hollywood dramatics and consent issues, those most familiar with psychedelics, and psilocybin in particular, insist that combining ancient indigenous rituals into modern luxury experiences doesn’t just make for good television; it may actually be ideal for those wanting to use mushroom medicine to transform their lives. Keep reading to find out why.

The benefits of psilocybin

Psilocybin retreats are relatively new, but magic mushrooms have been ingested throughout human history, potentially as far back as prehistoric times. While 'shrooms have been utilized as spiritual medicine for centuries, modern science has uncovered a lot about how psilocybin impacts the brain and mental health. A slew of studies have shown the naturally-occurring psychedelic compound to be an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, and even Alzheimer's. Although the direct mechanisms by which psilocybin improves these conditions are still being explored, it has generally been shown to facilitate neurogenesis and neuroplasticity while reducing inflammation in the brain.

A depressed brain, for example, tends to encourage rigid thought patterns that contribute to a depressed state. These patterns can be thought of as deep grooves in the brain that can be smoothed over by psilocybin application. “The brain just wants familiar patterns, and it doesn’t care if they’re hurting you,” says medicine woman Amanda Schendel, who is the founder of The Buena Vida Psilocybin Retreats. “You’re suffering because you have this deep groove pattern in your brain that, despite all your conscious awareness of the pattern, wants to stay the same and be drawn to situations, people, jobs, and things that aren’t serving you. Psilocybin softens those patterns and creates new ones.”

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The benefits of taking psilocybin in a retreat setting

In modern American culture, magic mushrooms are most often taken at home or in party settings. This can be fun, but it’s not necessarily optimal for those looking to reap the aforementioned mental health benefits. For those with wellness goals, retreats, according to experts like Schendel, are preferable.

To start, retreats offer a safe space for first-timers and veterans alike to take psilocybin, which can be a daunting experience. Making people comfortable is a critical component of Schendel’s retreat structure because she says discomfort and anxiety can lead to what are known as “bad trips” or adverse psychological reactions to psychedelic substances. For this reason, she and her team make a concerted effort to prepare guests, starting before they even arrive at the retreat location with a seven-day virtual course. “A lot of our preparatory workshops are about releasing nervousness,” she says. Schendel doesn’t just throw attendees into the deep end once it’s time to use psilocybin, either. She designs her retreats so that multiple ceremonies are conducted, gradually increasing dosages as guests become more at ease with their company, surroundings, and the drug.

Retreats typically also aim to help attendees integrate their psilocybin experiences, which means they seek to help guests explore insights garnered from their trips and potentially utilize them to make positive changes in their lives going forward. “The results of even the best psychedelic trip of your life will last two or three months if you have no structure in place or daily practices to connect you back to that experience,” says Schendel, “so in addition to a preparation program, we also have an integration program.”

Leading retreats has emphasized for Schendel the importance of experiencing psilocybin within a community, too. “Mushrooms are a medicine of connection,” she says. “It may sound cheesy, but people don’t realize the root of many ailments—depression, anxiety—is a lack of connection to themselves, to their body, to being seen by others. That connection is something we provide for them.” In fact, the feedback Schendel gets most often from attendees is that they came for themselves, expecting a personal experience, but actually ended up learning a lot from other guests. “They’ll tell me other people taught them as much, if not more, than the mushrooms themselves,” she says.

According to Schendel, luxury retreats are luxurious for a reason, and it’s not for the sake of making them inaccessible. “The ceremonies can be very intense, emotionally and physically, which is why the rest of the retreat is as plush and comfortable as possible,” she says. “Everything is designed to be in support of those ceremonies, so people can go as deep as possible and still feel safe physically, spiritually, and emotionally.”

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Whom are psilocybin retreats right for?

Psilocybin can benefit many different types of people. Schendel’s retreat groups tend to be mixed, but a significant number of attendees come with diagnoses of anxiety or depression. “I would say most are struggling with some sort of mental health disorder, whether it’s diagnosed or not, and many of them have tried different SSRIs, SNRIs, pain medication, or sleep medication,” she says. “A lot of those people are looking for a new approach to healing, and most come seeking relief of some sort.” Other retreats focus on creative expression or exploration and draw different types of individuals looking for different results.

And while the mental health benefits are, as Schendel points out, a driver for many who seek out psilocybin retreats, most require pre-screening to ensure potential participants aren’t at risk due to severe or specific mental or physical health conditions.

What to expect at a psilocybin retreat

Psychedelic retreats take place all over the world, and although they are illegal in the U.S. because psilocybin is not legal under federal law, some cities and states have begun to decriminalize its possession and even legalize its use in therapeutic settings. Retreats are held in some of those places, and they can also be found in destinations, such as Mexico and Jamaica, where psilocybin use in all or some settings is already legal.

These retreats come in a plethora of formats. When designing hers, Schendel takes inspiration from ceremonies across different cultures, but that there is no one uniform tradition from which to pull. This is because mushrooms containing psilocybin grow all over the world and have been incorporated into various rituals in different cultures. “They grow on every continent and, to me, are like a medicine of humanity for the entire planet,” says Schendel. “But there isn't a standard mushroom ceremony per se, so I take what our ancestors built while also being open to designing something unique.”

After Schendel’s guests complete the seven-day online preparatory course, they arrive at the retreat to begin programming that typically lasts five to seven days, which is inclusive of the psilocybin experiences as well as other therapeutic activities. Although every psychedelic retreat is unique, many include similar elements. Like Schendel's retreats, most are led by a trip guide, such as a shaman or medicine man or woman, who oversee the psilocybin administration usually in a ritual or formal setting. Retreats can also include wellness activities, such as yoga and meditation, alongside group and individual talk therapy-like sessions.

One thing that sets Schendel's retreats apart from others, she says, is that she tries to incorporate different forms of release beyond talking into her programming. For example, her retreats include ecstatic dance, breathwork, and somatic work. “At retreats I attended in the past, I found there was too much talking about problems, which we do in everyday life. We intellectualize everything, but you can’t heal your nervous system by talking,” she says. “While there is some sharing involved in our ceremonies, over the years I’ve moved more into, ‘Let’s dance about it; let’s breathe about it.” Schendel also thinks it's important to include pleasure in her retreats. “We try to have as much fun as possible,” she says. “We go on a day trip on a catamaran; there’s daily access to a private beach; and all the meals are chef-prepared, super healthy, and delicious.”

After each retreat concludes, Schendel offers guests two weeks of integration support in the form of group and individual calls to help attendees and hold them accountable for incorporating revelations from their journeys into their lives back home. She also offers to refer guests to specialized psychedelic integration coaches and therapists.


How you might expect to changed by a psilocybin retreat

If you’ve never experienced a journey with psilocybin, Schendel says it can be hard to explain. “It's like trying to tell someone what an avocado tastes like. ‘Smooth, green, nutty,’ right?’ And then you eat it, and it's just a whole different experience,” she says. Still, she compares the experience of taking psilocybin with “getting a giant download.” She likens it to receiving a computer with thirty programs that at first is only used to surf the internet. Then, at some point in the future, a situation arises requiring use of a certain software program, and the owner realizes they already have access to it because it was downloaded onto their computer. “That is what integration is like; you’re back in real life, and you have to make a decision or you’re confronted by some trigger, and suddenly you realize, “Okay, I remember this lesson,’” Schendel says.

This kind of realization can happen very quickly or years after a psychedelic journey. “Mushrooms are like consciousness that’s outside of space and time,” Schendel says. In her own personal experience, things have come up during past journeys that she didn’t understand at the time, but later she encountered a person or situation and realized a connection. Her retreat attendees have reported having this experience as well. “They’ll tell me that something the mushrooms ‘told them’ on their journey at the retreat came true much later,” she says.

Whether she has a revelation or not, after every psilocybin experience, Schendel says she feels more centered and peaceful. Rather than an intellectual shift, this is an emotional change with significant benefits. “It’s one thing to know, in your head, that things are going to work out and you need to trust the process,” she says, “but to feel that on the inside—that inner knowing is so much better.”

Schendel notes that psilocybin therapy isn’t a magic bullet though. “Mushrooms aren’t going to make decisions for you; they’re not going to quit your job or leave your partner. You still have to do that,” she says. “But it’s like getting back your power, your resolve, your ability.” This is why Schendel emphasizes the importance of integration, especially in the first two to three weeks after an experience. In this window, her retreat attendees often report interacting with a triggering person or having a triggering experience and noticing how their brains interpret the experience differently than they would have before. “There’s more space between the trigger and their reaction,” Schendel says.

And while this may sound a little woo-woo, Schendel believes mushrooms can give us insight and access into ourselves because they have co-evolved with humans. “After five extinctions on this planet, the only thing that’s regrown life is fungi. Everything else dies, but the mycelium network lives on and rebuilds,” she says. “These fungi are billion-year-old teachers that have collected the data of humanity in their DNA, so when we eat them, we get their information.”

Whether you’re onboard with this belief or prefer to stick to science, according to Schendel, if you’re open to mushroom medicine, it can transform your life. People who attend her retreats report real changes they’ve made in their lives. “Some people say taking psilocybin is like ten years of therapy in one night,” she says. “It doesn’t fix you, but it gives you profound insights and the ability to make real changes.”

Upcoming Buena Vida Psilocybin Retreats to check out

Grounded Retreats
December 6-12, 2022, Tulum Jungle

Healing Retreats
September 28 - October 4, 2022, Sayulita
November 28 - December 2, 2022, Sayulita

Expansion Retreats
November 10-14, 2022, Sayulita
November 17-23, 2022, Sayulita

In addition to Buena Vida, we also recommend exploring Silo Wellness retreats, MycoMeditations retreats, and Atman Retreats.

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