Psychedelic wellness retreats are having a moment in the sun. Popularized by the bestselling book (later a Netflix series), “Nine Perfect Strangers”, they are the subject of articles in major publications like the New York Times, Vox, and the Washington Post. Demand is skyrocketing, retreats are popping up all over the Americas and Europe, and everyone seems to know someone who has gone, or is planning on going. 

For those without much psychedelic experience this all must seem a bit bewildering. Aren’t these substances illegal? Are they dangerous? Why would someone accept these risks, there must be a reason – what do guests that attend these retreats hope to accomplish? And do they ultimately get the benefits that they sought? We spent a month traversing the jungles of Costa Rica and the beaches of Mexico, visiting 30 of these retreats and their guests to help separate fact from fiction.

What Are Psychedelics? 

Psychedelics are natural or manufactured substances that cause your brain to have extraordinary experiences. Sometimes these experiences are visual hallucinations; sometimes they are feelings and moods. They alter your brain chemistry in a variety of ways. And a substantial and growing body of research, peer-reviewed and driven by the world’s leading research institutes, is showing that for most people, psychedelics can bring them tremendous personal growth. When combined with therapy, anxiety, depression and PTSD can be treated very effectively; similarly, they can have profound impacts on addicts who are unable to shake their addiction. 

There are a host of different psychedelic compounds producing somewhat similar changes in brain chemistry, though the experience of consuming them can be very, very different. Psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical in all ‘magic mushrooms’, usually leaves the consumer in a state of euphoria and giggles. Ayahuasca, a vine that grows throughout South and Central America, often brings on intense delusions and vomiting. Each compound has unique properties that can help the consumer in different ways. Ibogaine, derived from the African ‘iboga’ vine, is known to be a powerful last resort for people suffering from addiction. So which psychedelic to consume depends on your tolerance for the experience, and on what you hope to accomplish by taking it.

What Is A Psychedelic Retreat? 

A psychedelic retreat is best thought of as a yoga or wellness retreat, where a guest would sign up for a host of services designed to boost their mood, perspective, or physical health. A wellness retreat may offer activities such as a sweat lodge, breathing exercises or meditation to help focus your mind on your own issues and trauma. Similarly, psychedelics offer the consumer a pathway to introspection and growth. Practitioners view them as a key to unlock your subconscious, to enable deep-seated past traumas to come to the fore and be understood. Most psychedelic retreats will offer all the modalities available in a wellness retreat and view psychedelics as a way to ‘grease the wheels’, getting you to a point of introspection much more quickly.

Who Goes To Psychedelic Retreats?

There are no industry associations for psychedelic retreats so it’s hard to know who is going for sure. Having met so many operators in Central America, we heard a very consistent …

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