Inside the growing world of all-inclusive magic mushroom retreats

Inside the growing world of all-inclusive magic mushroom retreats

VicesApril 06, 2017 By Reilly Capps

For the past decade or so, there have been retreats in South America for ayahuasca, Ibogaine escapes in Africa, and peyote spirit quests in the United States. However, until recently, there’s been nothing similar for magic mushrooms.

But, in places like Jamaica, Costa Rica and Holland, where the fungus was never banned, opportunistic fungus-lovers and entrepreneurs have finally begun to offer mushroom retreats — hallucinogenic trips for everyone from plumbers to psychonauts that allow people to explore the benefits of psilocybin in safe, legal, vacation-like settings.

A seven-day retreat in Jamaica with MycoMeditations, including your room, two delicious meals a day, a trustworthy driver named Mark, and three heroic doses of psilocybin on a private bay next to a lapping ocean will cost you as little as $1,205. Wavy neon balls of light come at no extra charge.

MycoMeditations is one of the first mushroom retreats in the world, but won't be the only. The Third Wave, a psychedelic awareness organization, is planning another one this in September in Costa Rica. And the London Psychedelic Society is currently offering all-inclusive trips to the Netherlands to eat the psilocybin truffles there. Plans are popping up for similar retreats in Bali and Spain.

Right now, mushroom retreats aren’t huge — like Señor Frogs huge — but, they are growing. And as they do, they’re beginning to flip the script about illegal drugs.

"We have this idea as a culture that mushrooms are poisonous or that they'll make you go crazy," says Eric Osborne, founder of MycoMeditations and a staunch believer that mushrooms are far safer than alcohol. "I don't know anybody who said their life is worse off because of mushrooms."

"I've had experiences at camping and concerts that were just purely enjoyable and blissful," he says. "But the real benefit I'm seeing people gain is when there's minimal sensory input and maximal tolerable dose."

Those benefits he's talking about? They're very real. Science says mushrooms can treat OCD, depression and headaches, help people quit cigarettes, and — vaguely — increase a person's "spirituality."

All this is a pretty new territory for Osborne. Not very long ago, he wasn't exactly getting attention and praise for giving people mushrooms. He was getting thrown in jail.

On a quiet night in Indiana, he gave a woman, a friend of a friend, some mushrooms to eat by a campfire. He'd done this plenty of times before, with no trouble. But that night, the woman walked to her car, grabbed a hidden key stuck under the bumper — Osborne says he took her key ring — and drove off the property and into a ditch. Cops came, arrested Osborne and set his bail at $40,000. He faced up to 10 years in jail.

Then, two semi-miraculous things happened: his mushroom clients publicly defended him, including a military veteran who said the mushrooms helped him get over his PTSD, and he got off with probation and time served. Second, Osborne realized it was stupid to do illegal mushroom adventures in the United States, when Jamaica, where they're legal, was just a short plane flight away.

"This needs to be accessible," Osborne said to himself. "There needs to be psilocybin retreats." Not long after that, the Jamaican retreats were planned.

While they’re increasingly accessible, interest in this kind of thing is hard to gauge — mushrooms aren’t terribly popular, after all. However, Osborne does have one trip a month planned through the rest of the year, so it’s clear the market is at least steady, if not growing.

Within that market lies a curious demographic. Interestingly, the target audience for retreats like these aren’t rebellious teens getting shit-faced — it's more often people like Diane Dodge, 59, who is going to die.

Diane has colorectal cancer, and doctors predict she has less than three years to live. The depression got so deep she asked a friend: "If I guzzle a bottle each of Xanax and booze, will you stand by with the pillow in case it doesn't work to finish me off?"

She'd read that mushrooms relieve fear of death, so she "took my old lady ass down to Jamaica" with MycoMeditations. Five grams of shrooms changed her attitude. "I would start thinking about the question of death and I would just start laughing," Diane says. She felt like it zoomed her to the kind of calm, zen-ish mindstate monks meditate for 30 years to achieve. Death seemed ridiculous. Months later, she says, "I have all my old energy back."

It's an all-inclusive retreat for psychonauts. They pick you up at the airport and put you up at villas yards from the beach in Taino Cove. During the week, they provide guided hikes and massages and daily breakfast and dinner. Then, three times during a week-long trip, they take you to a private beach for a nighttime, fireside, oceanside mushroom session. They provide you with a dose of mushrooms bigger than people normally take — usually around 5 grams — for the long session. There's very little talking; mostly, it's a private journey.

All the facilitators say that, yes, people sometimes have bad trips. But they agree with the accepted science which says that, unlike alcohol, tobacco, heroin or cocaine, eating psilocybin is about "as dangerous as riding a bike or playing soccer."

Still, not everyone thinks this is a good idea. "I think there are healthier outlets for finding that type of satisfaction, and even true enlightenment," says anti-drug activist Jo McGuire of Five Minutes of Courage, who talks to youth about the dangers of drug use, when asked about these mushroom retreats. "It's too bad that we choose to make it substance-related because I think that leads to disappointment. You're always looking for that perfect effect, and you can never quite get it."

Omar Thomas, 45, would disagree — he had his life changed by his very first mushroom trip. An army combat vet during Desert Storm, he left the military "a wreck." Mushrooms straightened him out. Afterwards he began to lead fellow vets in underground mushroom trips in Pennsylvania. This year, he's relocating his wife and two kids to Jamaica permanently to openly offer retreats for vets and beyond with MycoMeditations and his group, 5 in the Dark, which provides trip help for a few different psychedelic drugs.

Tech entrepreneur Paul Austin is another person whose life has been immensely improved by mushrooms, and subsequently, mushroom retreats. He says taking high doses of shrooms every two or three months helps him "reset the hardware." He helped run a MycoMeditations retreat in Jamaica this year and is planning his own retreats in Costa Rica in September.

As he and others lay plans, the options will multiply. Osborne plans a luxury retreat with celebrity Shane Mauss. What's next? Fine dining and fine psilocybin, all-inclusive? Club-Med for tripping?

It's not a vacation for everyone. Most people would rather calmly get faded sipping piña coladas by the pool than be jolted by waves of bizarre energy pulsing through their limbic system. But for some curious travelers, mushroom trips offer a new way to maybe see the world, or a Jamaican beach — or the inside of their own head. They'll even pick you up from the airport.