After working in mental health hospitals and treatment centers for 20+ years, I am excited for the prospect of incorporating psychedelic medicine into mainstream care. It seems like the initial attempt are psychedelic retreat centers that focus on helping individuals with their problems.
But what is a psychedelic retreat? Is it for fun or for treating serious illness?
On most psychedelic retreats you go away for 3-5 days (for the cost up to $10,000 USD!) to have a psychedelic experience. The importance placed on set and setting is variable. There will be, however, a mixed group of people with some looking to improve their wellness while others are very ill individuals trying to save their lives from addiction or depression.
I’m concerned with taking a ritualized, spiritual protocol and applying it across a wide range of diseases and non-diseased states without proper medical oversight. This application does not create a venue for safe treatment and personalized medicine to help our most vulnerable and servere mentally ill people.
It is critical for retreats to have physicians present for the psychedelic journeys in case an individual experiences a negative reaction or trip. It appears like retreats are taking on serious illnesses, and the implications for unmonitored care can be grave. What is more concerning is that there is not one regulatory body or group that oversees retreat activities, and the need for standardized training and evidence based care is solely lacking.
We need these retreats to be communicating, sharing data and protocols that lead to better outcomes, and not focusing on competition.
Many people in the throes of severe addiction or mental illness are desperate to get better.
They will charge a retreat on their credit cards and spend more money than they have with the fantasy of a silver bullet cure. These false hopes are unfortunate and unlikely to bring long-lasting improvements in health that people need to feel better.
What’s most important to note is that we can’t give the same treatment to a patient with severe PTSD and a Silicon Valley executive who wants to improve his ability to write code. These individuals are not coming to the retreat with the same goals, so why give them the same treatment?
I’m not worried about the wellness protocol of the executive. I’m concerned for the suicidal alcoholic who may view this retreat as their last hope.
These commodities should not be recklessly squandered on the wrong, non-diseased populations. Instead, we must recognize the need for inpatient and outpatient program development for these very ill individuals.
Hospitals, clinics, residential treatment centers, and addiction treatment centers that incorporate psychedelics are what we need NOW to solve our nation’s mental health crisis.