This is a special episode. I was approached by a company called MycoMeditations that wanted to sponsor the podcast. They actually were very persistent and approached me a few times about it because they were really interested in the opportunity to speak with you all. MycoMeditations is a company that hosts retreats in Jamaica that use the psilocybin mushroom, also known as the magic mushroom. It’s an often misunderstood substance that research has shown to be an effective way to reduce the impact of treatment-resistant mental illness such as depression and anxiety.
Eric and MycoMeditations
Eric Osborne is the founder of MycoMeditations, a wellness center based in Jamaica which professionally works with psilocybin as a therapeutic tool. Eric opens by telling us a bit more about the center, as well as how he got involved in this area of work. Before his work at MycoMeditations, Eric was a teacher for almost a decade, but always had an interest in mycology, the scientific study of mushrooms. Even before becoming a teacher, Eric became a state-certified, wild mushroom expert, making him one of only a few experts in the country who could identify and sell wild mushrooms safely with insurance. Eric talks about this interest in more depth and how his work in mycology evolved over the years, eventually leading to his research and work with psilocybin.
What is psilocybin?
Eric first talks more about the mushrooms themselves. There is a particular genus of mushroom which encompasses several hundred different species, around 150 of which have the psychoactive compound psilocybin and psilocyin. These chemicals are very similar to the serotonin molecule and Eric explains how they are “exceedingly safe from a toxicological point”. It is a very close analog for serotonin, which many anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications focus on in treatment. Eric talks more about the effects of these mushrooms and how there are qualitative differences in the experiences created by different species of mushrooms, but further research is needed to really understand these differences and the potentially positive impact they can have.
Eric tells us what one could expect to experience when consuming psilocybin and admits that it can be almost impossible to predict its effects as it varies so much from individual to individual. Eric explains more about this and describes how in his experience it has always had a positive effect for stable individuals but highlights how it may not be helpful for individuals who have mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar. Eric talks about the mystery surrounding psilocybin and how individuals find it very difficult to put the experience into words – “There is part of the experience that cannot be put into language”. People are often put off because of the variability, and sometimes extremity, of these effects – ultimately it is a psychedelic compound which impacts the way in which you see or understand the world around you. Eric explains how this is one of the main reasons why it is important to be working with someone who is experienced in psilocybin and medicine.
The therapeutic benefits of psilocybin
Eric moves on to talks about the therapeutic benefits and summarizes the use of psilocybin as providing “release”. He talks about the way modern western culture suppresses emotion and what psilocybin most often does is exacerbates your underlying psychological state, enabling you to become more self-aware. Eric explains how this can be challenging and describes an example from a recent guest who had been sexually abused as a child. After a history of therapy, she came to the retreat for about three sessions which each lasted for around 4-6 hours. Eric talks about the release she felt from her sessions and how she became so much more self-aware, particularly towards her thought patterns and behaviors, allowing her to make positive changes in her life. He explains psilocybin as having the potential to give a third-person perspective on ourselves – it serves as a platform to actively process things rather than numbing them out or shutting them down.
However, Eric explains how it’s not necessarily more active or less threatening than other therapies as it can vary in the extreme and induce much terror, but can also result in sessions where the individual remembers very little yet can leave happier with the ability to function better in society. Eric describes examples from veterans who have PTSD and the positive impact sessions at MycoMeditations has on their ability to function in their daily lives. Often the thing that is giving us trouble is a symptom of an underlying issue…this therapy allows you to get right to the heart of what the issue is. Eric talks more about this and how the results are so variable, yet gives the individual what they need at that moment – it is an extremely personal experience.
Who can benefit?
Eric talks about the fact that this isn’t a “one size fits all” therapy and how we need to approach it with a balanced view. However, he sees the most success in cases of treatment-resistant depression, PTSD and anxiety. However, in terms of anxiety, early sessions can be very tough with anxiety symptoms becoming quite intense, but after a few sessions, individuals can really begin to benefit. It can also be really effective in treating substance abuse and addiction. We talk further about the benefits of this therapy in terms of treatment-resistant depression and similar conditions and Eric talks about the positive results that he sees for individuals who have suffered for such a long time.
Eric tells us about how his team follows up with guests in the long term, as well as the group context that surrounds this therapy and the long term connections and relationships that are created between people who attend. Such diverse groups of people, each with their own story and history, come together at the retreat and create a sense of community which many felt they would never have achieved. The vast majority of people who attend describe feeling isolated and alone and so to go through this experience with a group of others provides a great opportunity to build solid relationships which last beyond the sessions at the retreat. Eric talks about the global community that is building around MycoMeditations – his aim is to continue to build this, providing a network that creates an ongoing sense of connectivity, healing, and purpose.
With the therapy itself, Eric explains how there is usually at least 2 hours of group discussion both before and after each session. We talk about the power of community in this sense and how it gives individuals the chance to be open and vulnerable, acting as a platform to help break down the barriers. Eric talks more about his experiences with individuals who have been at their breaking point, never feeling able to confide in anyone about their troubles, and then having the opportunity to let go and share within the safety of MycoMeditations. He explains how if we could all be more open and honest about our feelings, rather than hiding our struggles, there would be much more of a community in modern society. Psilocybin and MycoMeditations facilitate this sense of community, enabling you to discover more about your authentic self and living that with confidence.
The science behind Psilocybin
Eric tells us how there is limited, but significant research behind the use of psilocybin as a therapeutic tool. He talks about previous research which was shut down indicating its benefits across a wide spectrum of disorders. Since the 90s, studies have been conducted demonstrating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin across a wide range of disorders including anxiety and depression. We talk about this in more depth and how there has been an increased interest in looking at illegal compounds in terms of therapeutic uses they may possess.
Eric explains more about MycoMeditations, the retreat itself and how it operates. Based in Jamaica, Eric and his team greet individuals, many of which have never had any experience with psilocybin. The first day is about settling in and education, helping people to understand the history, safety, and expectations of the treatment. The first dose will start low and is based on factors including personality characteristics, previous experience with substances and/or substance abuse, SSRI history – Each individual is assessed and given an appropriate dose. This gives an entry experience allowing you to understand the process and become comfortable with what to expect. The following morning will consist of group discussion and then a second dose is given, based on the previous experience and individual evaluation. Usually, the dose will start low and gradually increase as the week progresses. Eric highlights again how it is a very individual experience and each guest is evaluated and treated as a unique individual. Eric talks about administering psilocybin itself and how this is done in capsule form, allowing for more controlled doses.
We learn more about the staff at the retreat and Eric tells us that from September there will be a licensed therapist on hand at all times. There is also a nurse who is present during all sessions. The focus is very much on facilitators – those responsible for overseeing the therapy and ensuring each individual gets the most out of every session. He recognizes the need to have experienced and qualified professionals in order to give clients confidence in their work, but also that each individual in the team needs to be sincere, authentic and fully supportive of this medicine and practice. Eric talks about how some of the volunteers and employees at MycoMeditations were originally guests at the center. In his experience, people who have mental health issues are usually more compassionate and understanding – sometimes the best help comes from individuals who have first-hand experience.
Eric talks about how MycoMeditations compares to other facilities available and what sets them apart. They use their experience to push the boundaries to get the best possible outcome for their clients. We talk about the shift towards ‘micro-dosing’ and Eric explains how in his opinion it isn’t a good practice to help with improving mental health in the long term. We head back in to discuss some of the ways in which psilocybin has resulted in unwanted effects, particularly from the perspective of lab research (e.g. breaking from restraints, running out of the building) and it is Eric’s belief that the confining environment of these situations is the primary cause of these experiences. Ultimately, the setting needs to be therapeutic before the compound is introduced, which Eric explains is why his work takes place in a natural setting, outdoors wherever possible – “Nature is the best place for psychedelics”. We talk about this in detail.
Finding a reliable, experienced program
For people interested in attending a Center like MycoMeditations, we talk about the difficulties in recognizing and identifying safe, reliable programs which have genuine experience and intentions. Eric recommends reaching out to speak to an actual person first, someone who is going to be apart of the sessions and not just an assistant. Seek out reviews online – how long have they been practicing, what is their level of experience as well as their own personal experience in using the substance in question. Can they offer a chance to talk to previous guests to hear their own testimonials? Eric stresses the importance of looking past the direct marketing and trying to get information on the people who are running the program and the actual results that they are getting, as well as their intentions and personal interest/investment in their practice – Research is key, and although the medicine is important, so it the facilitator…the two together are greater than one alone.
We finish up by chatting about the logistics around psilocybin, which is still illegal in many places. Eric explains that currently, psilocybin is completely unregulated in Jamaica, but he is currently working with local ministries to help craft laws to make it fully legal and regulated in a positive way, ensuring safe access. Eric explains how currently the selling of mushrooms is increasing in Jamaica in a very unsafe way – he strongly recommends not to buy mushrooms off the street as you really don’t know what you are being given. Eric talks further about the need for regulation and a culture change in society before any significant, positive progress can be made.
We close by talking about the safety of psilocybin and MycoMeditations for US citizens and Eric highlights how you can find out more information on his retreat and the types of packages that they offer at MycoMeditations, which range from basic entry-level accommodation and service, which is comfortable, safe and relaxing, right up to a new luxury package which is in the process of being set up now. Prices start from approx $2500 for a 7-night retreat, but for more info reach out to MycoMeditations. Eric finishes up by telling us about his podcast, The Psilocybin Chronicles, which is a great way to learn more and hear from individuals with first-hand experience.
I’d like to thank Eric for coming on the show and talking about his work at MycoMeditations. If you have any questions or feedback Eric would love to hear from you and is happy for you to reach out to him. You can find out more on the MycoMeditations website!
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