*This article is sponsored by Beckley Retreats.
Even five years ago, as the waves of the western psychedelic resurgence developed a steady ripple, it remained a question of if draconian policies on tripping would capsize. Now, somewhat miraculously, we are beyond the point of when.
Major players such as Beckley Retreats, co-founded by Amanda Feilding, are now offering psychedelic healing retreats in progressive locations like the Netherlands and Jamaica—countries that have swiftly, and officially in the latter case, unshackled hallucinogens ahead of the majority of the west.
The retreats are a continuation of Feilding’s vision and that of the Beckley Foundation, a psychedelic advocacy and research organization also founded by championing researcher Feilding, dubbed the “Michelangelo” of today’s psychedelic renaissance.
“Psychedelics, when used carefully and cleverly, can be an amazing tool to get special inspiration to go deeply into the psyche and transform the troubled parts of the personality which we all have,” Feilding tells DoubleBlind.
Feilding has seen it all. Astonishingly, she began working with psychedelics in 1966 and waited decades to be permitted to support and conduct legal research. “When I got involved, global drug policy was in the dark ages,” she told the Observer. “I was really just interested in cannabis and the psychedelics and horrified how they were classified in the same bag as … heroin and cocaine.”
Now, in a world where optimistic rumors of soon-to-be legal psychedelic therapies make newspaper headlines and speculations of what could be a new multi-billion dollar industry abound, she has a packed schedule on the cusp of her 80th birthday.
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Could the secret to her longevity be that she drilled a hole into her head? Perhaps: the curious process—known as trepanation—has been done for thousands of years by seekers of higher states. “I think it’s very likely to have a physiological base, which I’m going to research,” she told Wired. But, at least for now, it’s psychedelics that are hitting the mainstream, and it is not an overstatement to say Feilding is the most influential woman in the history of psychedelic science.
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“In 1998, I instituted the Beckley Foundation in order to develop the best possible research to address this fascinating domain of inquiry,” she explains. In 2008, Feilding initiated a psychedelic research program with Prof David Nutt at Imperial College London that has since published some 35 studies, including a historic first scientific paper on microdosing LSD. Beckley has also designed investigations at John Hopkins University in the US, with a 2016 paper on psilocybin and mental health becoming globally influential.
All of this—and more—has contributed to a psychedelic boomerang effect: first, from revolutionary salvé in the early ‘60s, then to federally imposed exile by the end of the decade. Today, thanks in part to research from dedicated researchers like Feilding, the boomerang returns, with psychedelic compounds primed to transform western psychiatry—and perhaps even society at large—once again.
“[Feilding] has dedicated her entire life to trying to help people,” reflects Neil Markey, co-founder and CEO of Beckley Retreats.“It was never about the money. She just deeply believed in the potential benefits of these plants and compounds and kept going.”
“For most of her career, the world thought she was crazy–now the world is seeing it as brilliance,” he told DoubleBlind in an email. Markey, a former U.S. Army Ranger, credits Feilding’s legacy and vision as reasons behind his decision to partner with Beckley Foundation.
For the last two decades, Feilding focused on the more apolitical psilocybin, the psychoactive compound of magic mushrooms. (Beckley serves psilocybin mushrooms at their retreats.) Due to the persisting taboos around acid, psilocybin is far ahead of the other psychedelics in the race to get the Food and Drugs Administration’s green light.
“If we can enhance and expand consciousness, wonderful things can happen since it is at the core of who we are,” Feilding, also known as Lady Wemyss, adds. “But psychedelics are powerful compounds; it is vital to make sure people are confident in what they are doing and feel safe.”
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One trip at a time. From campaigners to research pioneers and now to facilitators, Beckley has come full circle and is now holding five-night retreats almost every month through Retreats. But Retreats is just one of four pillars in the company: There’s also Beckley Academy, Beckley Psytech, and Beckley Waves.
“The psychopharmacology establishment has run out of steam when it comes to helping people with their mental health issues,” says a 44-year-old marketing executive from the US who attended one of Beckley’s recent luxury psilocybin retreats in Jamaica. The island nation has become a hub for legal shroom getaways.
“It’s a deeply emotional, and at times challenging but ultimately rewarding experience, that the more formal setting [as opposed to taking shrooms at a concert] really brings out.” Since the retreat—which includes two guided trips with hypnotic, eclectic live music—he has emerged from a self-described midlife crisis “reconnected with purpose and meaning.”
Another participant, a 42-year-old consultant who is also American, says she sought means outside of talking therapies to further her personal growth. “It was just beautifully orchestrated,” she says of the ceremony. “I went into some really deep spaces that I didn’t know existed but which I must have needed to explore.”
The six weeks of structured integration sessions, which follow similar preparation activities, have allowed her to go deeper with her inner critic and child. “We have these opportunities to carve new paths, and it feels much easier than we would in a normal setting,” she adds.
You’ve probably heard, perhaps even experienced, that psychedelics can make the brain more hyperplastic and malleable to change. But amid the growing (often justified) hype, it’s easy to forget how intensely they were maligned and treated as pariah drugs despite the immense potential they had already shown for studying the brain.
Feilding often cites how psychedelics (along with yoga, fasting, and, er, trepanning) can positively manipulate blood flow in the brain. Breathwork and meditation are incorporated into the program at Beckley Retreats. “The brain is supplied with billions more neurons with enough energy to actively function and enjoy greater connectivity,” the longtime drug law reform advocate adds. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions remaining to be addressed in order to better harvest the potential of these very special compounds.”
But the floodgates have opened. The company hopes to one day be staging retreats in the UK and the US. “It’s needed in society,” she says. “We are in an epidemic of mental illness and lost souls, in a way. We need more sense of self, spirituality, love, and mindfulness. These compounds increase those qualities. They’re for the good of humanity. They need to be legally available everywhere.”
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