Gather around the fire, children, and let me tell you about one of the trippiest wormholes I fell down this year.
On a cold winter night in Detroit, a 55-year-old reiki healer who fucks with my newsletter picks me up from my hotel. “I’m going to take you to this spot called the Psychedelic Healing Shack,” she says, lighting up a pink doobie in her car. Simply described as a vegetarian cafe on Google, the Shack is a polarizing place in the Detroit community; its Yelp has only five, one-star reviews. One person praises it as a “raw, spiritual” utopia far from the New Age hipster scourge, while others decry it as “disturbing” with rampant allegations of abuse. A DJ friend living in Detroit laughed nervously when I asked what he thought: “Uh, didn’t someone die there?”
It turns out that the Psychedelic Healing Shack is one of the most notorious places of ill repute in Detroit. Two years ago, a rapper named Max Julian, who was a regular at the Shack, was found dead on the property’s playground after what Detroit Police believe was an overdose. Following Julian’s death, a petition circulated calling for the Shack to get shut down, while a Reddit thread emerged detailing allegations of abuse that have surrounded the place—including that sexual predators and pedophiles have been allowed to hang out on the premises.
“Dr. Bob is one of the biggest pieces of shit I’ve had the displeasure of ever meeting and I hope he rots,” wrote one user, who said that on one particularly wild night, he was hit by a glass bottle that shattered his face and left him with permanent nerve damage. Another user alleged that he and ten other kids were molested while hanging out there, calling it a “local pedo ring.”
The irony that a place called the “Psychedelic Healing Shack” could, in fact, be a hotbed of abuse and sketchy behavior was not surprising; as psychedelics go increasingly mainstream, concerns are mounting that the professionalized language of “wellness” and “therapy,” as well as counterculture of libertarian hedonism, can obscure a dark underbelly of sexual abuse and misconduct. Despite concerns about my personal safety, I decided to visit the Shack myself to find out first-hand what was going on there—and try to shed some light on its shady secrets.
The reiki healer and I drive far from the gleaming new high rises of downtown Detroit, into a neighborhood near 7 Mile. Parked outside the house in a van are two of her hippie friends; they greet me with a paper bag stacked with eight jars of primo nugs and the amethyst crystals they used to grow these sparkling strains. Gorgeous.
As for the Shack, well, it is a rainbow-splattered tubular growth spurting off the sidewalk on a dreary strip of suburbia. Cars driving by slow down to stare at this abomination—the dragon sculpture snaking under a weeping willow, the tendrils snaking up the stairs. What a piece of work:
We walk through the door and are sucked into this weird alternate dimension. To our left, three dudes jamming in the pitch dark—one hunched over an old piano, another on guitar, the third punching synth pads. Without any lights on this side of the room, all I can see are their silhouettes, but the music is sad and haunting. In the hallway are shelves stacked with jars and jars of herbs: catnip, kratom, myrrh, Juniper berries, San Pedro cactus, next to strange plants I have never seen before. The ceiling was painted by someone on acid, and a slow ceiling fan casts strange shadows on the centerpiece: a demonic-looking monkey god shrine, in front of which a giant half-wolf black hound is sleeping.
“What is this place?!” I whisper to the reiki healer. Her eyes are as wide as mine.
We walk further in. A man reading a book at a table glances up with a furtive look and scampers away from our gaze. Three people are smoking blunts at a table and loudly debating some melodrama around a documentary they are trying to film about this place. We take a seat, and the proprietor of the place—a chiropractor who everyone calls “Dr. Bob”—shuffles in like a gnome with a limp, takes our order with a little chuckle, and then scampers off into the chaotic kitchen, whistling as he fixes us smoothies and vegan bowls. I don’t remember much about this night because those goddamn hippies got me so stoned, but I will never forget the climatic finale, when a fabulous Black gay elder (who told me he used to sing in Universal Robot Band and helped to start Movement festival) pounds the table and shouts a chanting prayer for me—entirely in Japanese.
This night felt so surreal that I knew I had to come back to confront Dr. Bob about the allegations surrounding him. Especially after I Googled around a bit more and found: Facebook videos of the guy who overdosed at the Shack, accusations of Dr. Bob harboring pedophiles and partying with minors, and stoner poet John Sinclair accusing him of basically being a broke bitch who couldn’t afford to buy an espresso machine for the weed cafe they were going to open at the Shack. So on my final afternoon in Detroit, I take a bus in the rain and show up at his purple door.
This time the Shack is frigid and still, like the whirling hot air from our merrymaking has swirled out the door and left the place moribund. I don’t know if this dread I feel is real, or just the pangs of doubt now sewn in my mind. Is it possible to tell if someone is a creep or a crackpot just from the way they crack your neck?
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I am here to tell you that when I asked Dr Bob to show me his chiropractic skills, his fingers were wintry but wisened, and they never lingered anywhere for too long. Afterwards, as I lay on the massage table in the dark, he begins to talk—telling me his life story, and responding to the dark rumors that haunt the Shack’s reputation.
By the time I left that night to go to a Theo Parrish loft party, I still didn’t know what to make of this shadowy space. Despite the commonly-held belief that psychedelics (compared to alcohol) do not engender violence, there’s a lot of toxicity happening in these spaces, too. The allegations of abuse surrounding the Shack undoubtedly make it a place that deserves to be treated with much caution—tourists coming to visit should be warned about its dark history, so that they know it might not be as eccentrically rosy as it seems.
When I asked Dr. Bob directly whether he was harboring convicted sex abusers, his answer shocked me: “All three of them came to me and told me that they had been convicted, and they wanted to be open with me so I knew, and if I wasn’t comfortable they had to go. I could get into their background stories… but basically, I would let them be with my children alone, is how I felt about them.”
Clearly, there is more to the story left to be uncovered, and I would like to return to Detroit to dig deeper into what’s going on. If you have been a victim of abuse at the Shack, or have more information about its dealings, please reach out to me directly. I hope to update you with more soon!