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Woman Dies at Mushroom Retreat in Australia

Death at a wellness retreat center raises concerns over contaminated products and the practice of administering foraged mushrooms to clients.

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Authorities are currently looking into a death that occurred at a wellness retreat center in Clunes, Victoria, Australia, according to The Age. The death, authorities believe, is related to a beverage that the woman consumed at the retreat center, which allegedly contained psychedelic mushrooms. Two others at the retreat also fell ill at the time of the incident. They did not die, however.

Emergency medical responders rushed to Soul Barn, a retreat center near Ballarat, around 11:50 pm on April 13 following reports of a woman, 53-year-old Rachael Dixon, who was experiencing a possible cardiac arrest and cessation of breathing. She died early in the morning on April 14.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that a toxic mushroom, possibly a foraged mushroom mistaken for a psilocybin mushroom, was included in the beverage that caused the fatality and others to become ill. Authorities in Victoria are considering other contaminants that could have caused the fatality. But reports also say officials have not ruled out the possibility of psilocybin being the cause of death.

READ: Sowilo: The Psychedelic Retreat From Hell

The operator of the wellness venue has said a private event was being held at Soul Barn at the time of the incident, according to multiple reports, including ABC News Australia. Soul Barn, which describes itself as “a creative wellbeing center and sacred tools shop,” released a statement expressing its devastation about the events that transpired. They also stated that those who hosted the event are not affiliated with Soul Barn.

“Those facilitating the event do not work for or represent Soul Barn in any way,” the statement said. “None of our regular therapists, staff, or facilitators were present at any point during this event.” 

Soul Barn has remained closed since April 13 while detectives from the Moorabool Crime Unit investigate the circumstances surrounding Dixon’s death. “There are no words to express the deep sorrow and shock we are feeling here at Soul Barn following the tragic incident that occurred on April 13,” the statement said. “We share the shock and devastation of everyone involved, and our hearts are with those families affected.”

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Dr. Jonathan Karro, a toxicologist and the director of emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, told The Age that the most common mushroom-related cases at his hospital are typically the result of consuming poisonous mushrooms while foraging for psychedelic ones.

“People get into trouble because different species of mushrooms can be growing in the same area. So you can even pick a few mushrooms, and most of them are psychedelic, but [you can’t guarantee] that there isn’t a more poisonous or deadly mushroom as well,” he said.

Some of the toxic mushrooms in the area where the incident occurred are yellow-staining mushrooms and death cap mushrooms. Although they typically grow in the fall.

Karro also mentioned that people don’t die from psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, by itself. He noted a caveat, however: People can encounter harm as a result of distressing psychedelic experiences or crazed behavior resulting from their consumption of mushrooms.

Monash University psychiatry professor Suresh Sundram has been involved in the country’s psilocybin clinical trials and now runs a private clinic offering psychedelic therapies that will begin treating patients later this year. He also says that Dixon’s death is unlikely to have been caused by psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

“Psilocybin has a very low toxicity, it can cause adverse events, which are restricted to the time that the person is under the influence of the agent,” he said, adding that it was more likely that a sudden death would be due to contaminants.

READ: How to Identify Magic Mushrooms: Step-by-Step

Victoria’s Department of Health issued a public service announcement on April 5 about the hazards of picking and consuming wild mushrooms. They emphasized the significant health risks of death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) and yellow-staining mushrooms (Agaricus xanthodermus). 

“Individuals who gather and consume wild mushrooms of uncertain species are exposing themselves to the possibility of poisoning and severe illness,” the alert said. “Ingesting a death cap mushroom can lead to fatal consequences.”

It’s unclear whether the harmed individuals at the retreat center picked their own mushrooms and consumed them or if they were given the mushrooms to consume as a part of a ceremony. While the narrative leans towards the likelihood of an accidental poisoning, Dixon’s cause of death remains unclear.

The story is still developing.

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