Monday, June 24, 2024

Transcendent Travel Set To Cross The 1 Trillion Mark In 2024

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month – and if there is anything that travelers are seeking nowadays, it’s wellness. Let’s face it – health is the new wealth – and following on the most recent travel trends of sleep tourism and quiet luxury – people in general are seeking ways to travel in order to combat stress, depression, fatigue, burnout, and trauma.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, in 2022, the 819.4 Billion wellness trips taken (both internationally and domestically) represented 7.8% of all tourism trips – a much larger share than just a decade earlier. Unbelievably, wellness trips are projected to rise to 8.3% of all tourism trips by 2027, with wellness tourism crossing the 1 Trillion Mark in 2024. Beth McGroarty, VP of Research for the Global Wellness Institute, says that GWI experts say that wellness tourism will reach $1.63 Trillion by 2027. She told me, “People have become so much more intentional with wellness, specific about what they want to achieve in a retreat/program…they want to go deeper and experiment with wellness in ways they have never before.”

When seeking to alleviate distress, in the past most people have visited a luxury spa for a few days: Maybe some spa treatments, a walk around the labyrinth, and some good sleep. That was thought to be the “Answer” to hidden psychological burdens and burnout. This largely band-aid approach is slowly being replaced by traveling to psychedelic retreats as the gateway to good mental health, wholeness, and authenticity.” Ms. McGroarty added, “It’s safe to say there are hundreds and hundreds of psilocybin and psychedelic retreats opening each year, and operators report growth.” She cites psilocybin studies showing psilocybin’s lasting impact on major depression to its eye-opening potential impact on addiction/alcohol abuse to its potential for anxiety disorder to its well-researched, positive mental health impact on people with terminal or life-threatening diseases.

She explained to me that one reason why psychedelic wellness retreats are the future of psychedelic therapy delivery is that people grasp that the right environment for the “trip” is a wellness resort: A serene place in nature, with communal/shared experiences, and with other supportive wellness offerings.

Let’s talk about “magic mushroom” retreats like MycoMeditations in Jamaica – the pioneer of it all, as stated by the GWI back in 2018.

“Many people in the world are walking trauma units and have never been diagnosed,” says Justin Townsend, CEO of MycoMeditations in Jamaica, considered by many to be the gold standard of mental health and wellness retreats offering psilocybin-assisted therapy. (Mr. Townsend’s experience in this field is quite extensive: He used to be the Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mt. Sinai Hospital, within The Institute for Next Generation Healthcare.) “There is an acute mental-health crisis and it’s getting more acute with every generation. Separate from that, many people are on a hedonistic hamster wheel, go through the grind and have lost a sense of meaning and purpose…We are living in a time of hyper-novelty with things changing at a rate that people cannot keep up with, which contributes to the mental-health crisis and the lack of meaning and purpose.”

Mr. Townsend also attributes the current mental-health crisis in part to social media, and the way that it isolates people even more. “The sense of “connection” that people have on social media is very shallow and it cannot replace the felt sense of being in someone’s presence.” Adding to that, he told me that “COVID represented a ‘major shift’ in people’s values, resulting in their being more concerned about their health and they want more balance in their life. That’s the trend we are observing here and in the world.”

In fact, in 2018 the Global Wellness Institute called MycoMeditations a “pioneer” in the rapidly-growing psychedelic renaissance. Indeed, Myco Meditations has become quite well-known in the new world of “magic mushrooms,” better known as the plant medicine psilocybin. (If you in fact saw the Netflix series Nine Perfect Strangers, you have some idea of what MycoMeditations is like.)

“We are a mental health retreat,” says Mr. Townsend, and the retreat that he co-owns with partner Mike Ljubsa definitely does not have caricaturist tiny Buddhas, or New Age artwork proclaiming “Namaste,” or the ringing of chimes after an experience. Impressively, in addition, he told me, “We have 275 reviews on Trip Advisor, of which 271 are five-stars.”

He continued: “Most people have maladaptive thinking patterns about themselves that were formed in childhood — such as feeling less-than or unlovable — and it creates maladaptive behavior in the world, which translates to things like withdrawal, or anesthetizing yourself through alcohol and streaming hours of digital content. Psilocybin lets you see new ways of looking at old problems. Once you discharge the toxic emotions that have been housed inside you (anger, fear, shame, guilt) and make you so reactive, you have the freedom to act differently in the world and to not be so triggered. Your unhealthy cognitive distortions weaken and collapse, and because of that, you can choose a different response if you get activated.”

Full disclosure: My 66-year-old husband Bill – who has suffered from Complex PTSD since childhood — recently attended a seven-day retreat at Myco Meditations, as he had a confirmed assignment to write an exclusive business story about his experience, and the new psychedelic renaissance, for a business publication in Greenwich, Conn. Later in this story, I will give you my firsthand experience of him, post-retreat, from a wife’s perspective. I have not seen a partner-based perspective before in recent luxury travel articles written about traveling to psychedelic retreats. You can easily Google other psychedelic retreats around the world for psilocybin or ayahuasca (another plant-based psychedelic).

Back to MycoMeditations. It’s in Jamaica because Mr. Townsend and Mr. Lubjsa wanted a natural setting – and indeed it is. It’s in a rustic area of Jamaica called Treasure Beach, complete with lots of unmanicured grass, a beautiful beach, a thatched hut for dosing and integration that involves hours of solid talk therapy (group and one-on-one), excellent food, massages included (and perhaps the world’s best chocolate-chip cookies).

What else makes it special, unique and different? They utilize the best practices endorsed by prestige medical centers such as Johns Hopkins, the Imperial Medical College in London, the prestigious Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and Yale University. They even cultivate their own B+-strain mushrooms (psilocybe cubensis) on property. And they do it all with a staff of 30-plus licensed therapists and psychologists, a psychiatrist, a nurse, and on-call medical doctors. With a reputation for doing high-dose psilocybin, when needed. “Low dosing is in the 3-5-gram range, and high dosing can be in the 12-20-gram range by the third dose by the end of the week” Five grams, in silent darkness, is considered a “heroic dose” by many “psychonauts.”

I have spent six months researching this story, and many mental-health experts say that just six hours spent dosing on psilocybin medicine can very well replace 1,000 hours of talk-therapy.

So let me tell you about my wonderful husband Bill. To be honest, it was a very challenging experience, for all of his three dosings. He told me he had no visualizations, but what he experienced was deep anguish, despair, grief, fear, and anxiety that had been held in his mind and body for more than 55 years, which he was finally releasing and purging because of the mushrooms. (He had two compassionate and loving, licensed therapists by his side for the entire three journeys of six hours each. Bill found them to be “angels”).

After the first dosing, he was scared to do the second, and then the third. However, after all three dosings were complete, Bill realized that the pain he experienced was a purging process of removing many long-suppressed emotions from his mind and body – which is very difficult to achieve, if not impossible, through traditional talk therapy.

“Every guest is nervous or scared before each dose – Bill was not alone in that, because you are temporarily surrendering control,” Mr. Townsend told me.

Now, it’s important to say that everyone’s experience with psilocybin is different. Some people can spend their entire time laughing. Others have a mix of laughter and tears, and possibly everything in between. Others go in and out of blissful to difficult experiences. There is no way to predict what your experience is going to be, the effect it is going to have on you, or how many experiences will get to the root of your problems. Indeed, Mr. Townsend himself told me that he, himself has had more than 200 dosing experiences in his lifetime, primarily with mushrooms which he describes as “proven to be robustly safe,” and also a few with ayahuasca.

What follows the journeys? The key is integration – specifically, constructing meaning and messaging from the journeys. Because psychedelic medicines open up neural pathways in the brain that have been ossified due to trauma, many people will be able to better modify and make desired changes to certain behaviors and thought patterns. Bill told me that, while the experiences were painful, he came away with a new sense of self, and a new way of looking at himself. And the nine other people on the retreat totally championed his new way of looking at himself. He told me, “It was an incredibly valuable experience — the most profound of my entire life – and now, after the fact, I must do the hard work of integrating all that I learned about myself, into my life.”

I, as his wife, have certainly noticed that in him, as well as the small, daily steps that he takes to react and look at the world differently. To assist with the process, MycoMeditations sends retreat guests home with an excellent integration workbook in which to process your growth steps, offers two group-integration Zoom calls, and recommends that, if necessary, you engage follow-up psychedelic-informed therapy, preferably with a therapist specializing in Internal Family Systems (IFS) based on the bestselling book by Richard Schwartz called No Bad Parts.

In writing this story, I tried to interview several “traditional” travel agents on this subject – but all seemed to be very reluctant to talk about booking these kinds of psychedelic retreats. As is the case at Myco, you book directly online, via their website.

Right now in the United States, millions of people are eagerly awaiting expected FDA approval, in August, of MDMA medicine to treat PTSD. However, even after the federal government fully approves MDMA for this purpose, the therapy will not become widely available for perhaps an additional 6-12 months. There is, however, innovative access to psychedelic assisted therapy where individuals are receiving safe, first-class, medically-supervised MDMA treatment that adheres to all MAPS protocols: Canada.

Leading the way for access within Canada is ATMACENA, a leader in the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy, offering services in both Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta (the only Canadian province with licensed psychedelic treatment) with two new clinics opening in London and Vaughn, Ontario in summer of 2024. Canada offers a Special Access Program (SAP), whereby patients can gain access to MDMA and psilocybin therapy – in a safe, licensed, medically supervised environment. Says ATMACENA CEO Reverdi Darda, “We know the regulation and licensing for psychedelic-assisted therapy is going to take time. Without access to the Special Access Program, individuals would not have access to safe, medically supervised, and legal treatment.” The process is explained by Chief Operating Officer Jacque Lovely: After completing your application, which typically gets approved within six to ten weeks, you can start preparation with a therapist, and receive your first dose of MDMA within three to four weeks. Within the MAPS protocol there are about four weeks in between the suggested doses. “In the most recent MAPS clinical trial, 86% of participants treated with MDMA achieved a clinically meaningful benefit and 71% of participants no longer met criteria for PTSD by study’s end,” adds Mr. Lovely.

For right now, you may simply be considering psilocybin, and here’s what Mr. Townsend has to say, when all is said and done. “Psilocybin has the potential to offer you more creativity, and more ease with uncertainty and ambiguity – and we all could use a dose of that, that’s for sure.”

For more about my Wanderlust and Wellness travels, please Follow me on Instagram at @DebbiKickham.

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