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Could the Rise of Psychedelics Boost the Retreat Business?

April 13, 2021
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Investing News | Bryan McGovern

Picture yourself in a serene tropical landscape. You’ve packed up your bags to make the trip and now you’re listening to the calming words of an expert practitioner who’s guiding you through an internal journey to help you better yourself through the effects of psychedelic substances.

This scenario might sound unusual, but it’s not as outlandish as you might expect. Psychedelic retreats have a niche audience that is on the rise and could be on the verge of wider mainstream growth.

As people become more interested in the potential of unplugging from the stressors of daily life to reconnect with a more spiritual self, the business of psychedelic retreats could have its day in the sun amid the overall renaissance in the psychedelics market.

As stigma fades, psychedelic retreats address diverse needs

The stigma surrounding psychedelics as a novel form of medicine is starting to wear off, according to experts, and new companies have had a warm reception in the capital markets.

The business of psychedelic retreats offers its own stigma, such as antiquated notions of paralyzing drug trips in unknown locations in the middle of the jungle. But these are now giving way to a more specialized approach in the pursuit of business standards.

Marik Hazan, CEO of Energia, a psychedelics-focused venture capital firm, told INN the psychedelic retreats space has its own breakdown of subsections.

He described streamlined and standard retreat operations in a more uniform environment, alongside more established adventure trip packages seen in locations such as Latin America.

“I think that the majority of the industry right now is focused more on these deep experiences,” he said.

The expert added that most retreats offer consumers a couple of psychedelic experiences through stays that are three days to a week long. Hazan pointed to psilocybin and ayahuasca as the main compounds used around the space.

Hazan told INN he is interested in seeing companies use psychedelic compounds at retreats, but also wants to see them combine the use of these drugs with services.

For example, Energia has partnered with the Arcana Armada, which is working to set up interactive narrative therapy through which consumers can participate in microdosed prepared roleplay scenarios.

This type of model offers a glimpse into what’s ahead for the flexibility of psychedelic retreats.

The business behind setting up psychedelic retreats

People enter the psychedelic retreats business through many paths, but most begin their journey when they experience a retreat for the first time.

Jonathan de Potter, founder of Behold Retreats, told INN he had his own personal misgivings about the psychedelics industry at-large before attending a retreat. But actually going to a psychedelic retreat caused him to reevaluate everything.

His company now sets up events across the world for people looking for private retreats or group experiences. After filling out an application and completing a detailed consultation process, Behold Retreats evaluates users’ needs; if all parties agree, a location is set and arrangements are made.

Behold Retreats customers can play a big role in shaping their experience, de Potter said. “Some people come to us and they want the full Amazon jungle immersion … other people are like, ‘I want white walls and I want to be no further than 20 feet away from a latte machine for the entire week.’”

The executive emphasized that it’s crucial for those looking to participate in a psychedelic retreat to prepare for the experience as seriously as they prepare for the actual drug trip.

“(People) are really excited about going into one of these retreats and having a profound experience,” said de Potter. “And there’s nothing wrong with that, but our neural patterns, our thinking patterns, are decades old and deeply entrenched, so what we’re actually talking about is rewiring some of those patterns. It can feel like you’re a brand-new you at the end of a one week retreat.”

Joël Brierre, founder and CEO of Kaivalya Kollectiv, agreed with de Potter’s warning, saying that using psychedelic substances at a retreat can lead many to an uneven place if not handled properly.

“A lot of these people aren’t taking preparation into consideration, they’re not taking a screening into consideration … this person has an experience that they cannot understand and have no faculties to be able to begin to explain,” he said.

Kaivalya Kollectiv is set up with locations in Mexico and Costa Rica, Brierre told INN.

The expert is a specialist in psychedelics and plant medicine, including 5-MeO-DMT, a notorious compound commonly found in toads typically located in the Sonoran Desert. Brierre warned that approximately 90 percent of those currently providing it are “nowhere near qualified to serve it.”

The expert didn’t shy away from discussing the potency of experiences that the toad compound can create. He described the trip as a death of the ego within oneself — the individuality under which the brain operates is lost for a period of time, leading to what Brierre described as a mystical experience without any proper language to explain it.

According to Brierre, Kaivalya Kollectiv has different price tiers for retreats depending on whether they are for individuals or group efforts. Group retreats on the low end of the scale will range between US$2,000 and US$2,500, while the high end can go to US$4,500. In terms of individual retreats, these can vary between US$5,000 and US$12,000. The expert said the retreats usually last for five days.

The expert admitted that this might sound daunting — it’s a complicated event to analyze for those just starting out with psychedelics.

“A good percentage of people have some difficulty unpacking that experience, because it shatters and defies everything they ever thought they knew,” he told INN.

Retreat organizers warn against seeing sector as cure all

It’s very common for people to go on a psychedelic retreat, undergo a profound, potentially life-changing experience, and then end up in the same place emotionally a few weeks after the retreat has finished, said de Potter. This is because people make the mistake of seeing plant-based medicine as a one-stop solution for ailments or mental health issues.

As such, de Potter stressed to INN that the work done before a consumer even grabs their passport is just as vital as the work done on location. The executive cautioned anyone expecting a psychedelic retreat to magically cure all their ailments to rethink how they see these drugs.

“People are not able to understand what a good retreat looks like, because they don’t know what they’re looking for … people are skipping the mental and emotional work,” said de Potter. “They’re really excited about going into one of these retreats and having a profound experience … but our neural patterns, our thinking patterns are decades old and deeply entrenched.”

In cautioning against seeing these substances as magical curing drugs, de Potter described plant-based medicine as neutral, meaning user intent will cause different reactions after the consumption of psychedelic substances.

Brierre echoed de Potter’s sentiment, telling INN that these substances are a catalyst, not a solution.

“After a big psychedelic experience, what a lot of these companies aren’t taking into consideration is that the psychedelics themselves aren’t the medicine,” Brierre said.

A crucial component of making sure new users don’t end up lost in a drug trip is the relationship set up with the experts acting as guides through this potentially taxing experience.

“Once you’ve got them there, you can take that time to get comfortable with each other,” said Brierre. “The person should really feel comfortable and safe with the person who’s about to crack them open.”

The expert, who’s been working with plant medicines for seven years now, explained fears can quickly take over a person once the substances have kicked in.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic and other concerns

Psychedelic retreat opportunities began gaining interest and acceptance at the same time as the travel industry largely stopped because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving forward, Hazan said companies in this space will have to work on improving all their online features and operations to stay ahead of pandemic concerns.

Both Behold Retreats and Kaivalya Kollectiv plan to prioritize private retreats compared to communal group ones due to COVID-19 concerns.

“I think COVID has helped us get the word about private retreats out more,” Brierre told INN. He said that just before the pandemic took over, Kaivalya Kollectiv was looking to set up between 12 and 15 retreats per year thanks to an uptick in interest.

For his part, Hazan told INN he is concerned about a tourism approach to psychedelic retreats, since they can lead to the reductive use and appropriation of imagery from native communities or other symbols associated with the locations retreats may take place in.

“What a lot of people would argue though is much of those practices are not rooted in indigenous methodologies,” said Hazan. “And a lot of people are … reaping the rewards of monetizing things framed as traditions, and packaging it for the more streamlined centers.”

Hazan also raised a red flag when it comes to ketamine-based retreat models. “Ketamine is addictive, so there needs to be significantly more education on the signs of addiction,” he said.

The Behold Retreats executive said he recognizes that the renewed level of interest in retreats is happening against the bigger spotlight for psychedelic medicine. But he is worried about the effect all this attention could have.

“There’s a lot more people that are jumping on the bandwagon with, I don’t want to say predominantly commercial motives, but they don’t necessarily have the skills,” said de Potter. “The reality is that this is a nascent and unregulated ecosystem.”

Investor takeaway

The industry of psychedelic retreats has a lot going for it, and with psychedelics-focused companies going public in increasing numbers, could investors be on the verge of seeing an entity go public based purely on a psychedelic retreat model?

“It seems like anything that has psychedelics in it is able to go public these days,” Hazan told INN.

When asked about the possibility of the market seeing companies go public based entirely on a retreat-based business, de Potter’s answer was emphatic as well.

“Why not? I think absolutely, it will happen. It’s just a matter of who and when and where and why,” he said. “And I would really come back to that question of like, why are they listing on the markets?”

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Securities Disclosure: I, Bryan Mc Govern, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

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