Psychedelic Retreats

A Guide to Psychedelic Retreats: Mushrooms vs. Ayahuasca

With the increase of interest in plant medicine it can be difficult to know what kind of psychedelic retreat is right for you. We've helped hone in on what types of psychedelic retreats are available, the legality of them, and how Psilocybin retreats and Ayahuasca retreats differ so that you can make the most informed choices. Read on to learn more in our guide to psychedelic retreats and the differences between mushrooms and ayahuasca.

Min read
Lydia Mcclendon
April 2, 2024

What is Plant Medicine? 

Plant medicine, also known as herbal medicine or botanical medicine, encompasses the use of plants and plant-derived substances for healing and therapeutic purposes. Colloquially, this can include the use of herbs and functional mushrooms for health, cannabis, and mind-altering plants found in nature, which is the most common reference.

The use of plant medicine dates back thousands of years and is rooted in indigenous cultures around the world, where plants are revered for their medicinal properties and spiritual significance. Plant medicine encompasses a wide range of botanicals, including herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and fungi, each with unique healing properties and therapeutic effects.

In traditional herbalism, plant medicine is used to treat a wide variety of health conditions, ranging from minor ailments to chronic diseases. Plants are often prepared in various forms such as teas, tinctures, poultices, and salves, and are administered orally, topically, or through inhalation. Herbalists carefully select and combine plants based on their knowledge of plant chemistry, energetics, and traditional uses to create personalized remedies tailored to individual needs. (One of our favorite NYC herbalists, Rachelle Robinett, is worth a follow on Instagram.)

The traditional roots of plant medicine can be found in indigenous cultures around the world, where healing practices have been passed down through generations and deeply intertwined with cultural and spiritual beliefs. These traditions emphasize a holistic approach to health and wellness, recognizing the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and spirit, and the importance of living in harmony with nature. Plants are revered as sacred allies and teachers, offering not only physical healing but also spiritual guidance, wisdom, and connection to the natural world.

Plant medicine is used to address a wide range of health concerns, including digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, hormonal imbalances, immune system support, and mental health issues. Specific plants are chosen for their ability to alleviate symptoms, support the body's natural healing processes, and restore balance and vitality. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in plant medicine as people seek more natural and holistic approaches to health and wellness, recognizing the wisdom of traditional healing practices and the therapeutic potential of plant allies..

Psychedelic plant medicine refers to the use of naturally occurring psychedelic substances derived from plants for healing, spiritual exploration, and personal growth. These substances, such as psilocybin mushrooms, Ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga, have been used for centuries in indigenous cultures for their profound effects on consciousness and spiritual experiences. In recent years, there has been a modern resurgence of interest in psychedelic plant medicine as people seek alternative approaches to mental health, spirituality, and personal transformation.

Between an ongoing failure within traditional healthcare to consider alternative options for wellbeing versus treating for illness, to the over prescription of pharmaceuticals, there has to be a space where holistic healing has a home– and we hope that starts with resources, community, and conscious consumption in safe and secure environments. 

Psychedelic medicine is a tool, not a toy. While there’s always room for fun within functionality, you should approach psychedelic medicine with respect, caution, and guidance. Set and setting plus integration can make a major difference in making the most of your journey. Whether you’re starting low and going slow, or looking for a deeper experience, approaching plant medicine with reverence and respect can help set you up for success. As research into plant medicine continues to grow, we continue to see promise in its proven potential as a transformative tool for healing, consciousness exploration, and spiritual awakening in the modern world.

What is Ayahuasca? 

Ayahuasca is a traditional plant medicine that has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples across the Amazon rainforest, in countries like Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. It's made from a combination of two main plants: the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub. 

Traditionally, Ayahuasca has been used in shamanic rituals and ceremonies for various purposes, including healing, spiritual exploration, and connection with the natural world. It's often referred to as "the vine of the soul" or "the spirit vine" by indigenous communities due to its profound effects on consciousness and perception.

In these traditional contexts, Ayahuasca is administered by experienced shamans or healers who guide participants through the journey, offering spiritual insight and support. Experienced shamans are able to administer Ayahuasca safely and effectively through years of training, apprenticeship, and working with the plant medicine themselves. They are knowledgeable about the plants used to make Ayahuasca, the preparation process, and how to navigate the psychological and spiritual aspects of the experience. Additionally, shamans often receive guidance and support from their own spiritual traditions and lineage, as well as from the spirits of the plants themselves, which they believe communicate with them during ceremonies.

An Ayahusaca ceremony is often intense and transformative, often involving vivid visions, emotional release, and a sense of connection with the universe.  In the context of an Ayahuasca ceremony, an ikaro (also spelled icaro) refers to a traditional song or melody sung by the shaman or facilitator during the ceremony. These songs are considered sacred and are believed to have been received directly from the plant spirits or other sources of spiritual guidance. The vibrations and frequencies produced by the singing of ikaros are believed to resonate with the energetic body of the participants, helping to align and balance their energy centers (chakras) and facilitate healing on a deep level. Through the use of sound and melody, ikaros enhance the overall Ayahuasca experience, helping participants navigate the depths of their consciousness and connect with the profound wisdom of the plant spirits. After consuming Ayahuasca, participants typically lie down or sit comfortably and wait for the effects to take hold. The experience can vary widely from person to person but often involves profound changes in perception, cognition, and emotion. Participants may experience vivid hallucinations, insights into their personal issues or traumas, spiritual revelations, and a deep sense of connection to the natural world and the universe.

In recent years, Ayahuasca has gained popularity in modern wellness culture, particularly in Western societies. Many people are drawn to its potential therapeutic benefits for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Research into the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca has shown promising results, with studies suggesting that it may have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, as well as the potential to promote personal growth and spiritual development.

As a result, there has been a resurgence of interest in Ayahuasca retreats and ceremonies facilitated by trained facilitators. These retreats often take place in natural settings and emphasize spiritual exploration, personal growth, and healing. While all retreats are not created equal, a quality psychedelic retreat should offer participants guidance through the experience in a safe and supportive environment, with an emphasis on integration and reflection afterward.

The effects of Ayahuasca are often described as deeply introspective, visionary, and emotional. The experience typically lasts for several hours, during which participants may encounter vivid visions, undergo intense emotional processing, and experience a sense of spiritual connection or insight. Ayahuasca is known for its purgative effects, which can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, often referred to as "the purge." These physical effects are seen as part of the cleansing and healing process in traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies. 

What is DMT? The Spirit Molecule

Another modern find is DMT. DMT, short for N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a powerful psychedelic compound found naturally in plants, as well as in trace amounts in the human brain. It's often referred to as the "spirit molecule" due to its profound effects on consciousness and spirituality.

When ingested, DMT rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts as a potent agonist at serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly the Serotonin 5-HT2A receptor. This activation leads to a cascade of neural activity, resulting in altered perception, vivid visual hallucinations, and profound shifts in consciousness. Users often report experiencing intense spiritual or mystical experiences, encountering entities, and gaining deep insights into the nature of reality.

DMT's therapeutic potential lies in its ability to induce these profound altered states of consciousness, which can have therapeutic benefits for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. In a therapeutic setting, DMT can be used as a tool for introspection, emotional processing, and spiritual exploration, helping individuals confront and integrate difficult emotions and experiences.

The modern resurgence of psychedelic plant medicine can be attributed to several factors, including a growing dissatisfaction with conventional approaches to mental health and wellness, increased awareness of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, and a cultural shift towards holistic and integrative medicine. As people seek alternatives to pharmaceuticals and traditional therapy, they are turning to psychedelic plant medicine for its ability to catalyze deep healing, personal growth, and spiritual transformation.

What is Psilocybin? 

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms, commonly known as "magic mushrooms" or "shrooms." It belongs to a group of drugs known as hallucinogens or psychedelics. Psilocybin is chemically similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, appetite, and sensory perception in the brain.

When ingested, psilocybin is metabolized into psilocin, which interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly in areas associated with mood, perception, and cognition. This interaction is believed to be responsible for the hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin, which can include altered perception of time, visual distortions, intense emotions, and spiritual experiences.

The effects of psychedelic mushrooms can vary depending on factors such as dosage, individual sensitivity, and set and setting. Generally, the experience involves alterations in perception, mood, and cognition. Users may experience visual distortions, changes in sensory perception, and profound insights. While psychedelic mushrooms can also induce introspection and emotional processing, the experience tends to be shorter in duration compared to Ayahuasca, typically lasting around 4-8 hours. You also will not experience vomiting, despite pop culture beliefs, however a bit of a tummy ache is normal. 

Both Ayahuasca and psychedelic mushrooms are used for their psychoactive effects and potential therapeutic benefits, they differ in their specific effects on consciousness, the ceremonial practices associated with their use, and the cultural contexts in which they are traditionally consumed. Each substance offers its own unique insights and experiences, attracting individuals seeking personal growth, healing, and spiritual exploration.

While psychedelic mushrooms can be used in ceremonial contexts, they are often consumed in more informal settings, such as in nature or at home with close friends or trusted individuals. Some cultures have traditional rituals associated with mushroom consumption, but these practices vary widely. Without the structured ceremonial context of Ayahuasca, users of psychedelic mushrooms may have a more individualized and self-directed experience, although setting intentions and creating a safe and comfortable environment are still important considerations.

Much like Ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms have gained widespread attention for their therapeutic potential in treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Research studies have shown that psilocybin-assisted therapy can lead to profound and enduring improvements in mood, cognition, and overall well-being, often with just a single dose. This resurgence of interest in psychedelic plant medicine has led to increased research into their therapeutic potential and legalization efforts in some jurisdictions.

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What is an Ayahuasca Retreat? 

Traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies typically take place in a ritualistic setting guided by an experienced shaman or healer. Ceremonies may involve chanting, singing traditional songs called icaros, and creating a sacred space for participants to journey inward. The shaman serves as a guide and facilitator, providing support and guidance throughout the experience. Ceremonies are typically conducted at night and may last several hours, allowing participants to fully immerse themselves in the journey.

Whether you're considering an Ayahuasca retreat or a psychedelic mushroom retreat, prioritize safety, ethics, and responsible use. By doing your research, preparing mindfully, and choosing reputable retreat centers, you can embark on a transformative journey toward healing and self-discovery.

Preparing for an Ayahuasca retreat involves intentional steps to align your mind, body, and spirit for the transformative journey ahead. Begin by setting clear intentions for your participation, reflecting on what you hope to gain from the experience, whether it's healing, personal growth, spiritual exploration, or insight into specific challenges or questions. Follow any dietary guidelines provided by the retreat center, which typically involve abstaining from certain foods, substances, and medications in the days leading up to the retreat to prepare your body and mind for the Ayahuasca experience. 


Ayauhasca Retreat Tips for Beginners

Finding reputable Ayahuasca retreats involves thorough research and consideration. Start by exploring online platforms, forums, and websites dedicated to psychedelic experiences, where you can read reviews and testimonials from past participants to gauge the credibility and reputation of different retreat centers. Additionally, seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, therapists, or experienced practitioners in the psychedelic community, as personal referrals can offer valuable insights and firsthand experiences. Verify the credentials and qualifications of the facilitators and staff members at the retreat center, ensuring they have experience working with Ayahuasca and adhere to strict safety protocols. Ethical practices are also important, so consider the retreat center's relationships with indigenous communities, sustainability efforts, and commitment to cultural integrity. Finally, verify the legal status of Ayahuasca in the country where the retreat is located to ensure the center operates within legal guidelines.

  • Look for retreat centers with experienced facilitators who have a background in indigenous traditions and a strong commitment to safety and ethics.
  • Research the reputation of the retreat center and read reviews from previous participants to get a sense of their experiences.
  • Seek recommendations from trusted sources, such as psychedelic therapy practitioners or online communities dedicated to psychedelic exploration.
  • Consider retreat centers that offer comprehensive pre- and post-retreat support, including integration sessions to help process the experience.

When considering Ayahuasca, it's essential to be aware of the intense nature of the experience, both emotionally and physically. Ayahuasca ceremonies can involve confronting challenging emotions, releasing past traumas, and experiencing profound insights and revelations.Purging, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, is common and considered part of the cleansing and healing process. Integration of the insights and experiences gained during an Ayahuasca ceremony is a crucial aspect of the journey, requiring reflection and integration of the lessons and wisdom into daily life. Choose a retreat center that prioritizes participant safety and provides adequate support throughout the Ayahuasca journey, ensuring facilitators are experienced and trained to handle any challenging situations that may arise during the ceremony. Lastly, assess your personal readiness for the experience, considering factors such as physical and mental health, medications, and willingness to engage in the deep inner work that Ayahuasca often facilitates.

With careful consideration and preparation, embarking on an Ayahuasca retreat can be a profound and transformative journey toward healing and self-discovery.

  • Safety is paramount. Ensure that the retreat center has medical support on-site and follows rigorous safety protocols.
  • Beware of retreats that prioritize profit over safety and ethical practices. Look for transparency in pricing and clear communication about what to expect.
  • Respect the cultural origins of Ayahuasca and approach the experience with humility and reverence.

It's important to approach Ayahuasca with respect and caution, as it is a powerful psychedelic substance that can have profound effects on both the mind and body. It's also essential to participate in ceremonies led by experienced and responsible facilitators who prioritize safety and well-being.

  • Set clear intentions for your journey and spend time reflecting on what you hope to gain from the experience.
  • Follow any dietary or lifestyle recommendations provided by the retreat center, as these can help prepare your body and mind for the Ayahuasca experience.
  • Practice mindfulness and self-care in the days leading up to the retreat to cultivate a sense of inner peace and readiness.
  • Be open to surrendering control and allowing the medicine to guide you through the experience.

What is a Psychedelic Mushroom Retreat? 

Psychedelic mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms or psilocybin mushrooms, are a popular choice for plant medicine retreats due to their profound effects on consciousness and spiritual experiences. These mushrooms contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin, which induces altered states of consciousness characterized by intense visuals, emotional release, and deep insights into the nature of reality. Many people find that psychedelic mushroom experiences can be deeply transformative, leading to personal growth, emotional healing, and spiritual awakening.

Psychedelic mushroom retreats can be found in various legal locations around the world, with some of the most popular destinations including Jamaica, Tulum, Costa Rica, and Peru. These retreats often take place in natural settings such as rainforests, mountains, or beaches, providing participants with a serene and supportive environment for their journey. High quality retreat centers should offer comfortable accommodations, nutritious meals, and access to experienced facilitators who guide participants through their psychedelic experiences and provide support and integration afterward.

The significance of psychedelic mushroom retreats lies in their ability to provide a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore the depths of their consciousness and confront inner challenges in a guided and facilitated manner. Psychedelic Retreats offer a structured and intentional approach to psychedelic use, emphasizing set and setting, preparation, and integration of experiences. 

Unlike the name and tropical destinations might imply, retreats aren’t a place to escape—they’re a place to go deeper, gain valuable insights, heal emotional wounds, and cultivate a greater sense of connection and clarity. Not all retreats are created equal, which is why taking your time, speaking with facilitators, and getting to know your retreat can make a huge difference in the quality of your experience.. 

Psychedelic Mushroom Retreats for Beginners 

It can be hard, even in a digital age, to find reputable and safe places to experience psychedelics and healing in one place. Apart from knowing the right people, and reading resources, there are a few other ways to make sure your first (second, fifth, or final) retreat ticks all of the boxes. 

Finding a reputable psychedelic retreat is an important step in the journey. Word of mouth and authentic reviews from previous participants can offer valuable insights into the credibility and quality of a retreat. 

Recommendations from trusted sources or online communities specializing in psychedelic experiences can guide individuals toward trustworthy retreats.

Moreover, assessing the retreat's facilitators and their backgrounds in guiding psychedelic experiences is crucial. Even if you know nothing about facilitators, it’s important to do your research and due diligence so that you're getting what you pay for in the retreat. Experienced and knowledgeable facilitators who prioritize safety, ethical practices, and participant well-being contribute significantly to a positive and transformative retreat experience.

Here are our guidelines for vetting a psychedelic retreat center.

1. Find a trusted referral. 

It’s always recommended to find a psychedelic retreat through a trusted source.  Find a referral, or ask to speak to previous attendees.

2. Ensure the retreat takes place in a legal country. 

Legality not only prevents you from legal fines but supports practices and policies will be above board with greater accountability.

3. Confirm there are licensed medical professionals on-site. 

While psilocybin mushrooms are non-toxic, non-lethal, and generally physically safe, the presence of Western-trained clinical staff provides an added layer of safety and peace of mind.

4. Ask about the intake & clinical screening process.

A reputable retreat center will have a thorough intake process, screened by a clinical team, to ensure participants are healthy and able to participate.
Individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar 2, history of seizures, and certain other mental health conditions should not participate in psilocybin ceremonies, and a reputable retreat center will screen those customers out.

5. Understand their processes for preparation and integration.

Every journey (micro or macro) comprises 3 parts: preparation (before), journey 

(during), and integration (after). 

6. Review their code of ethics.

Being in an altered state of consciousness puts you in a different type of vulnerability. Thus, it’s important to inquire about ethics, codes of conduct, and training for facilitators. 

7. Ask about the size of the group & group policies.

Healing in group ceremonies can be profound—we are social creatures, and there is beauty and power in communal healing. That said, for those who have experienced sexual trauma, you might feel safer in smaller groups, or a group of the same gender. 

Additionally, some people get noisy when they journey, which can be distracting. (Or, hey, you could be the person that ends up being noisy!) It’s worth inquiring about the policies for people experiencing noisy or difficult journeys.

8. Trust your instinct.

Ultimately, you know what’s best for you. Create the space, calm, and logic to make the right decision for you. Don’t rush into anything.

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Psychedelic Retreats: Preparation and Integration 

There are 3 parts to any effective psychedelic experience: micro or macro, retreat or solo journey: preparation, ceremony, integration.

Preparation includes everything so that you feel informed, supported, and grounded before entering an altered state of consciousness.

Preparation might include things like meeting with a coach or therapist, where you can discuss what may occur during your journey, and ask any questions you may have. You’ll want to develop a relationship with the facilitator, get your questions answered, review codes of conduct, and more to feel comfortable.

Integration is the process of incorporating the lessons from your journey into your life. How do you evolve into who you want to become? How do you want to feel? How do you want to show up in the world?

Retreat centers should offer integration services, as either a part of the program or as an add-on. This may be 1:1 meetings with the facilitator, or group coaching and integration circles over video chat. The ability to share, reflect, and embody your experience with guidance will allow you to drive change. 

Ayahuasca vs. Psilocybin Retreats

Ayahuasca and psilocybin retreats are both immersive experiences centered around the use of psychedelic substances for healing, self-discovery, and spiritual exploration. While there are similarities between the two types of retreats, there are also key differences in terms of the substances used, the cultural and ceremonial contexts, and the overall experiences they offer.

One of the primary differences between an Ayahuasca retreat and a psilocybin retreat lies in the substances served. Ayahuasca retreats typically involve the consumption of a sacred brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, both of which contain psychoactive compounds that induce altered states of consciousness. Ayahuasca contains a combination of DMT and MAO inhibitors, which allow the DMT to be orally active and produce visionary experiences.

Alternatively, psilocybin retreats involve the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms, aka magic mushrooms, which contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin. Psilocybin mushrooms have a different chemical composition than ayahuasca and produce distinct effects on consciousness, often characterized by visual hallucinations, altered perception of time and space, and profound insights into the nature of reality.

Another difference between Ayahuasca and psilocybin retreats is the cultural and ceremonial context in which the substances are used. Ayahuasca has a long history of traditional use in indigenous cultures in the Amazon rainforest, where it is revered as a sacred plant teacher and used in healing ceremonies and spiritual rituals. Ayahuasca retreats often incorporate traditional shamanic practices, such as icaros (healing songs), dieta (dietary restrictions), and purging rituals, to create a ceremonial context for the experience.

Psilocybin mushrooms have a diverse cultural history and are used in a variety of contexts around the world. For most, our introduction comes from undisclosed strains and dubious weighted, wet mushrooms– however there is hope for those exploring psychedelics anew in 2024 and beyond as the focus shifts back to the roots of respecting plant medicine and psilocybin for the eye opening experience it is. From Curanderas creating safe spaces for women to explore their inner worlds to the credited founder of healing hallucinogenics, Mazatec healer Maria Sabina– all the way to a host of women in psychedelics paving the way for therapeutic psychedelic use and beyond; there seems to be a resounding need for women healers to re-enter the chat. Psilocybin retreats may draw on different cultural traditions or spiritual practices, or they may be more secular in nature, focusing on psychological exploration and personal growth without the  traditional shamanic ceremony.

Both Ayahuasca and psilocybin retreats offer opportunities for deep introspection, emotional release, and spiritual exploration. Those who participate may experience similar themes of ego dissolution, connection to nature, and insights into personal and collective consciousness, regardless of the specific substance used. However, the nuances of the experience, including the visual and auditory phenomena, emotional intensity, and duration of effects, may vary between ayahuasca and psilocybin retreats.

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About the Author

Lydia Mcclendon

Lydia Mcclendon is a freelance writer and editor within the world of psychedelics, plant medicine, parenthood and the intersection of working in marketing for a taboo industry. She has written for a wide variety of publications, worked within editorial coordination, and loves the creativity and chaos that creative content brings.

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