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Women and Psychedelic Retreats: Promise and Potential Problems

Psychedelic retreats and therapy could be especially promising for women. However, to stay safe, there’s a few factors you have to keep in mind.

Min read
Kiki Dy
February 5, 2023

Women and Psychedelic Retreats: Promise and Potential Problems

Women who err on the side of transcendental curiosity are often intrigued by the reported benefits of psychedelics. However, while mushrooms grow from the earth – or a home kit which basically qualifies as such – and are “natural” as far as drugs go, much is still murky–including the dynamics between patient and psychedelic therapist. 

If you are one of the many women interested in learning more about protecting your wellbeing in the psychedelic realm, here are some things you should consider.

Women and Psychedelics: Overview

In a MIT Technology Review, Ayelet Waldman reported, “it’s possible [psychedelics] could be especially promising for women.” “I think it speaks to a desperation in women’s health,” she continues “and part of the reason for that is we all know that nobody bothers to study women, and nobody listens to women, especially when we report our specific mental-health issues.” If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, then continually seeking psychiatric care within the confines of FDA-approved drugs without results– for many women – is insane.

Women often act as canaries in the coal mine for community health. We experience the ills of modern healthcare, gender bias being one, stronger and more frequently. And with the abortion rights on the rocks and trauma lurking around every corner–it’s no surprise that women who have exhausted traditional Western courses of treatment want to seek out a natural catalyst for self-improvemnt. 

Psychedelics have been highly effective in treating PTSD, which women are more likely to suffer from than men. Moreover, women experience depression more so than men, especially considering that “one in seven women suffer from postpartum depression alone.” Anorexia nervosa is three times as prevalent in women as men, “The Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London is also leading a clinical trial on psilocybin-­assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for anorexia.” With the emergence of such research, women want to know how they can get in on the healing that they are reading about.

25 year-old Emma recently worked with a psychedelic integrative therapist (whom she found through MAPS, ), microdosing every three days for several months, she cooed that psilocybin “cuts the layers of numbness.” When asked whether an all women’s retreat would be of interest to her, she replied, “that would be cool, but that wouldn’t be what would draw me. They would need to be more trauma informed… I know what I want and what serves me. I wouldn’t want to go if the facilitators weren’t people that I resonated with.” 

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Are Psychedelic Retreats Safe for Women? 

A hallucinogenic retreat could be a proverbial “safe space” for women wishing to connect with like-minded individuals intent on breaking through the barrier of self. Perhaps a strictly female environment would be conducive to healing. Unfortunately, much of the trauma women need to heal can be traced back to sexual abuse, assault, or rape. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites one in four women have been raped, whereas one in 26 men have experienced completed or attempted sexual assault. In the company of all women, female participants may let their guard down even more so than they would at a mixed sex retreat. That being said, a facilitator-participant relationship involves a power dynamic in which the participant places trust in a facilitator, trusting the facilitator will act honestly, and in the participant’s best interest.

People drawn to retreats, those who inhabit Western civilization and are drawn to ancient plant medicine in a Latin American rainforest, don’t necessarily have a grasp on the role of a shaman nor what boundaries should be established in the context of a plant medicine ceremony, which makes participants susceptible to abuse.

A New York Times piece on psychedelic retreats emphasizes that “Psychedelic experiences produce immense physical and emotional vulnerability, and some women have said they were molested by shamans while under the influence.” One can only hope such cases are at the fringes of the psychedelic retreat world, however proceeding with caution is imperative. It’s an interesting time to consider the upside of psychedelics, especially in a retreat setting. 

The Search for Trauma-Informed Facilitators 

A diversity of psychedelic facilitators are practicing everywhere from California to Costa Rica. From the traditional (shamans) to the modern (trained therapists with a psychedelic certification on top), every facilitator brings specialized experience that may or may not be right for your intended outcome. 

You may have heard the buzz about “trauma-informed” “facilitators” who welcome newcomers into the realm of psychedelics, particularly by administering microdoses. With the potential to transform one’s perception of the world, largely through the promised dissolution of ego, retreat centers across the globe welcome seekers to their properties where people can find a new meaning to life and/or heal the traumas that haunted them for so long. 

In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration named psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy.” With psychedelics arguably on their path to legalization, there are organizations that certify and train practitioners to safely guide individuals through a healing/tripping journey. The Synthesis Institute, for example, offers a certification program for professionals. California Institute of Integral Studies trains practitioners to receive a Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research, which is sanctioned by Heffter Research Institute, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP) and the Usona Institute.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Surely there are participants for whom psychedelics exacerbated trauma, or even led to a psychotic breakdown. For anyone who has endeavored to work through trauma, a substance that, some say, works like twenty years of therapy has a whetting effect. There is no one size fits all solution, and the decision to ingest psychedelics, in any quantity, is a very personal one. 

Guided Retreats with a Female Focus 

For the mystically-inclined women ready to take the leap, there are retreat centers that will guide and care for you as you explore your trauma through microdosing. Beckley Retreats in Jamaica offers “science-backed psychedelic experiences.” Programs consist of clean eating, meditation, nature, breathwork, and mindful movement. They explain that their programs are not recreational experiences, rather ceremonies in which one receives personal and skilled attention that weave in spiritual traditions. Muaisa Hale Pula in Kona, Hawaii, is an off-the-path property that offers an unglamorous approach to healing. There are Psychedelic Passage facilities located nationwide, and facilitators also travel to places without facilities. Across the state of Arizona, Psychedelic Passage trip sitting services are provided. In Colorado, there is The Sacred House of Eden which is highly endorsed by its past participants.

Stay safe during a mushroom trip by doing your research. Take an inventory of yourself and your mental state. Ask yourself what is motivating you to potentially embark on this journey. Know that there are entities, such as some listed above, that have made it their business to identify how to support and facilitate people that are interested. Educate yourself with the abundance of information online, talk to friends, and most importantly, trust your intuition. 

Retreat’s Safe Psychedelic Integration Checklist: 

  • Do your research 
  • Get a referral from a friend 
  • Understand the qualifications of your facilitator (e.g. therapist, shaman, trauma-informed, Eastern, Wester, etc.) 
  • Advocate for yourself. If you want a healer with a specific background, pursue that earnestly
  • Trust your intuition 
  • Utilize best practies for solo travel, listed above

Best Practices for Solo Travel

In addition to thoughtfully determining the best path forward for psychedelic retreats, we’d be remiss not to gently remind you ladies about some top travel tips for traveling alone.

  • Share your travel plans with trusted friends or family
  • Share your location with a trusted friend
  • Research best practices for on-the-ground transportation
  • Get a portable Wifi router to stay connected
  • Have cash on hand in the local currency 
  • Secure your valuables
  • Get travel insurance—or book with a credit card that covers travel

Read our full article on Microdosing Retreats here.

This article was written by Kiki Dy and Lexi Lampner.

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About the Author

Kiki Dy

Kiki Dy is writer, tea drinker, and dreamer living in Savannah, GA. Her work about psychedelics and women’s health can be found in Psychedelic Spotlight, Healthline, Blood + Milk, and more.

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