Reflections on a Silent Retreat

By Sarah Roberts, Assistant Director of Numinus

Insight Meditation Society

Last week, I drove to Barre, Massachusetts with Numinus Clinic director Joe Flanders and Numinus Clinic teacher Julien Lacaille to attend a six-day silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS). Founded in the 1970s by American Buddhist teachers Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein, IMS is one of the oldest meditation retreat centres in the West. The centre is housed in a beautiful old mansion, and runs regular retreats dedicated to the cultivation of vipassana (insight) and metta (lovingkindness). Our retreat was run by Kittisaro and Thanissara, Buddhist teachers who live and teach primarily in the US and in South Africa.

Orientation

On Monday evening, we gathered with one hundred retreatants from all over the United States and Canada for our orientation session. We were given a tour of the centre, and each retreatant was assigned a small dorm room (single bed, sink and mirror, wardrobe and chair) and a daily job that would contribute to the functioning of the centre. I was assigned to a team of after-lunch pot-washers; fellow retreatants were assigned various gardening, housekeeping, and food preparation jobs.

Noble Silence

Following the orientation session, Thanissara and Kittisaro rang a bell and Noble Silence was officially in session. Noble Silence simply refers to a commitment to remain silent for a certain extended period; the silence is designed to still our mouths and therefore our minds; making it easier to sit calmly; observe the workings of our minds and bodies; and cultivate perception, clarity, and wisdom.

Retreat Schedule

Starting Tuesday morning, the format of the retreat was as follows: at 5am, a bell-ringer walked through the halls of the dorms, ringing a bell to wake us and call us to gather in the meditation hall at 5:10 for chanting and sitting meditation. I usually took the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the lightening sky instead, joining the group for the next meditation period at 6am. At 6:30, we ate breakfast. At 8:15am, we reconvened in the meditation hall for alternating periods of sitting meditation and walking meditation until lunch at noon. The afternoon schedule was very similar: alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, until a light dinner (soup with crackers or bread) at 5:30pm. All meals were vegetarian, and each period of sitting, walking, or eating was indicated by bell-ringing.  At any time, retreatants could choose to meditate in the meditation hall, in the dorm rooms, in alternate designated meditation areas, or outside; we were also free at any time to nap, take a walk, have a cup of tea, or otherwise rest or rejuvenate.

Dharma Talks

Every evening, Thanissara or Kittisaro gave a “dharma talk.” The word dharma refers to the underlying order of nature and human life, and to behaviour considered to be in accord with that order. The word is also often used to refer to the entirety of the teachings of the Buddha, and a “dharma talk” simply means a talk on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher. Kittisaro and Thanissara’s dharma talks were excellent. Some referred to Buddhist teachings that were not familiar to me, but the underlying themes of compassion, acceptance, and non-striving were very familiar from my experience as an MBSR participant and teacher. The teachers were warm, engaging, and funny. In particular, Kittisaro’s description of his early life as an incorrigible striver (Rhodes’ Scholar, wrestling champion, medical student) made us laugh.

Buddhism and MBSR

For me, one of the pleasures of the retreat was hearing Thanissara and Kittisaro teach many of the concepts we teach in our mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, but from their unique perspective. Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept only quite recently popularized and secularized in the West as a tool for physical and emotional health and well-being. Although Western mindfulness teachers are educated in Buddhist principles and cognizant of the roots of mindfulness, the MBSR curriculum is specifically designed to be secular, and does not explicitly refer to Buddhist teachings.  Although the retreat teachers only used the word mindfulness a handful of times during the week, the themes of awareness via body sensations, allowing experience to be as it is, turning toward rather than away from pain, and cultivating compassion for personal and others’ suffering were unmistakable. Furthermore, many of the dharma talks touched upon the seven foundational attitudes to mindfulness practice (acceptance, non-judgment, non-striving, beginner’s mind, patience, trust, and letting go) identified by MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn, and explicitly taught in MBSR.

Retreat Life

Being on retreat is in some ways demanding (waking up at 5am, meditating for extending periods) and in some ways relaxing (no phones, internet, email, shopping, cooking, or demands on your time), but it’s above all interesting. Noticing what your mind does when the usual demands are absent is like sitting behind the window of a laboratory. I became extremely sensitive to the operations of my mind, immediately noticing each time a stray thought caused a twinge of anxiety or stab of fear; and acutely aware of the precise moment I became itchy, hungry, or otherwise physically uncomfortable. I had the space and time to observe my mental habits, noticing each time my mind latched onto one of its usual topics of rumination, or reacted to some nonverbal behaviour from a fellow retreatant. In some instances, the heightened awareness allowed me to behave more skillfully; in other instances, I observed myself repeating unhelpful patterns.

Post-Retreat Life

Now the retreat is over. I’m back in Montreal, back at work, and meeting with the usual demands and pleasures of my regular life. What’s different? First, I have retreat jet lag, which means that I’m going to bed and waking up about two hours earlier than usual. Second, I regularly stop and ask myself “How is it now?” This is a phrase Kittisaro and Thanissara encouraged us to use to check in with ourselves. Third, I’ve been speaking more slowly and less often, and listening more, realizing that everything that crosses my mind doesn’t need to be spoken out loud. Fourth, I’ve noticed that I’m more sensitive than usual to my own and others’ emotions, to the sounds in my environment and to the loveliness of nature.

I hope all of these changes last, but I’m prepared for them to fade or fluctuate. After all, if there’s any one lesson to take from Buddhist teachings, it’s the impermanence of all things.

Reflections on Difficult Times and How Mindfulness Can Help

The last 6 months have been difficult for my family and me. In fact, I can’t recall another period in my life in which I felt so overwhelmed, depleted, and discouraged. Thankfully, the worst of it has past. I’ve since had time to reflect on this period and, in particular, how my mindfulness practice helped me cope. While much of what follows is an account of my personal experience, I believe the value of the practice as it is applied here is universal.

I’ll try to get you up to speed on what happened without boring you to death with the minutiae of my “first-world” problems: My wife and I live with our 2 little kids (M, 4 years old & G, 1.5 years old) in a condo in Montreal. Last spring, we discovered a significant mould infestation in our basement. The problem was so bad that it was compromising the structural integrity of our kitchen and bathroom floors (we were lucky the floor didn’t caved in while M & G were in the bath) and poisoning the air quality in our home. Imagine: G had been breathing this toxic air since she came home from the hospital at 2 days old! The upshot was that we had to: move out; hire specialists to decontaminate the crawlspace; rip out the floors; dig up our yard to fix the water infiltration problem; and then rebuild and refinish everything. To make matters worse, we had to pursue 3 separate lawsuits if we wanted to recoup the 6-figure costs of the job.

In the middle of all of this, I got some devastating news from my mother: her cancer relapsed. It had been under control for 3 years thanks to an amazing new drug, but sadly, the disease had progressed and the drug was no longer effective. We didn’t know how much longer she had to live.

I have learned over the years that when I’m processing emotion or feeling overwhelmed, the primary symptom is irritability. I am easily frustrated by minor setbacks and impatient with people around me. What I lived over the summer was the perfect storm of triggers for me in my vulnerable state: we moved in and out of 6 different homes, supported our children through the change, managed the financial burden of all the work on our home, had countless meetings with contractors and lawyers, all while having to process this troubling news about my mother’s health.

Because we moved around a lot over the summer, it was tough to keep track of our stuff. I’d go to the bathroom to shave before work, only to realize I’d left my shaving stuff in another bag at home; my daughter wanted to sleep with her 2nd favorite stuffed animal, but that one was in storage; my wife wants to charge her iPhone, but I forgot to pack it at the other apartment. On and on like this for 3 months. And each each of these little frustrations would infuriate me. I would tighten up, growl inside, and think (over and over again) “This is so irritating! I can’t deal with all this frustration! I can’t believe I have to buy yet another iPhone charger!” As you can imagine, my head was not a fun place to be.

In one of my more acute moments of discouragement, it occurred to me that the magnitude of these challenges superseded my capacity to practice and cope with them. So I looked for inspiration from Pema Chodron, whose books had helped me through difficult times in the past. I picked up Living Comfortably with Uncertainty and Change and was reminded of one of her most compelling theses: that moments of difficulty offer the best opportunities to deepen insight and wisdom.

According to Pema, when things don’t go according to plan – when things fall apart to use her phrase – we typically react with some form of resistance such as frustration, disappointment, sadness, or indignation. We are attached to having things the way we want them and all of these reactions involve emotionally doubling-down on the plans that have not worked out.

When things don’t go according to plan, we typically react with some form of resistance such as frustration, disappointment, sadness, or indignation

Rather than tightening our grip on what has already slipped away, Pema invites us to let go and relax into the “fundamental groundlessness of being.” That phrase is fancy spiritual jargon referring to the impermanent and unsatisfying nature of reality. The fact is that my desire to have my “stuff” in order is bound to be unsatisfied because “stuff” invariably falls out of order again. iPhone chargers get lost and found; the soothing presence of stuffed animals comes and goes; apartments floors rot and get rebuilt; relationships fall apart and come together; even human life itself arises and passes. So as long as we are attached to having things a certain way, we will inevitably experience that dissatisfaction. In Buddhism, this is called dukkha.

Most of us, myself included, can’t really help it. Our brains evolved to make us feel more at ease in familiar environments that are predictable and under control. It requires more effort and energy to adapt to novel, unpredictable circumstances – and who knows what unknown threats lurk in the disorder? So adaptation to change is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, and depletion. Stretching beyond our evolutionary heritage and working skillfully with dukkha requires significant practice.

According to Pema, we can open up and ease into moments of frustration and stress. This practice begins with mindfulness. The idea is to drop into the moment-by-moment unfolding of an awareness that is not hooked or shaped by our preferences or judgements. The resistance itself can be used as an invitation to shift into openness and curiosity. In my case, that refers to the tightness in neck and shoulders, accelerating frustrated feeling, and racing thoughts about how my circumstances. Any of these elements could serve as a cue to stop and say “wow, resistance is here; let’s see what this is like.” At one level, this attitude disrupts the automatic habitual reactions of irritation and rumination and makes it possible to relate to the moment differently, such as with kindness and self-compassion. At a deeper level, it also opens the door to the experiential insight of impermanence, a deep and clear understanding that conditions change and sustainable well-being arises from a willingness to accept and work with what shows up.

We can open up and ease into moments of frustration and stress. This practice begins with mindfulness.

Of course, a lot of repetition and deliberate practice is required to move from a momentary insight to new way of being. And I have to admit I did fail to make this shift more often than I succeeded. But I do have one interesting experience to share.

One morning in the middle of the summer, I took my daughters out for a walk so my wife could catch up on sleep. The weather was lousy, but it hadn’t started raining yet and the kids needed to get out. So we went and had a reasonably good time. On the way back, the whining started: “I’m huuunnngry. I’m tiiiiirred. I don’t want to walk anymore, etc.” Shorty after that, it started pouring rain (obviously) and the whining escalated to crying.  Somehow, despite headache, fatigue, and own wet clothes, I managed to not react. I didn’t say or do anything except observe the moment unfolding. To be clear, this wasn’t an act of suppression or self-deception; there were simply no other “strategies” available to me aside from letting go of my preferences and working with what was present. After a minute or 2, the kids calmed down and walked along quietly. Then, the rain actually let up. And as we approached our home, I noticed a feeling of peaceful gratitude set in as the beauty of my surroundings registered, as well as a sense that everything was going to be ok.

For a brief moment I was attuned to the “fundamental groundlessness of being.” And as hard and complicated as that sounds, it actually involved little effort or technique – just slowing down and tuning in. So here is your invitation to try relaxing into those moments (big or small) when you’re feeling stuck in reactivity. It may help bring back intentionality and a deeper appreciation of impermanence.

Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash

 

Feeling Clearly: How Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy Helped a Father Overcome Severe Social Anxiety and Childhood PTSD

By Greg Ferenstein

An Unrelenting Specter of Judgment

Tom* couldn’t shake his constant fear of being perceived as awkward and unworthy of friendship.

“I always felt like the outcast,” he recalls. The crippling self-doubt kept all of his relationships at a cold distance, even his wife.

In everyday social situations, even light-hearted water-cooler conversations at work, Tom was haunted by thoughts about why people right in front of him—freely engaging with him in conversation—silently judged him as unpleasant.

Tom had done the work to figure out the source of his dread. After years of therapy, he knew it came from an abusive childhood growing up in a religious culture that used shame and bullying to enforce conformity. As a result, he ran away as a teenager.

One notable symptom of trauma is “hyper-vigiliance”, or an over-sensitivity to threats in everyday situations.

“I was on high alert all the time," he remembers.

His relationships were shallow because he avoided social activities. Even surrounded by those who loved him, he was still alone and fearful.

Addictive Attempts

Determined to be more social, Tom looked for solutions. While they did improve his anxiety, they also came with troubling trade-offs.

One was a popular and controversial legal drug, Phenibut, a synthetic anti-anxiety supplement originally synthesized in the USSR for cosmonauts.

Phenibut acts on the central nervous system by inhibiting the neurotransmitter, GABA. Essentially, it can dull reactions to perceived dangers. Because Tom was not in any true danger, it was a workable solution that gave him the confidence to be more social.

Unfortunately, Phenibut is highly addictive and there are reports of painful withdrawal. Tom remembers one occasion when he forgot to take one of his various anti-anxiety supplements on the way to a movie with his wife and they had to immediately turn back, making them late for the show.

Being tethered to addictive, unapproved medical treatments was clearly not helping him or his relationships.

Ketamine and a Feeling of Unconditional Love

Tom came across a Facebook ad for a new therapy at Novamind’s Cedar Psychiatry in Utah using ketamine, a surgical-grade general anesthesia that was being used to treat mental illness, including social anxiety disorder.

“I didn't quite know what to expect," he recalls of his general aversion to psychedelic-assisted therapy. “This was kind of my last hope."

Desperate for better options, Tom scheduled an appointment and brought his wife with him for support.

Tom remembers the luxury gravity chair that he sat in while the IV ketamine infusion was placed in his arm. He began drifting off into a dream-like state and felt as if he was tipping over backward in the chair, but the fear subsided.

“It’s ok, just let go," he recalls telling himself. For Tom, the psychedelic aspect of ketamine was not about wild hallucinations, but a feeling of ease. “I fell into this black space."

Tom’s thoughts drifted to his wife and he felt unconditional love. Prior to the appointment, he had worried about bringing her, since he felt silently judged for turning to psychedelics for treatment, even though she had never expressed skepticism about the approach.

But that feeling was replaced with one of acceptance. With ketamine, “You get to see yourself in third person," Tom explains. He experienced, at a visceral level, how others saw him and he knew they didn't judge him as he feared they did.

Instead, he could simply be beside his wife. “She held my hand; I felt so loved."

Feeling Less Judged

"Our marriage has skyrocketed," Tom says proudly. He also has more energy to enjoy swimming and going to the gym with his wife.

"I feel like going outside because I don't feel like there are eyes everywhere judging me."

Tom still has more ketamine treatments to go but feels he’s on a better path.

He seems to take challenging social experiences less personally. If someone disagrees with him, there is “zero emotion attached" to the argument.

Without constant rumination about what he’s doing wrong, he’s able to put challenges into perspective.

What Seemed to Work

Tom says that two things, in particular, stand out in his mind about what helped, aside from his wife being at his first treatment.

The first was listening to unfamiliar music. Music can have a calming, meditative effect during psychedelic episodes, allowing people to more deeply drop into a dream-like state. However, listening to familiar music can dredge up unpleasant memories that could distract from seeing oneself in a new light.

The second was Tom’s experience with mindfulness therapies prior to ketamine, including meditation and another called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

The basis of both strategies is to embrace difficult thoughts and memories as they come up. Tom doesn’t know whether having these psychological tools in his toolbelt made the difference between successful and unsuccessful ketamine treatment, but he did have the honed skills to address challenging thoughts during the treatment.

So, it is worth noting that people who have come from therapy might be able to use the tools they’ve learned from previous counselors with ketamine. This is why Cedar Psychiatry is careful to prepare patients with the mindfulness tools they’ll need to navigate the psychedelic experience and integrate insights afterward.

It certainly seemed to work for Tom. "It changed my entire life," he concludes.

*Tom is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Friends With Myself: How Ketamine Helped a Frontline Therapist Overcome Panic Attacks

By Greg Ferenstein

On the surface, Emily* had a blessed life: a supportive husband, a loving son, and a solid career as a frontline therapist. She had all the professional training and social support to manage her mental health, yet she was plagued by debilitating panic attacks.

Even when nothing was wrong, she couldn’t escape intrusive, catastrophic daydreaming of how she was likely to wreck her family and community. She knew the thoughts were purely imaginary, yet the uncontrollable episodes of sobbing that accompanied these ruminations took a toll on both her family and office administrators.

As an example, Emily recalls being mildly afraid that she might cheat on her husband. That same day, she went through a grocery checkout line with a male cashier and was bombarded with thoughts of cheating on her husband.

“I immediately just lost it,” she says. “I cheated on my husband because I went through this line that had a male cashier.”

She burst into her home, began crying, and apologized to a very confused partner. She remembers thinking that “I just can't, I can't live like this.”

As a working mental health professional and current master’s degree student, Emily was surrounded by treatments and strategies to help her deal with her panic attacks.

And she did on occasion find them helpful.

Yoga, for example, helped give her space to contemplate quietly. “I was able to lay there and relieve some of my self-loathing and self-hatred and difficulty in accepting myself as a human.”

Unfortunately, nothing seemed to stick, partly because Emily was terrified to let her mind wander. “I get a little skittish around trying to create images in my mind because I don't trust my brain; any moment, this self-compassion exercise could be totally taken over by myself.”

As bad as the attacks were, Emily could still function as a loving mother and run a therapy practice while going to grad school.

But COVID tipped the scale; intrusive fears became too intense. Shopping at Target was a panic-inducing experience. “What if the girl that is spraying the carts right now doesn't believe in COVID? And so she actually just put water in the spray bottle …. And now I'm going to take it home, and we're all going to die?”

The constant fear became too much. She needed new solutions.

The ketamine experience

At this point, Emily was open to anything that could help. She heard about a clinical pilot for frontline healthcare workers offered by Novamind, a mental health startup specializing in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthesia, was showing promise for a range of mental health issues, including suicidal ideation and depression.

Novamind’s clinic pioneered a method of pairing ketamine sessions with intensive psychotherapy.

Growing up in a religious community, Emily felt uncomfortable with psychedelics. But she was desperate for solutions and decided to sign up.

Emily was placed in a trial with other frontline healthcare workers exploring how ketamine-assisted therapy could help them overcome their mental health challenges.

In preparation for the treatment, they were given worksheets and instructions on how to mentally navigate the psychedelic experience. In between treatments, the group would come together for discussions and integration.

Emily recalls one particularly powerful psychedelic episode that rooted out the source of her panic attacks.

As she began to feel the effects of the ketamine, she remembers seeing a visualization of a black hole and asking the overseeing physician how she should interact with the bizarre object.

“The doctor encouraged me to go toward it and that he would be there if I needed. I asked to hold his hand.”

Images morphed, and she recalled herself a young religious missionary in South America. As an adult, she was no longer a member of her same church, and since leaving, maintained intense shame around trying to force religious beliefs on the local residents.

During the psychedelic experience, Emily felt the people of the town forgive her. They told her that her missionary work did not harm the community and that they were grateful to have known her.

Then, with that same compassion, Emily turned to speak to her childhood self, “I told her these thoughts that you have are called ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’, and you don't have to repent for them.”

Emily and her younger self openly discussed all the complex feelings around moral purity and guilt they would experience in their life. She forgave herself. And, in that moment, Emily acknowledged it as a significant source of panic attacks.

“It was a closure I didn't even know I needed.”

Better at managing attacks

Emily still experiences episodes of shame, but now, they don’t spiral out of control.

She recalls one recent example of an incident that would have triggered a panic attack prior to her ketamine treatment.

One day, she had thrown away a bunch of plastic. Normally this slight moral transgression would trigger intense feelings of guilt about how she was wrecking the planet.

“Yes, I will have the thought of like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing to the earth’, but within moments, I'm able to go to a place of ‘Emily’, this is so hard for you, I'm so sorry that you struggle with this—everything's going to be okay.”

Emily estimates that before, she would have a debilitating episode about once every three weeks, and then more minor attacks in between.

Since her treatment, she has experienced just one triggering episode, but it was not as severe, and she was able to adopt new coping mechanisms.

In addition to a more stable family life, Emily believes she’s become a more empathetic and present therapist. “I'm able to be fully present in their story, instead of letting my mind wander off into my own story.”

Emily is a therapist in a community with a lot of mental health distress around religion. Her clients have become curious about her personal transformation and the role of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Emily says that she would recommend Novamind.

“Dr. Reid Robison and Dr. Stephen Thayer were really great at setting us up for success,” she exclaims. “I can't imagine doing this with any other people.”

*Emily is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity.

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

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Fully Present: How Ketamine-Assisted Therapy Helped One Woman Out of Depression

By Greg Ferenstein

Michelle* lived with constant anxiety that she would explode during an argument and enter into a months-long depressive episode. She’d tried so many strategies to manage her mental health, from group discussions to cognitive behavioral therapy, but nothing seemed to work well.

“Most of the therapy I’ve done just kind of muted my symptoms mostly, but I am still walking around with heavy, heavy depression and really terrible anxiety.”

Depressive episodes would socially paralyze her.

“I wouldn’t feel like I had any energy to do anything. I’d isolate myself,” she says. “I'm not social. I don't function besides what I absolutely have to function for.”

She could work but that was about it.

Unfortunately, the most effective solutions for her had intolerable side effects. The generic version of Zoloft, Sertraline, managed her major mood swings but came with “horrible” sweats that left her “drenched” in the middle of the night. Perhaps worse, it severed her emotions.

“It made me not care at all,” Michelle recalls. “I just kind of didn't feel anything.”

After her doctors recommended trying a higher dose, she went looking for something else. Her friends said good things about ketamine, a dissociative psychedelic that is known to help people confront painful topics and manage a range of mental health conditions, including depression.

Michelle was nervous. She had some not-so-positive experiences with psychedelics when she was younger. Even though it was years ago, she didn’t like the idea of losing control of her mind.

The therapists at Numinus made her feel more at ease with their Emotion-Focused Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, which pairs intensive emotional management and trained mental health professionals with multiple rounds of in-person ketamine sessions.

The Ketamine Experience

The psychedelic portions of ketamine treatment typically last an hour and many people report hazy dreams representing unprocessed challenges.

After years of therapy, Michelle believed she knew the source of what she might encounter: being abandoned by her mother as an adolescent and subsequent years in-and-out of near homelessness.

Instead, her most healing psychedelic experiences were simple and pleasant experiences.

She remembers telling her husband, “Maybe this is what it feels like to feel normal.”

The simple absence of anxiety was profound. After one session, she burst into tears.

“I just started crying and crying and crying,” she recalls. “I really felt like it helped me release those emotions, and relieve some of that pain and all of the struggle that I had when I was a child with my family.”

During another psychedelic experience, Michelle set an intention and drifted into a meditative state, daydreaming of swimming. Usually, when water was involved in Michelle’s dreams, it was a nightmare drowning sensation. This watery dream, though, was superbly healing.

“I have been a hyper-vigilant person, always looking for the next thing to crumble in my life,” she says. “But with ketamine, just to even have that feeling that I'm okay—and that I'm happy—was huge for me.”

Introspection, fewer explosions, less depression

In the three months since Michelle had her first ketamine treatment with Numinus, she has learned to better manage her emotional triggers.

One example stands out. Because of their shared traumatizing past, her family has had a tendency to set her off. But the last time they had a fight, Michelle recalls being able to remove herself from the argument, sensing that she was about to explode, and embrace her feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.

“It's getting easier for me to recognize, even in conversation.”

She feels more in touch with her emotions, and if things start feeling really bad, she can discuss her emotions openly in a way that defuses the situation.

Her relationship with her husband has improved and she is no longer burdened with extended bouts of depression. She’s made incredible progress, but Michelle still struggles with explosive episodes and depression. So, she continues to go in for occasional ketamine treatments.

But she no longer needs antidepressants.

“It has really, really, honestly been the only thing that has helped me feel normal without taking a pill every single day.”

*Michelle is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Healing My Worth: How Ketamine-Assisted Therapy Helped One Woman Out of Depression

By Greg Ferenstein

 

Sarah* couldn’t understand why she felt such debilitating depression. On paper, she seemed to be doing everything right. She practiced yoga, ate well, and was raising two well-adjusted children. Her supportive family and healthy lifestyle helped her overcome a difficult cancer treatment, yet she was consumed by dark ruminating.

“I find myself constantly apologizing to everyone,” she recalls, of the crippling self-doubt that led to serious suicidal ideation.

Intuitively, she knew people loved her, but couldn’t stop her reaction to apologize as never being good enough for her family. Sometimes, the mere gentle embrace of her husband would send her into a sobbing fit.

“My kids were scared when I got really suicidal,” she admits.

Traditional therapy and medications had been somewhat helpful. One of the anti-depressants that she tried, specifically, Zoloft, took the edge off of otherwise brutal, constant rumination.

“I was more stable—I was much more approachable.” With Zoloft and talk therapy, Sarah’s relationships were more manageable. She could work, raise her kids, and not break down crying around her husband.

But, eventually, the trade-offs from Zoloft, and anti-depressants generally became too much. First, Sarah’s cancer medications interacted poorly with Zoloft.

Second, it strained relations with her husband in unexpected places like the bedroom. “There’s kind of a sexual dampening effect.”

Her husband wanted to be desired physically, but as an emotional ‘zombie’, Sarah just couldn’t feel it.

“I wasn’t filling that need for him because I wasn’t feeling it within myself,” she recalls. “I wanted to feel well, but I also wanted to feel everything.”

Eventually, Sarah’s therapist proposed a relatively new psychedelic pharmaceutical treatment, ketamine, a widely used surgical general anesthesia known to have potent antidepressant effects. In the dreamlike state of this powerful analgesic, patients can often process memories that are too painful to deal with normally.

Sarah’s initial ketamine treatments were positive, but they did not seem to alleviate her issue, nor did they help her understand the source of the depression.

So, she decided to try a new ketamine provider, Novamind, a growing mental healthcare company specializing in psychedelic-assisted therapy. Having treated thousands of patients using various ketamine therapies, Novamind was uniquely equipped to address Sarah’s challenging situation. In her case, Novamind providers used Emotion-Focused Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy or “EF-KAP”. EF-KAP is a special type of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy that focuses on helping patients learn to identify, cope with, and transform emotions related to their mental health condition. It is based on principles found in Emotion-Focused Therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that clinical research has shown is very effective.

A transformational visualization

Initially, Sarah remembers feeling “terrified” of psychedelics. Her fears ran the whole gamut of disaster scenarios, from suffering a hypothetical permanent psychosis to simply not ‘returning’ to her normal psychological state of being able to care for her family.

“I’m kind of a control freak,” she says.

But, she was desperate and willing to trust in the confidence of her mental health team.

Under Novamind’s care, Sarah recalls the trip that transformed her mental health. Sitting in a comfortable chair and dimly lit room, a ketamine IV was placed in her arm and she drifted off into a state that felt like the semi-conscious awareness of waking up from a long sleep.

In her dream, a building stood out in the middle of a big, cosmopolitan city. She peered in and could empathize with the hundreds of families seen through the windows. Soon, she witnessed the glow of different family members dissolving from what looked like divorce. But, it wasn’t a sad occasion, as each person floated into another room with a new, loving family unit.

To Sarah, this was a revelation: as the child of a difficult divorce, she realized how the scars of feeling unloved during her parents’ separation never fully healed. But, in her psychedelic vision, she understood separation as a natural part of life.

“My energy can now leave and go flow elsewhere.” Sarah did not have to take the scars of being unloved from her childhood into her role as a mother. “I equated trying to be perfect with getting love.”

She says that she could choose to accept the unconditional love of her husband and children, even if she is imperfect.

No more apologizing or suicidal thoughts

Sarah recalls feeling unusually pleasant in the days after the experience. Her first assignment was to ditch her knee-jerk reaction to apologize—and it worked.

She was determined to be “more mindful every time I wanted to say ‘sorry’.” Instead, she knew, “I could just show up and be enough.”

Soon, relations at home improved. Before the therapy, Sarah had become physically estranged from her husband, who had stopped being affectionate for fear of triggering a depressive episode. But, now, he could embrace her with a loving hug. It was the little things like this that gave her more confidence and began the road to repairing intimacy in her marriage.

Initiating intimacy ran both ways: now that she felt a fuller and more intense range of emotions, Sarah is comfortable in her body. She is less judgmental about her weight and image. In the bedroom, she enjoys connecting and is less likely to cover under the sheets.

“Years of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and body shame had prevented me, for a long time, from really being present in my body.”

Sarah still has shaky days, but is staying vigilant in her practice of mindfulness. She finally believes, at her core, “I’m worth being here”.

Exploring the nuances of what worked

Sarah was no stranger to psychedelics; she’d experimented liberally years ago with LSD and psilocybin, both of which are known to have antidepressant properties in therapeutic settings. And, she had come to Novamind recently for ketamine treatments.

So, what was different about this particular transformation experience?

Novamind’s Dr. Stephen Thayer, who oversaw her care, credits two things in particular to the healing process.

First, Sarah was instructed how to ‘recall’ her psychedelic experience in her everyday life as a method of integrating the insights she learned while on ketamine. During challenging times, Sarah takes a moment to breathe and mindfully reflect on these insights, allowing her to emerge fortified and less self-critical. Dr. Thayer describes this process as following breadcrumbs back to insights first encountered during the ketamine experience.

Second, both Dr. Thayer and Sarah credit the unobtrusive talk therapy during the trip with a trusted counselor.

In many ketamine infusion clinics, clients go through the experience without supportive psychotherapy.

Sarah’s case is a fascinating example of why this kind of support may be crucial to the healing process. Ordinarily, she admits, anxiety would get the best of her and she would feel the need to do anything else but sit with her difficult emotions. That guidance involved open-ended questions, invitations to be curious, and reminders that she was safe. Being invited to describe the visualizations mid-trip helped uncover the meaning of the dream-like state and gave her the courage to dive deeper into the experience.

For Sarah, it made all the difference.

*’Sarah’ is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity.

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Motivation To Heal: How Ketamine Has Helped One Woman Deal With an Eating Disorder

By Greg Ferenstein

Joan was desperate to overcome an eating disorder, which she had been struggling with since adolescence.

The disorder was unfortunately more than dangerously low weight; she didn’t have the energy to live her life and do what she loved most like hiking or traveling.

This spiralled into depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Eating disorders are a major mental health challenge. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a staggering 9% of the global population struggles with some form of eating disorder. Consistent with Joan’s experience, an estimated 26% with the condition attempt suicide.

The pandemic has been especially challenging for those suffering from mental health conditions and may have exacerbated the incidences of those struggling with eating disorders.

Joan tried many treatments, including a longer term residential program. But the coercive nature of being committed in a facility left her fearful to try more intensive, traditional medical services.

So, like many people, she turned to less traditional services in the psychedelics underground with facilitators who could help her cope with mental illness using unapproved drugs.

“I've done psilocybin to LSD,” she says.

Given that there is no regulation or oversight, the psychedelics underground can be a precarious place.

After an underground session with MDMA, a synthetic compound currently in final stages of FDA clinical trials, Joan said she developed some important sense of self-acceptance.

“It's the first time I was able to look at myself in a mirror,” she recalls. Previously she had so much self-loathing for her appearance.

The psychedelic experiences convinced her that she could focus on her health.

Eventually, Joan met someone from Cedar by Novamind and decided to go for a few sessions of their Emotion Focused Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EF-KAP).

Novamind recently published a case series of patients undergoing ketamine-assisted therapy for eating disorders and found promising results. “The seemingly rapid response in mood to ketamine treatments observed in some cases is congruent with previous studies of ketamine for depression,” concluded the report.

Joan’s experience seems consistent with the report’s results. In total, she had two sessions.

“Something shifted in me,” she says.

Sometimes people experience intense visualizations in a ketamine experience, but not always. After one of the sessions, Joan remembers calling her mother and being more open to new ideas.

“I was able to think about things more rationally and just hold ideas that I couldn't have held otherwise.”

Since those sessions, Joan says that she gets less “freaked out” about eating more calories per day. Previously that sort of idea frightened her, but less so after the ketamine sessions.

And she is currently becoming more comfortable with the idea of gaining weight.

“I don't have to gain a ton of weight. But I want to have a little bit more energy to do some of the things I used to do, like hiking and traveling.”

*Joan is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Rooted in Love: How Ketamine-Assisted Therapy Helped a Frontline Worker Overcome Anxiety and Burnout

By Greg Ferenstein

Christine* had finally managed to get her acute anxiety and depression under control and wean off a decade-long reliance on antidepressants. But when COVID-19 hit in 2020, she became increasingly overwhelmed. Though she had a huge stack of responsibilities—as a mother of three, a wife, and a frontline clinical therapist—Christine was debilitated by constant ruminating fears that she would fail her responsibilities.

“How do you help people when you also feel like you’re drowning?" she remembers thinking.

In her personal life, Christine struggled with a lack of self-worth, which impacted her husband and child.

“I just wouldn't show up as my best self, so I'd be more irritable with them—more easily frustrated with them—even though I was really frustrated with myself.”

The fear and tensions caused further distance from those she loved; she experienced serious physical intimacy issues with her husband, and in social situations, she found herself turning inward rather than being the energetic friend she wanted to be.

Christine began to isolate more and more, describing her collapse inward as a practice of self-care.

“I remember just taking multiple walks a day, just trying to get out of the house.”

Ironically, these attempts took her away from her responsibilities and worsened her mental health challenges.

Feeling defeated, Christine decided to go back on her antidepressant medication to manage her depression. While the medication gave her more energy to be productive, it exacerbated other problems.

“It was really good at helping my depression, but it had the side effect of increasing my anxiety if my dose was too high. And so, there was a lot of playing around with dosages, and I never ever really found something that felt really good.”

The Ketamine Experience

Christine was desperate for a better solution. A few of her therapy clients had told her about their experience with psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, in both the underground and with ketamine in clinics.

“I had literally never taken any sort of substance to change my state at all. I really had no idea what to expect.”

Christine was still nervous to try psychedelics by herself, but a colleague had told her about a positive experience at Novamind, a psychiatry clinic that specializes in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. As a frontline worker affected by the stress and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, she qualified for their ongoing clinical pilot program for group therapy, where she and two others would undergo three sessions of oral and intramuscular ketamine, guided by a licensed psychotherapy team.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, can bring patients into a daydream-like state where their mental health challenges morph into insightful visualizations.

Going into her first psychedelic experience, Christine had set the intention of processing her issues of “enough-ness” and expected to find an answer detailing why she was an amazing caretaker. Yet, she got quite a different insight.

Christine began to see images of a large tree, which felt as though it represented a long lineage of caretakers, supporting both her and those she loved.

“What the ketamine kind of showed me was how I was actually connected. And I was a part of something much larger. And for me, that was my ancestry. So, I had these visualizations of seeing myself from above and having this family tree.”

Christine, for the first time, began to realize that she was not the only thing protecting her loved ones or her patients.

“I think it really comes down to this sense that I'm not alone and that these things are not just on my shoulders.”

Christine had placed unrealistic burdens on herself as a mom and as a therapist. She realized she could be imperfect and ask for help and this was enough.

Christine also notes that the group aspects of the therapy were essential to integrating these insights into her life.

“They also had some really powerful experiences, and they could understand maybe the weirdness.”

Psychedelic insights can be unusual. For Christine, it was vital to be surrounded by people like herself who understood the experience and why it was meaningful.

A More Confident Christine

Christine is happy to report that she is fully off her antidepressants and feeling much better.

She finds herself lashing out less in irritation at her family. As a therapist, she finds herself more present and grounded with her clients.

“I feel like my nervous system is a tool that I use with my clients and the more regulated I can be and the more I can feel myself in a grounded place, I can show up better for my clients. So, I do think that I'm giving better quality service.”

Perhaps just as important, she feels more vivacious and connected in her social life.

“In those social situations, I find myself sharing more and being more engaged, worrying less about saying the right thing or something that they wouldn't necessarily want to hear. And coming home or coming away from most situations and not being nearly as drained as I had been over the past few years.”

Christine credits new mindfulness skills with her continued mental stability. During one of her more intense psychedelic journeys, she experienced a so-called “ego death”, which she describes as an out-of-body feeling where she could independently observe different parts of her psyche.

During this daydream, Christine could hear the chatter of her negative, depressive, and judgmental self. "When are you going to post about this on Instagram?" she remembers hearing. But as a disembodied observer, she began to understand that these judgmental ruminations were a part of her psyche trying to care for her.

She could listen to the judgmental and worrisome voices without letting fear overcome her.

Now, when she begins to involuntarily ruminate, she’s better able to practice a form of mindfulness and experience a sense of objective awareness of the voices.

“Even significant family issues can be resolved and those feeling that come from that can be resolved in just a matter of hours, versus something that persists. And I ruminate on and it sticks with me for a very long time, and just kind of keeps me in that bogged down stuck place.”

Overall, Christine is feeling less anxious and depressed. She hasn’t resolved all the issues (she still sees a counselor with her husband) but is grateful for the progress made.

“I loved the entire structure of the experience.”

*Christine is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity

About the author

Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.

His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.

Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.

Julie Andrews: "Therapy Saved My Life"

Depression, more common than either cancer or heart disease, is the leading cause of ill health & disability worldwide, yet 50% of people with depression don't get treatment.

1 in 4 people will face mental illness at least once in their lifetime, but why do governments only invest 3% of their health budgets in mental health?

Going to a therapist or psychiatrist should be as normal as going to your family doc when you have the flu. Even though it's getting better, the stigma is still out there. So, you can imagine how pleased we were to hear about this conversation on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

"Colbert asked Andrews about the decision to discuss her history with therapy in Home Work. Andrews' first stint in therapy took place after her separation from her first husband, when "my head was so full of clutter and garbage." Mike Nichols, who she admired for being clear-headed, was going to therapy and so she gave it a try. As for why she shared this with readers, Andrews replied, "The truth is, why not, if it helps anybody else have the same idea? These days, there's no harm in sharing it, I think everybody knows the good work it can do."

We need to talk more about our mental health. We get this message from society that asking for help is weak, but maybe society needs some therapy. Therapy is cool, psychiatry is rad, and working on your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness. It's showing up for ourselves so we can be there for the other people in our lives too.

 

 

Episode 35: Psychedelics and Spirituality with Steve Rio

“All we’re really trying to do is help people practice being more sensitive to their inner and outer surroundings. We’re helping people build awareness and feel comfortable being fully awake in every moment of their life.”
In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Steve Rio, former social impact entrepreneur and now 5-MeO-DMT and breathwork guide. He founded and runs the Enfold Institute where he guides small groups through 5-MeO-DMT psychedelic experiences. Steve is also the co-founder of Nature of Work, an 8-week program and company designed help people “build new habits and master your time, energy, and attention.” He was also co-founder and CEO of Briteweb, a social impact agency that “works with nonprofits, foundations and purpose-driven companies and helps them with marketing.” His work centres around helping people build clarity, connection, sensitivity, helping each individual realize their full potential in their life.

His focus is currently on his work with guiding small groups through their experiences with 5-MeO-DMT. He and his wife help prepare participants before the experience, during, after with integration. 5-MeO-DMT is extracted from the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad. It can now be synthesized in a lab. It is a close relative to DMT.

Steve and Dr. Joe spoke about:

 

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

Connect with Steve on InstagramTwitterLinkedIn, and Medium.

Follow Numinus on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

Discovery of 5-MeO-DMT: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert by Albert Most

Dr. Octavio Rettig, doctor who led retreats close to the discover of 5-MeO-DMT

The Toad Venom Pamphlet That Changed Psychedelia Forever by Hamilton Morris on the toad venom in which 5-MeO-DMT is extracted from

Synthetic Toad Venom Machine by Hamilton Morris

 

More quotes from Steve Rio from the interview:

“Psychedelics help you completely reframe your perspective on life in a way that I don’t believe anything else on the planet can.”

 

“I think the word God to me is just talking about the connectivity of all life, that sense of unity, that sense of connection.”

 

“To me, spirituality is feeling connected to your truest essence of who you are. It’s feeling peace with yourself and with your surroundings.”

 

“There’s a gap before me and after me through my 5-MeO-DMT experience. It was such an awakening moment. It was so profound. It was so intense that it just really shifted the trajectory of my life. I died and I was reborn.”

 

Here is a full transcript of their conversation:

Steve Rio, welcome to the Numinus podcast.

Thanks, Joe. Excited to be here.

How’s the day so far?

The day is good, mostly administrative stuff. All the exciting, exciting background of being a guide and doing work in the space. So yeah, just kind of getting things cleaned up. It’s been a really busy few months. I’m so excited that’s Friday.

I want you to know that I’m drinking tea here because I feel I need to be sharp and clear for this one. What do you think of that?

Well, you know, whatever you need to keep up with this conversation I’m in for.I’m just kidding. But I don’t drink caffeine. So everyone should know that Joe and I have a bit of a rapport around this kind of thing. But I don’t. I don’t. Personally, I try to stay away from caffeine for the most part because it gets me a little too accelerated. I’m sharp enough as it is. And then when sharpness becomes just like aggression, it’s not. That’s not cool, right?

I know that from experience, you do not want to get on Steve’s dark side, that’s for sure.

All right. Let’s be serious here, Steve. Tell us what you do and how you got onto this kind of healing thing that you’re doing these days.

Yeah. So I do a lot of different things, but I’d say it’s all centered around helping people access and increase their access to consciousness, kind of upgrading consciousness. It’s to also help people increase capacity and resilience and wellness. And then I think inside of that I am also really trying to help people with sense making and and with just enjoying the trip of this very complex life that we’re living.

Yeah, that’s cool. Can you give a maybe more sort of conventional answer, like, what do you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you have a job? What’s your background or I know you’ve done a bunch of stuff like, you’re a musician, you’re a sound engineer, you’re like your consultant, you’re a mindfulness teacher.

Yeah, all those things. So yeah, like my background I was a musician, kind of my first up until my mid 20s. I was a musician sort of full time and playing a whole bunch of different styles of music and trying to make a go of that.

I also got into technology and design in my early 20s, and that sort of became my second career and so spent a number of years–like I’ve got about 20 years of technology, experience of design experience and then a solid decade of that doing high level strategy with organizations primarily in the social sector and in social impact work.

So really, my whole working career has been focused on social impact and I guess the thread in my personal life that leads us to where we are today is really around my own personal wellness, my own personal development, exploring psychology and wellness and performance and consciousness and all of these things. And in the last, I’d say, five or so years, that’s become sort of the forefront of what I’m doing.

So a few years ago, we launched a product called Nature of Work. It’s an eight week wellness program for modern work that kind of takes people through all aspects of how to engage with technology, how to structure time, how to build attention through the attention muscle and how to, you know, basically manage the dopamine rushes we have all around us all the time and be a higher performing person that feels better throughout the day.

And then in the last few years, we’ve begun doing psychedelic work. So psychedelic retreats, coaching, integration, work, breath-work, all sorts of aspects around altered state.

And when you say we this is you and your partner.

Yeah, that’s right. My wife and I.

Cool. We could talk about many of the things that you’ve just listed there, but the purpose of today is to talk about 5-MeO-DMT and the work you’re doing with your wife at your institute there. So let’s start with 5-MeO-DMT. What is 5-MeO-DMT? Let’s start with what is it?

Yeah, yeah, it’s an interesting question these days because I think a lot of people are hearing about it through different cultural references, which is exciting and frightening. At the same time, you know, it’s really interesting hearing, you know, Joe Rogan, talk a lot about it. Mike Tyson, I feel like has has been probably the most prolific voice of 5-MeO-DMT recently. He’s constantly talking about smoking the toad and it’s and it’s been really engaging to see his journey.

But 5-MeO is basically, as far as we know, the strongest psychedelic on the planet. We work with a synthetic version of 5-MeO, but it’s originally found in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad, and that was discovered sometime, I think, in the sixties.

There’s no long lineage with five MeOH, like a lot of the other psychedelics where there’s, say, a thousand years of lineage. It was discovered fairly recently by an American guy and so it was originally found in the Sonoran Desert toad. So when people talk about smoking the toad, they’re talking about smoking the venom of this specific toad. Now this toad is effectively becoming extinct pretty quickly. So most people working with five 5-MeO today are now working with synthetic. So like a pure molecule, lab made molecule.

And yeah, in some ways I would categorize it in the same category as all the other psychedelics. In other ways I have to sort of put it in its own category just because the experience is so different, it’s so much stronger. But it’s also just, yeah, it just doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics that you generally think about or hear about when you think about psilocybin or ayahuasca, where there are a lot of visuals and a lot of story. Psychedelics like 5-MeO feel like they go straight right through all of that to a much more pronounced experience. So there’s I mean, there are lots of different areas we could go into.

Yeah, I think that 5-MeO-DMT has become like a household name in the psychedelic community. The first time I heard about 5-MeO-DMT I thought that it was really bizarre, right? So you’re telling me that there’s a toad, you know, hopping around out there in the Sonoran Desert. And this toad has a venom, which I understand is released when there is a predator or some irritant kind of nearby. And just like squirts out this white substance. And it like, you know, paralyzes and / or kills this other animal.

Or makes him very high.

Do we know what happens to the animals that are–

We actually don’t. It’s so new and it’s so interesting. Like basically what happened is these toads were discovered by Ken Nelson, aka Albert Most. But they’ve so quickly been eradicated by the popularity around them and just by people going for them.

So I don’t know how much research has actually been done on the toad and what’s happening there.

So my assumption was that the psychoactive properties for the human brain were sort of idiosyncratic. It’s like this weird side effect. But the effect, this is like a defense mechanism for an animal that can be a prey to like a snake or an insect or whatever. Right? And so anyway, that remains to be discovered. 

So this thing’s hopping around. It has this defense. And somehow Ken Nelson discovered–and if you know anything about how he discovered this, I’d love to hear it–that when you smoke this substance, presumably he figured out that you need to dry it out first. You smoke the substance and it’s like profoundly consciousness altering in a really, really interesting way.

Well, so Ken Nelson basically became fascinated with the idea of a psychedelic toad. He was an interesting guy. He was always researching things and doing all this kind of stuff. So he was very interested in this idea. Then I think he was in the army for a little while.

Anyway, he found the research from an Italian chemist who had been basically looking at venoms of all of these different venomous toads that they could find and indexing just all the molecular and chemical components of their venom. So he came across the information that there was 5-MeO-DMT in this toad somewhere. And it happened to be that this guy was living in Texas, so it wasn’t too far from him. These toads are really generally found in the Arizona Mexico border, kind of in that region through that desert. And so he became fascinated by and people hadn’t really been talking about 5-MeO-DMT, but obviously they were earlier with DMT. And so he sorted this out and basically was as far as we know, the first person to really find this toad, extract the venom and realize what he had found.

So what I just learned is that 5-MeO-DMT exists elsewhere. It just happens to be in the Sonoran Desert toad. Where else do you find 5-MeO-DMT?

As far as I know, it’s found endogenously, so it’s found in the human body. It’s produced in the human body, just like DMT is. I mean, I think that research is fairly novel and I don’t know that we’re super clear on what’s going on there. But there are some trace amounts of it in the body. It’s also found in a few other plants, but in very low, low amounts. So there’s no plant you could go pick and smoke and find you have enough 5-MeO-DMT in it. I believe what’s interesting is that one of the plants with 5-MeO is very prevalent in the areas around where the origins of the Judeo-Christian religions were formed. So who knows what that means? It’s just interesting.

So through this really interesting and as yet to be elucidated history, this compound finds its way into the hands of this guy, and he publishes this manual or something. Can you tell us the story of that thing?

Yeah. So I have a reprint of it. So in the end, I think it was 1980, early 1980s. So just after I was born, he published this manual in 1983. This is a reprint that was done by Hamilton Morris, basically to help support Ken Nelson. He had found Ken Nelson just before he died and wanted to raise some money for him and basically to put this information out in the world. So he published this pamphlet. It has all these drawings of how to melt the toad and how to find them and all this information and these illustrations that his friend had done about what the experience was like. And so anyway, he published this, but this was in the 80s, so that was the first information he was handing it out. He would print a bunch of these himself and then go hand them out at conferences or fairs and things like that. And that’s how this started to become on the radar. And that was really like, like you say, the early 80s.

And what’s interesting is that we had already gone through the prohibition of most psychedelics in the U.S. This was discovered post prohibition. And a lot of folks, a lot of the kind of old timers that were doing research down in California, they started to be aware of 5-MeO. But they agreed to keep it as underground as possible because of what had already happened with LSD and other substances. So they codenamed it Jaguar. They all agreed that they wouldn’t publish anything about it. So what’s interesting is 5-MeO-DMT remained off the radar of the DEA until 2007, when it was then regulated in the U.S. It’s still unregulated in Canada, again, largely because it’s just flown under the radar and been fairly elusive to everybody.

Again, to someone who’s discovering the story for the first time it’s such a bizarre thing. I sort of feel like one needs to know what it does to human consciousness to understand why it’s popular and why it sort of has this kind of cult following now. So what kinds of experiences have you had on it and have you seen some of your guests at your retreat center? 

To set this up a little bit, I’ve had very high dose experiences with psilocybin, with MDMA, with LSD. I’ve had experiences with ayahuasca. I’ve also actually smoked DMT directly. So just to set the stage in terms of my own experience, I’ve had a lot of experience with different psychedelics in fairly high doses.

A dear friend of mine who will remain unnamed, but just an incredible human in our lives, one of our soul brothers. He basically started telling me about 5-MeO saying, ‘You got to do it and you’ve got to come do it.’ And he was just constantly trying to get me to these sessions he was setting up with this guy. And at first, I was a little bit, you know, I don’t know. It sounds pretty intense.

And at that time, even three or four years ago, there was so little information about 5-MeO-DMT online. If you went online where you’d find there were a few videos of this Mexican doctor / shaman kind of guy who became very popular. But he was doing pretty scary stuff with 5-MeO, the way he was administering it. So you’d find videos of him like dosing people and holding them up and then dropping them in a river. And it was like, just super intense.

That actually sounds like the footage that Hamilton Morris showed on his episode that he looked into 5-MeO. Is that the same guy?

Same guy. Dr. Octavio Rettig, I think is his name. And he was sort of the first. He’s a very eloquent, kind of good looking Mexican Jesus kind of looking guy and has doctor credentials and is just really sort of shamanic. And so he was a great personality for TV and for, you know, for YouTube.

He has a really specific style that actually is carried forward in a lot of Mexican providers. But he had this very aggressive approach like he would have you standing when you took this medicine and this medicine is strong enough, we’ll get into this, that it effectively you’re unconscious. So he kind of holds you up and then drops you down. And oftentimes he was doing things like pouring water down people’s nose and throat to kind of create a choking response. And I don’t know what, why and what that was all about. But anyway, he had a really aggressive approach. And so those are kind of the first things we would see. So even before the Hamilton Morris episode, I don’t remember when that came out, but anyway, like we’d see these kinds of things.

So it took a while to get us to the mat. I guess this is the long story short. We finally had our first experience, and I really have to say my first 5-MeO experience is–there’s a gap before me and after me through that experience. It was such an awakening moment. It was so profound. It was so intense that it just really shifted the trajectory of my life. And I think all psychedelics have had like I know that my early mushroom experiences, which was a long time ago, also really influenced the view I have on how life works and what’s going on here. And it really helped shape my perspective. But this was just so profound and so intense. And it was like I died and I was reborn and it was so beautiful and it kind of just shook me up in a way that it sort of just helped to accelerate a lot of things that were already kind of momentous in my life. But the momentum just increased. I always talked to people about how I feel that 5-MeO and what often psychedelics in general would do. 5-MeO being a really strong catalyst for this is that where you are aligned, that alignment just is so much clearer and it clears the path and you just move more clearly and more directly towards that. Where if you have misalignment or where things are, are not, you know, you’re not feeling.

Integrated or separated.

Or whatever, those things just become more clear to you as well. So you just start to dismantle those. You start to work those out. So for me, I was thinking about selling my company and moving into the work we’ve been doing for a number of years. But it had always felt like there were all these external barriers to doing so that I can’t sell my company for this reason or this needs to happen. Or there are all these kinds of things. I loved the company, but I just was no longer passionate about it, and I knew it was time to hand the reins over to somebody else.

And within six months, the deal was done and I got exactly what I had hoped for in terms of selling it. It was a great transition. The buyer was the perfect person to take over the company. Like, it just was so smooth and obvious. As soon as I had this experience, all of these dominoes just began to fall. And so it’s just really such a powerful experience. It just led us to really want to get into this work.

I’d say the other side of that was that our first few experiences with 5-MeO really didn’t feel like they were properly held. There was no preparation. I never even met the guide or talked to the guide before we showed up. My buddy was kind of telling us what it was like just as a friend. So we had some instinct, but really, we didn’t know what we were getting into. And there is no follow up, and it was kind of this experience where we showed up to this place. We parked our car. We had this experience. And then about an hour and a half later, he says, ‘Hey, guys, I know like, you’re really kind of basking in this experience, but I need you to move your car because the next people are here right now.’ So my wife and I, we both have a pretty deep meditation practice where we’re fairly grounded in our interpersonal development. So for us, it wasn’t jarring, but we had other friends there that it was. It was fairly jarring. So we kind of scooped them up and brought them back to our place to our property, and we just hung out and made food and did kind of a natural peer integration process.

But those first few experiences really also showed me the power of this medicine and the potential of it and the responsibility that goes along with it. What’s required? And that’s true for all psychedelics. But in this case, I think a lot of people hear that, ‘Oh, it’s only 10 minutes and then you’re totally sober afterwards.’ The transactional part of your brain goes, ‘OK, that’s easy. I got ten minutes.’ But there’s such a profound, profound download that you really need the time to process. So that’s what led us to start developing our retreat format and thinking about really having people with us in our home, on our property for a few days at a time when they’re going to have this experience. And that’s really shaped all the work that we do at Enfold.

So Steve, again, for people that maybe don’t have a lot of psychedelic experience or thought they’d be listening to a podcast about well-being in some sense and we’re like way off the deep end here. I’d love you to just say a little bit more about that first experience or even whatever experiences you’ve had. You use words like intense, profound, reborn. Like, what the hell does that mean? You smoke this thing? And then what happens?

That’s a fair question. What happens? And I want to talk about two things, because I think a lot of people get caught up in the trippiness of what psychedelics are and I can describe what happens and it sounds remarkable and it’s a great story. I think what’s more important about psychedelics, especially to your wellness listeners that are wondering what the heck we’re talking about here. Why do this besides to have a trippy experience? What’s this about and what happens like what happens after psychedelics and what does psychedelics help us with?

So first off, when I talk about my experience with 5-MeO, I also just have to say that everybody has very different experiences with them. It really depends on the personal development work and where you’ve been, the levels of trauma and other things you may be dealing with or have in your past. Just your current mental, physical, spiritual state coming into the experience, the set and setting of it, there are lots of factors that impact this. So for instance, when we’re talking to potential people who will come to have the experience with us, I don’t talk at all about what’s what it’s going to be like. Because all I can really say about what it’s going to be like is kind of the mechanics of the experience and the intensity of the experience, but people experience this in lots of different ways.

My experience personally was exceptionally profound. Basically, you inhale this. We vaporize and you inhale it. We count down from ten. And by the time we’re at five, four three, it is basically at 100 percent strength. So it comes on very quickly. Most people experience that as some kind of wave of colors or fractals or white light, or it’s just something washes over you very, very quickly. And we’re talking about the biggest dose that we do. So we can talk about the staging of doses. It’s basically strong enough that it will render you unconscious for a few minutes.

So my first experience, I was just basically washed over with white light. And then I was gone, there was no me. And then, however long I was out, there’s no sense of time and space. So I was out for however long I was. In reality, it’s a few minutes. When you’re observing somebody doing this, it’s a few minutes.

And then you start to have the first first remembrance that there’s a you. You’re like, Oh, yeah… I’m the–I don’t know, you just start to be aware of time and space again. Your ego is just starting to come back online after being completely dissolved. And in that moment, you begin the processing of this download of what you’ve been shown and it’s what you’ve been shown really comes out differently for everybody.

For me, it was seeing the entire universe as a single instant, as a single expression, completely contained. And all of life, all of everything as one thing. It was like going to a movie that explains the entire universe, but it was one second long and it was just white light. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s incredible. All this will help kind of add context to that.

So I’m processing this. I’m trying to make sense of it, and then I just start start belly laughing. My wife said she’d never heard me laugh like that. We’d been together for, I don’t know, six, seven years at that point. She said she never heard me laugh like that, and I was laughing because it was so funny to me that I’d ever worried about anything in my life, just seeing how perfect the whole universe is, seeing this whole expression.

And the laughing could have been crying because there was also a lot of grief in that laugh in like, ‘Wow, I’ve been so hard on myself.’ I’ve thought that life was so like that I had to grind away so hard and I always had to push to get what I wanted. You’re going through all these different aspects. You realize it’s very much like a near-death experience where your whole, in some ways, life flashes before you and you experience different, different aspects.

So I was just processing that and then you’re just kind of slowly coming back into 3D, coming back into time and space. And within about twenty five, thirty minutes, you’re sort of back to baseline. You have this kind of wild glow about you because you’ve just been shown the keys to the universe.

But that was my experience, and I can also say for others that they don’t experience the white light. They don’t experience this unity. Sometimes it’s darker energy or other aspects, and they are working through things. And sometimes it’s a quite painful or challenging experience. And there’s a lot of wailing or screaming or like processing that’s happening. So people experience this really, really differently.

Generally, though, at the end you just feel incredibly calm and relieved. Not just that the experience is over, but you feel a sense of relief, a sense of weightlessness, like a sense that there’s a weight off your shoulders. And so it’s just really different for different people. So that’s the effect. That’s the experience.

That was really interesting and lots to unpack there, but let me start with this. And you’re not like an evolutionary biologist or a neuroscientist or anything, but like, let’s just play this game, OK? 

We’re like these bipedal mammals walking around with this very big brain doing all this weird stuff with technology or whatever. We’re very social. We’ve got this weird life. And then there are these plants, mushrooms or DMT or the cactus or whatever that we consume because, well, it has some interesting kind of spiritual healing effect on us. That alone could be unpacked at length. And then there’s this molecule that somehow somebody discovered is contained in the venom of a toad, right? And then somebody realized you can try it and smoke it. And now it’s so popular that the toad is extinct.

There were very few toads to begin with, but yeah.

Explain to me, explain to me like what the hell that is? Why is it that these bipedal mammals want that? What’s the deal? It’s a very bizarre chain of events, very unlikely series of things, and yet it’s very, very popular.

Yeah, it’s popular because–so again, like I said, we could talk about the fireworks of psychedelics all day, and that’s fine. And honestly, it’s once you get comfortable in the experience that it is interesting and it is fun to explore the fireworks. But the reason these are such powerful experiences and the reason people seek these out. And a lot of people coming to our retreats are scared. They’re scared shitless of coming to a retreat. They’re very nervous about it, but they know that it’s worth the challenge to go through.

And the reason is that psychedelics help you really completely reframe your perspective on life in a way that I don’t believe anything else on the planet can. And I think the way that we do that is by getting into our subconscious and our unconscious minds and really understanding how we’re wired. So that’s one thing. I think when you take mushrooms or you take ayahuasca, you’re really able to explore the deep programing that we have and a lot of that programing comes from in the womb or before the age of two or in our early childhood or its ancestral wiring that’s passed through cellular memory. So a lot of the stuff, we can’t really access it through talking. So talk therapy doesn’t get us there. We can sort of intellectualize it through talk therapy, but that doesn’t allow us to really go into this material and explore it and understand it better. And when we start to do that, we start to realize that ‘wow, like all of that programming is like this restriction on what I see in my life and what I believe my life to be.’

And when we’re able to start recognizing those restrictions and relaxing those, it just changes how life feels. So a lot of times people may have things going well in their life. Externally, they’re making good money or they’ve got a great partner. Nothing external really needs to change. But the internal experience is one of loneliness, of confusion, of anger, of pain, of sadness, of depression, right? And so the internal experience can just begin to change fairly dramatically through these experiences. So that’s why people are doing this.

So some ancestor of ours before civilization, put us in the prison that we’re all in right now. And discovers this through eating a mushroom by mistake or is part of some healing ceremony in an indigenous tribe. And the experience is insight into nature and how we’re programmed or the patterns we collectively interface in. And that kind of creative insight unlocks certain potential and we just feel more well. Is that the general story?

Yeah, there are lots of ways to frame that. But yeah, I think that’s the general story. One aspect of this, what you just spoke to, is like understanding the nature of life. One of the things that our senses do, our sensory experience and our egoic experience does is give us this impression that we’re this independent thing and that we’re independent from all other life, other humans, the natural world, animals. All of these aspects. And it creates this level of separation.

These experiences show us that that separation is an illusion. And there is a function of having an ego and being able to move through the world and do this kind of thing. But it also comes at a great cost to our wellbeing and our sense of connectedness. And when we look at all the symptoms of mental illness and all the symptoms of a lot of the activities that humans have undergone to kind of create global warming and all these kinds of issues that we face, it comes from that disconnectedness. It comes from that sense that we are not all in this part of the same life.

So I think these psychedelic experiences can help reconnect us in a way. And we see all the research coming out for all things like depression and anxiety and all these different symptoms. But to me, those are surface level. Everything kind of comes back to feeling connected to one’s self and connected to those around you and to the natural world feeling a sense of connection. And that’s what these experiences, I think offer.

OK, now 5-MeO is sometimes referred to as the God molecule. With what you just said, are we now approaching what people mean sometimes when they use that name for it?

I love talking about this subject and I’ll say that the word God was a huge trigger word for me, basically my entire life. I’ve always considered myself an atheist. I don’t anymore, exactly. But I’ll say that up until these experiences, I didn’t really understand what does God even mean? Like, is there some person in the sky who is making decisions and judging us based on whether we act within some certain moral code or any of that? We’re not talking about any of that, right?

I think when we talk about the God molecule–first of all, I think it’s a really accurate name. It’s in relation to the spirit molecule, which is DMT. So N, N-DMT, the active ingredient in ayahuasca is often referred to as the spirit molecule. And when you take DMT or when you drink ayahuasca, I think it’s a pretty accurate description to say that you enter into a spirit world. You enter into these layers of consciousness and awareness where there are beings and animals and creatures. A lot of people describe very similar visions when they’re doing ayahuasca. 5-MeO feels like it transcends or passes through all of that into this kind of white light unity space.

And so I think the word God to me is just talking about the connectivity of all life. When we talk about God or we talk about what this is all about, I think it’s talking about that sense of unity, that sense of connection. So that’s the way I describe it.

And what I say to people is, ‘you’re going to experience something. And if you get to that sort of space, that unity space, I don’t care what you call it.’ In scientific terms, we’d be talking about the quantum field or perhaps something that exists within dark matter that we’re still trying to figure out. There’s a lot that material science has no idea what’s going on. We could be talking about the quantum field, we could be talking about God, we could be talking about unity or consciousness or use any word you like. Just interchange it. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.

And I think also as soon as we start talking about that, there’s a lot of people that go, why does that matter? I think we have a real disconnection from what does spirituality even mean? I have a lot of my buddies who if I ask them, ‘how would you define or talk about spirituality?’ There wouldn’t be a word there. There wouldn’t be anything to say. They wouldn’t really know how to define that word.

But I think again, if you keep bringing it back to practical terms, to me, spirituality is feeling connected. It’s feeling connected to your truest essence who you are. It’s feeling peace with yourself and with your surroundings. It’s when you achieve that peace and you achieve that sense of calm and groundedness within you, when you’re in alignment with those around you and with your natural environment. When you feel connected to those around you and you’re acting in accordance with that connection. So to me, it’s all fairly practical, actually, but it’s really important that we find some sense of connection, that we find some sense of spirituality, so that we can just feel like our life has purpose and has meaning. And that we feel good when we wake up in the morning.

Before I get to my next question, I want to linger there for a second because I’m totally with you on this connection piece and I’m with you on that spirituality and God and whatever vocabulary we use is a signpost to that experience. 

You just mentioned purpose and meaning, the last bit that you said. So there’s more than connection.

I actually find that the word purpose–I do a lot of mentoring, and I used to do a lot of speaking to young entrepreneurs and I actually still mentor inside of high schools and stuff like that. One of the questions I get all the time from young people is, ‘how do you figure out what your purpose is?’ And there’s a lot of mystery around this idea of what purpose and meaning are.

But again, I actually think it’s usually fairly simple that we feel purpose when we are in service to others. We feel purposeful when what we are doing is generative to ourselves and those around us. I believe my guess is that you feel a lot of purpose in the work you do because you get to interact with people every day and you get to work on things that are making people’s lives better. You are supporting life. And that, to me, is what purpose is. It just comes in many forms. And humans are totally diverse in their interests. Purpose is totally diverse in that way. So I think it’s born out of connection with one’s–when you get connected to your self, purpose is right there, right there in front of you. It’s not some mystery thing that you need to discover as soon as you get connected and grounded, it’s right there.

You mentioned a few times both in this conversation and some of the other conversations you had that you think of your approach as practical. So let’s dive into that for a second. 

A few years ago, I went to a meeting with a pretty well-known psychedelic entrepreneur who has a lot of resources, who was building something pretty big, very ambitious, and he was getting curious about 5-MeO DMT. And I was with my friend Andrew. And this entrepreneur wanted to know more about 5-MeO EDT and what are the opportunities here. And so he asked us a bunch of questions, and at one point he said, ‘so what indication do you think it would be useful for?’ 

And Andrew, who incidentally, was a guest on the Numinus podcast as well, said, ‘That’s a tough one. I don’t know, being born.’

Point of the story is that it’s not an especially practical compound–or let me direct the question slightly differently. What’s happening in the psychedelic renaissance is that some of these compounds, MDMA or psilocybin, are going through traditional clinical trials like the pharmaceutical drug discovery process and interfacing with science and medicine and capitalism and consumerism. I don’t know, maybe MDMA as a treatment for PTSD is a pretty good fit, and it actually works pretty well. And then ketamine is already out there. We have a ketamine program and it’s a three hour journey and there’s a pretty good evidence base.

How do you fit these profound spiritual experiences into this box that the psychedelic renaissance is trying to put them into?

Well, I’ll just preface everything I’m going to say with, I don’t care at all about the box. Part of what I think is challenging for me about the psychedelic renaissance, as you’re framing it, is super interesting is that we’re talking about this new frontier or this new, this whole new approach to mental wellness. And then we are measuring it by all the old ways of measuring mental wellness. So instead of saying, ‘you know what, we actually need to talk about mental illness in a completely new way and a much more holistic or integral way,’ we’re still going back to the DSM and saying, ‘which box can I check with this drug and how does that work?’

As opposed to realizing the complexity of the human psyche and of all aspects of living a human life in our internal and our external world and all the pieces around it, where we’re saying, ‘Oh yeah, you can take this drug and it will solve this problem in 96 percent of people or something like that.’ And I think what it does is it misses the whole point. Again, all of these things are just symptoms of a greater sense of lack of connection. And that all of these medicines sort of do the same thing with just slightly different approaches.

So where I think we should be talking about is in which cases is MDMA the right approach because it has a certain feel. For PTSD, I think it’s a great approach because it’s fairly soft, right. And it’s gentle in a way, so that if somebody is still dealing with easily being triggered and into a trauma response, to me, it’s a great vehicle to provide an altered state experience. Whereas 5-MeO might not be because it’s so intense that it may be just retraumatizing or cause further trauma.

So I guess I think all of my psychedelic experiences have been doing the same thing, and they’re just helping me remember who and what I truly am. And they’re helping me remember that I’m connected to everything and that everything is important–every instant of my life is equally important because it’s the present moment. And that to me, when you start to–if we can get down to those essences, then all of these symptoms just start to dissipate.

I’ve dealt with–I’m not bipolar–but like this kind of bipolar depression my entire life. This up and down depression my entire life and at times in my life, it’s bad. It was bad enough that I just didn’t want to get out of bed for a week or two at a time. Or I would just kind of be completely unmotivated to really do anything. And I knew in those times I started to learn about myself that I wouldn’t make any decisions during those down periods because I knew the decision would be framed in a really negative context that wasn’t productive. All of that, like over the last few years through a lot of personal work, but also through the psychedelic work and meditation and other aspects, is gone in my life. And I wasn’t going in thinking, I’m trying to solve my depression. I went in saying, I want to understand my own psyche. I want to understand my consciousness in a much deeper way. And then these other aspects kind of resolve themselves. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. And I’m sympathetic to your answer, although I am going to play devil’s advocate here. Now, if you think about Western civilization and the pandemic or the epidemic of mental health problems, depression–I’m actually totally with you on the cause, by the way–we got to find a way to sort of help people at scale. Just take depression and we can pick any one of the indications, any one of the boxes from the DSM. There’s like millions and millions and millions and millions of people that need help. 

So it’s like there’s this interesting molecule. It turns out it has to be administered in a very safe and secure environment. So we got to build that out. You want to make sure that the molecule itself is the right one, that it’s developed or manufactured or grown in the right conditions. And so that’s not to say that the clinical trial process is perfect or manufacturing or capitalist solutions to manufacturing drugs at scale are perfect. None of these things are even close to perfect. But we need some, some infrastructure and some systems for being able to do this at scale. 

And if you’ll forgive the cynicism here, ‘it’s so easy for you, Steve. You know you’ve got a nice place and you can host like four people at a time and maybe you have a line on some good drugs or whatever.’ But it’s like, that’s not a sustainable way to do this. And these systems that we have in place are a way to make sure that the therapists are regulated. 

So I mean, I trust you and the people visiting your retreat space trust you, but you can’t trust everybody. And so let’s have some credentials and some regulations to make sure people are properly trained on how to keep people safe to make sure the molecules are produced and distributed in a way that’s accessible. That they’ll be safe. 

And so to some extent, processes and structures and infrastructure are important if we’re going to get to a point where we could help enough people to move the needle. What do you think?

What do I think? I think a lot of things. I guess I’ll start by saying, I get that Western civilization has a bunch of games we play and a bunch of things that we do, and so in order for these psychedelics that have been used safely for thousands of years to be considered safe by us, we need to spend billions of dollars and spend years going through academic and clinical and governmental regulations and doing all this thing. And so that’s the game that we’re playing. And I understand and I also commend the folks who are willing to play that game because it’s an important step in bringing psychedelics to the world because there are a lot of people that won’t take psychedelics unless someone’s wearing a white lab coat. And that’s because that’s how they measure safety. They measure safety by their belief in the institution. So I totally get that and I respect it. And honestly, like, I’m just happy that–and I know I’m on kind of a Numinus podcast, and I’m not saying this for that reason–But I’m happy that Payton and Numinus exist in trying to do this in a really meaningful way and has really personal experience to draw from when shaping this thing, right? So I get it. It’s all good.

I also think it’s a little bit hilarious that we, again, have been taking mushrooms and ayahuasca and some of these natural substances forever. As long as we can find history, we find examples of it. Yet we somehow don’t trust that it’s safe unless our institution tests it for the next few years and says it’s safe. I think that’s basically ridiculous.

And I hope that and I believe that Health Canada and our federal government will see that at least with psilocybin as soon as possible, because we just know it’s nontoxic. It’s a safe substance.

Yes, set and setting are important. And I’ll get to those pieces of what you said in a sec. But it’s arrogant and it’s like extraction is to believe that we need to figure this all out ourselves from scratch. When people use the word pioneering in this space, it’s really interesting to me. Right? So I guess there’s just a lot of complications and all of that. I just feel like if we actually just looked to other cultures and other examples, we’d see that these have been used for a very long time and make our conclusions from that.

Very sympathetic to your answer. What it would say, though, is if you take the Sonoran Desert toad as an example. The fact that these like communications technologies have made 5-MeO-DMT so popular and we live in a world where this information is circulating, in a consumerist context, that we’ve just obliterated this animal off the face of the Earth. 

So if I can say we’re operating in an environment where distortions or disruptions in natural processes that have kept things in balance over many, many millions of years, those distortions are creating a need for the institutions to then go and make things safe, right?

Well, that’s where I would kind of I actually think the institutions are also part of the problem and it’s not their fault and they don’t mean to be. But we are in a time where information is moving much faster than the institutions can. Thereby culture is moving much faster than the institutions can. And so what’s happening right now is psychedelics seem to be suddenly a palatable subject at most dinner tables, maybe not most, but a lot more dinner tables than they were even a year ago or two years ago, right? They’re suddenly not this druggie thing that hippies do or that. And what’s already happening is people are seeking out these experiences, and that’s just going to keep happening.

And so I agree with you. I think we’re very concerned about safety. We’re very concerned about efficacy as well. Like beyond just keeping someone safe and making sure that they don’t have a highly dysregulated experience. This dysregulated experience, but also is the experience useful? And is there meaning and an outcomes that can be gained from the experience? So all of those things are super important.

I thought a lot about scaling in this space because I mean, I’m an entrepreneur, I like to build things I like. I believe in the power of businesses to do these things. When I think about the scaling of psychedelics, I’m–how do I say this? I guess the simplest way to say it is when I think about scaling psychedelics, I think about solving this problem is what I’ve seen and what I believe is that when psychedelics are most effective, when the person taking the substance and the person holding that space for that have a layer, a level of trust and of rapport with each other. They know each other well enough and they’ve built enough trust and the person has the right information. There is a connection there. That combined with the substance. And this human connection is tremendously powerful.

And I would really love to see psychedelics scale instead of scaling from this top down institutional approach, which is really like we are moving out of the centralized world, like this centralized world that we live in today is being disintegrated in front of us. We see it in how COVID happened. We see it in politics, especially in US politics and these things are just falling apart. We look at how institutional trust is at an all time low. So we need to start looking at taking a more decentralized approach. You see this in the crypto space where there are trillions of dollars moving around in crypto and the governments are still arguing over whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they acknowledge it as a real thing or not. The Metaverse is about to be this whole, this whole new world that we move into and the governments will be 20 years behind that. They’re still trying to figure out how to regulate Facebook. And we’re now moving into Metaverse.

So I think with all of these things, our traditional sort of top down centralized approach to these things is not really serving us anymore. And when we look at the way health care is working, it’s in certain ways. It’s really amazing. And in a lot of ways, it’s not really serving us at all. It’s not. It still doesn’t connect mental health and physical health. It’s still very much a reactive system that costs so much money because we let people get so sick before we’ll treat them. There’s all these things to understand. So I’m not so polarized to say we should have no institutions. I think we need institutions. I think there’s some need for that. I think that we need to modernize and think about that.

And I also think we need to really look at how we can decentralize this process. Like we are moving into a time right now where you know this idea of trust because you mentioned that trust comes from institutions regulating people, right? And that’s true for sure, to a degree and for the next 50 years or whatever, we’re going to need that. And we have a new system being built where trust is being measured on the internet in a peer to peer fashion. And I know, for instance, if we were doing things that were unsafe here, that word would be out very fast and it would be all over the internet and we wouldn’t get away with it.

And so I just think there’s lots of nuance and there’s lots of complexity there. And to say that we need big, top down regulatory institutions to do psychedelics, I just think that’s a very simplified response. I don’t think that that’s actually true. And I guess my biggest concern is that psychedelics will get watered down a lot in the process. You’re kind of putting it through filter after filter, after filter. And each time you put it through a filter, some of that material is being left behind. To the point where it becomes a sort of a sterile experience that may or may not include the proper human interaction to make it effective.

And again, very sympathetic to your point of view. My devil’s advocate response would be like I said, I trust you. I think you’re legit. And I’ve tried 5-MeO-DMT. It’s pretty interesting. But what really separates you and your molecule of choice from whatever cult where we all end up? You know, killing ourselves or doing some really weird stuff. There’s plenty of documentaries that you could watch on HBO or whatever of exactly this reasoning? But just applied to something else that’s just much darker and much more dangerous. So what’s the difference? Why should we trust you?

Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know you’d go there. I understand the question. Yeah, I actually think that like part of the transition we’re in into this much more decentralized world where institutions just aren’t keeping up. Like I think humans have been offloading, we’ve been offloading our sense of personal responsibility for a long time to organized religion. Some people end up in cults. Some people end up in pyramid schemes. Some people and you know, like there are, there are never ending traps in this world for people who are naive to what they are entering into. And that’s a serious concern.

And I think one of the things that is absolutely crucial is that people start to wake up and say, ‘You know what, I have to take responsibility for myself. I have to evaluate a situation in earnest.’ My hope is that with psychedelics, as they come online, in particular, people seek out kind of like, what are the 10 questions you should ask of anybody that you sign up to go have an experience with. We’re starting to create that information. We’re building a learning platform. We’re building a preparation platform to help people gain their own sort of sense of capacity and awareness before they even do a psychedelic. And I think that’s super key. And I think the things that separate us is that we’re very clear that we don’t insist on any sort of dogma or or like belief about ourselves.

We don’t believe that what we’re doing is anything other than creating a safe container for a human to come and experience this, to have this experience and to heal themselves. We are there to basically shepherd and guide that experience. We actually refer to ourselves, my wife and I. We refer to ourselves as doulas because I think that’s the best definition that we have. We are helping you go through a process that only you can really do. And we’ve seen it a lot.

So we can help support that and we can provide some insight and advice and some guardrails, but that we’re not healers who are magically making you better. And we are not making any promises about any of those aspects. And anybody who is– somebody handed me a business card the other day and it said, ‘Harry the healer’ on it. And that was this guy, this shaman guy’s name, and it’s like right underneath it, says Shaman. And shout out to Harry the healer. You’re probably a lovely guy, and I don’t know you and I don’t know. Anyway, I just saw this business card, but it just made me think anybody who’s promising that they will heal you, there’s likely something to really explore inside of that kind of promise, you know? So I don’t know.

I think discernment is super important. I think that asking for recommendations and testimonials. We have a number of people who have been through our experience who are happy to get on a call with somebody who’s considering it for themselves so that they can understand. And I also just hope and I hope that this is true for everybody working with psychedelics right now in an unregulated environment, which I understand the risks of. I just hope that everybody who is doing, I guess who’s working in this environment really understands the responsibility that they carry.

I’ll say for us, every time a retreat happens, there is this tremendous sense of responsibility that begins a couple of weeks before the retreat as I’m having my conversations with each person who’s coming into it as I’m starting to really get a sense of who they are and what’s going on in their lives. We feel like we’re just we’re holding them and there’s a tremendous sense of responsibility as they move through the experience on our property. When everybody leaves at six o’clock on a Friday, there is this relief and this exhaustion that kicks in because we’ve been holding this space with such reverence and with such responsibility. It’s a really interesting dynamic. I’ve never done anything in my life that’s so exhausting, and it’s not because I’m physically exerting myself in some way. It’s because I’m energetically holding this responsibility for people. So I just hope that guides anybody who says, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve done mushrooms a few times. I want to guide my friends.’ And just takes that really seriously.

I think it’s really interesting to point to this issue of trust and the breakdown in institutions. It is the breakdown in our sense of connection and how we communicate and all this stuff, right? And even the breakdown of like our understanding of what is true. It’s like, how dangerous is COVID? Do I need to wear a mask? I’m vaccinated. Am I at risk? Who won the election? It’s like all this stuff. Our sense of connection to what’s really going on has been so degraded. We’re trying to find ways to figure out who we can trust. 

And what’s also interesting is that your comment about how when there is a connection based in trust that the psychedelics can be–you can have the most profound impact. So yeah, I’m with you. And I guess it remains to be seen how we’re going to create trust in this iteration of using psychedelics in our society. 

This is a nice opportunity actually again to get practical and talk to you about how you create that container at the retreat center. When I did 5-MeO-DMT, I had a guide with me and we weren’t at a clinic. We were out in nature and it was cool. But it was also like, ‘I hope it doesn’t rain and I don’t know what’s going to happen and how do I know this guy again?’ And it was all good. But there was a sense of like he had to create a container, so that I felt safe to let myself go into it. And he had his practices around that. He lit this special piece of wood that led off this interesting smoke, and he cleared away the spirits. I was like, ‘Okay, I didn’t really feel any spirits here, but that’s cool, you know?’ And then he had this interesting dagger, the ceremonial dagger that had some kind of symbolic pointing to like insight and clarity, which I thought was pretty cool. So there are these interesting symbolic attempts to create a meaning container. That sort of felt a bit a little arbitrary or a little like, why? Why is there smoke in my face here? I just sort of appealed to my own sense of spirituality or my whatever is meaningful to me from Buddhism or my meditation practice, whatever. 

And that was the container I was creating for myself, but it was not obvious and wouldn’t be obvious to people that don’t have a background with these kinds of experiences. It’s not regulated, right? It’s new. So there’s no history, there’s no lineage, there are no rules and legalities. So you’re starting from scratch, right? I’d love to know how you create the container. How do you prep, integration, making meaning out of the experience after? So yeah, big, big question there. Feel free to start wherever you like.

Yeah. First off, just touching on the little aspects of the experience you just described. There are a lot of people doing this in Western context who are drawing from indigenous contexts or from South American traditions. And in some way, there’s a real reversion in our society for a lot of people to this kind of this magical layer of consciousness where everything is a mystery and there’s meaning and everything and and we’re pulling that in with tarot and all these different aspects. So that’s kind of prevalent right now.

But I’d say with our ceremony in particular, we do use some sage, we burn sage and some other scents. Scent is a really powerful way to ground someone. So it’s actually a really a powerful way of setting the ceremony. But in many ways, our approach to the ceremony itself is to have a very clear container, very minimal, actually. So we create ceremony without a lot of the adornments or like religious idols or spiritual idols and artifacts in these kind of things because we want the person to define what the experience means. And they can bring their own artifacts that they want. And if they’re really into crystals in all sorts of things like that, they can bring those and put them on the altar. They can put them at the head of the ceremony space, you know, for themselves. But we really actually try to create a very clear container that doesn’t pull in a bunch of these sorts of foreign cultural references that don’t necessarily resonate with somebody who grew up in Vancouver, in Canada or something like that, you know?

So I think that’s really interesting to talk about, but in terms of preparing people by creating safety and trust–first off, we are virtually entirely referral based. So the first aspect of trust is that someone that they already trust says, ‘I’ve had this experience or I know someone who’s had this experience and it was great. And I think it would be really useful.’ One thing that’s really interesting about psychedelics is that once you’ve experienced it yourself, you have a sense of what you’re entering into and then you start to have a sense of the people in your lives that are ready for this. They’re seeking this in some way that they may not know that it’s found in psychedelics, but they’re seeking some spiritual connection or they’re feeling seeking some healing or they’re working in personal development. And so you have this instinct towards telling those people about these experiences. Through a referral I find it is a really powerful way to just as a first screening mechanism, as a first trust building step. So pretty much we’re all referral based.

Second, people reach out and we just have a short conversation about some of the logistics and the details of the experience. We’re very upfront about pricing and everything else to just make people feel like there’s no mysteries here like this is exactly how it works. This is who we are.

And then if they are interested in the experience, we have them complete an intake form and that intake form is thorough. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and it looks at kind of all aspects of the person’s psychological, spiritual and physical well-being, family history, sort of the state of their life. Where are they at, what’s going on? What are the major kind of areas that are kind of consuming them? And I actually find that people going through just completing that intake form, it starts to put the whole thing in context. Like, Oh, interesting, I’m like a lot of people who have never answered some of the questions we asked before. So not only does it help them start to prepare themselves, but it also indicates to them that, ‘Oh, we’re thinking about you. We want to know all we can about you.’ And that starts to build rapport even in itself. Anyway, we go through that intake form internally, and then we set up our first call with that person.

I’ll typically spend at least an hour in that first call talking to them, and we’re talking about two–We’re kind of doing two things. We are talking about the experience itself, and I’ll touch on that a sec. But the other aspect is talking about them and going through their intake form together. And usually there’s just an instinctual–the way they might answer a question tells me, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something a little more here that I want to unpack or the language that they use to answer this question about their parents, what’s going on there?’ And it just helps to build context and nuance and get to build some rapport between the two of us.

But the other aspect is talking about the experience and in terms of building trust. First off, I just try to be as clear as possible about the intensity of this experience and make sure that they understand like they’re not just doing this because their buddy told them it was going to be awesome. I really do my best to provide them as much detail as possible about the kind of intensity of the experience, what can happen afterwards, the sort of integration period which can last weeks and months.

Like we always say, you’re coming to our spot here for a couple of days. But this is really a multi-month process you’re entering into when you do a large psychedelic journey. You have to be prepared. We’re opening the box of your unconscious. You’re accessing parts of yourself that you previously have never accessed. You’re going to experience something you’ve never done before. That has ramifications. There are impacts to that.

You will go back into your life next week, the week after with a new sense of awareness with you, likely to be more sensitive than you were. You’re signing up for a process, right? And so we just talk a lot about that and really help people just make sure that that makes total sense to them. And that they’re on board for that and they’re signing up for that. So I feel like we’re really clear about what people are enrolling in when they’re coming to our experience. The way I’m describing it may make it sound like it’s this big, super hard thing. It’s not about that. It’s just about as soon as you start exploring your own, your own psychology, you’re kind of peeling back the layers and underneath the layers is stuff that you didn’t previously know. And if you are in a job you hate and you come to have this experience, there’s a good chance when you go back to that work–If you have a really bad relationship with your boss or these dynamics there, you’re going to be more sensitive to them. They are going to feel more. You’ll just see them with a new perspective and more clarity, and that clarity is something that people often are hiding from in their lives like we consume alcohol, we smoke a lot of cannabis, we watch tons of Netflix and we spend time on the internet. All of these things are distractions from having true clarity about everything that’s going on in our life. So anyway, we just talk all about that and we really try to make sure that people feel super clear about what they’re enrolling in.

So I don’t know if you’re done, but I want to jump in there on the clarity piece because part of what is implied by what you just said. It’s like the more psychedelics you do, the more clarity you get. And I love actually the way you described it earlier, like where and when there are things that are already aligned, it really just accelerates movement in that direction and where things are not aligned or stuck, you really get clarity on that. So that’s all good. 

But I don’t think it’s true that the more psychedelics you do, the more clear things get. There are times where it gets ultra unclear. Or maybe what becomes clear is like, there’s just no bottom to this thing. So would you say about getting clarity through these things?

Yeah, there’s a lot of people that do 200 ayahuasca ceremonies and still never find any answers. And they’re just chasing the dragon. With psychedelics versus any other substance or any other addiction. Right? So it’s important. There’s nuance to all of that. I think that when you–so psychedelics can be like, in certain cases, just disrupting and diregulating and can–like one of the things we’re screening for that’s not directly asked.

There’s no way to ask this question directly, but through the intake process through my first conversation with them is to make sure that people have somewhat of a solid footing in their life. Like they are functioning in their life. If they have issues going on or if they have trauma they’re working with, or if they’re dealing with any mental health issues that they have awareness, some awareness about them and they’re not like they’re not bypassing these aspects. And they’re in a place where a really strong psychedelic experience is not going to just completely dysregulate their life. They’re not going to go back in their life feeling like they’ve been blown into a whole bunch of pieces and functioning becomes even more difficult.

I think that is one of the challenges with psychedelics that you need to be aware of is that these are very powerful tools, right? So in those cases, it can feel like, man, there’s no clarity. Suddenly, I feel like, holy shit, there’s all these layers that I didn’t even know existed in my existence, into consciousness, right into the universe. And like, maybe dimensions are real. And the fun thing about the universe is like, science has never been able to find the smallest thing or the biggest thing in this universe. You can kind of go down rabbit holes on this. You have to be careful about this.

What I saw, at least in my own experience and virtually all the people we’ve worked with, is that when you’re doing this with the right intention, with the right preparation, with the right understanding of what you’re actually entering into, there is a level of clarity that comes from these experiences. Like all we’re really trying to do is help people practice being more sensitive to their surroundings, to their inner surroundings, into their outer surroundings. We’re helping people build awareness and trying to help them feel comfortable being fully awake in every moment of their life, which is kind of drawn from Buddhist ideologies and things like that, Buddhist philosophy. So it is really trying to help people feel comfortable being clear in each moment.

And what we find is a lot of people quit nicotine. The amount they drink drops quite a lot. Like a lot of habits start to shift. They start looking. They start spending more quality time with their partners or with their children like these are the natural outcomes of building a level of sensitivity and awareness of your surroundings and of yourself that are natural. For me, it’s really driven me, driven my drinking to almost zero, and I have drinks here and there, and it’s a fun substance once in a while to engage with. But for the most part, throughout my days and my weeks, I never want to have like a beer at the end of the day or a glass of wine at the end of day. Because I want to be present in my body, I want to feel really clear about where I’m at and what’s going on. I want my mind to feel clear and I want to feel all of my emotions. I want to feel it all. And I feel like psychedelics can help us build that capacity and understanding. So I think that’s available to you. It’s not always the outcome.

I would have a question that kind of riffs off of that unless you want it to speak more about how you do like prep and integration. I think we do need to spend some time on integration. I’ll come back to my question. You were on a nice kind of overview of the trajectory of the thing.

Yeah. So we have that first conversation. People then go away and decide whether they want to come or whether it makes sense. If they do, we get some dates locked in for them. We then typically have another sort of longer conversation as well as we lead up to it. We’ve created materials that we provide that help them think about how to prepare for the experience in terms of–Each psychedelic, I would say, is slightly different, but there are certain similarities with 5-MeO in particular.

You definitely want to have your nervous system in as good a shape as possible, so it’s a very intense experience. So you want to be as calm and as grounded and as well slept as possible. So we make those kind of recommendations and we help sort of set them up on a path for the couple of weeks leading up to the experience. We don’t have really strict dietary expectations. Mostly that you’re eating things that like as many whole foods as possible. If you are eating meats, that they’re wild and that they’re happy animals, and that they’re not full of chemicals and stuff like that. So we’re just helping them basically prepare their mental, physical and spiritual selves.

We also in the week ahead, we’re sending out various short readings or little like a poem with some prompts, basically just journaling activities and reflective activities that help them to continually refine and frame their intention with why they’re coming.

One of the things we also just really always tell people is intentions are great. Expectations are not. When you set expectations around an experience of this magnitude, it really sets you up for–It’s like it’s just a trap of the ego to say, ‘Oh, I really expected this conversation to be about.’ If I had big expectations about what I was going to talk to Joe about and we didn’t talk about that, then it was a failure, then it didn’t work. Then I didn’t. Then it wasn’t what I expected. So we talk about that.

And then I think the other piece we do in terms of building trust, though, is that we have people with us for over three days for this experience and everybody arrives at the same time. On the first evening, we have dinner together. We all sit together as a group in person and we actually just talk about a lot of the same things we’ve already covered. But we just go through it again and we get to know each other and we ask some questions, and everybody shares a bit about why they’re there, and we build some trust as a group and build some safety as a group. Our retreats are all technology free, caffeine free. So we basically lower all the stimulants as much as possible and create an environment where you’re not only psychologically feeling confident and safe and secure, but you’re just again, your nervous system is just dropping down a notch where in nature we’re away from all technology. The lights are nice and chill. So like, everything is just designed to help you sleep well and feel calm.

And then through the experience–I mean, there’s lots of ways that I think we could dig into some of the experience, like how the actual ceremony works if you want. I think coming out of the experience of the day after the actual 5-MeO ceremony, we do a group breathwork session and these are sessions that we’ve designed. Like I’ve built all the music. My wife and I have worked on that. So it’s custom produced for this experience and it’s really powerful for people to be able to use breath work to basically get back into this altered state. Very similar to their 5-MeO experience the day before, but without the substance. And so there’s no substances involved. So it’s a little bit less overwhelming. As you know, inhaling this 5-MeO and within 10 seconds, you’re like on a different dimension entirely. Breath work really eases you into it. So it allows people to process and really kind of articulate the meaning and extract more. It’s just really a useful to work through some of the context of the experience and to be fully in control of that experience through your breath.

After that, we sit in a group, we do a couple of different integration exercises that are just kind of conversational and then we sauna. We cold plunge. We have a beautiful brunch. My wife is a chef, so all of the meals at our retreat are incredible. They’re just beautiful and they’re healthy and everything’s gluten free and dairy free. And the food is a big part of the experience, actually. So we have a big brunch together.

And then in the afternoon before people take off, I basically do a one on one session with each person to just make sure that they’re feeling confident and comfortable about going home and that there is a plan in place. So sometimes it’s very practical. Some people know like, ‘Oh man, as soon as I get back to work, this is going to happen and I’m going to and how do I manage this situation or how do I think about this?’ Sometimes people know that there’s a bigger change that they’re going to want to make, and we start to strategize about how to do that in a responsible, safe, effective way. We always say like no huge, life changing decisions for seven days, just because you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a practical way that’s respectful to the people who are involved with that decision. But that’s less common anyway.

I think more so the conversations are just about what are you going to do to maintain your connection to what you felt here at this retreat? How are you going to do that on a daily basis? I find that integration is quite simple. It’s really focused around mindfulness and around presence and around small daily habits. Whether it’s a short meditation in the morning, a walk, sometimes throughout the day in nature without distractions, maybe a journaling practice, maybe a check in practice, maybe you start to structure your work slightly differently. It’s these small changes that then really impact how your life feels. And oftentimes we have couples show up together, so we’re doing an act where we’re talking, thinking about how can we create a step in your day where the two of you sit down together and look each other in the eye and share something meaningful or reflect with each other? Or how can you just sort of deepen the connection that you both have as you go back into your life? We recently had a couple here who, generally, things are going well, they both have good jobs, they have lovely kids, they live in North Van, they’re doing great. They’re also feeling a lot of pressure, financial pressure. They feel like having young kids and both working and it puts strain on their relationship. They weren’t feeling cohesive as a unit and this experience has really helped them reframe that and and and all these little changes that shifted for them going back into their regular life within two weeks, their kids were going to bed earlier, they were connecting better in the evening. They were fighting less. They cut out caffeine. Their technology habits have shifted. They were thinking about selling their house and buying a bigger house. They decided that was just going to put more stress on them. So they realized they love their house. All of these, these things like these very practical shifts happened and they feel better every day. And so oftentimes that’s what the conversations are about.

And once in a while, the conversations are more of like a mystical, spiritual, philosophical conversation because somebody is just really trying to process like, ‘what was that that I saw? What does it mean?’

And then and then afterwards everybody is in a group chat so we can stay connected. And we ask people to share updates daily and people are sort of interacting with one another. I have a scheduled call with them, usually within the first 10 days. Sometimes it’s sooner, sometimes a little later, depending on just where they’re at. And then we basically let our participants know that we are on call for them for the next two weeks. So beyond our scheduled call, if you need us, you just send us a message or pick up the phone. And I think just knowing that we’re there for that is really reassuring for people as they go back into their life.

In terms of ongoing integration. I know there’s a long answer, but I think in terms of ongoing integration, in many cases we begin a longer term engagement with people where we’re working with them over a number of months to think about their lives and how to and how to continue integrating.

Starting in the New Year, we will be launching a platform that creates basically like community circles in places where you can come and talk about what’s going on with others that have gone through the same experience that can kind of relate to you. Because I think one of the biggest challenges with integrating psychedelics in our society, at least at this point, is that often you’re the first of your friends or you don’t necessarily feel like you have many people around you that can really understand what you’re going through or what you’ve gone through. And so I find that having community is such a key piece of this, so we’re looking at ways to increase the level of community that our participants have.

That’s awesome. We are over an hour and a half here, and I just really appreciate all the time that you’ve made available for us. 

Maybe I’ll try to squeeze in one more question for you. And it’s actually the question I kind of parked earlier when you were talking about having an intention or a purpose or the sense that with the participants, what you’re hoping people achieve is a sensitivity and this clarity and a capacity to be at peace with what you’re seeing with that clarity. 

Now what is it about that that is so meaningful to you that you are now dedicating your life to bringing that about or helping people approach that outcome? And I asked you at the beginning, ‘What do you do?’ And you also talked about when you feel connected and integrated, that sense of purpose is right there. So I don’t know if we can kind of tile that together. Is there a sense of purpose for you in this work that you’re doing?

Yeah, I feel so lucky to be doing this work, and it feels like the culmination of all the things I’ve done in my life. It really does. It is a thread that has always been part of who I am. I’ve always been fascinated with my own understanding and perception of life and of my own psychology and wellbeing and self-development. So that’s always been for me and I’ve always been passionate my whole life since I can remember in high school. I was talking to an old high school friend recently and she said, ‘Oh yeah, you were always that guy in high school who was trying to share concepts and help people figure things out.’ And I didn’t even remember that about myself, but it was interesting. And then I started unpacking. Then I realized, ‘you’re right, like, this has always been something I’m passionate about.’

And then I’ll say that through being an entrepreneur and running companies and having employees and having larger like my last company, I had quite a few people that I was responsible for. But what I realized, part of the reason I sold the company, was I realized that what I was actually most passionate about every day was the individual and how I could help them find the greatest expression of themselves and how I could help them see life. See a fuller picture of life and enjoy themselves and just activate themselves.

And so that’s all I really did as a boss. I wasn’t–I was more of a mentor and a coach to people than I was a boss. And I just realized that in some cases, that worked really well. In other cases, that was the wrong, the wrong forum for that type of engagement with people, right? And it led to just some confusion. And sometimes I would also let people that were not doing their job be there a lot longer because I was trying to crack the egg and I was so passionate about trying to help this person get to the next, their next evolution. So it’s just something that I’ve always been passionate about.

And to me, to me, there’s sort of like a micro and a macro part of this. The micro is like there is nothing more rewarding for me to somehow just create the conditions or prompt someone with the right question or the right experience so that they have this aha moment about what their life, what’s possible in their life and how they can be a better human and have a better experience. And that’s just incredibly rewarding.

And on a macro level, I feel that when this happens, we see the ripple effect. We see the intergenerational effect of this. We see a guy who has this experience with us realizing the sort of pain in his relationship with his father and realizing that he is showing up that way to his two year old, and realizing that, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to do that again,’ and healing that part of himself and therefore having this impact on his on his children. And you just think about how that cascades out like we are in this, this amazing time where we can actually do this work and the the ripple effect in our society and how we show up as humans in how we support one another is just–I mean, there’s nothing more rewarding I can imagine doing. And interestingly, as somebody who’s worked in technology, a lot of my life, a lot of my time before this was spent thinking about how I can build roles for myself and companies and things that are a kind of autonomous and asynchronous so that I have total freedom to travel and all this kind of like Tim Ferriss lifestyle stuff. And I think that there’s something about that. That’s great.

But what’s so interesting is that I’ve intentionally and very meaningfully entered into this new phase of my life where my time is constantly spent with humans in physical time and space. It’s tremendous. It’s a total shift. I don’t have the freedoms I used to have, but the work is so meaningful that there’s freedom within that. There’s freedom within being able to do this work. And so I guess I’ve left a part of my old ‘Oh, I want the perfect lifestyle where I can travel all the time and my company makes money while I sleep’ sort of mentality. Which is the dream all tech entrepreneurs have. And to realize, ‘Oh, the more quality time that I can spend with humans and the more that I can do this thing. That’s where I get. That’s where I get energized.’ And so I just feel really lucky to be doing this.

That’s awesome. I feel pretty lucky that you’re doing this, too. I hope you keep going and scale it as best you can.

Well, yeah, I’ll say this about scaling. I really believe that the way psychedelics–I just hope that psychedelics find a way to scale in small peer to peer ways. I think that this can scale by us creating excellent protocols and excellent process and then passing it on to other couples and other small groups who are doing it in their community. And that instead of it being this sort of like one company who owns the whole landscape, like an Amazon or something like that, there’s there’s just thousands of small practitioners in their communities and they have the right ethical standards and they have the right learning and training, and they have the right tools and systems that they can implement.

Because again, back to like psychedelics are most powerful when they’re done in connection with deep trust. And that really, I think, happens on a kind of community level. And so that’s my dream for psychedelics. I hope that we continue to figure out how to do that while this whole economic machine kind of comes in and does its thing with psychedelics as well. It’s a funny dance that we’re all doing.

All right man again. Appreciate it. Good chunk of your day. Really worthwhile as far as I’m concerned. So thanks a lot. And I’ll talk to you again soon.

My pleasure. Thanks, Joe.