The potential benefits of psilocybin are being explored in some ground-breaking programmes.
Overcoming the taboo around psychedelics has been the life’s work of Amanda Feilding, founder of the Beckley Foundation and dubbed the ‘Queen of Consciousness’. In 1998, she founded the Beckley Foundation to bridge the divide between scientific research and drug policy. For example, 50 years after she quit smoking cigarettes with the help of LSD, Johns Hopkins University published a study, in collaboration with the Beckley Foundation, confirming the ability of psychedelics to alleviate nicotine addiction.
“I realised that it was only through science that one could overcome the taboo on these substances,” she says.
Other studies supporting the benefits of psilocybin is stacking up; recent research by Johns Hopkins showed psilocybin can relieve major depressive disorder symptoms in adults for up to a year. Meanwhile, research from Imperial College London shows the drug can assist in “opening up” the brain pathways of depressed people, weeks after use.
Now science is being put into practice. Last year saw the launch of Beckley Retreats, a company providing science-backed psychedelic experiences, predominantly using psilocybin (magic mushrooms) co-founded by Feilding and Neil Markey, who is also chief executive. They are held in Jamaica and the Netherlands, two of the few countries where cultivation and consumption of psilocybin is legal.
The retreats offer “transformative self-development programmes for people looking for meaningful change in their lives, by leveraging the power of psychedelics in conjunction with supportive therapeutic modalities”, says Markey, a former soldier-turned-financier.
Markey credited psilocybin with saving his life. Formerly a captain in the US Army Special Operations 2nd Ranger Battalion, Markey was deployed once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. After, as an MBA/MIA masters student at Columbia University, he suffered from severe depression and PTSD. After meditating himself back to health, supported by the use of psychedelics, he did a teaching certification. He went on to work in finance, ultimately as chief growth office for a US$450 million private equity portfolio company. But the more outwardly successful he became, the more miserable he felt. “I was chasing material things at the expense of relationships and my mental health was suffering. I had fight-or-flight symptoms returning, feeling anxious even while I was brushing my teeth.”
He left his high-flying job and went to Mexico to teach meditation and take psilocybin; while doing so he had a lightbulb moment. “It was very clear there are some actors in this space who are just doing it for the money, but there had to be a way this could be ethical and sustainable, a conscious organisation to help people.” It marked the start of a profound healing journey with mindfulness and psychedelics, where serendipitously he was introduced to Feilding, who was looking for someone to scale Beckley Retreats. He believes everyone can benefit from psychedelics, with the exception of those suffering from severe mental illness.
“By the time you get to middle age it can be hard to get out of ingrained mental and emotional patterns. Imagine a snow-covered mountain with deep ski runs,” he compares. “Your brain gets into these well-used ruts, but a psychedelic experience can be like fresh snow to allow new pathways.”
In the weeks ahead of the retreats, attendees go through several integration calls, one to one and in a group in order to set intentions, which they continue after the retreat. Normally between 15-20 individuals are grouped together on a retreat with five to six facilitators. The usually seven-day trips take place in luxurious settings such as Good Hope Jamaica, a charming hotel in the Trelawny Hills, set within coconut and citrus groves, next to a cattle and horse ranch. Psilocybin ceremonies are combined with breathwork, mindful movement sessions and meditation. Attendees enjoy a nourishing plant-based diet, as well as plenty of downtime to soak up the rejuvenating surroundings.
“We spend time in nature, getting into rivers and oceans,” Markey explains. He adds that what really sets Beckley apart is the amazing facilitators who support the retreats. “Because of Amanda’s legacy we’re getting the best talent, people who have overseen thousands of ceremonies in their experience; it is magical.”
He caveats: “It’s not a magic pill that will fix your problems, you still need to do the work every day. But it can be a pivot point to allow you to make change, a reset button.”
Markey adds: “There are miraculous things that are difficult to measure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, we can see them in the physics.” he says. “I think Einstein said it best: ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’”
This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Healing Issue, Winter 2022/23. To subscribe contact
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