What is a Science Based Retreat?

Jessica and Tawnya go in to the details of what a science based psilocybin retreat is and how it differs from traditional retreats. Tawnya details her experience in an Ayahuasca ceremony and Jessica describes how important it is to meet the guest where they are at. You can check out our podcast, The Psilocybin Podcast: Tales from Eleusinia on Apple Podcasts or read/listen below.

Tawnya: Welcome to episode three. Today I have Jessica here and we are getting into the questions of what is a science-based retreat. This is what makes Eleusinia really unique. So this becomes a really interesting question.

Jessica: Yeah, I think the fact that we are science-based is what really sets us apart.

There are many, retreats that are solely focused on the spiritual part of psychedelics, but we have a pretty strong focus on the scientific aspects.

It doesn’t seem like it should be something that is way like way far out there, because I mean, I don’t know of any retreats that are exempt from the laws of science or exempt from any of those principles, because , we live and work within certain parameters.

Tawnya: Yeah, and I feel like this is really important and it’s also up and coming because though we don’t have as much science and research that we would like to have. We actually do have a lot, and there’s a big basis of, a wealth of understanding. So it is really helpful when we’re taking something that’s foreign to us, that’s new to know a little bit about how and why it’s working

Jessica: We do understand a lot about how these, these substances affect the brain.

We don’t necessarily know how it translates over into consciousness or the subjective effects, but we we do know quite a bit about the brain and these substances. So we just have a focus on that. We pay homage to the fact that there is a certain amount of understanding.

Tawnya: And wouldn’t you say it’s true that with your own experience in how psilocybin really changed your life, that it started to open up doors to possibilities that you didn’t really anticipate.

So in the beginning, you really wanted to know the science. You didn’t want to hear any woo woo and a lot of the psychedelic culture kind of felt just uncomfortable because it didn’t feel something that you could easily grasp onto.

Jessica: I just didn’t feel safe. I couldn’t feel safe when I was putting myself in the hands of somebody, that we weren’t in agreement on the nature of reality.

But then the more I push into neuroscience, the more I realized if we’re not really in agreement, even on the science side about the nature of reality. So if, yeah, in many ways I have softened up, but just because I’ve opened up more doors and start to understand, understand more.

Tawnya: Yeah. So it’s wonderful to have this basis. And you know, we know that the classic psychedelics work on the 5HT2A serotonin receptors mostly, and, you know, I was just reading about serotonin and serotonin was first discovered in the 1940s and still to date, we have very limited knowledge or we don’t have a shared framework to express what serotonin does because in so many different ways, it actually does conflicting stuff.

So what I guess we’re offering as a platform is an opportunity for people to kind of bring some, whatever they feel that their understanding of the nature of their own reality is and come to the retreat and make sure that nobody feels unsafe or excluded.

You also came to psilocybin from a different route altogether, not necessarily one who’s seeking a spiritual awakening because there are people out there that do that, but you had a, a real medical condition and because of what you went through, you realize that there are a lot of people out there that are actually in the same boat.

Jessica: Right. I think that that’s, that is really important that, someone who wants answers that are more focused on neuroscience, they have the option. And if they want to ask questions about the physical effects of psilocybin that the answers they get are medically accurate.

I wanted something that I felt that I could be comfortable with if I was a guest.

I’m also curious about your experience, because I know you come from this very scientific background as being a nurse.

Tawnya: Well, I guess I’d like to talk about, my bridge because on one hand, what I was taught in science, you know, when at one point I was watching as the CCRN ICU nurse in critical care, watching people die, you know, with a tube in every orifice and on 15 different drips and all these mechanical noises.

The reason why I left the ICU is because I knew deep down that if I continued to watch that and be a part of death and dying, that looked like that in the ICU that I would believe it’s so much that I would die that way. And I knew that’s not how all death looks.

So I did kind of purposely move myself out of that. I have to have the impact of that. Now that’s the science on one side of the bridge. So for me, on the other side, I did eventually find my way to an ayahuasca retreat . My psychedelic retreat was an ayahuasca retreat and that’s a big leap from someone who knows and understands all the background of why we do what we do. You know, science and research based to going to, a place that you’ve never been before, knowing that there’s going to be a shaman who you’ve never met before, and you really don’t even know their basis and their background of knowledge. And you’re going to ingest a substance that you really don’t know a lot about because there isn’t that much research on it.

And you’re going to, you know, there’s a whole culture that you have to embrace above and beyond what’s actually happening. And the risks that are unknown that you’re entering into going into that space. So I was willing to try it because I had heard through word of mouth that. You know, kind of what to expect, but it did feel like a tremendous leap for me.

And in many ways it was terrifying. I knew that we were going to purge. Ayahuasca is a lot different from psilocybin because you have to do a diet and you can’t be on many, many medications. It can be really dangerous if you mix pharmaceuticals and sometimes even foods with that experience.

So you’re purging in every way. You’re vomiting, it’s coming out the backend. It’s a lot of abdominal discomfort. It can be one of the hardest days of your entire life.

It was a terrifying leap and you know, so what they say to people is what the common language is, is when you’re ready, you’ll be called. And I appreciate that. I appreciate like a, relationship with the medicine that, but that also could, could mean on the other side of the spectrum, that at one point in your life, you’re going to be so goddamn, desperate for change, and you’re going to be that you’re going to be willing to do anything. So it’s really nice to have a retreat built on a foundation of science so that we can have a broader understanding because the more comfortable we are with understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing, the further we can go. The more solidly our feet are on the ground, the more, you know, the deeper we can get into our experience.

I believe in that. So people don’t necessarily have to be coming from that. I’m so desperate for change. I’ll do anything or I’m feeling called because what does that actually mean? How do you feel called to do something so scary? You know?

Jessica: I feel that sometimes this, this culture around it can be a little bit, abelist. Let’s say for like the, the physical requirements of vomiting. Vomiting is a pretty violent act in the body.

You have the spasms, burning liquid comes up your throat. It’s not it’s, it’s, it’s pretty rough on the body. At the retreat at Eleusinia, we have a significant amount of people that are on the older side, or we also have visitors that are physically fragile. To the point that something intense, like vomiting might not be accessible to them. It would be too much for them to handle physically. So I feel that culture sometimes can be a bit of a gateway for people that would benefit from something like this, but they probably should not engage in the more physically taxing side of it.

Tawnya: And from the nursing standpoint, there are risks to vomiting. You can get an esophageal tear, you could have bleeding. It is not a risk-free act when you’re in a vulnerable state, you know? So that, that is true. It’s not something that we do every day, like, you know, defecate and urinate. It’s, it’s something that happens more rare.

So though it is natural. It may not always be risk-free, especially if it’s prolonged and intense.

Jessica: And there’s also that idea of like I have to be called. What if your issue is overthinking things or some form of OCD. Some people need a little bit more of a helping hand, a little bit of a slower on ramp then too, so that they don’t have those, that, that feeling of like second guessing themselves.

Tawnya: What do you feel about, you know, they say in the research that the people that the personality types that tend to do best, with psychedelics are those that have the personality trait of being open. How, how can you look at that in a way that’s different than, you know, being called.

Jessica: Hmm. Well, psychedelics are also known to increase that the personality trait of openness.

So I think that you can also interpret that to be like those who actually lean into the experience more, have more of an experience, also do better. They do well because they’re open or they do well because they then become open.

Tawnya: I agree. I agree. Because I feel like there’s a lot of people out there. In fact, I know there are that are stuck feeling certain ways or a stuck going through certain things and they, they just can’t change. We know that people with who have depression have like a pathologically more rigid brain structure.

So it is kind of even hard physiologically for them to have more flexibility and adaptation for change. So those people definitely, even though they may not be feeling particularly open may, may need and may feel ready to try something new.

Jessica: Right. And that’s when they decide to take that step.

I’m curious, compared to your experience personally with Ayahuasca. Comparing that experience with what you see happening with individuals having their first experience with us, what do you think is the biggest difference?

Tawnya: That’s hard to chalk it up to one big difference, but I feel like I didn’t know what to expect. And in fact, the shaman actually said, you know, it was a great experience and I appreciate my experience and I appreciate that shaman but the shaman before we drank, ayahuasca says, said, I have no idea what’s going to happen.

All I know is that tonight we’re drinking ayahuasca and the shaman is was drinking ayahuasca with us. So at Eleusinia , there’s stone, cold sober people to make sure that they’re present for all sorts of support needed. But also people are really prepared with all the information as to what the experience may be like and how not only that, but how to manage it.

I had no idea how to manage it. As a second night that I sat for my ayahuasca retreat. I was told that if you’re having a difficult time that to ask for the hapé or in some cultures, they call it the rapé which is the tobacco that the shaman will come with this long, I’m not sure if you know what you know about this, with this long thing and blow it up your nose.

It’s such a, if it’s your first time, it’s a very, very intense experience so that in their way, is there a rescue drug to help you feel more calm, collected, grounded, but. the intensity of this dry alkaline powder being blown up your nasal cavity in each nare because you can’t just have it in one. You know, it makes you vomit.

It worked. And so then I knew that, okay, I can start using this hapé you know, at home, you know, for this meditative embrace of the tobacco spirit. Now, I don’t know what’s in it. I realized, wow, I’m sure using this a lot. And it took me about two weeks after my experience to start researching what I could, because there’s very limited availability that you can find. This stuff has 20 times the nicotine content of normal smoking tobacco.

So I quickly got addicted to nicotine. So yes, there may be a very spiritual component, but for those individuals that are high risk for an addiction, like a nicotine addiction, I was just blindsided. So there is a big aspect of harm reduction that was completely missed. So that kind of went off on a tangent, but, but yeah, so there are similar things, but we’re given things we don’t know about them and we don’t know about the risks.

And then you may find yourself in an unusual situation like I did.

Jessica: During a spiritual experience, you will do things that you don’t necessarily understand why, and they might work, but you don’t necessarily understand how. Our goal is not to have a visitor who is dependent on us, or that is following steps that they don’t understand. We want to cover the “how’s” and the “why’s” very clearly so that someone can be independent. They have full agency in the experience.

Tawnya: I really loved my experience, but I didn’t leave to the effect of “I’m empowered to continue this practice on my own”, which is another big thing. There was absolutely no way that I can prepare ayahuasca and move through that experience. You know, I really wouldn’t want to, because the, the timeframe, it was just a difficult procedure and process.

Jessica: Okay. Well, I think that, I think that in some of these ceremonies, the point is to give up control, to surrender. And I think that for some individuals, sometimes that can be helpful, but for some people that can’t necessarily make peace with the idea of surrender right out the gate, that would sort of deny them access in a way to something that could be helpful when just a little bit of knowledge, just clears that up, say, this is what is happening this is why this is what’s in the background. What’s going on physiologically. I can’t make peace too, with the idea of like losing agency like that.

Tawnya: I just think that people, when they start to consider this therapy will start to learn more. And what I hope is that that there’s more access to, science-based stuff so that they get accurate, understanding of, you know, the whole, the whole enchilada, whatever they can absorb at the time.

Obviously, people aren’t ready to absorb the entirety of everything, but we want to create an environment where, when they’re ready to learn something that we have it for them. And not just about the science behind what happens, with psilocybin and their own personal experience, but the tools also to move through that experience successfully and, and in a way that set up so they can continue to do that.

That’s interesting. And it’s, it’s important to note and to share, because I feel like in our psychedelic culture, we’re really misguided and we skip over things like how SSRI is, can blunt the effect of psilocybin. And some people go to microdosing.

Jessica: It goes back to the, the, the idea of like a science-based retreat. I think that sometimes that approach of saying that you come when you’re called, or you feel these effects when you’re ready for them can feel very excluding to somebody who has been taking antidepressants, like SSRI’s or SNRI’s

When they try to engage with these substances that they don’t feel that effect. The difference, a big difference between a more spiritually based retreat and a science-based retreat is that the answers that they would get to that kind of question. When somebody has traveled to a different country, paid for a retreat, put aside all this time and has invested all of this hope in something happening because they see it in the news. They see that this stuff is supposedly, excuse the pun, magical. And then they take a dose and nothing happens. That is, that is soul crushing.

That is, it’s it’s soul crushing to watch because I have been sitting a few times with someone after an experience like this, and they’re wondering what is wrong with me? Something is something wrong with my brain. Why can’t I have the experience like the other people around me are having, because this is what is supposed to fix me.

This is what is supposed to be the answer. And that puts a lot more pressure on having the right answer for them. Like, is it because they don’t feel called, is it because they’re not open to the experience? No, it’s because there’s, there’s a physical effect from the medications they’ve been taking. It’s just that there’s an actual physiological issue going on there. And I don’t think that putting a spiritual explanation behind it is helpful for someone who’s just trying to get to the other side.

Tawnya: Absolutely. Well said. Instead of being told, well, it’s just not time for you or you just weren’t ready.

Jessica: You can’t put that kind of pressure on somebody who’s really just looking for relief, looking for the other side, the other side, where they feel better.

Tawnya: They’re as ready as anybody else. It does feel exclusive and unfair to say that.

Jessica: Yes, because I’ve been at the retreat with someone even up to nine grams and they walked it off like a regular Wednesday. And you have to understand that’s normal. That happens. And that if you have been taking these medications that sometimes it might take several tries. You might need to spin your wheels in the mud a little bit before you get some traction and have a full-on psychedelic effect.

Tawnya: Instead of feeling like something’s wrong with them, they need as much information that they can get, so they can figure out how to have the endurance and the know-how to go ahead and spin their wheels till they figure it out. There’s a big difference between then leading them to a shut door and saying, sorry, you’re just not ready.

You know?

Jessica: Yeah. That, that shut door just feels terrible. Like it’s putting the blame that you were not ready. You are not the one open to it. And I think as a person organizing a retreat, it’s my responsibility to have accurate answers.

Not to put that kind of burden on somebody else. To tell them that you are the one who’s not ready. You’re not the one who’s open to the experience.

Tawnya: Absolutely.

Jessica: Now another thing that we do at the retreat, that’s a little bit off the beaten path is the DMT. If somebody does not have a sufficient reaction to the psilocybin, we have that DMT session the next day

It’s a full agonist while the psilocybin is a partial agonist. So the immediate effects are going to be much stronger. And so we don’t have that much of a problem with the blocking effects of SSRI or SNRI use with with the DMT.

Our goal is to make sure that someone walks away from this retreat with the confidence of knowing what a psychedelic experience is, and can feel comfortable engaging with this later on.

Tawnya: Absolutely.

Jessica: I can’t imagine what the experience would be like for somebody who has that initial experience sitting around, watching everyone around them, go through these deep profound experiences and then, and then having it presented to them, like it’s their fault.

I feel safer engaging with psychedelics, knowing about the physiology, the medical science behind it. That’s where I feel that I can stop let go. You can surrender when you feel safe

Tawnya: And that looks different for everyone.

Jessica: It does. I mean the truth is that psychedelics are pretty safe. They’re ridiculously safe. It’s almost like they’re bubble wrapped for our safety. So it’s almost a given that you’re going to be safe, but there’s a difference between being safe and feeling safe.

Tanya. I really appreciate you sharing the story about the ayahuasca experience. I am still not on board, but it sounded, it sounded very interesting.

I’m not going to be signing up anytime soon for an ayahuasca ceremony. It’s not going to happen. I am absolutely thrilled that I got to live it vicariously through you just now. That I don’t have to do it because you did it. That’s, that’s how I feel about that. I would treasure that explanation.

Tawnya: I feel like you are in your zone in exactly what we do. So thanks for going into the ins and outs of your own story as well.

Jessica: Oh, thanks until next time.

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