TREASURE BEACH, Jamaica, Nov 24 (Reuters) – A new group of Jamaican resorts is promoting tourism that offers mystical experiences and stress relief through “magic mushrooms” as the Caribbean nation seeks to develop a niche industry in natural psychedelics.
While mushrooms containing the psychoactive compound psilocybin remain illegal in most of Europe and the United States, the Jamaican government has never banned the hallucinogenic mushroom and is now cultivating investors in an effort to develop its psychedelic industry, which it says one estimate could be worth $8 billion globally by 2028.
Jamaica now has at least four psilocybin-focused resorts, three of which have opened in recent years as the government has warmed to psychedelics and encourages private investment in the sector.
Officials at the Jamaica Promotions Corporation, a state agency that promotes business opportunities, see psychedelics as a way to expand the country’s tourism industry.
“The opportunity is there,” Gabriel Heron, the agency’s vice president of marketing, said in an interview. “How we position this particular tourism experience will likely be aligned with the health and wellness industry.”
At MycoMeditations, a psychedelic retreat in the town of Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast, guests pay up to $23,500 for a week-long experience that includes three dosing sessions.
“I emerged feeling what love is for the first time in my life,” said Dean, 41, who lives in South Carolina and works in the software industry. He attended two week-long MycoMeditations programs and asked to be identified only by his first name.
“What I learned in that week at that retreat would have taken ten years of talk therapy,” she said, describing a “euphoric, happy, hopeful” experience in which colors were more vibrant and her body seemed to be releasing deep emotions.
The use of psilocybin to treat mental health problems such as anxiety or depression is still being studied in clinical trials. Side effects can include panic, fear and nausea, as well as subsequent “flashback” reactions, according to US and Canadian health authorities.
During MycoMeditation sessions, visitors lie on recliners or yoga mats and listen to music. Groups of up to 12 people, primarily Americans, then describe their experiences in a group setting with therapists and counselors.
Nearly half of the visitors describe having a “mystical experience” and notice a reduction in stress, said Justin Townsend, chief executive of MycoMeditations, which grows its own mushrooms.
‘THE FLOW OF THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS’
MycoMeditations decides dosage after team discussion, which includes US-licensed personnel, making decisions based on criteria such as the client’s mental health condition.
The staff are trained to spot the signs of a bad trip and can guide them with a therapeutic touch, Townsend said.
“It’s absolutely amazing when you see people with 20, 30 years of anxiety and it just goes away,” he said.
Dr. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in an interview that he believes psilocybin may work by allowing different thoughts and emotions to flow, which can help people come out of the negative mental routine that is linked to problems such as depression and addiction.
The Jamaican government’s receptiveness to psychedelics runs counter to the country’s conservative outlook, where traditional Christian values dominate the liberal Rastafarian ideas that foreigners often associate with the island.
In 2021, officials and business leaders gathered in Montego Bay for a conference called the Psychedelics Summit to network and discuss opportunities in the psychedelics industry.
It featured the then Minister of Agriculture, Floyd Green, as well as businessmen such as Cedella Marley, daughter of reggae singer Bob Marley.
Although it is unclear how much revenue tourists visiting the resorts have brought to Jamaica, the global market for psychedelic therapies is expected to grow to $8.3 billion by 2028 from $3.6 billion in 2021, the market research firm said. India-based InsightAce Analytic in July. report.
Responding to questions about how to ensure the safety of those who consume psilocybin mushrooms, Health Minister Chris Tufton said: “It’s difficult to address these questions, except to say that currently the industry is unregulated and at the moment there are no plans”.
Outside of Jamaica, psychedelic retreats have also popped up in the Netherlands, Spain, and Costa Rica. Companies are testing psilocybin as a treatment for everything from depression to anorexia to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
They include British mental health care company COMPASS Pathways (CMPS.O), whose product received a “Breakthrough” therapy designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2018.
That designation indicates that the FDA believes that a given treatment can demonstrate significant improvement over alternatives. COMPASS said earlier this month that its therapy appeared to help patients with depression who had not responded to other treatments.
Winston De La Haye, a psychiatrist who served as Jamaica’s acting chief medical officer and currently chairs the Caribbean Association of Psychedelics, cautions that psilocybin is not for everyone and should be avoided by people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
But he has his own psilocybin treatment regimen for his patients and believes it can help those suffering from major depression, as well as those who need end-of-life care.
“We have clear indications now and a growing body of evidence looking at microdosing, and those benefits include creativity and improved focus,” De La Haye said.
Reporting by Kate Chappell in Treasure Beach, Jamaica and Brian Ellsworth in Miami, editing by Rosalba O’Brien