Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica
This post is to let you know about Atman Retreat, a new, legal psychedelic retreat in Jamaica. I’m posting here because 6 EA-aligned people are planning on attending our first retreats (June 5-8 and June 9-12, 2019) so far.
Although this is my first post here, I’ve been involved in EA in some capacity for the past 2-3 years. I’m currently an organizer of the EA Toronto group. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about psychedelics from an EA perspective, i.e. as tools for doing significant amounts of good. Last year I gave a presentation to EA Toronto about psychedelic research as a potential cause area for EA.
My current view is that increasing access to high-quality psychedelic experiences (particularly for high-impact people) is worthwhile. There are various ways of doing this (drug policy advocacy, becoming a psychedelic researcher, earning to give to donate to psychedelic research). I believe my comparative advantage is entrepreneurship, so I’m working towards this goal by founding Atman Retreat.
Psilocybin is the active ingredient in psychedelic (“magic”) mushrooms. It’s illegal in most countries, largely due to the unjust policies of the War on Drugs. In 1971, the Nixon administration enacted the Controlled Substances Act, making psilocybin and other psychoactive substances illegal. This was done for explicitly racist and reactionary reasons, and remains the current drug policy in the US today.
Psilocybin is generally safe, well-tolerated, non-toxic, and non-addictive. It can produce a range of beneficial effects, especially when administered in comfortable settings. A number of promising (but small-n) studies have demonstrated psilocybin’s efficacy in treating depression and anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, tobacco addiction, alcoholism, OCD, and more. High quality psilocybin research is currently being done at Johns Hopkins, Imperial College London, NYU, Yale, and other institutions.
Weaker evidence shows that psychedelic experiences positively predict liberal and anti-authoritarian political views, trait openness, and pro-environmental behaviour. There’s some evidence that psychedelic-enhanced creativity can assist in scientific and technical problem-solving. It also seems plausible that psychedelic experiences can expand people’s moral circle. There hasn’t been research on this yet, but moral circle expansion is a plausible interpretation of certain subjective accounts of psychedelic experiences (particularly the unitive mystical experience, i.e. the “ego dissolution” experience).
Psilocybin mushrooms are legal in Jamaica (we’ve engaged a team of lawyers to confirm this). We’re holding retreats where people can explore psilocybin safely, legally, and intentionally in a group setting. We have a team of 3 experienced facilitators and a beachfront venue in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Retreats are 3 nights/4 days with 12 participants, and include one psilocybin session, preparation and integration activities, meditation, yoga, vegetarian/vegan food and more.
Our first retreats (taking place June 5-8 and June 9-12, 2019) are potentially of interest to forum readers because several EA-aligned folks have already applied for these dates.
[Adding the following based on comments:] The cost is $1,695 USD for one participant. Some reasons an EA-aligned person might want to attend:
Work on creative problem-solving related to a cause area
Gain clarity on altruistic career-choice
Improve mental health to increase personal capacity
Have a psychedelic experience in a group that includes other EAs [end of edit]
Medium to long-term project plans
Psilocybin will likely be rescheduled as prescription medicine in the US by 2021-23. In the medium-term we plan to market Atman Retreat to doctors and therapists who are curious about psychedelics, but haven’t had personal experience with them.
We’ve heard from a few sources that there is strong demand for legal, high quality psychedelic experiences among medical and mental health professionals, who will be able to prescribe or treat patients with psychedelic medicine once it becomes available. We also plan to collaborate with researchers to better understand psilocybin’s effects (e.g. by taking part in Imperial’s Ceremony Study).
We believe increasing access to high quality psychedelic experiences can be impactful for improving mental health, boosting personal efficacy, perhaps making people more altruistic, and promoting human flourishing in the long run.
We’re launching our first retreats in June, and we think this is a great opportunity to try psychedelics in a safe, legal setting, along with other people who are excited about EA.
Check out the website for more info, and let me know if you have any questions!
For additional background, here’s a short (& lossy) argument for psychedelics as Cause X:
Almost everyone in EA holds either a longtermist view or a person-affecting view
If you hold a longtermist view & you’re a consequentialist (as far as I know, most longtermists are consequentialist), consequentialist cluelessness seems like a major theoretical problem
Basically, trying to assess outcomes occurring 10,000+ years in the future breaks the consequentialism algorithm (because we have no visibility into these outcomes)
Given this theoretical problem, longtermist cause prioritization should include “how robust to cluelessness is this?” as a major factor
Some x-risk interventions seem pretty robust to cluelessness
Also robust: interventions that increase the set of well-intentioned + capable people
CFAR & Paradigm Academy are aimed at this
The psychedelic experience also seems like a plausible lever on increasing capability (via reducing negative self-talk & other mental blocks) and improving intentions (via ego dissolution changing one’s metaphysical assumptions)
Ergo: under a longtermist view, psychedelic interventions are plausibly in the same ballpark of effectiveness as x-risk interventions & other interventions that increase the set of well-intentioned + capable people
If you hold a person-affecting view, mental health seems like a cause area on par with global poverty (see Michael Plant’s cause profile on mental health)
Psychedelics are showing a ton of promise as treatment for a battery of chronic mental health issues (including anxiety, depression, OCD, and addictive disorders including smoking & alcoholism)
Ergo: under a person-affecting view, psychedelic interventions are plausibly in the same ballpark of effectiveness as global poverty interventions
If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll take the time to make the above argument more rigorous.
[Disclosure: I’m helping out Atman Retreat as an advisor; views are my own]
A couple of comments
This puzzled me slightly. One reason is that longtermism and person-affecting views are different categories; the former is a view about where, in practice, value lies and the latter is a view about where, in theory, value lies. You could be a totalist (all possible people matter), which is not a person-affecting view, but be a near-termism. I think a better set up would have been: ‘psychedelics look good whether you just value the near-term or the long-term’. I suppose that leaves out the ‘medium-termists’, but I don’t know how many people there are who hold this view, whatever it is, inside or outside EA.
I would like you to say more about this. It seems plausible to me that training rationality is orders of magnitude more impactful for the longrun, so this is an objection to counter.
I don’t think you’ve shown this. It’s more plausible to me that Xrisk is a top tier intervention and rationality and the ‘mindset-changingness’ of psychedelics are in the lower tiers. This would still make them potentially very interesting from a long-termist perspective—in the bucket of ‘things to do take seriously and possibly fund if X-risk has absorbed as many resources as it can’.
Just FYI, I wrote a mammoth series of articles on drug policy reform 18 months or so ago where I argued that psychedelics for mental health looks very promising from the near term perspective. In other words, I explicitly claim what you’re claiming! I haven’t had a chance to do more work on it since and I add the usual caveats about not necessarily agree with everything past-Michael wrote.
Also, just because psychedelics are promising as a category of intervention, it doesn’t follow that setting up a retreat of this kind is the best way to go within that (sub)cause area. You’d need to argue for that too.
Being in the same tier as rationality interventions is basically what I meant by “being in the same ballpark,” though my language wasn’t very precise.
Also I’ll note that “x-risk intervention” is a pretty loose category:
Doing agent foundations research at MIRI? Definitely an x-risk intervention.
Doing AI safety work at OpenAI? Definitely an x-risk intervention.
Doing AI development work at OpenAI? Maybe that’s an x-risk intervention, though not totally clear how doing AI dev at OpenAI is different from doing AI dev at a FANG company.
Doing AI policy work at CSET? Sure, that’s probably an x-risk intervention, though really what CSET is trying to do is influence policymakers’ opinions about AI (which seems pretty similar to CFAR’s mission, though the target market is different).
Leading rationality workshops at CFAR? In the taxonomy you gave, CFAR is outside the category of “x-risk interventions,” though it’s plausibly doing stuff aimed at x-risk reduction in the same way that e.g. CSET is doing stuff aimed at x-risk reduction.
Yes, there’s a lot to say on this.
Comparing rationality training programs (e.g. CFAR, e.g. Paradigm Academy) to psychedelic trips is tricky. It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison, because the interventions are operating on very different levels of abstraction.
The rationality training programs I know of operate almost entirely on the conceptual level (though I believe Paradigm uses some bodywork modalities also). The basic structure of conceptual rationality training is something like:
Instructor says some words about a rationality topic
Trainee hears these words & tries to internalize the topic
Trainee practices their internalized version of the rationality topic (by themselves, with other trainees, or with the instructor)
Instructor provides feedback to trainee to improve the trainee’s internalized model of the topic
I think this structure can work really well for information & technique transfer, especially when the trainee is engaged & the instructor is skillful.
The basic structure of a psychedelic trip is very different:
Tripper thinks about and articulates the intentions & expectations they have about their upcoming psychedelic experience (to themselves, or to a facilitator)
Tripper ingests a psychedelic (by themselves, or with a sober facilitator present)
Tripper has a psychedelic experience. A wide range of subjective experiences can happen:
Old memories can come up and/or become salient
New perspectives about friends, family, one’s immediate environment can be adopted
Emotions can be felt very intensely, especially emotions about salient people & topics in the tripper’s life
Insights (or more skeptically, “insights”) can be had about the tripper’s psychology, social assumptions, epistemic assumptions, and metaphysical assumptions
New personal narratives (“this is the story of my life; this is what my life’s about”) can be adopted
Once sober, tripper integrates the experience (by themselves, or in dialogue a facilitator)
How did the actual trip match up to your expectations about the trip?
What came up? What was interesting? What was trivial, or silly?
Did anything come up that’s worth incorporating into your everyday life?
I think this structure can be very helpful for surfacing emotional blocks (e.g. akratic feelings), as well as for resolving known emotional blocks.
The psychedelic experience can also help change one’s assumptions + internal monologue + personal narrative, usually in ways that are considered helpful. (Note that it doesn’t do this automatically, it can just help “loosen you up.” You still have to opt in to making changes about these things.)
So, to the extent that we’re limited by information & technique transfer, I’d expect conceptual rationality training to be more leveraged.
And to the extent that we’re limited by emotional blocks & unhelpful personal narratives, I’d expect the psychedelic experience to be more leveraged.
(I’m not claiming that the psychedelic experience is the only thing that helps with emotional blocks, etc. Many other techniques can also help, though the other techniques I know of tend to take much longer to bear fruit.)
I agree this is plausible, but I think you would accept that this is conjecture and still quite a long way from what we want, which I assume is some sort of quantified, evidence-based, comparative analysis.
For sure. This is a just a theoretical comparison – some kind of quantified comparative analysis would be great, though as far as I know nothing like that exists at present.
Edit: Also note that there aren’t many analyses that compare across EA cause areas. (e.g. comparing animal welfare interventions to global poverty interventions, e.g. comparing x-risk interventions to animal welfare interventions.)
Michael Dickens’ cause prioritization app attempts this, though as far as I know it hasn’t been used to drive much decision-making.
Good point – I agree that the near-term / long-term distinction is better for this.
This feels inappropriate. I don’t want to be sold things on the EA Forum.
I don’t see how this post is substantively different from previous content like:
CEA is Fundraising for 2019
How big a deal could GWWC be? Pretty big.
Giving What We Can is still growing at a surprisingly good pace
Why donate to 80,000 Hours
All of which have a self-promotional slant.
For-profit businesses are just a different revenue structure than non-profit organizations. I think self-promotion of both for-profit & non-profit projects that are being undertaken for EA reasons should be fair game for the Forum.
[Disclosure: I’m helping out Atman Retreat as an advisor; views are my own]
I can see where you’re coming from, but I think there’s a lot of missing info here, and this will make the post confusing to most readers. Some* of the other posts you link to also ask things of their readers, but they also present a case for why that ask is a particularly exceptional use of resources.
I happen to know of some topics which psychedelics might be relevant to, some of which are mentioned in the post and in your later comment, e.g.
Potentially strong treatment for depression
Drug liberalisation could reduce unnecessary incarceration
Very speculative things like maybe psychedelics make you a better or more effective person (or increases your risk of psychosis), or maybe psychedelics could help us study sentience
but it’s pretty unclear how EAs going on a psychedelic retreat is an effective way to make progress in these fields. i.e. even with what I guess is an above-median amount of context on the subject, I don’t know what the case is. Given that, I think Khorton’s reaction is very reasonable.
Maybe I’m missing the point and the post is just saying that there’s a cool thing you can do with other EAs, not trying to claim that it’s an effectively altruistic use of resources. In that case, the difference between the posts appears to be simple.
A disclosure of my own: I previously worked for CEA. Of course, these are my opinions only.
*Giving What We Can is still growing at a surprisingly good pace doesn’t justify an ask, but it doesn’t have an ask either.
Definitely more so the former than the latter, e.g. “I’m posting here because 6 EA-aligned people are planning on attending our first retreats (June 5-8 and June 9-12, 2019) so far.”
Like Milan I think there are good arguments for psychedelics as Cause X, and nested in that good arguments for why starting a retreat could be an effective thing to do. But the general purpose of this post was to let people know this is happening, along with what seems like relevant context.
FWIW, a couple of the EA-aligned people who’ve applied have stated they want to attend for explicitly EA-related reasons. We keep applicant data confidential so I can’t go into detail, but some reasons an EA *might* want to attend:
Creative problem-solving related to a cause area
Gaining clarity on altruistic career choice
Improvements in mental health (I think you may be underrating the degree to which this can increase personal capacity, or make you a better or more effective person, as you put it).
The risk is only if you have a family history and are predisposed. Even so, there’s not much evidence for this—it’s an exclusion criteria in psychedelic research studies because the researchers are (understandably) extremely risk-averse and being as careful as possible. I’ve looked closely at the data on this and spoken to several researchers about it because it’s relevant to someone close to me.
Re: psychedelics & psychosis risk, see Krebs & Johansen 2013, a study of National Survey on Drug Use and Health data (n = 130,152) which found:
Unfortunately, it’s not a randomized, forward-looking trial. I personally give high-quality retrospective survey research like this some weight when thinking through the risks associated with psychedelics. (And more research is needed, as always.)
See also Krebs & Johansen 2015 for similar results with a different data set:
Right. The stuff about psychedelics as Cause X was maybe a bit of a red herring. You probably know how to sell your business much better than I do, but something which I think is undervalued in general is simply opening your pitch with why exactly you think someone should care about your thing. I actually hadn’t considered creative problem-solving or career choice as reasons to go on this retreat.
My earlier comment was a reply to the challenge of ‘how this post is substantively different from previous content like...’ and this now seems fairly obvious, so I probably have little more useful to say :)
Fair enough! I probably should have pointed out those reasons in the original post (although I did link to the paper on psychedelics and creative problem-solving). I probably also unconsciously assumed those reasons are more obvious to most people than they are, because I’m thinking about this stuff all the time.
As far as I can tell, OP isn’t making an ask of its readers – to me it reads as “FYI here’s a new thing you might be interested in!”
Can you point me to the parts where it seems like it’s making an ask?
[Disclosure: I’m helping out Atman Retreat as an advisor; views are my own]
I figured the OP was suggesting that people go to the retreat? (or maybe be generically supportive of the broader project of running retreats)
Not sure where this is going; doesn’t immediately seem like it counters what I said about your comparison to specific fundraising + analysis posts, or about why readers might be confused as to why this is here.
I’m not sure where it’s going either :-)
You drew a distinction between the comparison posts I linked to & the OP. I was confused by the distinction you were drawing. I asked for clarification.
Can you point me to the place(s) where the OP is suggesting people go on these retreats?
Perhaps this is the part you have in mind:
Or maybe this is more a subtextual thing you’re picking up on?
I definitely read the post as suggesting implicitly that EAs should consider going on the retreat. What would be the point of the post otherwise? There is some discussion of psychedelics in general, but that doesn’t seem to be the primary purpose.
Thanks, this is helpful.
It’s tricky to think about from my perspective – two true things seem in tension:
(1) New business is being started, and the founder definitely wants people to use their product.
(2) New business is being started because the founder thinks starting it is an impactful thing to do.
So it feels like there’s a balance to strike between (1) & (2) in the communications around the retreat.
Following (1), we’d want more folks to attend the retreat. Following (2), we’re indifferent to whether folks attend the retreat, and really just want to get people’s thoughts on the retreat as new EA project.
Does the tension I’m pointing to make sense?
[Disclosure: I’m helping out Atman Retreat as an advisor; views are my own]
“I think self-promotion of both for-profit & non-profit projects that are being undertaken for EA reasons should be fair game for the Forum.”
Maybe. This post did not convince me that the business was created ‘for EA reasons.’ And contrary to Forum standards, it was written to persuade, not to inform—otherwise why would there be no studies listed that found no effect or a negative effect? This is the kind of behaviour I expect from a promotional website, not the EA Forum.
Edit : If the goal is to give doctors a good experience before they prescribe it, that makes a lot of sense and could potentially do a lot of good… But I don’t know any practising doctors in the EA community, so this is definitely the wrong place to advertise!
I think this is uncharitable and I gave small downvote as a result. Given those involved in this business are involved in the EA community and there is at least a plausible story to tell about why this is impactful, you’re essentially claiming accusing the OP of acting in bad faith when there isn’t compelling reason to do so.
I reread this and didn’t notice that it was written to persuade vs inform.
I’ve been looking at the research of psychedelics for a while—see https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/wu9nEXWtvhEnYQTxG/high-time-for-drug-policy-reform-part-1-4-introduction-and and the other three posts in the series. I can’t recall a study claiming psychedelics have no or negative effects. I agree that is potentially suspicious, but it’s in line with my view that they have positive effects and there isn’t much research on this.
Again, I think it’s bad faith to assume the purpose is simply trying to make money from the participants of this forum. I think it’s fine, good even, for people in the community to tell others what they are doing. Where else is one supposed to make these announcements?
Facebook. Twitter. Your telephone. There are plenty of ways to talk to other EAs.
I think potentially the disagreement is whether the Forum should be a one-stop-shop for everything EA or whether it should be reserved for a particular kind of information about EA. I think the EA Forum should be used for sharing ideas with the EA community and receiving useful feedback. I don’t think this post is a good example of that.
(Also, I definitely didn’t think Aaron was acting in bad faith! He said he was selling a thing to the EA community and I agreed he was selling a thing to the EA community. I have no problem with that, just keep it off the Forum.)
Could you expand a little more about why it’s not a good example of “sharing ideas with the EA community and receiving useful feedback”?
i.e. expand more on how “selling something that you think is a good idea” differs from “sharing something that you think is a good idea”?
This is not an idea, it’s an event that has already been planned. If this post was ‘I think getting world leaders to use psychedelics would improve the long term future’ or ‘How we could decriminalize psychedelics in California’ or even ‘I’m hosting an event—how can I make it more useful?’, I’d be more okay with it.
Got it, thanks.
fwiw, I posted stuff like this about 20 months ago, while still in the “idea” phase, and also received a chilly reception then. (I’ve since removed those posts to avoid Google indexing them.)
Aaron did link to Nichols 2016, a review article on psychedelics that includes discussion of associated risks and potential side effects.
The academic research on psychedelics has been generally very positive.
“Bad trips” may not even be a pathology – see Carbonaro et al. 2016, a survey of people who’d reported having bad trips. Carbonaro et al. found that 84% of people who had bad trips “endorsed benefiting from the experience.”
Maybe we could have a classified ads thread every once in a while? (More thoughts here.)
Understood. I don’t spend a lot of time here so may have misjudged appropriateness.
OP neglected to mention that the retreat costs $1700 according to the website. Neither does there seem to be some kind of financial aid plan or discount for EAs, like CFAR does.
That’s correct (not a deliberate omission). $1700 for 4 days is roughly on par with other, similar retreats. We’re planning to add low-income/sliding scale options once we’ve launched and are holding regular retreats.
Thanks! Sorry for the slightly combative tone in my earlier comment.
No worries :)
Increasing openness does not seem uniformly good, e.g. SSC wrote a speculative blog post that psychedelic use may make one “open” to pseudoscience, conspiracy theories etc. I’m curious if you have thoughts on this?
I agree that openness doesn’t seem uniformly good, despite being obviously good in some ways (i.e. all creativity loads onto openness).
I agree it seems possible that psychedelic use could lead to pseudoscientific or unscientific thinking. This is pretty widespread in the psychedelic community, which might suggest a connection, although it’s hard to know which direction the causality is going (perhaps both). I don’t see this as a risk for EA/rationalist types though, and would argue that pretty strongly.
(Also FYI, the findings from the 2011 paper SSC references haven’t been replicated.)
Would you be willing to supply this argument? I am very curious to hear more about your thinking on this, as it is something I have wondered about. (For the sake of transparency, I should mention that my own take is that there is a significant risk even for EAs and rationalists to be overtaken by unscientific thinking after strong psychedelic experiences, and that it takes unusually solid worldviews and/or some sort of personality trait that is hard-to-describe in order to resist this influence.)
My take is that it only takes a strong enough worldview to resist this influence, and that most EAs/rationalists have one. I think this mostly just comes down to intuitions about 1) how strong of an influence a psychedelic experience can have on someone’s worldview and 2) how strong of a worldview does the average EA/rationalist have. I don’t think a strong psychedelic experience alone is enough to create bad epistemology, and that it probably also takes some environmental factors pushing in this direction, which EAs/rationalists generally aren’t exposed to.
It seems like our intuitions probably differ on this, so I’m wondering what your take is based on? Also wondering if you can provide more details on the hard-to-describe personality trait, as I’m not sure what you mean there.
My impression agrees with Issa’s: in EA, psychedelic use seems to go along with a cluster of bad epistemic practice (e.g. pseudoscience, neurobabble, ‘enlightenment’, obscurantism).
This trend is a weak one, with many exceptions; I also don’t know about direction of causation. Yet this is enough to make me recommend that taking psychedelics to ‘make one a better EA’ is very ill-advised.
Could you link to some public-facing examples of the bad epistemic practice you have in mind?
(I don’t share your intuition so would like to get a better idea of what’s generating it.)
People probably won’t give those examples here, for civility reasons. The SSC post linked above covers some practices Greg probably means, using historical examples.
Thanks. The Slate Star Codex post is definitely interesting, though it’s easy to construct a set of countervailing examples – people who use psychedelics & seem pretty sensible (e.g. Steve Jobs, Eric Weinstein, Tim Ferriss, off the top of my head).
edit: Sam Harris, Elon Musk, Aldous Huxley are also in the “use psychedelics & seem pretty sensible” category.
Also, Gregory was noting a correlation within EA specifically; none of these examples speak to that.
Also note that the Openness result Scott talks about hasn’t replicated: https://www.enthea.net/griffiths-2017-2.html
(More research needed, as always.)
Given the weakness of the trend & uncertainty about how the causation runs, “very ill-advised” seems too strong.
Also your view doesn’t account for the potential upsides of psychedelic use.
Thanks for the link to the Enthea paper, I’ll check it out.
Here’s more on one failure to replicate the Openness result: https://www.enthea.net/griffiths-2017-2.html
(More research needed, as always.)
I’m very bullish on more big-five openness in the rationality & EA communities, personally.
Commenting here as a Forum user, not as a moderator: I find it really odd that price isn’t listed in this post or anywhere I could find on the website, even on the “FAQ” page. Am I missing something?
The retreat price is listed in the “Upcoming Retreats” section, near the bottom of the homepage: https://atmanretreat.com
Thanks! Seems like having it in this post would also be wise, as a way to save the time of people who are going to make this decision largely based on affordability.
Thanks, I’m adding this to the original post now, along with some specific reasons an EA-aligned person might want to attend.
Also adding this to FAQ page. Thanks!
Why not just go to Holland and buy some psilocybin-containing magic truffels?
That might make sense for people in Europe. For most people in North America, the Caribbean is more easily accessible than the Netherlands.
Other reasons someone might prefer a retreat:
- Have the experience in a group setting with people who share the same outlook and intentions
- Guidance from experienced facilitators
- Optimized setting (pre-selected music, access to private natural space)
- Pre-prepared preparation and integration activities