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Hundreds of people have used psilocybin legally in Oregon since the first licensed center opened in Eugene in June. But only a minority appear to be from Oregon.
Though data about clients is protected by confidentiality rules, several magic mushroom entrepreneurs told the Capital Chronicle that most customers have traveled to Oregon from out of state to take the drug in a safe setting.
Brian Lindley, co-owner of the psilocybin center Omnia Group Ashland, estimates that about 80% of his clients have been from out of state and only a few from California. At another Ashland clinic, Satya Therapeutics, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Andreas Met has a similar story. Most of his clients are journeying to Oregon to seek treatment for chronic mental illnesses from states like Texas, Indiana and New York. At The Journey Service Center in Portland, co-founder Clint Martin said 95% of his customers are from out of state. The center is 10 minutes from the airport, making it “ideal for the psychedelic tourist,” according to its website.
Oregon is the first state to legalize psilocybin use at licensed businesses. The new industry is expensive, costing as much as $2,500 out of pocket for an hours-long psilocybin trip. The Oregon Health Authority licenses the growers, clinics and facilitators who work with clients. To date, the agency has licensed 17 service centers and issued permits to more than 540 people, who are mostly psilocybin industry workers and trained facilitators.
The new industry is generating so much interest in psilocybin that some centers have indefinite wait lists of thousands of people.
Met said a family of three recently flew in from Florida to try psilocybin. The psychoactive compound, produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms, can spur breakthroughs in major depressive disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other intractable conditions, according to a growing body of scientific research.
The Capital Chronicle spoke with three legal psilocybin users along with several owners of service centers and trip facilitators. Although some expressed surprise at the out-of-state attraction, most said they were thrilled that Oregon’s regulated industry is reaching people from across the country.
“We’re like a trauma center for the nation’s worst, depressed people,” Met said. “This industry’s like a triage for people like that.”
‘Depressed for half my life’
One client, JC Harvey, 35, lives with his family on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Harvey recently sought out psilocybin in Oregon to help ameliorate his long-standing depression. The experience was so powerful that he’s spoken publicly about it on social media, even though psilocybin is illegal in his state and on the federal level.
“I’ve been depressed for half my life,” he told the Capital Chronicle. “Just with the progression of life, things got considerably worse and worse.”
Early in his 20s, he and his then-wife lost a child during pregnancy. As the years ticked by, he felt intense depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress well up inside him. Harvey said therapy didn’t help much, and prescribed medications including Prozac made him feel “zombie-like” and “void of any emotion or creativity.” He had attempted suicide and was twice committed to the hospital for his illness.
Last year, Harvey felt like he was at the end of his road, so he began searching for something new. That’s when he found a news article about psilocybin’s positive influence on veterans with post-traumatic stress.
Harvey is not a veteran, but he poured himself into research about the drug, which Oregonians voted in 2020 to legalize. Harvey had no experience with psychedelics, but he was curious.
He said he called licensed service centers in Oregon – where trained facilitators guide patients through the experience. Harvey connected with Met and in early fall, flew to Oregon to take psilocybin at Satya Therapeutics.
He was nervous. His facilitator had told him the drug can be intense – even terrifying. Still, Harvey took the maximum dose allowed, 50 milligrams of psilocybin, which translates to between six and eight grams of mushrooms. He experienced what he said was a total “ego death” over six hours.
“I felt completely purged. I felt completely reborn,” Harvey said. “All my depression, all my anxiety, all my PTSD is completely gone. I know that sounds crazy to hear. But literally my brain feels different in every positive way – it’s almost rewired.”
Susanne Ulvi was a social worker in the state Child Protective Services until she had a change of heart and became a licensed psilocybin facilitator in July. So far, she has conducted about a dozen sessions with clients in Ashland and Portland.
She said she’s witnessed “profound” changes in the clients under her care, who came to her struggling with a range of traumas, mental health conditions and substance use disorders. With psilocybin, they are “accessing parts of their psyche that they weren’t able to before,” Ulvi said.
Just two clients were from Oregon, she said. Ulvi said she expected that the nascent psilocybin industry would cater mostly to tourists in the beginning because the price is so high. The cost of a session ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 or possibly more, depending on the service center’s rate, how much psilocybin a customer uses and the rate of facilitators, who are typically independent contractors like Ulvi.
“The money makes it inaccessible to a lot of people. For those that have the money, they’re going to fly in from wherever,” Ulvi said.
She said she’ll usually charge $1,333, which includes a free consultation, a preparation session with the client, the actual psilocybin experience and then a post-trip “integrative session.” Her charge is symbolic: In numerology, 333 represents transformation, Ulvi said. She also has a sliding scale for veterans, people of color and LGBTQIA+ people.
At Omnia Group, a session costs between $1,600 and $2,500. Cathy Rosewell Jonas, CEO of Epic Healing Eugene, has blamed the state’s high cost of licensure for the big price tag on a psilocybin trip. The annual license fee is $10,000, Willamette Week reported.
For his session at Satya Therapeutics, Harvey says he paid $2,000, plus about $3,500 in airfare and lodging. He said the price will have to come down to make psilocybin more accessible.
Intense, rewarding trips
When Harvey arrived at Satya Therapeutics, he met with his facilitator and entered the private room they’d use for his trip. He calmed down with breathwork and took a large dose of psilocybin. The drug eradicated his sense of calm, but after an hour, he boosted his dose to the maximum he could receive in a single session.
“That’s a huge amount of psilocybin,” Met said. He argues that the maximum dose is reasonable for people with experience with antidepressant medications like Harvey, who he said are less susceptible to the drug’s effects. Other service centers refuse to dole out maximum doses, Met said.
As the drug grew in strength, Harvey said he felt an “indescribable love” washing over him. He believed that presence was God compelling him to love himself.
But that feeling ebbed into a “dark space” lasting for hours. He began to believe that he was dying, or that the drug had pushed him “over the mental edge” and that he’d never be able to return to his family. Harvey said he forgot the names of his children and their faces during the trip. He didn’t recognize his facilitator and even forgot that he had taken psilocybin.
But from that hellish space, Harvey said he finally came to terms with the loss of his child so many years before. Two months later, he said he feels healed from that grief and the symptoms of his depression have totally abated.
Met said about 20% of his clients had a complete turnaround in their symptoms by using psilocybin, but he’s not sure whether those benefits were lasting. He said most of his clients improved somewhat, and about 10% didn’t improve at all.
One South Carolina woman who flew to Oregon last month told the Capital Chronicle she feels energized by her experiences with psilocybin. The woman described her trip on the condition of anonymity because she feared risking her career.
“I’m a huge advocate for this. It completely changed the direction of my life and my family,” she said.
She said she felt the physical sensation of her trauma and burdens leaving her body after taking the drug, like packing 30 years of therapy into a few hours. It was also intense and disorienting, she said, but worth the fear and financial cost.
Another client flew to Oregon from Alaska in October to use psilocybin at Satya as well. Concerned about losing his job over the experience, he requested anonymity.
Unlike Harvey and the woman from South Carolina, he had taken psilocybin before, mostly eating mushrooms for fun but also for insight. He said his brother and father committed suicide and that he has suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress for years. In October, he felt like he had reached the end, and he sought a guided, powerful experience at a service center.
He drank the maximum dose in tea and wrapped himself in blankets for hours. His mental health has dramatically improved since the session, he said.
“It was a way different experience than every other way I’ve done it recreationally,” he said.
Met said it’s common for customers to leave a session with a sense of gratitude. In Harvey’s case, he’s grateful to Oregonians for making psilocybin accessible to people like him.
“I’m just thankful for what Oregon is doing,” he said.
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