Review of Synthesis Retreats: a Legal Psychedelic Retreat Near Amsterdam

It was a cold spring day in 2019 that I found myself in Zandvoort, a quaint seaside suburb just 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, to participate in a 3-day Synthesis legal, high-end psilocybin truffle retreat in a 100-year old renovated church.

Even though my history with psilocybin mushrooms spans two decades, my magic truffle journey at Synthesis would be a new solo adventure into inner space, behind the veil of a blackout eye mask. 

Different from other psilocybin mushroom experiences I’ve had, there would be no ritual or prayer around an earth altar. No electronic music and dancing in an outdoor festival venue. No guitar and medicine song singing around a sacred fire. No brisk-paced momentum of a solo hike through nature. Just me and the inner space of my mind.

Dare I go there?

Without the structure of external stimuli to hold onto or keep me entertained, I was a little anxious. Could I handle my own mind? Did I have the courage to journey into the heart of my own darkness? Soon I’d find out.


What the Hell Are Psilocybin Truffles?

Psilocybin truffles are pretty much the same psychedelic as psilocybin mushrooms. They share a lot in terms of chemistry (they both contain psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin) and the actual psychoactive effects. However, the main difference is that truffles grow underground and never actually sprout out.

In technical terms truffles are underdeveloped mycelial strands that, due to inadequate conditions for full growth, remain under the surface and harden into clumps called sclerotia. Environmental conditions including heat and humidity can be intentionally manipulated to produce truffles rather than mushrooms.

And this is exactly what the growers started doing once the psilocybin mushroom ban was instituted in the Netherlands. Amsterdam used to be the magic mushroom capital of the world until the rate of unfortunate incidents involving tourists under the influence (usually of a combination of substances) became too high.

The Dutch government decided to take action, and outlawed the commercial growth and sale of psilocybin mushrooms in 2008. However, the new regulation only referred to mushrooms, and not truffles. So, through this legal loophole, truffles containing psilocybin basically just took over for mushrooms.


The Rise of Magic Mushroom & Truffle Retreats

Magic mushroom wellness retreats are on the rise, as demand for the transformational psilocybin experiences vastly outstrip legal avenues for professionally supported treatment. The fastest growing segment of interest are mainstream consumers intrigued by the latest research in psychedelic science on the potential of psilocybin to treat wide-ranging issues from depression, smoking cessation, alcohol addiction. and end of life anxiety.

Indeed, magic mushrooms have been around in popular culture ever since the amateur ethnomycologist and banker R. Gordon Wasson popularized the psychoactive mushrooms of the Mazatec Indians in his 1957 photo essay featured in Life magazine. Nowadays, hippies, Burners, anyone well-plugged into underground culture can easily procure magic mushrooms illegally for an average price of $20-$30 an ⅛ of dried shrooms (or roughly 3.5 grams). 


So why do people pay thousands for a psilocybin retreat?

As with yoga, wellness, and many other transformational retreats, many retreat participants need to get away from their lives to hit the reset button. With transformational work, be it spiritual, personal development, or psychedelic, for many, the ability to go deep, be vulnerable and optimize positive change only happens when everything is taken care of for you by seasoned professionals, including the experience.




Who Synthesis Retreat is For

Synthesis offers legal, medically supervised, and science-based psilocybin retreats 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. They offer moderate-to-high doses of psilocybin truffles to curious, healthy individuals to catalyze creative breakthroughs, explore consciousness, find meaning, improve confidence, and search for a mystical experience.

Synthesis offers 3 day weekend retreats, and week-long retreats, at an average investment level of 3000 Euro for the weekend and 5000 Euro for the week. The clientele Synthesis attracts, however, are not at all hippies, but well-heeled professionals who are new to psychedelics, or decades away from experiences gained during a more exploratory youth. 

These high-level professionals typically don’t have the time, don’t have the network, or don’t want to risk procuring psychedelic substances that are illegal in their locales, let alone go through the hassle to hire an unknown somebody to trip sit for them.

And because Synthesis clientele is more upmarket mainstream, being surrounded by sweaty, swirling hippies at a 4-day magic mushroom Ecstatic Dance campout in the country is not necessarily a socially or culturally comfortable environment.

So how do you know if Synthesis Retreat is right for you?



Why Go To Synthesis?

Synthesis might be right for you if:

  • Want to experience psilocybin in a high-end, spa-like environment
  • Wish to supported by facilitators who have multi-disciplinary experience, scientific knowledge, and training in psychedelic harm reduction
  • Want to “get away” from your life and responsibilities through an immersive psychedelic experience
  • Do not want the hassle or the professional risk of procuring substances that are illegal in your country, nor the responsibility of curating your own experience
  • Wish to experience psilocybin as an inner journey in a culturally neutral environment, without any heavy New Age, indigenous or neo-shamanic overlays



Why Not Go to Synthesis?

Synthesis Retreats may not be ideal for you if:

  • You are a seasoned psychonaut who has logged many magic mushroom moments with friends or alone
  • You are plugged into an underground network through which you can procure psilocybin mushrooms illegally, as well as the services of a psychedelic guide or trip sitter should you desire one
  • You know how to grow your own magic mushrooms
  • You can easily make a trip to the Netherlands to legally purchase psilocybin truffles at a smart shop, and are comfortable hiring a local trip sitter
  • You don’t see a need for the support of a medical professional or psychotherapist during your psilocybin trip
  • You prefer to experience psilocybin within an indigenous cultural framework
  • You like to experience psilocybin in an environment that has live or electronic music, with dancing



What I Loved About Synthesis

The most important aspect of a psychedelic retreat are the people running it. The Synthesis retreat staff are highly-attuned psychedelic professionals with therapeutic training. 

I found myself impressed (even in awe of) the team’s academic credentials and real life experience. The various facilitation team members have multidisciplinary training ranging from academic degrees in science and psychotherapy, logged jungle time doing plant medicine dietas in Peru, earned street cred on psychedelic harm reduction crews at music festivals caring for people in different flavors of meltdown, and are certified in a variety of therapeutic modalities. 

I also found their partnership with the Psychedelic Research Group of Imperial College London quite intriguing.

There was no woo woo “the mushroom spirit told me I was ready to lead retreats a year ago New Age B.S.” There was no “the shaman said this or that” cultish parotting. There was no elaborate ritual with unspoken rules to stress out about accidentally breaking, a situation I’ve found myself in a multitude of times in plant medicine churches. There was nobody to shame me while tripping in front of the group for some harmless infraction that purportedly offends the spirits.

What I found was a comfortable, neutral, non-judgemental, deeply caring environment within which I could lose my shit and feel seen, by people who’ve seen it all. 

Believe me, it’s a lot harder to create an intentionally neutral environment that feels safe, welcoming and inclusive to anyone stepping in, regardless of their background. 

Without the feeling of safety and trust, it becomes hard to relax into vulnerability. You may feel uncomfortable or emotionally unsafe, and this can trigger anxiety. Personality abrasions can easily escalate into ego conflicts or control dynamics, which can be unpleasant and taxing if this is going on between you and the person administering psychedelics to you. 

Furthermore, if you cannot relax into vulnerability and completely let go of your shit, it can be hard to experience the psychospiritual and emotional healing that psychedelics can offer. Because you may feel emotionally and psychologically closed off and unable to surrender.

All it takes is an offhand political comment, music that skews towards one genre, or triggering literature in the bookshelf for someone with a different value system to feel put off, in a way that becomes heightened during a psychedelic trip.

There were no off-putting details that I noticed at Synthesis, and that in itself takes a lot of attention to detail.



The Facilitators

The Lead Facilitators during my retreat were Daan and Alexandra.  Daan is a soft-spoken meditator with an encyclopedic mind filled with facts on psychedelic legality, social justice concerns and drug pharmacology. His professional experience includes psychedelic harm reduction, mental health care and addiction research. He has a Masters in Spiritual Care, along with a decade of experience guiding and caring for people in altered states of consciousness, including those who find themselves in a spiritual emergence crisis at music festivals. I felt wonderfully accepted by Daan.

Alexandra is a physician turned alternative health practitioner, a shamanic medicine space holder with grounded feminine presence and well-honed intellect and she likes to contribute to psilocybin drug policy reform in her spare time. 

In a world where so many justify their reason for doing psychedelic work with the highly unverifiable statement, “the plants / mushrooms / toad gave me permission” the knowledge, experience and credentials of the Synthesis facilitators belied any need for belief-based justification.


The Psilocybin Truffles

I wasn’t sure how many grams of fresh truffles I would want for my journey, as it was impossible to draw a comparison between fresh fungi being offered now and the dried shrooms I might have consumed in the past. 

Daan suggested I go with 25 grams of fresh psilocybin truffles, the adult serving size given to participants in psilocybin clinical trials, which felt like a good baseline to me. 

We were offered a cup of raw cacao or ginger tea to accompany our truffles. The ginger tea was to help reduce any nausea associated with the truffles. The cacao was for enhancing the psilocybin trip. I opted for both.

Cacao potentiates the psilocybin in an MDMA kind of way, due to five psychostimulants that elicit a “love effect”: caffeine, theobromine, phenylethylamine, anandamide, and tryptophan (an amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin). The ancient Aztecs discovered this magical combination long ago and consumed their psychoactive cacao beverage in sacred ceremonies for centuries.

The taste of the fresh psilocybin truffles was mild, a little nutty; I did not find it unpleasant. I munched on them mindfully, sipping on the cacao and ginger in between mouthfuls. Then lay down on my mattress to await the arrival of truffle intelligence.


The Ceremony

I wrapped myself in the soft warm duvet, put on my blackout shades, and comfortably snuggled in. Cocooned in a soft, floofy cloud, a lovely turquoise kaleidoscope of stained glass paisleys gradually emerged from the blackness. I oriented my mind towards the portal in the center & cruise controlled into inner space.

The multidimensional innerverse is the same yet with different accents or flavors, if you will, depending on what psychedelic ally opened the portal for you. It is in my experience that these visionary agents show you what you already have inside, but the manner in which they reveal it to you reflects their personality.

Ayahuasca, the stern, loving grandmother who only wishes the best for you, chastises, saying, “My love, here you were out of integrity, this is how this person experienced you, and you could do so much better. Wouldn’t you want to be in alignment with your highest self?”

The mushrooms, or Holy Children, giggle and say, “Don’t take yourself so seriously! So much drama over something not important, how silly? Why not just do this simple (and profound) thing instead, fuggetaboutit, and move on?”

And so I received the answer I sought around what seemed to me a simple solution to the complex question of how to be an advocate for psychedelics, and maintain the highest integrity?

Maintain a daily spiritual practice & take better care of your health.


Retreat Programming

Since arrival is on Friday and departure is on Sunday, the 3-day retreat centers on the Saturday day ceremony. Outside of the pre-ceremony orientation and post-ceremony integration meetings, there isn’t much additional programming, due to the limited time constraints of a weekend retreat. 

I like this, because too much intentional programming during a psychedelic retreat feels too brain-washy to me. I like to savor the insights that come to me from my own consciousness, rather than forcibly overlay new programming over old, in an attempt to program the malleable psychedelic mind. I often find that the most profound psychedelic wisdom arises from the ocean of cosmic spaciousness.

[Note: Synthesis no longer offers 3-day retreats due to the limited time to build safe and ethical right relationship with participants. All retreats are now a minimum of 5 days which include a 7 week preparation and integration program. Click here to learn more.}



The retreat center is a huge house in a wealthy suburb of Amsterdam, that was converted into a retreat center for transformation experiences, then taken over by Synthesis. We each have private suites with their own bathrooms. While the cozy, open-floor plan dining and living room areas are open during mealtimes and retreat hours, as the retreat staff sleep on the mezzanine. There’s a large sauna which we can enjoy, as well as books about psychedelics and spirituality to feed our intellect during our free time.



The Food

Vegan, organic food was prepared with love, by their in-house retreat chef.



Preparation and Onboarding

Synthesis Retreat’s process of screening, preparation and onboarding is quite thorough, streamlined, and conducted online. Anyone who is interested in attending a psilocybin retreat must first fill out an application form. 

Once accepted, the applicant must sign an online liability waiver that was clearly created by a professional law firm. The applicant must also complete a health questionnaire designed to identify any potential medical or health contraindications that might arise during the psilocybin experience.

The medical screening was several pages long and quite detailed, covering physical and medical health, as well as medications and supplements. In an increasingly medicated world, I find that detailed medical screening for psychedelic retreats is a good thing, because it shows me that the provider takes safety and harm reduction seriously. 

So many psychedelic ceremonies and retreats present a one-page hybrid health questionnaire and liability waiver. Not only is this typically insufficient to identify potential health risks, more often than not, the self-authored liability waiver rarely provides the organizer with legal protection.

The last touchpoint involves a 1 to 1 interview with the Lead Facilitator prior to the start of the retreat, so that any issues raised in the medical screening can be discussed in person.



Integration and Support

The transformational retreat model that Synthesis emphasizes psychedelic integration and therapeutic support.



Final Verdict

Synthesis Retreat is the high-end psilocybin retreat for executives, business CEOs, and career professionals who really don’t want to mess around trying to score shrooms in a shady way or be at a festival with a bunch of hippies. 

These are people who want to be pampered and cared for by professionals with a personal development approach that’s transformational, yet scientific. They wish to experience psilocybin awakening as a luxury service delivered by a company that’s completely legal and above the board. 

Given that psychedelic fungi have been around in popular culture for the last 50+ years, the use of psilocybin for consciousness expansion and spiritual exploration isn’t new. What is new, is it’s newfound emergence as a leadership development tool for higher management. I’m intrigued as to what brave new world these visionary leaders will create with their psychedelic awakening.




About Lorna Liana

Lorna Liana is a new media strategist and lifestyle business coach to visionary entrepreneurs. She travels the world while running her business as a digital nomad. Lorna's boutique agency provides “done for you” web design, development and online marketing services for social ventures, sustainable brands, transformational coaches and new paradigm thought leaders. She is also a personal development junkie, and 20 year practitioner of shamanism, with extensive training in Tibetan Bon Shamanism and the ayahuasca traditions of the Amazon Basin. A self-professed ayahuasca snob and perennial ayahuasca tourist, Lorna has been drinking ayahuasca since 2004. She's been in approximately 150 ayahuasca ceremonies (from terrible to fantastic), and tasted wide variety of ayahuasca brews (from awful to exquisite). Her ayahuasca experience spans 30+ different shamans and facilitators, 7 indigenous tribes, several Brazilian churches, and a host of neo-shamanic circles, in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Europe, the US, and Asia. Through this widely-varied background, she hopes to shed some perspective on the globalization of ayahuasca.

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