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Guild of Guides Netherlands and the Future of Professional Psychedelics

Guild of Guides Netherlands and the Future of Professional Psychedelics

A short internet search for “psychedelic retreats in the Netherlands” turns up several pages of results. Marketed with buzzwords like “peace,” “healing,” and “transformation,” and with experiences tailored to all walks of life, the options are dizzying, and that’s before anyone ingests a drug. 

Despite the number of retreat providers, members of this large community have been operating in varying degrees of isolation. Now, one group – Guild of Guides Netherlands – hopes to shift the fragmented whole towards connected self-regulation by developing a publicly available, community-created code of ethics and best practices for its members to follow.  

Historically more tolerant drug policies have made the Netherlands a destination for drug tourism since the 1970s. The recent explosion of interest in entheogens has led to the development of hundreds of psychedelic retreats in the country, where psychedelic mushrooms are technically illegal, but sclerotia, or truffles, as well as mushroom spores and active mycelia, are legal and available. Other psychedelic substances, including prepared ayahuasca, are illegal. 

While that lack of oversight has allowed the Netherlands’ psychedelic community to flourish, Daan Keiman, a co-founder of Guild of Guides Netherlands, says that the time has come for a professional association of psychedelic practitioners with robust policy and rigorous requirements for members working with truffles. Keiman started talking with Marta Kaczmarczyk, who is one of the founders of the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands, as well as a founding member of the OPEN Foundation and a Synthesis team member, and Miriam van Groen, founder of Guided Tripping, and realized they had concerns in common.  

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“We recognized the mushrooming of different retreat organizations that offered guided tripping,” he says. “There were psychedelic guides and groups in the space that we worried about, who were not behaving completely ethically – even though some were really motivated by the right intentions. They clearly lacked knowledge and understanding of what they were doing,” he adds, especially when it came to using terms like “psychedelic-assisted therapy.” 

The three colleagues had several conversations before calling a formal meeting about a year and a half ago to discuss their concerns with the larger community. 

They went into that first meeting with a goal of building best practices, and everyone they invited showed up. “Some of the people we had been concerned about turned out to be really enthusiastic and open for feedback,” says Keiman. “They listened to us, and we really learned a lot from them. The atmosphere and mood were really good.” The meeting led to the development of a working group that included members of The Experience Retreats (now Alalaho), Inward Bound, Synthesis, Guided Tripping, and Therapeutic Sitting Service, which worked together to create a code of ethics. When they brought that document back to the community, there were only two amendments before it had unanimous support. 

Now the group is hammering out membership requirements. Since the code of ethics was accepted, they’re looking for proof that guides are “walk[ing] the walk,” according to Keiman, which will ultimately mean a stamp of approval from the Guides on their retreat materials and websites. 

“We are working with the understanding that we do live in a capitalist society, and there will be commercial enterprise in this space,” he adds. “We’re all organizations that need to turn a profit and by definition we’re going to run into tensions. That’s the reality. How, in a very nuanced way, do we involve everyone and become inclusive, but also say certain things aren’t ok?” 

Recent sociopolitical trends and movements are also informing their approach, Keiman points out. “We want to be deeply informed by things like best practices, psychedelic research, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, and the understanding that sexual and power abuse ought to be completely avoided. And we need to speak out against that in very clear terms. We’re still looking for the right way to do this.” The pandemic has forced the process to go even slower, and now Keiman says the group is “sitting deeply on the question of how to approach these issues.” 

One way they’re hoping to think through them productively is by bringing in mentors and community elders, some of them from outside the country. “Currently, our board is three women and one man, and we’re all white,” Keiman notes. “So should we be saying how shamanic practice ought to be done?” They’ve approached therapists, community organizers, and legal experts to advise the board, but have met challenges in their own country. While the group shares the name Guild of Guides with an established organization based in California, there is no official affiliation. 

“There aren’t many ‘elders,’ like psychedelic therapists, in the Netherlands,” says Keiman. “There are only a handful that have been working underground for decades and who have no interest in going above-ground. That’s the Dutch climate right now. People aren’t interested in regulation and they don’t want to officially advise us.”

Bringing in more Black voices has also proved challenging. “Regulation has historically meant that white people will tell them what to do and what not to do,” explains Keiman. “And I don’t blame them; it’s a problematic power dynamic. I don’t want to claim I have the right approach to this problem. I would love for Black folks to get involved. This is where I feel I could do much better.” 

Guild of Guides Netherlands has not yet become a formal organization in the eyes of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, but legal precedent indicates they shouldn’t face much difficulty, says Keiman. However, the relative laxity of Dutch law has occasionally shifted direction, worrying him and his co-founders.  

“Take cannabis for instance,” Keiman explains. “Shops can sell legally through the front door but no one can grow it, and so the backdoor is criminalized. In the past, grow shops sold all the supplies for people who wanted to cultivate cannabis.” When the Chamber of Commerce required people to say whether they were operating grow shops, many told the government about their businesses. “When the government changed its mind they had a register of everyone involved, and could criminalize and prosecute people doing this type of work.” 

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The group has been thinking hard about the fact that founding the guild could inadvertently create a register for government officials and law enforcement to monitor, if policy were to change. “How can you protect the identity of the people you represent while also finding a method to represent them? How can we do this without becoming a danger to the people we’re seeking to protect and serve?” asks Keiman. 

For now, they continue to mull over these and other questions. “We’ve been in a massive lull since the coronavirus hit and haven’t had any real meetings,” says Keiman. “One of the critiques we’ve heard of what we’ve been doing so far is that we haven’t been moving fast enough. People have wanted us to really step in and regulate. But we’ve consciously chosen we aren’t going to move ‘faster than trust.’” 

For Keiman, that means continuing to establish strong personal relationships in the field to sustain a truly community-driven effort. “We want to make sure that we invite growth and self-reflection. We don’t want to claim higher ground either, because maybe we’re not right about everything. 

Instead, they want to continue conversations. “The way we’re trying to engender change is by informing people,” he says. “We start by asking, ‘What does everyone know, and how do we build from there?’ rather than going into a position of power.”

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“Sometimes I get too enthusiastic,” he laughs, “and Miriam says, ‘Sit back for a moment and breathe. Let’s turn back to the community.’ I’m slowing down and thinking deeply.” 

Guild of Guides invites community feedback. To share yours, write to info@guildofguides.nl.

Image Credit: Dominic Milton Trott

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