Silo Wellness, is accepting applications for a free psilocybin-assisted healing retreat in Jamaica for a select group of Covid-19 frontline healthcare workers and veterans. Offered by the company’s Silo Retreats subsidiary, the retreat is slated to take place in February 2021. Silo Wellness director of veteran outreach Scott Slay says he hopes that “bringing to light the true potential of these substances within our healthcare system will drive rapid changes in the way we treat psychedelics around the world.” .
The anticipated need for post-pandemic mental health services may be vast. A Los Angeles Times article estimates that 20-25% of Covid-19 healthcare workers will contract PTSD at a prevalence rate similar to that of combat veterans. However, to date, clinics and retreats have not offered psychedelic-assisted therapy to this population. While Field Trip Wellness has offered free “psychedelic breathwork” sessions for Covid-19 healthcare workers, they are only available virtually to Ontario residents, and do not involve psychedelic substances.
The Silo Wellness program will not only include both healthcare workers and veterans, but potentially pair them together in joint sessions. According to Silo COO Mo Yang, applicants will be selected using proprietary criteria that includes screening for potential contraindications and proper personality fit. From the initial applicants, twenty participants will fly to Silo Wellness’s villa in Montego Bay to participate in group sessions.
For this retreat, Silo will pair its own staff facilitators with licensed therapists. Silo has already selected some therapists, says Yang. The company says its staff members have the requisite experience to provide therapeutic support to people suffering from acute trauma. When asked about the criteria used to vet therapists for this retreat, Yang replied that “optimally all involved parties will have some history of psychedelic use and/or psychedelic therapy as we believe that first-hand experience is the best way to prepare to assist others. Unfortunately, the current medical field does not have a surplus of psychedelic qualified practitioners just yet.”
Silo will provide their practitioners with “the opportunity to try the medicine for themselves prior to working with participants,” says Yang. “It’s one thing to be a therapist who has gone through a psychedelic training course, but it’s something quite different to have them go through the real thing alongside experienced facilitators who have led hundreds or thousands of journeys.”
Yang also stresses the primacy of the group session dynamic for the proposed retreat. But it’s unclear how safe this would be for patients and facilitators. Andrew Tatarsky, a psychiatrist and founder of NYC’s Center for Optimal Living, considers such group work too risky if a vaccine is not available by February, when the retreat will take place. “In a group I would be very concerned about people infecting one another,” he says.
Silo Wellness was founded by Mike Arnold, a one-time cannabis entrepreneur who made national headlines for his part in stopping the armed Malheur Refuge Occupation led by his then-client Ammon Bundy. In response to Tatarsky’s concerns, Arnold says that the program will test participants for antibodies prior to the retreat, and follow whatever best practices are mandated internationally. He suggests possible measures such as requiring face masks, conducting sessions outdoors, and staggering sessions with small group sizes throughout the day.
Psychiatrist Cole Marta notes that psilocybin has yet to be proven as an effective treatment for PTSD.“How do you establish accountability over best practices that you are developing in real time?” asks Marta. “At the very least, it’s very predisposed to bias. PTSD itself comes from a medical paradigm. And if you’re treating medical conditions, you must stick with a medical model.” Both Marta and Tatarsky note their experience treating patients with mental health conditions inflicted by problematic psychedelic care delivered elsewhere.
For Yang, this work is time-sensitive. “While most folks in the psychedelic space are talking about plans and intentions, we are executing and actually attempting to help others now,” he says. Yang also anticipates that additional psilocybin-assisted therapy sponsored by Silo will be held in the U.S. as soon as these services are permitted under state law. This may include Silo’s home state of Oregon, where a medical psilocybin initiative could make it onto the November ballot.
Yang advocates for a far less regulated approach to psilocybin, however, than that envisioned by the Oregon statewide initiative, which would legalize only medical access to psilocybin. He says his company believes that decriminalization, deregulation, and legalization are the path forward. “Plant medicines do not require government intervention to work, and psilocybin is safer than any other controlled substance in terms of physical harm and habituation,” says Yang “It’s safer and more effective than marijuana for healing, and, therefore, should at the least be more available to those that need it.”
As for whether Silo would open up their own wellness clinic in Oregon should the initiative pass, Yang says they’ll “vet opportunities as they arrive based on the circumstances at that time.”