Synthesis Retreats in Amsterdam intends to integrate psychedelics into societies by synthesizing two approaches–ritualistic and scientific–to facilitate transformative experiences with psilocybin truffles. Over the past year, the Synthesis team has been leading retreats in their modern, ethereal space–a hundred-year old renovated church called the Lighthouse.
“We’re so fundamentally connected with nature that it’s hard to imagining tripping without that element,” Director and Co-Founder Martijn Schirp told us. “We wanted to create a contemplative space to sit with your own spiritual principles and connect where people making people feel being taken care of, nourished, even purified and cleaned.”
Beyond retreats, Synthesis has also been working with Imperial College to promote psychedelic research and education.
Martijn Schirp has been a rising voice in the psychedelic space as the co-founder of High Existence and Apotheosis, thus has been creating ecosystems that seek to integrate psychedelic therapy into the mainstream. With a background in interdisciplinary science and philosophy, we sat down with Martijn Schirp to discuss the ideas behind the Synthesis approach and what they’ve learned so far about the power of transformative experiences.
RS: How did Synthesis come about?
Martijn Schirp: Around 2017, it was clear that we had reached a tipping point. There was a lot more interest in the science and philosophy of conscious change. I remember that I wrote an article on microdosing in 2014, and it just blew up all over the internet. More and more people from the business community were getting interested in psychedelics. At the same time, we saw this ever-rising mental crisis pandemic. People that were not coping with the trauma, generational trauma, or with the pressures of modern life. I thought, How do we integrate psychedelics into modern culture?
We wanted to bring professional facilitators and medical supervisors together, do scientific research, and promote education with a modern brand of transparency. By consciously putting psychedelic values into the company, that resonated with people. We immediately had people who wanted to work with us, even academic institutes wanted to do research with us.
RS: When you say put psychedelic values into your company, what does that mean?
MS: It’s honoring maybe the ontological belief that we’re all fundamentally interconnected. The best place to reach people and to help people is from a place of compassion. It’s a willingness to confront the shadow side of the human psyche whether individually or collectively. We take that care seriously.
RS: Why do you think psychedelics work?
MS: I think the value of psychedelics is in the actual psychedelic effect. You learn on the journey into this transpersonal domain. You get these insights of revelation, of compassion, of forgiveness into the fundamental assumptions, or beliefs, people have about themselves. They get questioned. That’s what brings healing and transformation. I don’t think that those are side effects. We’re modeled to enhance those effects as opposed to getting rid of them. The subjective experience is paramount because I think a lot of pain, disconnection, and trauma is actually the lack of care and connection.
RS: What did you base your model off of, in terms of the journey itself?
MS: We are modern in the sense that we have medical supervision and scientifically-based practices. Once you step into the liminal space, however, it’s a boundary dissolving, deeply transpersonal, mystical reality. People are incredibly sensitive. You have experiences that are almost unexplainable by any modern scientific methods. It’s a synthesis between the two models, which is where the name came from.
RS: The ritual creates a container that allows you to measure the change. But the scientific method measures results in a very different way. How do you measure change?
MS: We work together with Imperial College in London to study the transformative effects of our programs similar to clinical models. We have a big data. I think 700 plus people came through in slightly over a year. Across the board, people do get a lot better after psychedelics. And that’s comparison data. If you do it in a group that’s guided, it’s more effective because the intention is set for a certain outcome that is often achieved. People see a significant reduction from their symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a huge increase in connectedness. And we hear the stories after every single retreat.
RS: What programs are you hoping to build in the future?
MS: There are some key obstacles that we need to solve. One is access. Then, they’re not enough psychedelic therapists that are well-versed in the transpersonal space to handle the demands, especially when difficult cases come up, like complex trauma, suicidal ideation, or deep spiritual bypassing, even Narcissism.
RS: Oh, that’s an interesting one.
MS: It’s not uncommon. I’ve been thinking a lot about ego inflation and deflation. They’re both very healthy systems that work in different situations for the organism. But, it seems that preexisting narcissism gets inflated by these transpersonal mystical experiences. And we don’t really know why. We know very little about it. But there are some indications it’s happening.
RS: It sounds like we’re going to learn a lot more about these states or conditions than we currently do.
MS: This is an amazing learning opportunity for cultures. These tools can help us dig deep in some of our ancestral trauma, the dark side of human nature, and build compassion for all of these different types of coping strategies without demonizing or shaming individuals. Great opportunity, big responsibility.
It’s important to create a shared, exciting future together. There’s hope and a way out. We do have fundamental problems. If you create a sense of community and belonging, then, we collectively can solve them. I think we want to think about how to empower indigenous peoples who’ve been stewarding this knowledge. How can we create leaders in communities of color or disenfranchised groups that need healing?
RS: Was there someone who came through one of your Synthesis Retreats that had an experience that has stayed with you? One that you find particularly memorable? Or, something that you learned from this past year that you can share?
Martijn Schirp: I’m not going to disclose anything about the people that have come, but here’s a fun thing to tell you. We work with a driving company that brings people back and forth from the airport. Apparently, they were asked by journalists, “Do you know what’s happening there?”
He said, “No, I don’t really know what’s happening. I just know that a lot of anxious, depressed Americans come in and they come out incredibly happy. They look like different people.”
That was very fun to hear.