Ten of us sit in a semicircle around a makeshift altar. In front of us lies a small statue of Buddha, various rocks and crystals, some pine cones, a carved mushroom, a small chemists’ weighing scale, and a wooden bowl filled with psychedelic ‘truffles’.
We’re in a lodge on the outskirts of Amsterdam overlooking woodland and a picturesque pond. A tall man called Chi calls us forward one by one, eldest to youngest. First up is Debbie, a sprightly American in her early 50s. She kneels before the truffles – similar in appearance to the ones you might grate over a bowl of pasta, but lacking any discernible smell – weighs pieces on the scale and transfers them into her own, smaller bowl.
Chi performs a short ‘blessing’, asking that the truffle spirit guide Debbie on her journey, and taps her on the head with the wooden mushroom. Nervous like the rest of us, she tips all 20g into her mouth, and is hastily advised to spit it back out. “Take your time,” cautions Chi. “These are living creatures, an intelligent species. Commune with the medicine.”
Debbie’s faux-pas is a welcome distraction. People have travelled from all around the world for this moment, and an anxious energy has settled over the room. Our group includes a Brazilian couple in their late 40s, a mother and daughter from New York City and a former US Marine. Two days of meditation, talking circles and ‘sound therapy’ have led towards this moment, when we will consume a bowlful of psychoactive truffles and, with any luck, embark upon a spiritual journey deep into our own subconscious.
When my name is called, I pick out half a dozen walnut-sized chunks and a handful of smaller pieces. Chi taps me on the head with the mushroom and it’s time to eat. I gingerly bite into a piece the size of my thumbnail. It’s nutty, not unpleasant, but is soon met with an intense acidic backwash that lingers at the base of your tongue. I immediately start to feel nauseous. We eat our way through our bowls in silence, alternating mouthfuls of truffle with squares of chocolate to mask the taste.
Then we unroll duvets, slip on blackout goggles (encouraging us to “look within”), lie back, and…
Truffles Therapy is the brainchild of Mitsuaki Chi, a charismatic American in his early 30s who made his money as a semi-professional poker player. He’d hit the casinos at night and spend his days in an existential funk, battling addiction and depression. “Poker was the only way I knew how to earn,” he says, “But it was dirty money.” So he left the city and travelled the well-trodden hippy trail around India, South America and South East Asia. He enrolled at Buddhist monasteries, once spending 16 months on a silent retreat, before making a life-changing discovery: magic mushrooms.
He says his first trip was transformative. He sobbed for hours, and when he woke the next day, he felt like a new man. On the Truffles Therapy website he says his goal is “to surrender fully to psilocybin [the active compound in magic mushrooms] intelligence, with no regard to my own life.”
He started to organise informal ‘retreats’ with friends, during which they would take turns to ‘trip-sit’, providing a safe space for each other to ride out their psychedelic experiences. Around this time he met his partner Leti Passemier, who had been equally unhappy working in a corporate job in Paris. They hit upon the idea for Truffles Therapy, a business combining group therapy, luxury ‘wellbeing’, and psychedelic drugs.
Rarely seen without his magic mushroom hoodie and matching socks, Chi may not look like your traditional entrepreneur, but the business plan is sound. The retreats take place in luxury chalets in countryside around Amsterdam; mine was in a hunting lodge in a village called Beekbergen, an hour’s drive from Schiphol airport.
It’s exactly the kind of experience you can imagine bored investment bankers and people who enjoyed Eat Pray Love seeking out for an ‘alternative’ holiday to brag about at dinner parties, although Chi insists his target audience is people seeking genuine spiritual healing (in fairness, if one wanted to simply get high, there are cheaper ways of going about it).
The retreats – which start from €1,200 per person for a group or €5,900 for a private experience – are fully booked for the next six months. The company is expanding fast, advertising for new trip-sitters (there were two first-time members of staff on my retreat) and sounding out overseas investors.
Part of the appeal is that, thanks to a technicality, the business is completely legal. Magic mushrooms were criminalised in Holland in 2008 after a 17-year-old French girl died jumping from one of Amsterdam’s canal bridges (not that the law is enforced; you can still buy them in most of the city’s ‘head shops’). But the law only applies to the parts of the mushroom that grow above ground. The mushroom ‘truffle’, the store of energy that grows beneath the soil, is fair game (there’s debate over whether the ‘oversight’ may have been intentional).
Truffles Therapy has also benefitted the renewed interest in psychedelic research. Psychedelics were hailed as potential wonder drugs when they were ‘discovered’ in the West in the 1950s and 60s (indigenous peoples
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