How to Find a Trustworthy Psychedelic Retreat (and Avoid Shady Ones)

Learn how to find trustworthy psychedelic retreats and avoid shady ones with our insightful guide. Start your safe psychedelic journey today!
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Author: Sam Woolfe
By Sam Woolfe
May 3, 2024(Updated: May 9, 2024)

Navigating the world of psychedelic retreats can sometimes feel like a minefield. There are plenty of options out there in countries all over the globe. These retreats can also vary wildly in terms of what they offer (and what they don’t). You’ll find variations in cost, approach, accommodation, activities, facilitator background, and psychedelics used. 

You also don’t want to rush the decision, given that shady retreats exist.

— Sam Woolfe

It’s always worth taking time to consider what you want out of a psychedelic retreat. Your individual preferences matter. You also don’t want to rush the decision, given that shady retreats exist. These are the kinds of retreats where safety and harm reduction are not prioritized. These might also be centers where unscrupulous shamans (or pseudo-shamans) operate, who prioritize profits over the interests and well-being of attendees.

The problem of sexual abuse at ayahuasca retreats is becoming more well-known. There have been instances of both legitimately trained shamans and pseudo-shamans sexually assaulting Western tourists. The mix of the shaman’s power and status—and the vulnerable state induced by psychedelics—increases these types of risks.

The true extent of sexual abuse—or other ethical or emotional issues—experienced at these retreats is unknown. But it is a real problem. Educating oneself about this does not mean one has to avoid psychedelic retreats altogether. Ethical, well-run, and trustworthy retreats outnumber the shady ones (based on most people’s experience at these retreats).

The subject we’ll focus on in this article is finding high-quality retreats (and avoiding the shady ones). There are several ways to do this. We recommend following as many of these tips as possible. These will ensure you feel safe and comfortable during (what is likely to be) a profound shift in your consciousness.

How Can You Know Whether a Retreat is Trustworthy?

People intuitively have an idea of what kind of retreat they would prefer. Certain qualities naturally put people at ease. These can range from the physical space to the facilitators’ and staff’s attitudes and skills. However, many people attend retreats in different countries. So you likely won’t have the opportunity to see the retreat center—or meet the guides in person—before you attend. This situation means you need to identify the factors that indicate trustworthiness, mostly from available online information. 

The Key Signs of Trustworthiness

Signs of good practice include:

  • Screening (this shows the retreat organizers care about attendees’ physical safety and mental health). This screening should take into account your physical health, medication use, existing emotional state, and family history of mental health problems
  • A detailed itinerary
  • Information on the use of research-informed approaches and/or tried-and-tested Indigenous techniques and knowledge bases
  • Fair costs (this can be hard to judge, but by comparing different retreats, you’ll get a sense of whether you’re getting your money’s worth)
  • Information on the background of the facilitators (e.g., their qualifications and training as a facilitator, years of experience, skills, etc.)
  • The inclusion of preparatory and integration sessions
  • Facilitators offering video calls to attendees prior to booking
  • An emphasis on physical and psychological safety before, during, and after ceremonies
  • Reasonable limits to the size of groups (large numbers of attendees can be noisier and more challenging to supervise)

Conversely, if you notice the opposite of any of the above when perusing retreats, maintain some healthy wariness. These signs don’t necessarily mean the retreat can’t be trusted. It might just be a sign that you need to send an inquiry message to the center before booking. Make sure you clear up any questions and concerns you have before committing to (what could be) an expensive retreat. You don’t want to carry any heavy worries with you when joining a retreat. After all, this mindset can impact your psychedelic journey.

Read as Many Reviews as Possible

Psychedelic retreats are businesses. Yes, they provide intense (and often healing) experiences for people. But they are businesses, nonetheless, providing a service. As such, people will want to know what that service is like before they pay for it. Fortunately, review websites exist. On these, attendees can rate their experience and write up what they liked (and didn’t like) about the retreat. Some examples include TripAdvisor and AyaAdvisors.

You can check the same retreat center across multiple sites to better understand what they offer and the feedback attendees tend to give. Be on the lookout for specific aspects you’re interested in. In addition, see if the reviews address the signs of trustworthiness outlined in the previous section.

Do people consistently describe the shaman, guide, or facilitator as warm, skilled, and dependable? Can you find any reviews where people describe the staff or facilitators as not meeting the needs of the reviewer or other attendees? One crucial sign of trustworthiness is whether attendees, in general, feel taken care of. You want to be able to fully let go during your experience, safe in the knowledge that your interests are being considered.

Look for More Information on the Facilitators’ Backgrounds

Retreat center websites may not be the only place to find information about the facilitators involved. They might also have personal websites and social media accounts. In addition, they might appear on podcasts and in written and video content. Try to do as much digging as you can. You want to find out their approach, what kind of training they’ve had, and what their personality is like. 

Of course, any facilitator, guide, or shaman can build a rosy picture of who they are and what they offer. Separating fact from fiction—or authenticity from rhetoric—can be difficult, especially when someone is essentially promoting their services. Trusting your gut, intuition, and instincts matters in these situations. Don’t ignore this reaction if you feel uneasy about what you’re reading or seeing. Be skeptical if a facilitator makes unsupported claims or big promises, focuses on selling themselves, or shows signs of an inflated ego.

Connect with the Psychedelic Community

Find Recommendations for Retreat Centers

Gaining recommendations for others in the psychedelic community – from people you trust – can be another way to identify trustworthy retreats. By doing so, you can reassure yourself that a retreat you have in mind is, in fact, likely to provide the experience you want. You might also hear recommendations from several people about another retreat.

Keep in mind that the fact that someone had a negative psychedelic experience does not mean the retreat where it took place is questionable. Difficult experiences and more persistent adverse effects can happen even at the most reputable and carefully planned retreats. Whether the person who had such an experience felt they could rely on the facilitators or guides for support matters.

People May Recommend Underground Ceremonies (But Be Wary)

Finding others in the psychedelic community may also be a way of discovering underground retreats. These are retreats not publicly advertised because they operate in a country where the psychedelics used are illegal. We don’t want to say that one should avoid all underground retreats categorically. But we do recommend exercising a higher level of caution. The fact that these retreats are advertised in private group chats and by word of mouth means there is less information and fewer reviews available. These types of retreats may be affordable, but ask yourself whether the lower cost is worth it. Does it outweigh the peace of mind you might have with a legal and more well-known retreat?

How to Find People Who Have Attended Psychedelic Retreats

If you want to connect with people who have attended psychedelic retreats, you can try attending psychedelic events (e.g., talks, conferences, festivals, and meetups advertised on social media or Another option is to post in psychedelic forums (e.g., Bluelight, Shroomery, and DMT Nexus) or subreddits, asking for recommendations. You might also come across written reports of retreat experiences on Reddit. If so, DM the original poster with any questions you might have. 

Follow your Curiosity

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Choosing a psychedelic retreat deserves time, effort, and attention. With careful consideration, you can opt for a retreat that offers the kind of container you have in mind and feels well worth what you pay for.

The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

Published by:
Author: Sam Woolfe
Sam Woolfe
Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer, blogger, and journalist based in London. His main areas of interest related to psychedelics include philosophy, psychology, mental health, and risks. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his work at

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