The Best Trip: Would You Try Canna-Tourism?

The Best Trip: Would You Try Canna-Tourism?

Gordon Wasson was an atypical psychonaut – an inquisitive
Wall Street banker drawn to Mexico by an interest in wild
mushrooms. In a small Mazatec village in the mountains of Oaxaca he
would meet María Sabina, a farmer and part-time spiritual healer
who would be regarded as one of her country’s great poets, yet die
as poor as she was born. The banker’s fortunes were destined to be
different. Having bent the truth to secure his time with Sabina and
her “magic” mushrooms, his transformative experience would be
written up in Seeking the Magic Mushroom, a now infamous Life
magazine article from 1957. Things would never quite be the same

By the mid-1900s natural hallucinogens had drifted into plain
view via articles such as Wasson’s and free-form literature from
the Beat Generation. The 1960s took the spirituality of
self-transcendence and daubed it in brilliant kaleidoscopic
visuals, dancing it through fields and putting a flower in its
hair. “He crashed around America selling ‘consciousness expansion’
without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that
were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously,”
scrawled Hunter S. Thompson of Timothy “turn on, tune in, drop out”
Leary in his gonzo masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

But dust settles and the pendulum of psychedelia is swinging
back to its roots in science and mental health. At a 2006 symposium
celebrating his 100th birthday, Francis Crick – the Nobel
Prize-winning father of modern genetics – revealed that he was
under the influence of the “wonder child” lysergic acid
diethylamide when he discovered the double-helix structure of DNA.
Silicon Valley is also turning its attention to the body and mind,
with the trends for fasting and micro-dosing leading the charge.
Without the backdrop of the San Francisco scene’s swirling concert
posters or the soundtrack of George Harrison plucking a sitar,
psychedelics are gaining a more credible reputation. Will the next
stage of transformative travel be played out within us?

Much has been made of the surge of interest in ayahuasca, an
ancient Amazonian hallucinogenic brew typically administered by
shamans under ceremonial conditions. Billed by The New Yorker as
“the drug of choice for the age of kale”, the potent psychedelic
has found itself an uneasy poster child for a renewed interest in
“psychospirituality”, with millennials flocking to South America in
a bid to expand their cosmic consciousness. It’s easy to dismiss
the Brooklynification of anything, but as
quarter-of-a-billion-dollar apps like Headspace and Calm have taken
meditation to the masses, ayahuasca’s ability to reconnect the mind
and soul to nature means that interest in it is unlikely to
reverse, especially while it remains legal in certain

The problem? As is often the case with the clumsy-footed West,
spiralling prices for a scarce resource is taking it out of the
hands of the Amazonian tribes who have used it as medicine for
thousands of years. One luxury retreat offering “gourmet
ayahuasca-appropriate meals” and one-on-one ceremonies with shamans
advertises prices starting from £7,850 per guest. Another has
positioned itself for entrepreneurs, offering programmes for
“business leaders, start-up founders and thought leaders”. For a
generation fixated on issues like plastic straws, many still charge
through life oblivious to sustainability issues until they become a
digestible trend. Sure, there is value to be had in undertaking
rituals largely unchanged to those Wasson experienced in the
mid-20th century – but should the mindfulness minutes you’ve built
up on your smartphone have taught you anything, it’s to move with
heedfulness and respect.

Inspired by a new wave of clinical trials using hallucinogens to
assist in relieving anxiety and existential distress in terminally
ill cancer patients, American author and journalist Michael
Pollan’s foray into transcendentalism – documented in his brilliant
book How to Change Your Mind – is a far cry from the
consciousness-contorting hedonism of the 1960s. Moreover, his
research delineates a potential near-future for psychoactive
substances where their interaction with wellness is more profound
than a Beat Generation-inspired pilgrimage to Peru. Far from an
argument for the recreational use of psychedelic drugs, Pollan’s
musings ponder the legitimate existence of mental health spas,
where experts offer a guided psychedelic experience using nothing
but our bodies and the depths of our consciousness as

Stanislav Grof, an early advocate of LSD, developed a breathing
technique he called Holotropic Breathwork upon the drug’s
prohibition in 1966. Said to induce an altered state of
consciousness, alternate pairs of “breathers” and “sitters” ensure
that it is a guided and safe experience. Grof calls it an “expanded
cartography of the human psyche” and many of those who’ve
undertaken his programmes claim to have relived their own birth
simply from combining conscious control with breathing. While
something that lies at the more outré corners of a movement that
incorporates more accessible practices, breathwork, as countless
articles will contest, is seen as one of the next big things in

As the millions of newcomers to meditation will have noted,
breathing is an integral part of accessing our intuition. It’s
where our consciousness and subconscious meet and where we can
begin to exert control over the parts of ourselves that are usually
exerting control over us. As mindfulness has overtaken Ayurveda as
the buzzword on spa menus across the world, expect breathwork to
accompany yoga and meditation in the wellness revolution. Be it
mental health spas where veritable psychedelic experiences aid
issues such as depression or addiction or lite updates on Grof’s
path to out-of-body experiences, consciousness expansion is the new
currency in wellness.

As the sniggering that surrounds New Age’s perceived corniness
has been dampened by a mainstream adoption of meditative practices,
today’s great explorers are becoming those who are journeying
within. We are plotting new maps of the mind – and these paths
might help us reroute millennials from Amazon’s rainforests. The
future of psycho-travel might look like MycoMeditations – an outfit
hosting seven- and ten-day psilocybin-assisted therapy escapes in
Jamaica – or Ganja Goddess Getaway, a cannabis- fuelled women’s
retreat that lives by the principles of “self-love, inclusivity,
empathy, good fun and mindfulness”. It could definitely look like
the buoyancy that cannabis tourism is enjoying following America’s
dramatic perception shift when it comes to marijuana. It might
simply be a case of virtual reality. Whatever it is, we need to
understand that the future of travel could be separated from the
physical notion of transport – that “travel” is a matter of
perception. Our grasp of what goes on inside our minds is as
deficient as our understanding of the deepest waters or farthest
reaches of the galaxy. The new frontiers lie within.