Foto: David Meulenbeld

How a hallucinogenic trip can change your life for the better

Marjolein de Jong17 December 2019

The building in Zandvoort that once functioned as a church is now the backdrop for a special type of retreat sessions, with psychedelic truffles playing the starring role. One of the regular supervisors accompanying these sessions is Daan Keiman. He studied Spiritual Care at the Vrije Universiteit and now leads Synthesis Retreat’s health team. 

We meet Daan (31) at Kokopelli, a smartshop in Amsterdam, where he once worked. Right across from us are two giggling British guys tucked under a blanket. “They are definitely on another frequency,” Daan says with a smile on his face. 

What kind of an audience is attracted to these truffle sessions? 

“Mostly highly educated people that are over forty and fifty years old, looking for answers that they cannot find in daily life. The participants are very diverse. We welcome priests looking to deepen their religious lives, but also buddhists that haven’t had any major breakthroughs through meditation yet. Everyone is welcome. Although we do require our participants to not have any psychological or physical problems.” 

What drives people to participate?

“Those reasons are very diverse. Some people are struggling with the loss of a partner, a break-up or they’re recovering from a burn-out. Another group might have questions about the meaning of life or spirituality, or they’re looking for a mystical experience. We’ve also welcomed two women who lost their children. It can get really intense.” 

„During these sessions, traumas from people’s pasts sometimes make an entrance."

How do people experience the retreat? 

“Virtually everyone leaves with a certain openness to their face. They’ve managed to get in touch with deeper layers of themselves. With emotions that they didn’t even know existed. Sometimes, these insights can lead to radical changes in the way people think. But I’m all for a balanced view. During these sessions, traumas from people’s pasts sometimes make an entrance. There was someone who had experienced rape and they thought they had emotionally processed that event, but that turned out to not be the case.” 

Do psychedelics bring you insights that you can’t get in any other way? 

“I really do believe you can get to certain insights in other ways. If you’d retreat to a monastery for six months, I’d be surprised if you wouldn’t go through some sort of intense experience. Being in nature by yourself can also lead to a healing or mystical experience. But I think the intensity of psychedelics isn’t comparable to any other method. Scientific research has proven this. Research has also shown that the lasting effects on your life are stronger.” 


What do these truffle sessions look like exactly? 

“During a truffle session participants drink tea made from truffles, all while being monitored. The group – that is made up of ten to fifteen people – arrives on a Friday in a reconstructed church in Zandvoort. On Saturday, everyone will place their mattresses around an altar after which they drink the tea. We play music in the background and participants wear a sleep mask. Then follow the hours during which they focus on themselves. The goal is to make an inner journey.”

Can psychedelics be dangerous? 

“There are definitely certain risks involved. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be very dangerous. There are people who think that truffles will just provide them with a nice trip, that they’ll see some colors. They forget that it can be a very negative experience, that might take years to recover from. We’ve had people who went through difficult experiences, but there haven’t been any real incidents.” 

„I think there’s a large grey area between being diagnosed with depression and feeling trapped in life, which then leaves you feeling depressed."

What does that screening process entail that determines whether you have mental issues? 

“People initially fill out an extensive online survey, which is followed up by an intake over phone. We make sure that people with a clinical diagnosis don’t participate, and the same goes for people whom we assume are dealing with mental issues, but have never been diagnosed. Although I think there’s a large grey area between being diagnosed with depression and feeling trapped in life, which then leaves you feeling depressed. Still, we reject a lot of applications coming in.” 

Why do visitors prefer to take the truffles while being supervised, instead of at home?

“I think there is a sense of security that plays into that. Many people find taking drugs a bit scary. It can be a comforting idea that there are supervisors around who know what you’re going through, and that there are first-aid workers available in case anything goes wrong. I also think it can be very useful. It deepens the experience. During our sessions, you start off your experience with a certain intention. And how you take that experience home and then integrate it into your life.” 

„In the past, I’ve struggled with addiction to marijuana and cigarettes."

How did you first get into contact with psychedelics yourself? 

“I experimented a lot as an adolescent but later on noticed how healing psychedelics can be. In the past, I’ve struggled with addiction to marijuana and cigarettes. I was also rather lost, looking for answers to existential questions. A combination of psychedelic experiences, buddhist meditation and therapy really helped me make changes. I want my plea for psychedelics to be nuanced: it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely helped me.”

How does your master’s degree Spiritual Care come into play during your job? 

“My master’s degree has provided me with tools and skills to deal with existential questions. Especially the buddhist aspect of it provided me with an approach to connect my own contemplative exercises to professional practice. The capacity to remain present during suffering, my suffering or someone else’s, is one of the most important aspects of my current job. And the practice and cultivation of compassion of course; without loving kindness, you cannot possibly do this kind of work.”