Plans to create a psilocybin retreat south of Ashland stymied by county zoning; hundreds of Synthesis students left adrift half-way through training program
By Josh Hardman, Psychedelic Alpha
Synthesis Institute has imploded, with bankruptcy leaving more than 200 current students in limbo. The Dutch organization had planned to develop Buckhorn Springs Resort, a 124-acre property approximately 5 miles southeast of Ashland.
At the time of this apparent bankruptcy, not one of its students had completed the company’s Oregon facilitator training program.
Synthesis was founded in 2018 in the Netherlands. Collaborations with respected institutions like Imperial College London led to Synthesis being viewed as one of the more reputable, evidence-based offerings amidst a growing range of retreat options in the Netherlands.
The passage of Oregon Measure 109 in November 2020 presented the first opportunity to establish a legal psilocybin retreat stateside, enticing international psychedelic retreat operators to Oregon.
Betting on Buckhorn
Synthesis was perhaps the most ambitious of these trailblazing organizations. In June 2021, the company made a big bet.
An Oregon limited liability company, Oregon Retreat Centers LLC, was formed by Synthesis co-founder Myles Katz in mid-May, along with Mythic Properties LLC. Katz’s company purchased Buckhorn Springs for $3.6 million.
A narrow escape
As summer 2022 came around, a major threat to Synthesis’ Oregon plans emerged. Oregon’s Psilocybin Services Act allows for local jurisdictions to opt-out of allowing psilocybin services. Jackson County decided to put the question of whether to opt-out to voters.
According to a document seen by Psychedelic Alpha, Synthesis made a $200,000 contribution to the campaign, though this is not reflected in the transactions available via ORESTAR. Jackson County voters rejected the opt-out ordinance by a margin of around 2.5%.
The victory at the ballot box kept the possibility for a Buckhorn Springs psilocybin service center alive. But another facet to Jackson County’s regulation stands in the way of a psilocybin service center being established: the county’s Land Development Ordinance (LDO).
A representative of Jackson County told Psychedelic Alpha that, “the Board of Commissioners would not make specific land use decisions on a case-by-case, or a site-specific location basis.” Rather, decisions are made in accordance with the LDO, which only allows Psilocybin Service Centers in General Commercial Zoning areas.
The Buckhorn Springs location is in a resource zone, not a commercial zone. Therefore, the county representative told us, “a Psilocybin Service Center would not be allowed.”
Any other business
By mid-2022, just shy of 10 psilocybin facilitator training programs were approved in Oregon, with Synthesis among the first wave of providers.
In mid-February, the company had about 230 students across four cohorts of its Psychedelic Practitioner Training program that it could not afford to complete the delivery for.
In a final blow, Return to Nature LLC, the lender for the Buckhorn Springs property, served Synthesis a Letter of Default and began pursuing remedies as allowed for in the promissory note.
Where does this leave students?
Various students on Synthesis’ training program expressed concern as to whether they’ll be left footing the bill for their unfinished psilocybin facilitator training program, which has a sticker price of $12,997 per student.
Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC), which oversees state-wide postsecondary education, generally requires that private career schools have “appropriate comprehensive general liability insurance.” But operators in Oregon’s psilocybin market are struggling to obtain insurance due to the federal illegality of psilocybin.
HECC adopted a rule change that instead allowed for psilocybin facilitator training programs to instead pay increased amounts into the state’s tuition protection fund.
Enter Retreat Guru
On March 3, psychedelic practitioner training students received an email from Deryk and Cameron Wenaus, CTO and CEO of Retreat Guru. The pair opened the note by explaining that they were “delighted to announce that effective today, we have a strategic partnership between ourselves, Retreat Guru, and Synthesis Digital” that would allow the collective delivery of the training programs.
Retreat Guru assumed operation of the program on March 4.
According to Claire Johnson, a Portland-based student in Synthesis’ Oregon facilitator training cohort, Retreat Guru told attendees at a March 4 town hall it hosted that it has “no choice” but to do what it can to continue the program given these circumstances. Johnson told us that Retreat Guru may go under if they were required to issue all the refunds out of their accounts.
A lack of communication
The high hopes and image of credibility exuded by Synthesis has left many students feeling especially burned.
In a story echoed by other students, Cori Sue Morris — a Synthesis student and founder of Retreat, an education and telehealth platform for psychedelic newcomers — told us that she spent months researching potential Oregon psilocybin facilitator training providers before landing on Synthesis.
By the time former Synthesis CEO Rachel Aidan admitted to the company’s bankruptcy in a Monday email, most everyone involved was already aware of the situation. “All information I was given prior was coming from secondary or tertiary sources”, Aimone explained to us, adding, “they have lost my, a former student’s, respect and trust.”
The above is approximately 800 words out of the original 4,100-plus-word article published on Psychedelic Alpha, a London-based chronicle of the field of psychedelic medicine and beyond. For the full article, click here.