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The facilities that offer psychedelic treatments, whether as part of prescriptive mental health therapy or self-discovery, are creating spaces that are decidedly un-medical.Rendering by Design Agency/Handout

Jeff Kolesnikowicz wasn’t new to psychedelics last summer. But instead of undergoing the treatment at a clinic, he was at a retreat in Ontario cottage country. Over the course of a long weekend, he engaged in physical exercise, like boxing, time in a sauna followed by cold plunges in the lake, breath work and then the guided psychedelic treatment.

The Oshawa, Ont., resident was part of a group of men at the retreat, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. Some participants, like him, had experience with psychedelics. Others were trying them for the first time, something he saw as “extremely” brave. “I don’t know if I would have been that vulnerable.” Kolesnikowicz says, adding that he believes the setting was key in creating a safe environment.

Psychedelics are increasingly being used to treat medical conditions such as chronic pain and mental health. Psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic found in mushrooms, can have positive therapeutic effects on neuropsychiatric conditions. A doctor must prescribe any psychedelic drug aside from cannabis, which is legal in Canada.

A Nanos Research survey released by the Psychedelic Association of Canada in August, 2021, revealed that the majority of Canadians support psilocybin-assisted therapy for palliative and end-of-life patients. But there’s also a push to allow this kind of therapy to address mental-health and addiction issues. Until that’s legal, clinics and retreats are using ketamine and other plant-based medicines to aid psychotherapy – and to offer people the opportunity to explore the benefits of psychedelics for overall wellbeing.

Finding inspiration in wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic derived from Buddhist teachings, designers are building clinics and retreats that celebrate imperfections and impermanence.Rendering by Design Agency/Handout

The facilities that offer these treatments, whether as part of prescriptive mental health therapy or self-discovery, are creating spaces that are decidedly un-medical. Finding inspiration in wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic derived from Buddhist teachings, designers are building clinics and retreats that celebrate imperfections and impermanence. Asymmetry is one of wabi-sabi’s key principles, along with simplicity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of nature and natural objects, such as moss growing through cracks of a stone wall or a groove worn into stairs after years of use.

This summer, in Ontario’s Algonquin Highlands, Dimensions, which specializes in plant-medicine experiences during overnight stays, is hosting its first retreat – a luxe version of what Kolesnikowicz experienced. The 45-acre property will have 17 cabins as well as a dining room, spa and yurt for communal psychedelic-assisted treatments. Dimensions will primarily be dosing guests with cannabis or cacao, using psilocybin only for those who have medical authorization.

The property was designed by DesignAgency, which specializes in luxury hospitality spaces. Anwar Mekhayech, one of the firm’s co-founders, says that the Dimensions team doesn’t see the experiences at the retreat as medical, and that informed the design decisions. “Therapy, wellness and betterment – that’s at the forefront,” Mekhayech says. “You might have people wanting to go just to feel better about their lives or to get past a certain hurdle or milestone in their lives. That’s really what influenced everything.”

The “pursuit of light” is one of the guiding design principles, Mekhayech says, and its influence can be seen throughout the property, including in the cabins, which allow an abundance of natural light in. And wabi-sabi informed design choices. “Straight lines are mixed with something that’s a little bit imperfect,” he says.

These spaces are considered, refined and minimal to allow for that pursuit of light, in whatever form that takes.Rendering by Design Agency/Handout

The psychedelic treatments take place inside a yurt (though for the first year, they’ll be using a geodesic dome). It’s what Dimensions Algonquin Highlands’ clinical director Donald Currie refers to as the ceremonial space where up to 25 people can have a treatment at the same time. “We took every element of design into consideration in creating a very relaxing environment. And all of our spaces are light-filled, simple, open, spacious and non-triggering,” he says. “It really causes people’s nervous systems to relax. And then they can begin to feel safe, so that they can go on this inward journey.”

Referral-based clinic SABI Mind opened its doors to patients in March in Calgary, and will be expanding to Edmonton and Victoria later in the year. The day clinic was launched by a group of founders with experience in the hospitality industry who had seen first-hand the mental health challenges peers were enduring.

After a prep call, patients come in for an appointment – a two-hour ketamine session with a physician and registered nurse. A therapy session follows. The three elements comprise the full treatment, which takes place in a thoughtful do-over of a former office space commissioned to Solo Studio Interior Design.

Asymmetry is one of wabi-sabi’s key principles, along with simplicity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of nature and natural objects, such as moss growing through cracks of a stone wall or a groove worn into stairs after years of use.Rendering by Design Agency/Handout

“With the space, we wanted to ensure that it had some sort of effect on the individual walking through it. Whether that was a conscious or subconscious effect, we wanted it to be grounding, we wanted them to slow down physically,” says Heesoo Cho, SABI Mind’s founder and managing director. “Psychedelic experiences can be quite bright and intense, and so we wanted a space that could be almost neutral for them.”

“One of their core philosophies is to accept and integrate imperfection,” says Solo Studio founder Mikaela Blain. She used that belief to inform design decisions, from organically shaped lighting fixtures for soft, diffused light to a circular bench and doorway in the communal waiting room. “On the other side of the circle portal is where it becomes a little bit more personal, and you’ve begun your journey,” she says. It’s here that patients then begin to access private rooms for medical discussions, treatments and contemplation.

Even the journey through the physical space is circular, so that a patient is always moving in an instinctual way. The idea was to create a space that feels like home. “The treatment rooms are warm, and a little bit more domestic than the average clinic for sure,” Blain says. Materials used include woods, wools and linens. “When you’re seeking tranquility, it feels very natural to lean on those materials,” Blain says. “We always have to balance the medical and the comfortable,” Cho adds.

When Blain was designing, she took into account the entire experience, including pre and post dosage. “I don’t think you can have a great outcome without having a really great place to have that experience. … You need to be considerate of your experience before, during and after.”

At Dimension Algonquin Highlands, Mekhayech says the property is designed to nurture a feeling of safety and enlightenment, too. “It’s about the individual’s journey, and those moments of self discovery,” he says. These spaces are considered, refined and minimal to allow for that pursuit of light, in whatever form that takes.

Rendering by Design Agency/Handout

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