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Major trainer for Oregon’s psilocybin program collapses into bankruptcy

Noah Camuso
JPR News
Two clients demonstrate what the psilocybin journey process would look like at Buckhorn Springs Resort in Ashland. Synthesis Institute bought the resort in 2022 with hopes of opening a retreat for psilocybin-assisted therapy. The company declared bankruptcy in February, according to internal emails.

The sudden collapse of one of Oregon’s biggest psilocybin players raises questions about the rollout of an untested industry.

When Synthesis Institute purchased a $3.6 million tract south of Ashland in June 2021, the company hailed it as the future of psychedelic-assisted therapy in Oregon.

Less than two years later, the company is shuttering its operations in the state and leaving students in a financial lurch.

The Netherlands-owned Synthesis Institute was one of the most prominent players in a small group of educators currently training people to deliver psilocybin therapy. Oregon’s legal psilocybin program begins later this year under Measure 109, a voter-approved effort to provide state-regulated therapy using so-called magic mushrooms.

On March 1, however, Synthesis Institute notified its first group of students that it was going to pause its education program indefinitely.

“We know this information is unsettling and raises a lot of questions,” the organization said in an email shared with OPB by students undergoing the training.

Synthesis CEO Rachel Aidan gave a much more detailed accounting of the company’s demise in an email to students Monday. She said the company “reached the end of its financial runway in early 2023″ and filed for bankruptcy in the Netherlands on Feb. 27.

Aidan also said the company tried to seek an acquisition offer in February with an undisclosed company, but that plan fell through March 1, the same day students were notified. People who worked for Synthesis were notified the next day that the company was shutting down, according to Aidan’s email. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment from OPB through calls, emails and social media contacts.

“We are deeply sorry for the stress, anger and confusion that this has caused, and regret the impact that this has had on the entire community… particularly given the financial and emotional investment each student makes to complete the Synthesis training and certification,” Aidan wrote in her Monday email.

No student has completed the Synthesis training, however.

Claire Johnson was among the first Oregonians to enroll in the program Synthesis provided. “We’ve been harmed significantly from their unethical actions,” Johnson said, referring to the leadership at Synthesis.

Johnson started her program in October and said her instructors had put together a quality curriculum that she was excited to complete in Oregon’s first-in-the-nation system. Students worked in small groups of about 10 people, Johnson said, and a “learning facilitator” would communicate with them online as they worked through modules explaining how to give psilocybin therapy sessions. Now she’s not sure what will happen to the nearly $9,000 she spent. Because the students were broken off into small groups, Johnson said she wasn’t sure how many people enrolled in Synthesis’ first cohort.

“I want to hold the Synthesis executive team accountable for this,” she said.

Synthesis co-founder Myles Katz did not respond to requests for comment, and a phone number listed with the state of Oregon for his business is disconnected. Co-founder Martijn Schirp responded to a request for comment with an automated email: “Due to a high number of emails I am unable to reply to each email individually. I appreciate your patience.”

In her outreach to students and staff Monday, Aidan said a Canadian company called Retreat Guru would “find a way to ensure the Psychedelic Practitioner Training Program continues.”

Johnson described Retreat Guru as the payments processor for Synthesis Institute. Requests for comment to Retreat Guru were not immediately returned.

Under administrative rules by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission — the body responsible for approving Synthesis’ program — training programs that close must either find a way to finish a student’s education or provide a refund. Those rules only require organizations to refund instruction that hasn’t been received, meaning that students like Johnson may still lose out on a large amount of their tuition.

The sudden collapse of one of Oregon’s biggest psilocybin players raises questions about the rollout of an untested industry, and Johnson said that’s what concerns her most.

“It’s my hope that this experience of unethical business practices in a new and emerging industry … doesn’t have a huge impact on the reputation of this delicate and emerging psychedelics industry as a whole,” she said.

Correction: This article originally gave the incorrect year for Synthesis Institute’s purchase of the Buckhorn Springs Resort in Ashland.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ryan Haas has been with Oregon Public Broadcasting since 2013. His work has won numerous awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations for the podcast "Bundyville." Prior to working at OPB, Haas worked at newspapers in Illinois, Florida, Oregon and the Caribbean.