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 that a sister company had 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 in Oregon, under a related company called Synthesis Digital, 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 in the state, 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. In a statement, the company said it took over Synthesis’ training program March 4.
“Retreat Guru will have a more detailed announcement in the coming days as we prioritize formalizing our relationship with the program facilitators and communicating with current students,” Retreat Guru told OPB. “Current programs are on hold for one week and expected to resume next week.”
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.
Johnson also said she’s not sure she wants to continue with Retreat Guru if that means her certification will be associated with Synthesis Institute in the end. 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 … 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. It has also been updated to clarify the corporate structure of Synthesis Institute and its Oregon operation, Synthesis Digital.