The Future of Nature Therapy Is Psychedelic
Oregon voters have opened the door to treating mental illness with substances like ketamine and psilocybin. In a peek at the future, our seeker attends a backwoods retreat where patients get help from a powerful combination of drugs and the outdoors.
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Natalia Del Campo sees the Blue Pool, shimmering like a winter oasis. It sparkles below a snowy trail and rocky gray cliffs, the iridescent turquoise water rippling under the rushing downpour of Tamolitch Falls.
It’s a clear March day in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, a riverside valley in the Willamette National Forest, about an hour east of Eugene. In 2020, a devastating fire tore through this area, setting 173,392 acres ablaze. Even now, six months later, the road leading here smells like ash; on the way in, you pass the blackened remnants of Douglas firs and toppled power-line poles. The contrast makes the Blue Pool seem even more spectacular.
Del Campo, a petite 33-year-old Mexican American with short dark hair, feels like she’s rising from the ashes, too. She had a crushing year—losing her job as a bar manager to COVID-19, spiraling into depression, struggling with complex PTSD stemming from a sexual assault that happened when she was a teenager, attempting suicide, and undergoing intensive psychiatric treatment.
She came to the valley to clear her head, and it seems to be working well. She can feel the spirit of the earth, a deep bond with the natural features of this environment, including the old, porous lava flow through which the McKenzie River seeps upward to form the Blue Pool. If she stares at a tree long enough, it appears illuminated, lights circling it from all sides, making it more vivid than vivid, more real than real. She sees her ancestors down through the ages, living with nature in the shadows of history. She tells me later that these moments feel like “an interconnectedness … knowing that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, something very beautiful and old.”
As Del Campo approaches the pool, she feels her feet taking root in the slushy path, the trees growing around her, the water rising and falling like waves of light cascading inside her chest.
“It wasn’t like I was a spectator,” she says. “Or like I was in the forest looking at all this stuff. It was like, I am the forest.”