Synthesis Institute Co-Founder Breaks Silence After Leaving Students and Staff in Limbo

Dutch bankruptcy laws kept him from being in touch sooner, he says.

Martijn Schirp, co-founder of Synthesis Institute, in an undated photo. (Synthesis Institute)

Martijn Schirp, the co-founder and chief visionary officer at Synthesis Institute, broke his silence about the collapse of an online psilocybin-training program that has left hundreds of students trying to recover millions of dollars in tuition.

In an email to employees that a public relations person shared with the press, Schirp said he couldn’t comment on the Netherlands-based company’s collapse because of “strict regulations of bankruptcy proceedings in Dutch courts.”

Synthesis sent a similar email to students on March 6.

Schirp didn’t explain why Synthesis failed, relying on the passive voice throughout his email. Synthesis Institute B.V. “was declared bankrupt on March 6, 2023,” Schirp wrote. Synthesis Digital LLC, a “sister company” based in Ashland, “was forced to terminate all employees and contractors on March 2, 2023.”

“This is the U.S. organization that developed and ran our beloved Psychedelic Practitioner Training,” Schirp wrote. “For the avoidance of doubt, Synthesis Digital LLC has not filed for bankruptcy.”

Employees wondering about pay they are owed got no answers from Schirp.

“For those who are owed back wages and compensation, I am not aware of the plans on how to address this,” Schirp wrote. A court-appointed “curator” will handle matters with employees, contractors, clients and vendors.

“The last few weeks have been the most difficult of my career,” Schirp wrote. “As a founder of an organization truly intending to bring good to the world, I’m devastated by the impact the recent organizational shortcomings have had on you, your reputation, and the clients that we owe a fundamental duty of care.”

The failure of Synthesis Institute, once a respected trainer of facilitators for regulated sessions using psychedelic mushrooms, comes as Oregon tries to get its legal psilocybin program off the ground. So far, the state has issued no licenses for session facilitators, manufactures of psilocybin, or testing labs, according to a dashboard run by the Oregon Health Authority. Permits for 44 workers in the industry have been approved.

Lesley Clarke, a Synthesis student in Olympia, Wash., is one of many trying to get her money back. Synthesis charged about $10,000 for its 13-month program, depending on the timing of payments. Clarke says she started in October and had paid $4,665 at the time of the collapse. Synthesis is working with a Canadian company called Retreat Guru to keep the training going, but Clarke says she’s not interested.

“This is not Retreat Guru’s business,” Clarke says. “I don’t want to proceed with them.”

Retreat Guru is a booking site for retreats, psychedelic and otherwise, based in Nelson, British Columbia. Students said they paid their tuition to Synthesis through Retreat Guru. WW estimates that about 300 students were left in the lurch by Synthesis’ failure. At $10,000 apiece, that’s about $3 million in cash that is in unaccounted for, depending on payment options.

Schirp blamed others for the fallout of his company’s collapse.

“Information has been shared rampantly without full context, lacking accuracy, consent, and breaching confidentiality, that has rapidly harmed reputations, increased potential liabilities, and jeopardized ongoing conversations for proactive solutions,” he wrote. “This has further hindered my ability to communicate clear details to you.”

InnerTrek, another facilitator-training program, said its first 100 students will complete their six-month training today.

“Finishing a state-certified and licensed training school is the first step towards practicing as a psilocybin therapy facilitator,” InnerTrek said in a press release. “Potential facilitators must pass a state licensing exam before they are legally allowed to practice.”

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