The World Health Organization (WHO), recently citing one of their fresh, dark-timeline COVID-19 pandemic stats, alerted the world that there’s been a shocking/not-shocking 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression in adults across the world. A number which, frankly, begins to feel light when taking into context the various ugly aspects of these increasingly dystopian times.
Adults are hardly in solo sad company. Data from a youth charity The Prince’s Trust, says 23% of young people in the U.K. claim they are seeking psychedelic experiences and will “never emotionally recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic.” Existence itself, it seems, is more a burden emotionally than ever before.
Kevin Bourke agrees: “Global mental health has deteriorated and people need perspective and balance.” Bourke, co-founder of Patoo—Jamaica’s first legal psychedelic CPG line of psilocybin products—has a particularly astute vantage point to witness both the trending explosive interest and use of psychedelics as well as the return of tourism culture on his home turf after the devastation of COVID on the travel industry at large.
Particularly hard hit were places like the island’s longtime beach and cliff-lined bohemian playground of Negril in the West End, where I caught up with him in the spring of 2022 while on the island for my own physical and spiritual recharging of sorts. Patoo is quickly gaining traction around the island with dozens of retail partners all across Jamaica carrying their products, from legal cannabis dispensaries like Jacana, through to locally infamous mushroom cafes, weed huts, right up to posh resorts like Skylark along the beach, or Rockhouse in the cliffs, where Patoo is also hosting “Psilocybin Soundbath” experiences for guests.
In the gift shops, the eye-catching Patoo packaging is right at home alongside tanning oils and sun hats. Think: gluten-free, direct trade and locally-farmed dark chocolate bars, dosed Jamaican honey, microdosed mushroom capsules, and more strain-based products being developed with Patoo’s R+D team.
“The vibe in Negril and the whole island is bringing people seeking experiential tourism and wellness after COVID, and the Caribbean has bounced back. It’s the perfect time for Jamaica to step up in this realm and be a leader for adults seeking these products,” says Bourke.
Patoo’s other co-founder Charles Lazarus, a twenty-year veteran of touring roots-reggae band Rootz Underground Movement says: “We didn’t come up with mushroom-dosed chocolate, they just go well together in nature, and both are medicine,” he says. “The dark chocolate provides oxytocin, the love transmitter, and then you have the Jamaican mushrooms with a very expansive personality.”
A Jamaican owl—Patoo—greets you as the brand mascot and spiritual talisman to the public, and as a brand the team says they seek to be a bridge builder between the natural world, research, and commerce. Besides partnering with island farmers for all-local chocolate and a greater harmony with their proprietary indigenious hybrid genetics, their main Patoo 4-gram dark chocolate bar uses a wild Jamaican strain they cross-cultivated the mycelium with in order to be consistent and shelf-stable. It also allows them to tightly and accurately control even-dosing across the product (read: you can anticipate the effects for a better experience). And yet, their biggest cost is the Jamaican cacao, which is regarded as one of the best on the planet.
In an even more impressive move, Bourke, along with Lazarus and their team worked to execute the first legal shipment of Jamaican psilocybin using native genetics cultivated by the Patoo team to the University of Alberta and Health Canada for research on PTSD in the Canadian Military.
That image of psychedelics as both therapy and a fun time for responsible adults is changing, if the ongoing legalization movement is any indicator. The FDA has proclaimed psilocybin to be a “breakthrough medicine” and that perspective is increasingly being found at the end of a micro or macro dose of plant-based psychedelics like magic mushrooms. While on the island for my own restorative trip to Negril, I too wanted to sample the indigenious and proprietary genetics unique to Jamaica.
In the case of Patoo, they offer a means to try mushrooms naturally harvested in controlled environments—knowing the diet of the cows producing the substrate growing manure to ensure the integrity of the mycelium, as well as the metabolites, which influence and direct the effects the way terpenes interact with cannabinoids in cannabis.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise to find accessibility and professional, safe psilocybin products being at the forefront of the experiential tourism trend that is growing in Negril, and greater Jamaica. Legality means greater diversity and standards of CPG goods, in psychedelics just as it did with weed. “[Psychedelics] are moving extremely fast, it feels different than cannabis,” says Lazarus. “Cannabis definitely led the path and highlighted the right way, also the wrong ways, of progressing an industry like this. Psilocybin will challenge the wine and spirits space in ten years.”
As a brand, Patoo is already creating a buzz on social media as an easy and reliably-dosed access point to the island’s psychedelic mushroom culture, which already has been strong for years. But Bourke brings a different element of connectivity and understanding the market. A seasoned branding creative, he helped create Blackwell Rum with his mentor Chris Blackwell (English-born founder of Island Records and the first person to put reggae music out on a pro label), worked with Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records restaurant brand, and is the co-founder of the music and wellness cultural festival TmrwTday.
In other words, he was the choice of choices to connect me and be my guide to Patoo. I was staying at Tensing Pen, a small independent resort in the cliffs that is what I’d like to think resides in the afterlife for people who love dogs (they have a few Rhodesian Ridgebacks that roam the area). Having grown up hanging out in Negril, Bourke effortlessly manifested at the table my girlfriend and I were at, adjusting to the island vibes after the flight in from Boston. I was supplied with some gratis Social Dose bars (.7g of locally grown Hawaiian cubensis) and the flagship Patoo Bar, dosed with 4g their proprietary Jamaican Cyanescens strain crossed with APE (Albino Penis Envy).
Each Patoo bar has three squares to it, each dosed at 1.33g. One square, Bourke said, and “it’s dancing time”. Two and we get into fractals and visual distortion and a sense of being connected. Three, and he said “it’s time to chill out and have a friend nearby because you going on a journey”. I had already had one big journey that day, I was just looking for the lift.
I also just decided to eat a full Social dose after that long day of travel and a few months between psilocybin consumption. Scene and setting was set. Hadn’t even begun the four days on, three days off regiment suggested by psychonauts for your brain and system to reset (and deal with increased tolerance). The effect of the whole bar left me like I’d been hit upside the head by a wet rowing oar (I hadn’t had a full meal yet, violating one of Patoo’s suggestions for consumption).
After I adjusted a bit on the frantic energy and overwhelming sensations, I slid into a great pocket of euphoria and social connectedness to everything around me, but I was never out of range or uncomfortable in my surroundings (nothing gets you weirder than putting your hand through your phone while going to change up your playlist). It was also robust in earthy mushroom flavor.
The dogs and my girlfriend at sunset. The saltfish at the restaurant overlooking the moonrise. The cove at Tensing Pen, smashed by ancient waves on old pirate coral. The restoration to my body and mixing with local ganja consumed in great quantities from both the local dispensary circuit (Jacana) and some local farmers as well. Helluva first day.
The next evening I dove into a 1.33g square while cruising the long beachfront road down from the cliffs, with drums of jerk chicken being smoked along the way and the party looked like it was outside the venue more than inside. Plenty of shady corners away from the streetlights and drum fires where typically one ducks into for the gamblers’ choice of local fungi. A dicey situation any way you slice it.
“If you buy mushrooms and don’t fully know the source, it can affect your mindset going in. And scene and setting is so key when experiencing psilocybin, and commercially it doesn’t make sense to create a product that gives people a negative episode,” says Bourke. “Charles and our team have worked out our consistency and dosing so we can approach this product as a CPG as well as a plant medicine. You can take some Patoo and then return to it a month later seeking that groove and those sensations (and knowing your limits), and find it’s repeatable. Dosage is huge for us and Patoo.”
That dosage was what I was relying on given the visual and auditory overload I was about to step into. Namely, the first Negril nighttime beach party where everyone comes in from the hills in Westmoreland and surrounding parishes to attend a massive DJ set of everything from the Beatles to traphouse beats, with locals dressed like they were heading to the club, only to be met with fire ants in front of the stage and lounge area that would beat back the surging crowd and leave an awkward negative space in the crowd… where I was standing.
Not wanting to be rude—and with all 1.33g surging through me—I enjoyed the evening with my new friends and executed four straight hours of dancing for a guy who doesn’t dance. Admittedly the fire ants would maul me the moment I stopped, and the dancing was the white-man’s two-step rocking back and forth and pounding water all night. All in all, the dosage for me was just right. And best of all, repeatable. The next night. And the afternoon after.
And then back home just as spring flipped into summer, after walking through the Ukrainian sculpture park I live near, alone on my back in the sun with my dog scurrying nearby and not a soul around.
“The paradigm has shifted and evolved and a whole generation is upset that they have been deceived, to their detriment, over the broken narrative around psychedelics as a therapeutic option,” says Lazarus. “With the attention in the press, the ground-swell around the holistic approach to life and a return to organic food, places of high energy and legal psilocybin medicine such as Jamaica have become a travel focus for people that are seeking inner healing,” says Lazarus. “We are proud of this offering to the world.”