Talking Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy With Ricky Williams

Edited transcript from the 'Beyond the Trip' podcast episode with the former NFL star, who discusses his personal experience with psychedelics and his new psilocybin-assisted therapy venture.

Ricky Williams’ cannabis use became legendary during his time in the National Football League. The former All Pro running back and Heisman Trophy winner came out as a marijuana advocate years before legalization efforts made it socially acceptable.

In 2021, Williams created the Highsman cannabis brand. More recently, Highsman has moved into the psilocybin space with the launch of Psilo Sessions by Highsman, which are guided psychedelic journeys in Salem, Oregon. Conceived and developed by Williams, the sessions are tailored to each individual patient and are led by a team of licensed facilitators, therapists and medical experts.

Psychedelic Medical News co-founder Josh Cable spoke with Williams last week for the first episode of PMN’s “Beyond the Trip” podcast. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

Josh Cable: Can you talk about what initially drew you to explore psychedelics as a therapeutic tool?

Ricky Williams: Yeah, we’ve kind of shifted the language of how we talk about what we’re doing, and we talk now about plant medicine, and growing up the term plant medicine is something you might’ve come across if you were into anthropology or you were studying Native American culture. When I was growing up, it was called drugs. And so part of my journey is the transformation of the concept that was given to me about drugs, adding the word plant and adding the word medicine.

Williams adds that he grew up during the “Just Say No” era and that it had a significant influence on his attitudes toward substances while playing football in college at the University of Texas. That changed after a friend introduced him to cannabis during the beginning of his senior year. At the time, Williams was struggling on the field and feeling depressed. A few bong hits later, Williams’ perspective on things shifted. He was able to visualize how he could change his situation in a positive way. Williams posted two consecutive 300-yard rushing performances the two weeks following his first experience with marijuana. He won the Heisman Trophy that year, and then entered the NFL draft. During his playing career, Williams was drug tested and failed due to his cannabis use. He eventually walked away from the game before returning years later.

Williams continues: I started to have questions about what is this stuff all about? And I found myself traveling to India, starting to study herbal medicine and really having an experience of what does plant medicine even mean? I studied Ayurveda. I studied Chinese medicine. So instead of just one drug, I realized that there are thousands, thousands of medicines that come from plants or fungi.

I started reading (material from) a psychiatrist by the name of Stanislav Groff, who did a lot of work with LSD therapy. I read a bunch of his stuff and his definition for psychedelics: “nonspecific amplifiers of psychological processes.” It’s a lot of words, but I start to break it down to people, and I explain that there are certain things about us that we don’t normally have access to. For me, my anxiety, looking on the outside, I had all the money I could ever want.

I had all the things I could ever want. Why was I so anxious? And when I only looked externally, I couldn’t find any good reasons. But when I consumed cannabis, I could drop down to a deeper level and understand that there were processes, thoughts, patterns of thinking that were going on underneath the surface. And so I started to realize getting access to those, amplifying those psychological processes allows me to bring my intelligence, my awareness, my gifts to bear on those deeper parts of myself. And when I started doing that, I felt better, I played better, my relationships got better. I came out as the athlete talking about mental health struggles 15 years, 20 years before it became a thing.

Josh Cable: What inspired you to start Psilo Sessions?

Ricky Williams: When we first launched Highsman on the cannabis side, it was important for me to get this message across, but the stigma was so anti-cannabis that I just kept running into roadblocks. And at the same time, almost concurrently, the discussion around psychedelics really started to grow, and it was more supported with research, and it didn’t have the same kind of baggage as cannabis. When I saw this opportunity open up, I was like, this is the deeper message behind everything that we’re trying to do – getting people to tune into their deeper selves and make an attempt to live in more alignment with that self. We found that most of, if not all of the psychedelics, with the right kind of guidance can facilitate that process, like few things can. I just saw this as a wonderful opportunity to expand and extend this message and offer a legal, safe alternative for people who haven’t been able to find any help anywhere else.

Josh Cable: How does Psilo Sessions design the therapy sessions?

Ricky Williams: The Oregon Health Authority is very strict about what they allow in facilitation. So my partners Sammy and Dina have gone through the training, and it’s their main responsibility to maintain a safe environment and to administer the medicine. My role is to sit with people, and what makes Psilo Sessions different is the pre and after work that we do in preparation for the sitting. I’ve been trained in counseling, and I’ve also been trained in astrology, meditation and spiritual practices. I talked about Stanislov Groff’s definition of nonspecific amplifiers of psychological processes. Well, what astrology is, is actually a specific amplifier of psychological processes. It’s preparation work of helping people tap into potential themes that may show up when on the journey. And then the integration piece and the follow-up is helping people see how the themes that did show up, connect to the life themes that they’re experiencing and helping create that connection. Of course, set and setting is important, but the preparatory work you do before and the integration work you do after is how you really capture the magic that happens on the medicine. And I think having that kind of support system really helps people maximize the value of this experience.

Josh Cable: Tell me more about the team you’ve assembled to facilitate these sessions.

Ricky Williams: The main team members that are going to be on the ground are me, I mentioned Sammy Kahuk and his wife Dina (Odeh), and they’re our partners on the cannabis side. We started working with Sammy and Dina back in 2018 when we first launched our herbal brand. We’ve been putting together a team going above and beyond what we are required to do from the Oregon Health Authority and putting together a team of therapists, psychiatrists, even pharmacists, to be able to make sure that we’re checking all the boxes and creating a safe environment.

In a follow-up question about safety protocols during the psilocybin sessions, Williams said his clinic follows Oregon laws requiring licensed facilitators and medical professionals who are on call for the sessions. In addition, he says the pre- and post-integration sessions help the facilitators understand a person’s mindset and what the amount of medicine they can handle.

Williams also discussed pricing for the sessions after another follow-up question. Psilo Sessions charges $70 per session for microdosing, $1,200 per session for a moderate dose and $2,400 for high-dose sessions. Williams explained that being able to proceed with a psilocybin journey legally comes at a premium and that there is risk involved with it, as well.  

Williams continues: But for me, in any kind of business that I run, I always come back to value. And so, the value that people are getting is that they’re being guided through the whole process, and they have the support with the pre-session, me sitting with them, and then the integration and the follow up. And so obviously for the micro dose, it doesn’t require as much preparation. Moderate dose will be a longer pre and integration session, and the high dose, again, will be more prep work before and more integration after

Josh Cable: How much time would that involve?

Ricky Williams: So it would be an hour. We have an hour pre-session and an hour post-session. For the moderate dose, we have two hourlong pre-sessions and we have two hourlong post sessions for the high dose. It’s three pre-sessions and three post-sessions, each an hour a piece.

Psilo Sessions has six individual therapy rooms and one large group room. And Highsman claims that the facility is the largest of its kind in the state of Oregon. Amenities for all types of sessions include fully reclined seating, customizable lighting and high-speed Wi-Fi. Starting at the moderate-dose level, Psilo Sessions provides noise-canceling headphones, iPads, art supplies and journals. Williams discussed some of these offerings in more detail.

Ricky Williams: The nature of these deeper levels of us are all about movement, and so we wanted to create enough space where if someone wanted to move, if someone wanted to draw, someone wanted to write – we even have chalkboard walls – we have journals that people want to journal for reflection. We tried to create a safe, inviting, comfortable experience for people to be able to actually be informed move. And the beautiful thing is because we’re a small team and we’re used to working together, is that we’ll receive feedback and we’ll keep making the experience better and better.

Williams responded to a follow-up question about his role in facilitating the sessions, saying he will sit with people during their journeys. Though he cannot initiate the sessions, he provides support to people during their journey and can offer a calming, healing presence for people during difficult moments. He added that it’s important for psychedelic-assisted therapists to have some personal experience with psychedelic substances.

Williams continues: If you haven’t been through the experience, there’s always going to be a moment where that person is going through something that you can’t relate to. And especially when you’re in a journey and you’re in that sensitive place, it can have a worse effect. I’m so excited about this because I feel like I’ve been prepared my whole life for this opportunity to be able to sit with someone and not be phased by someone else’s process and to still have a grounding, warm, supportive presence for someone. That’s where the true healing occurs, and the medicine just facilitates someone getting to that.

Listen to the full interview here:

The Psychedelic Journey of Ricky Williams