In its newest episode, ESPN E60 explores the use of psychedelics in mental health treatment for athletes – specifically the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms.
Peace of Mind, produced and directed by Blake Foeman, debuts Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN, streaming afterward on ESPN+.
Foeman, who worked on the project with reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg, wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into. It was a story Van Valkenburg had brought to the table and had begun moving forward before pausing during the pandemic. Van Valkenburg had gotten a suggestion from a former college football teammate.
“Kevin did a bunch of research on his own, in 2018, 2019, and then someone put him in touch with [former NHL player] Riley Cote and said this is the guy you really need to do the story on; he’s one of the biggest advocates of psilocybin for mental health for athletes. So he reached out to him,” said Foeman.
“At the time I was assigned to it, I’d never heard of the word psilocybin, let alone knowing how to pronounce it,” he said. “I researched – saw a few documentaries, read a few books and articles.”
Foeman and the team went to Jamaica in March 2022 for a retreat at which several former professional athletes were going to receive treatment that is illegal in most of the U.S.
I hope you’ll tune in on Saturday for this piece. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever done as a journalist. Thanks. https://t.co/psHeLhA2rJ
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) April 19, 2023
“At first, they were really hesitant to have us come there,” he said. “About a week before we went to Jamaica, we met with everyone on Zoom and just let them know we’re not here to have this be a witch hunt, we’re just here to figure out who you are, why you’re here and how this experience is going to help you.
“The first day we got there, we didn’t shoot at all – we just hung out with them and got to know them,” he said. “They got to know us, built some trust, and by that second day, we were doing interviews.”
Foeman admits his eyes were opened by what he witnessed.
“We went there skeptical, thinking it’s a bunch of hippies in the woods doing drugs,” he said. “And we left with the impression these people came here to heal; they’d tried just about everything else, and they were struggling so much. This has helped them to get out of the darkness that they were in.
“We witnessed a lot of strong emotion.”
EDITOR”S NOTE: Van Valkenburg and KFF Health News reporter Markian Hawryluk have a co-written digital piece on ESPN.com accompanying the E60 airing