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Connecting to Nature Through Psychedelics

The article Connecting to Nature Through Psychedelics was originally published on Microdose.

  In a human-centred era where pollution threatens our planet’s…

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The article Connecting to Nature Through Psychedelics was originally published on Microdose.

 

In a human-centred era where pollution threatens our planet’s well-being, the use of psychedelic substances with a focus on changing our relationship with the natural world could be a major catalyst in an ecological revolution.

But where did this theory come from and what do we know about the mechanisms driving this potentially major change in human behaviour?

We’re going to look at these questions and dive deeper into how psychedelics have benefited nature in the past and what we could expect for the future.

 

The first ecological evolution: psychedelics and nature in the 1960s

Besides their medical potential, psychedelics can also be used as tools to improve our behaviour towards and relationship with nature; therefore making them therapeutic at a larger scale, both towards our natural home and indirectly towards ourselves.

Yet how are we sure these substances can make a change?

Just think about the pro-ecological movements that emerged in the 1960s-1970s, “coincidentally” in parallel to the birth of the First Psychedelics Wave, at the center of that time’s counterculture hippie movement. 

 

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Many of the ecological initiatives we still celebrate today, like Earth Day, have their origins in the popularity of psychedelics amongst the young members of society at that time.

A striking description of the hippie movement in relation to nature is a quote by two historians Isserman and Kazin, one which describes perfectly the less inhibited and potential connection of humans with their planet:

 

“LSD made it possible to have a decent conversation with a tree

 

Even by reading the literature of the time, we can get a clear view of how psychedelic users had an increase in ecological values, such as Callenbach’s Ecotopia, where some cannabis users and cultivators abandon the USA to found an ecological utopia, a novel not too distant from Huxley’s Island (1960s).

If we think about the history of ancestral and indigenous psychedelic experiences and the natural settings these took place in, it all starts to make sense. Since ancient times, Mexican and South American tribes have taken these substances in contact with nature and, according to the research of an anthropologist from UCLA, part of the scope of shamanic practices themselves was to preserve the equilibrium of the natural surroundings. This strongly supports the theory around psychedelics’ influence on humans’ behaviour towards the environment.

 

How does it work? 

Many scientists, among which Albert Hofmann, David Luke and Ralph Metzner, have pointed out how the consumption of psychedelic substances can lead to a higher interconnection with nature and empathy towards pro-environmental causes. 

 

From: Increased Global Functional Connectivity Correlates with LSD-Induced Ego Dissolution https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982216300628

 

The psychedelic pioneer Stanislav Grof in his 1980 “History of LSD therapy” speaks about “ego dissolution”, a phenomenon reported during an LSD therapy session, where the participants’ identity “dissolves” in favour of a feeling of unity with the surrounding universe. However, concrete evidence supporting the real nature of this state was brought to light only recently through brain imaging, in a 2016 study where LSD was administered to 15 volunteers. According to the results, it turns out that ego dissolution is generated by “increased global functional connectivity”, enhanced connections created within brain networks located in certain parts of the brain.

 

Current research and future perspectives

Multiple studies found a positive correlation between psychedelic use and pro-environmental behaviour, such as the online population study by Forstmann (with almost 1,500 participants), and the 2019 online study by a research team at the Imperial College London.

 

Results: The frequency of lifetime psychedelic use was positively correlated with nature relatedness at baseline. Nature relatedness was significantly increased 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 2 years after the psychedelic experience

 

Results from the study From Egoism to Ecoism: Psychedelics Increase Nature Relatedness in a State-Mediated and Context-Dependent Manner https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/24/5147

 

Despite the consistency of results repeatedly seen across different studies, the criminalization of these psychedelic substances for use in mental health therapeutics greatly limits their use for environmental purposes.

For this reason, it is key to promote research initiatives on the ecological potential of psychedelics as these substances, once considered “problems”, could actually represent the solution to one of our top current global issues.  

 

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