Nature-connectedness is essential for human and planetary health. “There’s a growing body of research literature showing that nature-connectedness has a strong association with mental health and wellbeing, particularly eudaemonic wellbeing which is tied to life meaning and self-actualisation,” says ecologist and independent researcher Dr Sam Gandy, one of the co-authors of the study. “If we’re concerned about mental health and wellbeing, the global decline in nature connectedness is something which should be of grave concern to all of us.”
There are two primary differences, according to Gandy, between psilocybin (the study tested a range of psychedelics – including LSD, ayahuasca and mescaline – and found psilocybin to be the most effective in stimulating nature connectedness) and more traditional nature-connection interventions such as nature retreats, wilderness immersion and daily interaction. The first, longevity. The effects of a single high dose of psilocybin can last up to two years, where he’s not found “any compelling evidence for long-lasting change” in non-psychedelic options. The second, intentionality. It could be assumed that those who take psychedelics are more open to nature to begin with, but studies have found that psilocybin can elicit increases in nature-connectedness even in a clinical setting – where the only nature is human. This can happen without any prior intentionality. “There’s no other interventions that have this effect. It’s really quite mysterious and unique,” he says. “What happens if we mindfully and intentionally use psychedelics as nature-connectedness enhancing agents?”
Research into psychedelics as treatments for a range of mental health conditions such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, OCD and addiction is booming. But data on nature-connection and psychedelics, according to Sam, is “data left on the side … If we’re looking to explore all the possible positive attributes of psychedelics, we’d be foolish to overlook their capacity to affect our relationships with nature … If we can use psychedelics in ways that maximise or deepen that connection, then there’s positive long-term implications for that.”
When I started researching this essay, I found myself sliding towards evangelicalism. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, what I was reading. Transformational experiences here, there, everywhere. Mystical experiences for all! I read about drug advocate Rick Doblin’s attempts to end sectarian violence by sending tablets of MDMA to the world’s spiritual leaders (he also, apparently, sent 1000 doses of MDMA to the Soviet military working on arms control negotiations with President Reagan) and had a brief, rose-coloured vision of a global annual mushroom-imbibing event; we all stay at home, eat mushrooms, and dissolve our egos for a better world. I pondered how to get LSD to Vladimir Putin, ASAP.
It’s easy to frame psychedelics as a quick fix when hearing and reading firsthand stories of people whose lives have been changed for the better as a result of psychedelic treatment – clinical or recreational. Enlightenment without a decades-long meditation practice. Yes! Worldview shift overnight. Yes! Relief from anxiety in eight hours. Yes!
But, as Sam Gandy points out, “we’re not suffering from a mental health crisis because there’s a lack of psychedelics. Disconnection is a big part of it.