Psychedelics go beyond shifts in individual mental health. The rippling effects of psychedelics expand beyond ourselves into connection with our environment.
Anyone who has taken magic mushrooms in nature can confirm a profound fascination with the natural world while under the influence.
More than once, I've been indoors waiting for a trip to start. When the mushrooms kick in, the indoor environment feels suffocating while the trees or the sky are magnetic. I've seen my friends bolt from the group to connect with a flower or roll in the grass.
Witnessing this cliche feeds the "hippies on LSD hugging trees" story. This old stigma can make the modern psychedelic enthusiast feel self-conscious, vibing with a flower. But the experience of reconnecting to nature in the sensitive states psychedelics induce can be fantastic while having positive and lasting effects on your life.
Feeling this effect is called "nature connectedness" and is described in research as a person's sense of oneness with natural ecology and their ability to identify themselves as part of a greater ecosystem.
Psychedelic Research and Connection to Nature
Studies have found that people who consumed psychedelics scored higher on the "nature relatedness scale." These people identified nature as being part of their identity more than those who did not consume psychedelics.
Lifetime users of psychedelics report making more environmentally conscious decisions about their energy consumption, how they deal with waste, and their product choices. Nature connection also translates into concern for the environment. One survey found that 66% percent of experienced psychedelic users felt more concern for environmental issues.
This made 16% of users go as far as changing careers to more environmentally friendly ones.
Psychedelics are being paraded as a paradigm-shifting mental health intervention. Yet, psychedelic's long-term effects outside of the session are essential to why they hold so much potential. Their ability to trigger feelings of connection could be a factor in why the long-term improved quality of life is enjoyed by many who use psychedelics. Particularly when we examine how the natural world affects our wellbeing
Health Benefits of Nature
Time spent in nature is well documented to influence mental and physiological health while potentially giving people's lives more meaning.
Being exposed to nature can reduce mental distress, anxiety, and depression. Contact with nature can boost mood for people with major depressive disorder and offer relief from people with PTSD symptoms.
Nature can recharge our exhausted mental faculties by improving our attention and memory. Just 5–10 minutes can lower stress levels and blood pressure while increasing our happiness with feelings of pleasure and purpose.
Why Do Psychedelics Connect Us To Nature?
One of the superpowers of psychedelics on human consciousness is their ability to "dissolve the ego," also known as ego death. This unique experience breaks down borders the mind draws between ourselves and the world.
When someone goes into this state and loses all sense of self, the result is a sense of unity. Not with just nature, but humanity, and sometimes the entire universe. We can intellectually understand that everything is connected, but psychedelics have a way of reframing assumptions about ourselves through experiences described as mystical.
While it isn't necessary to merge with the entire universe to connect to nature, researchers think this openness, awe, and unity is a mechanism of action for psychedelics. Upon returning from an ego-death, the reported outcomes are reconnection to oneself, more empathy for others, and, yup, the environment. Not to mention a new perspective on your place in the universe.
Nature and Psychedelics Create a Feedback Loop
The overlap between psychedelic benefits and nature's benefits creates an interesting opportunity. Psychedelics are famous for having an effect that lasts well after a trip is over. In some cases, years later, a few hours remains the most powerful moments in some human lives.
Some of the ongoing improvements are attributed to ongoing therapy, which is part of the package when participating in clinical trials. However, when we look at the nature-relatedness effects — a connection and reverence for nature, encouraging people to spend more time engaging with the environment, and the impact of this time on mental health a sort of feedback loop emerges.
Maybe this is obvious. We have a trip and get inspired. Perhaps we can integrate psychedelics and feel better about our life. But it's at least a little trippy that psychedelics originally come from nature. Then they also reveal you are part of nature's systems and then compel you to connect to your natural environment.
There is even evidence that some people try to better care of the natural world after psychedelic use. In theory, they are improving an environment that can heal them further. Some of these environments even produce the healing substance. Providing the opportunity to take more of the substance and continue the cycle.
Now, this is pretty conceptual. The vast majority of people don't undertake environmental restoration and plant psilocybin mushroom mycelium. And I should note that the actual follow-through of pro-environmental impulses has been criticized.
Indeed, most psychedelics used in clinical trials are not mushrooms picked fresh from the forest or cow paddy. Psychedelics used in clinical trials are generally synthetic. However, even while on the verge of becoming a pharmaceutical commodity, when psychedelics are taken in a clinical setting while wearing eyes shades and listening to electronic music, they still increase nature-relatedness.
Perhaps it is no surprise that taking psychedelics in a natural setting can induce peak experiences and enhance psychedelic therapy. Psychedelics have been described as amplifiers of internal and external influences — therefore, an epic setting might help with an epic trip.
Expansion to these ideas is shaping new retreat centers with design elements showcasing biophilic design. This philosophy emphasizes the health, environmental, and even potentially economic benefits of people living in built environments.
For Those Following Along At Home
Nature can be an excellent tool for the preparation and integration of trips. Spending time in nature is also correlated to mindfulness and openness, both massive allies in preparing for and integrating a psychedelic journey. Remember, even 5 minutes immersed in pristine nature can be a great reset for stress. No high-end retreat center is needed, just a quick forest bath.
However, while you may feel the urge to take the hero's journey in the redwoods, both psychedelics and mother nature will never be as predictable as we would like. Tripping in nature can be amazing, but without your ego, who knows how that thunderstorm will go?
The ideas behind the biophilic design for psychedelic retreat centers are connected heavily to safety and comfort. Going deep demands a degree of surrender, which cannot happen when you're battling the elements. So when prepping for an outdoor journey, a few extra steps for proper clothing, enough water, snacks, and other necessary outdoor gear are essential.
And trust me, bring a friend and check the weather.
What This Means For Psychedelics
While all of this is new to science and western culture, psychedelic nature connection is ancient news to indigenous cultures. In the context of indigenous use, settings are almost always natural. Shamans guiding ceremonies spend enormous amounts of time connecting and interacting with their ecosystem as part of their training.
Integration with nature is simply part of traditional worldviews. The symbolism occurring when living in greater deal harmony with one's ecosystem influences the symbolism of an ayahuasca ceremony in the jungle with complexity challenging to quantify. If this can ever be replicated inside of clinics seems unlikely, but learning from cultures far more experienced with psychedelics seems like a good area of study.
However, whether or not this is happening is an ongoing debate- if the west is giving due credit or claiming discoveries like "psychedelics can heal us" for science and industry. But that is a way bigger topic than I will explore here. The point, for now, is that psychedelics have always been connected with nature, just like healing, music, or community.
Psychedelics are nature. Just like you.