Apr 16, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Olivia Hahnemann-Gilber | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Most people are familiar with the image of the tree-hugger acidhead stereotype. But is there any validity to it? In other words, do psychedelic drugs actually make a person feel more connected to the natural world?
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates that a person’s usage of psychedelics is, in fact, causally related to that person’s connection towards nature; not only this, but apparently the affinity endures long after the effects of the drug have worn off.
The study included 654 participants who reported that they were planning to take a psychedelic drug in the near future. They were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their feelings of “nature-relatedness” (the extent to which a person feels that they identify with nature) one week before their trip, and subsequently, one day, two weeks, four weeks, and two years after taking the drug.
As it turns out, the mean nature-relatedness scores tended to increase in the weeks and years after taking the drug, the highest mean score being two years after the participants’ trips. The mean nature-relatedness scores were also significantly higher than those of the control group, which consisted of demographically similar individuals.
Clearly, there are a few possibly confounding variables. For example, could a person’s willingness to take a psychedelic drug reflect a personality trait that also makes them more open to the outdoors? Or, could a person’s psychedelic experience in nature lead them to associate nature with a happy experience, rather than nature-relatedness being directly correlated with the drug’s psychological effects?
Keeping such external factors in mind, the results of this study are thought-provoking. To learn more about this phenomenon, I interviewed a few Colorado College students about their experiences as far as their feelings of nature-relatedness post and pre-psychedelic experience.
While recounting her experience with mushrooms on a backpacking trip, one student said that she spent most of her trip sitting on a boulder in a stream, observing the natural world around her.
“I feel like for the rest of that trip I just felt a lot more in touch with the space I was in and appreciative of its beauty,” the student said. When asked further about any long-term personal impacts of her trip, she said that “tripping definitely makes me realize how much I like to be outside and outside of the artificial parts of society.”
This student’s depiction of her psychedelic experience is congruent with the results of the study described above, as well as with many commonly held ideas about psychedelics and its relationship to a person’s self-identification with nature.
A second student who also reported about her mushroom adventure similarly spent most of her trip sitting atop a large rock and described the experience as a sort of awakening to the marvels of nature.
“I was just looking at the rock and noticing all of the intricate parts of it, and we just kind of formed a connection,” the student said. “When we had to go I was so sad to be separated from it because I felt like we had really made a bond – I felt like the rock was living and breathing.”
In reflecting upon any long-lasting impacts of this event, she said, “I now consider geology as a possible major, and if not, I now really want to take a geology class before I graduate.” For this student, taking shrooms seems to have inspired a greater sense of interest in and empathy towards nature – scientifically living or not.
This seems to have been true for both students interviewed and for the participants in the study. The experience of being within nature during a psychedelic trip does seem to bring out a sort of fondness and respect towards the elements of nature.
Why is all of this important? Well, research also shows that a person’s nature-relatedness may be positively associated with their pro-environmental sentiments and behaviors.
In the study published in the United States National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health, 113 students were asked and tested about their explicit and implicit levels of connectedness to nature, as well as their deliberate and spontaneous environmental behaviors.
The results of the study showed that, in general, feelings of connectedness to nature were predictive of pro-environmental behavior.
So, if psychedelic drugs make some people feel more identified with nature, this could have a positive impact on their environmental views and practices; although, more research is needed.