New research, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, suggests that consuming psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms) can help people feel more connected to nature and reduce authoritarian attitudes.
It is not the first time psychedelic drugs have been linked to what the study authors refer to as “nature relatedness” or anti-authoritarian values. In 2017, one study discovered that taking psychedelics can improve a person’s relationship with nature and, by doing so, encourage eco-friendly behavior. Another found that those who use psychedelic drugs tend to be more liberal than those who don’t. And, of course, there is the history of psychedelics, which have been linked to anti-authoritarian, counter-culture thinking since hippies started donning tie-dye kaftans and assembling in vegan communes in the 1960s.
But it’s a chicken and egg scenario. Does psilocybin use encourage nature relatedness and anti-authoritarianism? Or are anti-authoritarian nature lovers more likely to take psychedelics? The latest study, led by researchers from the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London, hopes to solve the dilemma.
The study involved 14 volunteers. Seven had treatment-resistant major depression and seven acted as healthy control subjects. Each had been asked to fill in surveys quizzing them on their relationship with nature and politics before the first group underwent two psilocybin treatment sessions.
In the first session, volunteers were given a 10-milligram oral dose of the drug. One week later, their dosage increased to 25 milligrams. The second group – the control group – received no psilocybin treatment sessions.
Volunteers were asked to fill in the same surveys a second and third time, one week and seven to 12 months after the second treatment session.
As you might expect, there were minimal changes in the responses to the survey questions from volunteers in the control group. Those who had taken psilocybin, on the other hand, reported feeling closer to nature and less authoritarian in both follow-up surveys.
As one patient put it, “Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting… [But now I see] there’s no separation or distinction, you are it.”
It all sounds very impressive but there are a couple of caveats to note. First, it was a pilot study involving only 14 volunteers (most of whom happened to be white and male). Second, it may be that the increase in “nature relatedness” and anti-authoritarianism is only indirectly linked to psilocybin use and has more to do with the drug reducing symptoms of depression.