New study finds psychedelic drugs result in lasting increases in nature relatedness

New research provides evidence that psychedelic drugs produce enduring increases in people’s sense of being connected to nature. The findings, which have recently been published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, indicate there is a causal link between psychedelic use and nature relatedness.

A lead author of the study, Sam Gandy (@SamwiseGandy), a collaborator with the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, told PsyPost he has a lifelong love of nature and PhD in ecological science from the University of Aberdeen.

“I have a growing interest in how and why people become connected to nature, and the implications of this. Profound experiences of nature connection appear to be a common if not fundamental property of psychedelics, and it was interesting to examine,” he explained.

“Nature connection or relatedness is an interesting thing to look at scientifically as it is strongly correlated with a broad range of measures of psychological wellbeing, while also being a strong predictor of pro-environmental behaviour. So it’s an interesting and topical area given the burgeoning, concurrent mental health and ecological crises we are facing, with there being a recognised lack of effective interventions for reducing people’s environmentally destructive behaviour.”

For their study, the researchers used online advertisements to recruit 654 individuals who were planning to use a psychedelic drug in the near future. The participants completed scientific questionnaires 1 week before their psychedelic experience and then one day, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and 2 years afterward.

Gandy and his colleagues found that the psychedelic experience was associated with increases in nature relatedness. Specifically, the participants agreed more strongly with statements such as, “My ideal vacation spot would be a remote, wilderness area”, “My relationship to nature is an important part of who I am”, and “I feel very connected to all living things and the earth” after having consumed a psychedelic drug.

“Increases in nature relatedness or connection (the degree of one’s self identification with nature), were found to be positively correlated with concomitant increases in psychological wellbeing, and amount of lifetime psychedelic usage was correlated with level of nature relatedness at baseline,” Gandy told PsyPost.

“Post-psychedelic increases in nature relatedness were found to be enduring, measured at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 2 years post experience. Increases in nature relatedness were also found to be mediated by ego-dissolution experiences occurring under the influence of the psychedelic, along with access to natural settings during the acute experience.”

As with all research, the study includes some limitations.

“Given that this was an observational study, this comes with limitations such as a lack of experimental control, such as verification of drug dose and purity, and the particular natural settings people had access to. The recruitment criterion of intent to take a psychedelic substance may lead to an unavoidable bias towards psychedelic use, and likely greater openness to new experiences in general. The sample was predominantly highly educated and male, impairing the generalisability of the findings,” Gandy explained.

However, the findings are in line with some previous research. A cross-sectional survey of 1,487 individuals found that people who had used psychedelics tended to have higher levels of nature relatedness. An analysis of a small group of patients who used psychedelics for treatment-resistant depression also indicated the drugs can change how people feel about the natural environment.

“Psychedelics are very powerful substances, and their beneficial application is determined by the set (psychological context) and setting (sociocultural context) framing their usage,” Gandy added.

“In modern clinical studies involving psychedelics, careful screening of study participants is conducted to ensure participants with a diagnosis or family history of certain forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia are not included so as to ensure safety and eliminate the possibility of the psychedelic experience exacerbating underlying mental health issues.

“Psychedelics certainly aren’t necessary to increase nature relatedness. The direct sensorial experience of nature is sufficient for this, so nature-based activities and time spent in nature, in addition to nature-based mindfulness practices such as forest walking and Japanese forest bathing (or Shinrin-Yoku) are great ways of increasing our connection to nature, while yielding a range of additional benefits from nature immersion,” Gandy said.

“So there are a number of ways of cultivating our connection to nature, and given the importance of this connection, enhancing it should be considered an urgent priority by our species.”

The study, “From Egoism to Ecoism: Psychedelics Increase Nature Relatedness in a State-Mediated and Context-Dependent Manner“, was authored by Hannes Kettner, Sam Gandy, Eline C. H. M. Haijen, and Robin L. Carhart-Harris.