A recent study published in Drug Science, Policy, and Law has made new inroads into understanding the relationship between taking psychedelics and feeling connected to nature. The findings indicate that those with a history of psilocybin and LSD use are more likely to report a sense of “nature-relatedness.”
Consequently, they are knowledgeable about climate change compared to individuals who do not report psychedelic use. The results of this study demonstrate that those who use psychedelics are not simply meeting the cultural expectations of how a user of psilocybin or LSD should behave; rather, they have a genuine interest in nature. Identifying that psychedelic use increases our connection to nature may someday be relevant as we continue to fight climate change.
Research on the consequences of taking psychedelic drugs consistently indicate that users demonstrate more pro-environmental behavior and greater nature-relatedness. The research team of Christina Sagioglou and Matthias Forstmann recognized that it was still unknown if this was a natural consequence of psychedelic use or a result of confirmation bias. It is common to find a cultural narrative that those who use psychedelics are hippie tree-huggers.
Before the Sagioglou and Forstmann work, it was unclear if psychedelic users just perceived themselves to naturally have a higher degree of “nature relatedness” than those who did not use the substances. Much of the research on psychedelics is in the form of self-report surveys. This data collection tool is vulnerable to confirmation bias, where those answering the survey provide responses that should be true about them but may not be.
The research team recruited 641 participants through university mailing lists, student Facebook groups, and forums on various social media platforms. The sample was made up of western Europeans and Americans. Participants took a survey that inquired about lifetime experience with psychedelics (psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, & DMT), opiates (heroin, codeine), MDMA, amphetamine, methamphetamine, cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. In addition, they were asked questions about their level of “nature relatedness” and completed a 10-question quiz assessing their climate change knowledge and concern.
The results of these efforts found that those with a history of psilocybin, followed by LSD, scored highest in “nature relatedness” and knowledge of climate change. The statistical analysis concluded that an increase in “nature relatedness” seemed to be the factor that influenced individuals to pursue knowledge of climate change. Interestingly the use of psilocybin or LSD was not related to increased reports of climate concern.
The research team hypothesized that “an additional process may be a generally lower tendency to worry, as indicated by psychedelic users’ scoring higher than the norm on emotional stability and a positive correlation between psychedelic use frequency and emotional stability.” In other words, psychedelics reduce worry and increase emotional stability.
Limitations of this work include the nature of correlations. It could be an additional and unmeasured factor is at work influencing the likelihood that someone takes psychedelics, feels connected to nature, and learns about climate change. The study assessed attitudes about nature-relatedness and climate change but did not measure actions. It could be that feelings about nature and climate do not translate into meaningful actions.
The researchers conclude with an acknowledgment of how difficult it is to research psychedelics because of their illegal status in most nations. This has consequences for what we could learn about psychedelics and future prosocial or pro-climate behaviors.
The study, “Psychedelic use predicts objective knowledge about climate change via increases in nature relatedness“, was authored by Christina Sagioglou and Matthias Forstmann.