Psychedelics have the potential to help us save the planet

In recent years there has been a resurgent scientific interest in the psychological effects of psychedelic drugs. Consider the example of recent trials in which psilocybin was administered to people diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression. Those involved reported significantly positive responses even six months later.

Such studies point with increasing confidence to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for treating depression, addiction, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and enhancing palliative care.

Amidst this “psychedelic renaissance”, there is one recent study in particular that has grabbed my attention. This study, published in a reputable, peer-reviewed international journal, makes even bolder claims about the potential of psychedelics – not only for improving mental health, but also, remarkably, as a key to overcoming inaction in the face of the climate crisis.

On what grounds? The authors justify their claim by zooming in on one explanation for their apparently positive effect on well-being, established in previous research. As well as “resetting” key brain circuitry and enhancing emotional responsiveness, psychedelics commonly increase people’s positive feelings of connectedness – to one’s self and others, and to the natural world.

Connection to nature is something I’m interested in and have researched with colleagues, especially in relation to mental health. “Nature-connectedness” is now considered a research topic in its own right in the field of psychology, an individual quality that can be measured. It refers not just to the extent of an individual’s contact with natural settings, but the extent to which they report feeling connected to and part of the natural world.