Dr Sam Gandy is involved with cutting-edge research into psychedelics and nature connectedness. He's worked with the Beckley Foundation, Onaya Science and the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. In this conversation, Sam explores the capacity of psychedelics to influence human relationships with nature. The research suggests that the psychedelic experience can enhance nature connectedness: We consider the evidence and the factors that might underpin this phenomenon. We explore connectedness, mysticism, ego dissolution and how we might use ecotherapy to enhance psychedelic-assisted therapy.
0:00:00 - Adrian
Welcome to the Embodied Pathways podcast. I was the Manager of the Ecology and Research Channel on the Embodiment Conference back in 2020. I was looking for someone to talk about psychedelics. It didn't take very long to find Sam Gandy, because he's been very active in research around psychedelics and nature connection. Since then, we've worked together on a couple of projects and I'm absolutely delighted to welcome him to the Embodied Pathways podcast.
Sam is a PhD ecologist, independent researcher and science communicator. Most importantly for us, he has a varied experience of working in the psychedelic field. He's worked as a scientific assistant to the director of the Beckley Foundation and as an eco-psychology coordinator and research assistant with the Synthesis Institute. His science communication work includes a past role as a senior science writer for Wavepaths and delivering presentations on psychedelic science for Seed Talks. He is of course of lifelong nature lover. He has research interest in the capacity of psychedelics to influence human relationships with nature and is a collaborator with Onaya Science and the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College in London. His current work focuses on the ecological field and he's working as an innovation team leader environmental consultancy Ecosulis. Wow, that's quite an impressive line-up there Sam. Welcome!
0:01:25 - Sam
Thanks for having me. Nice to be chatting to you, Adrian.
And you know it seems like it went both ways, in that you found me, but then I kind of also found you in terms of, you know, when I was working for Synthesis they were quite keen to have more eco-psychology, more nature connectedness content involved there. So you'd already reached out to me, so I was aware of you and your work, and yeah, and I was like, 'Ah well, this is someone we need to bring into the psychedelic space'. So there's like a two way kind of yeah, symbiosis going on.
0:01:56 - Adrian
And that was brilliant for me because it was a real game changer. It really got me into the psychedelic work which I've been doing ever since. A lot of adventures have been had - we won't go into here. So we're going to be talking about your latest research paper on psychedelics and nature connectedness, but before we get into that, I was just curious about what you're up to at the moment.
0:02:20 - Sam
My main nine-to-five kind of role at the moment is working for Ecosulis who kind of specialize in rewilding and nature restoration, nature recovery work, habitat creation, eco-restoration. It's quite exciting to as well as kind of on the side, be be researching and looking into nature connection, the restoration of connection to nature. Like my nine-to-five job is involving the restoration of nature. So it's quite exciting and satisfying being able to kind of work on both things at the same time. So that's occupying a fair chunk of my time. But then on the other side of that I'm giving the odd little event. I'm down in Hastings the week after next on Saturday doing a kind of nature connection immersion event in the beautiful woods and coastal areas around Hastings with my friend, Sarah Jane. A few talks: I was in Exeter and Bristol talking about psychedelics and fungi earlier this week. Yeah, i really enjoy giving the giving the talks.
There's various different paper obligations - like collaborations - on the go. And I, yeah, maybe won't touch on all of them, but I'll briefly say Onaya Science, who I'm collaborating with. So Simon Ruffle is a friend, a psychiatrist, and he's working in a kind of co-participatory way with this Shipibo Shaman led ayahuasca retreat centre in Peru and that's been quite exciting. We've got a paper in the works looking at ayahuasca and nature connectedness - or nature relatedness rather - and clinical outcomes, and we're just sort of, yeah, we're just incorporating more data, but hopefully we'll be submitting that soon. And then, yeah, there's a kind of long running collaboration with Imperial College looking at the effects of psilocybin on nature connectedness, but in hopefully quite a rigorous way in that it's we've got two clinical groups: a psychedelic naive healthy group and then a clinical group with major depression who've had psilocybin therapy for depression. But we've also got placebo control and an active SSRI control group, if you will. And we've got sort of like long term well, relatively long term follow up, to half a year post post experience and I guess, yeah, because that's not being submitted yet, so I can't say too much.
But I'm quite excited about that because the results I feel are quite compelling in terms of the change of nature connectedness that we see. But it also sheds light on some of the mechanisms of change that the psilocybin seems to be kind of working on that are partly at least responsible for these changes. So hopefully be a valuable contribution getting some slightly rigorous science out there. I mean, I was slightly puzzled by, while noticing that, for instance, Breaking Convention conference, the Insight conference in the Netherlands and also the MAPS Colorado conference, which I'm actually going to in Colorado, I haven't really seen any mention of nature connectedness and psychedelics on any of their line-ups or anything vaguely leaning in that direction, which seems a bit of an oversight and a little bit concerning. Really, yeah, it'd be good if there was some change on that front, but perhaps some more rigorous research might help bring that about.
0:05:42 - Adrian
I think we're just ahead of the curve here, Sam. They'll catch up.
0:05:46 - Sam
Yeah, yeah, I guess I guess so and I'll keep banging the scientific drum in my own way and doing, yeah, do collaborating on this work and stuff. But it would be nice to see. I think until this point it's been like an interesting curiosity or a side act to the main, I guess, clinical work, and to me it seems that, given the level of evidence for the importance of nature connectedness for individual well-being and mental health, without even considering the potential implications for planetary well being from people high in nature connectedness, it seems that, yeah, it's a bit remiss to not have it as part of the central stage focus in my view, because it's really important.
0:06:33 - Adrian
Yeah, I'm 100% with you on that one, absolutely. All I can think is it's just a little bit ahead of the curve still. I'm hoping that's what it is and there'll be more interest going forward.
0:06:44 - Sam
I think you're probably right. I think nature connectedness in general is a fairly cutting edge new area itself really.
0:06:52 - Adrian
Yeah, just to clarify some of the terminology, which is crucial. You've been talking about nature relatedness and nature connectedness, which are sort of the kind of thing with different labels. But the key thing is this is not the same as contact with nature - not just you going hanging out in your local park - but it's something very specific.
0:07:11 - Sam
Yes, it is. And I think, yeah, it's important to clarify that because, yeah, there was a recent talk I saw. I'll send it to you actually because it's an excellent provides an excellent summary overview of the research on nature connectedness.
It's all up-to-date and the researcher in that defines nature connectedness really well in that he says it's not about nature contact per se, it's more about the nature of the contact with nature, and the research that's being done on it highlights that nature connectedness is much more about active engagement with nature and appreciation of nature.
It's not a passive or superficial awareness of nature, for example, and it's not the same thing as, like going out for a nice walk and then feeling that kind of nice afterglow feeling afterwards. The nature connectedness runs deeper and it's more sustained. But it's also complex and multi dimensional, because aspects of our emotions are cognition, our personality types. And, importantly, our childhood encounters and experiences with nature seem quite fundamental at predicting our later life nature connectedness. So there's a whole fusion of different factors across different domains of our being, that sort of meld together to form our relationship with nature, which is captured by, yeah, nature connectedness or nature relatedness scales which, as you say, are essentially like different labels for essentially the same thing. That different scales are kind of capturing.
0:08:49 - Adrian
Yeah, lovely, thank you. Now, the interesting thing is that there's there's all these links between psychedelic experience and nature relatedness, so it's a big area. I thought we'd start off talking about about what those connections are, yeah, and then we can delve into the harder question of why they exist, what the hell is going on?
0:09:09 - Sam
Yeah, so I mean, yeah, there's quite a lot to pack, it unpack here but, there's yeah, it's been noted in a few, I think a few initial survey studies kind of found a link between total lifetime usage of psychedelics and people's nature relatedness at baseline. That's a kind of a first step in the sense that it's retrospective, so it's looking back in time and sort of casting a wide net, if you will, on samples like large internet samples. But it's not as rigorous, say, as like a prospective before and after long term follow-up study that you can get a better handle on what's, what's actually changing and things like this. And there's been a few studies that have found that, yeah, much of the present research has been with psilocybin - That's the current sort of psychedelic that takes centre stage - And those studies have documented, yeah, long term shifts in nature connectedness or if they haven't used nature connectedness scales people's relationships with nature and the environment. And these seem to be sustained for a year, up to 18 months or potentially longer.
I was involved with an Imperial study and we found that again that lifetime usage of psychedelics was robustly associated with people's nature relatedness at baseline. And we found that experiences of ego dissolution in the experience, so the subjective you're, the loss of your subjective sense of self identity - I think there's more to unpack there, but maybe we'll come back to that - And also, perhaps unsurprisingly, having the experience in nature based settings, were they were positive predictors of nature relatedness change.
However, it should be added, although nature based settings for psychedelic experiences appear to be kind of supportive of greater gains in or increases in nature relatedness, they're certainly not essential. This is what I find perhaps the most interesting aspect of this whole area is that even if you kind of administered doses of psilocybin and otherwise, you know, comfortable but clinical environment with no, you know no other kind of nature, if you will, apart from, say, other humans yeah, humans are the only other living thing in that vicinity - You still see these shifts in how people relate to nature in the wider environment, and to me that's really interesting and compelling because of all the other nature connectedness enhancing interventions that I'm aware of. You know, things like prolonged experiential nature based engagement programs or education programs, residential stays and field stays in National Parks, things like this, and also, i think, unsurprisingly, as you'd expect, nature is very much the main kind of event there and you're engaging with it in different ways, whereas something that's quite special about the psychedelic experiences it doesn't need to happen in that context for it to elicit change, although if it does occur in that context it's likely the gains will be bolstered.
0:12:11 - Adrian
Ah, okay, I'm likewise been fascinated by that because I remember the early Imperial trial with psilocybin - Those of us who don't know, psilocybin is the psychedelic we get in magic mushrooms - and the several of the participants had these extraordinary nature connectedness experience. I was like they're in a room in a hospital. What the hell? how is that? Any thoughts? What's going on?
0:12:34 - Sam
Oh yeah. So this is an interesting thing because I've kind of like, yeah, have pondered this and I feel like part of what might be going on is that obviously we're always part of nature. You know. It doesn't matter where you, where you are in the world or where you go, and that's a never useful way perhaps of thinking about nature connectedness is you can be a very nature connected person, potentially in a very nature depleted or lacking in nature environment - If that makes sense - You take that connectedness with you. It's independent of the context in which you may be at the time. And I wonder that, because we all are fundamentally part of nature, I think when you have a high dose psychedelic or psilocybin experience, you're kind of, your, even if you're not in external nature somewhere, you're tuning into your own internal nature of the brain. You're going inwards. And so it's like, its nature all the way up or all the way down, and so if you're just going inwards, you're still going to connect with your fundamental being, which is part of nature. So in that sense I don't think it kind of matters where you launch from, and I think another powerful property of psychedelics is their capacity to kind of dissolve boundaries and barriers, so concepts like internal and external can kind of get a bit wonky or sort of break down altogether.
One of the core agents of change, following the recent publication of a qualitative study on, yeah, transpersonal ecodelia, like. So this was exciting and interesting because while there's a few studies now showing that psychedelics can affect people's relationships with nature, until this work, there's they're not being really any light shed on how or why psychedelics have that effect. And so this was quite rich because it was a qualitative work we could kind of like shed light on the kind of underlying mechanisms of change without, without trying to kind of pigeonhole people's experiences into pre-predefined boxes. So the qualitative approach can be very powerful and illuminating for work like this. And one of the central themes that emerged, much more central than any anything else - and there was quite a few different things in the mix actually - was the experience of interconnectedness under a psychedelic. That was appeared to be by far the most primary and of central importance, kind of mediator for shifts in people's relationships with nature.
0:15:05 - Adrian
Whoa, that's super interesting. Yeah, this, this whole thing about connectedness keeps coming up. I know Ross Watts has created this measure of it, the Watts Connectedness Scale, which is super interesting. So connectedness is is fundamental to all this.
0:15:21 - Sam
Yes, yes it absolutely is. And so this again, this is kind of this is an interesting finding from the research that's still not even even published yet. So this is cutting edge, not yet vetted by the scientific establishment. One of the findings I found that was quite interesting, that builds on Ros's work, developing her scale, is that when looking at some of the potential mediators of change that psilocybin can elicit in people's connectedness to nature, a few things were highlighted with these independent sample groups. One of them was like changes in absorption or trait absorption, a particular sub-dimension of absorption called 'trait absorption in the aesthetics of nature'. So that shifts in people's capacity to be engrossed and absorbed by mental, cognitive, imaginative phenomena seem to be that seem to be increasing after psilocybin and staying elevated. And so, when directed towards nature, seem to be feeding into people's greater connectedness. But as well as that, or as an aside to that, at the same time, another important factor was that those increases in nature connectedness were very much tied to a broadening of connectedness in general, so connectedness to self, connectedness to others and connectedness to nature in the world at large. And so what this suggests, building on previous research - there's been a few kind of studies looking at interventions that will say target either social connectedness or nature connectedness, and then they will see an increase in the other expression of connectedness, even though that wasn't being targeted. I think this evidence adds to the work that's been done before that kind of strongly suggests that nature connectedness is not, it's not some isolated form of connectedness out on its own. It's not actually that different from social connectedness or other expressions of interconnectedness. So we can kind of, connectedness itself being a fundamentally interconnected or interwoven construct, and what's potentially quite exciting about that is to cultivate connectedness more broadly. You almost don't need to be thinking about all of it all at once. It seems that, like one cultivating a particular form or expression of it will potentially provide kind of reciprocal benefits in other forms of expression, and nature itself seems to be good at this as well increase engagement, acknowledgement, appreciation of nature as a pathway to this, it seems.
0:17:59 - Adrian
The psychedelics experience also elicits awe. I'm wondering where that, is that fitting in here somewhere?
0:18:07 - Sam
I think so. So in the qualitative paper that I mentioned , awe did come up as one of the factors. It's certainly something that I've kind of speculated on in some of my other previous writings on this topic. And yeah, i think awe is a very interesting thing in the sense that we know that nature reliably triggers awe, and we also know psychedelics and the psychedelic mystical experience in particular has been sort of described in terms of inducing a strong state of, of powerful awe, and that particularly that you know the feeling that's part of awe, where you're, you feel very small in relation to something much greater than yourself, and that greatness can defy your existing knowledge structures to the point where it sometimes can be scary because it can define, it can defy understanding or your knowledge of whatever it is. So it's a very positive and kind of benevolent, complex emotion that we could probably all benefit from experiencing more. But what was interesting in the psychedelic qualitative study was, it wasn't just like big vistas or sunsets or storms or something that you know like powerful kind of natural phenomena that over massive scales that seem to incite awe. It was also people under psychedelics were finding awe in the very small, learning to kind of tune into like life around them and finding awe in that and in the machinations of nature, and on a very small macro and micro level. So I thought that was quite nice.
But other non-psychedelic research does paint strong relationship between awe and awe propensity and nature connectedness. So people, for example, who rate higher in nature connectedness are more likely to experience awe in natural settings. But it also kind of goes the other way in the experience of awe in natural settings can also underpin positive shifts in nature connectedness. You know I like to think of awe, awe and interconnectedness are essentially two sides of the same coin. To be in awe of something, there's some degree of loss of self and some sort of connection to something beyond the self at the same time. So I do feel like, yeah, awe and connection or nature connection, they they're not, so they're not so far removed from each other.
0:20:33 - Adrian
This is getting quite close to the realm, where you mentioned mysticism already, which is an area I'm really fascinated with, and we know from the research that mystical experiences tend to increase a person's connectedness with the world and nature. We've got awe, we've got connectedness, we've got mysticism: Thoughts on how that fits in, the mystical experience?
0:20:54 - Sam
I think these themes around mysticism, such as awe and interconnectedness, are very relevant, actually, in the sense that arguably, they are some of the the fundamental aspects of mystical experiences. Of perhaps central importance to what a mystical experience, is is an experience of fundamental interconnectedness. The feeling or realization that we're all in this together. You know you're not an individual being separated from the rest of your fellow beings in the universe, you're like woven from the same tapestry, you know fundamentally. And then, yeah, the experiences of deep awe as well, and other emotions as well, like deep senses of reverence and joy and bliss and love, as well as those other kind of emotions. But I would consider, yeah, the sense of unity and interconnectedness are perhaps like, it's almost like the root of the mystical experience in some ways. I mean, you know there's more to it than that. I don't want to like oversimplify it, but it seems like that's kind of a central cornerstone of it, if you will. But yeah, and it seems like even you know, from non-psychedelic literature, there's definitely an association between mystical experiences and changes to values in, on how one relates to nature, or even your pro environmental, pro-nature feelings towards nature. And it's interesting to note as well that that nature based settings can fairly reliably trigger mystical type experiences as well. So it's like it goes two ways, which I think is quite quite interesting. There was something else, so maybe kind of that was bubbling up there, but I think it's popped, that bubble.
0:22:34 - Adrian
The other thing about mystical experience is it seems from the research that it's fundamentally tied in with how psychedelics can heal people from mental distress.
0:22:44 - Sam
There's been some research, recent research just published that's kind of really highlights the, yeah, the importance of these transpersonal, transcendental, like mystical experiences for long-term outcomes. And obviously now there's talk about snipping some of the psychedelic aspects out of psychedelic molecules. In one way it will increase potential access to psychedelics - it will make them cheaper and more accessible to people, including people who they your psychedelics as they exist now perhaps are not suitable, but it's like what is lost? And my take would be quite a lot is being being lost. Yeah, psychedelics are kind of - they are acting on a number of different levels at the same time I think. There was a recent discovery, for instance, that they interact with this receptor, that's very much tied to plasticity in the brain. So, on the physiological brain, on the neuronal level, I feel like there are important effects. but then you get any self transcendent, mystical, emotional breakthrough experiences and I feel like that's also sort of, yeah, very important. And yeah, I should say as well that I think that bubble that popped earlier is just kind of bubble back up again. What I thought was quite interesting and this is quite limited, kind of relatively new research, but I think it was, I was reviewing a master's thesis for someone, and then I saw something more recently and it was suggesting that the nature connectedness change resulting from psychedelic use, like the mystical experience, can definitely influence that. But it's not necessary for downstream changes in nature connectedness, which I thought was really interesting because I had originally thought I think before reading that that the mystical experience was probably one of the central change agents of downstream shifts in people's relationship with nature. But some work that's coming to light now suggests while the mystical experience can elicit that change, it's not necessary. So it seems that, yeah, psychedelics are potentially kind of acting on a on a multi-dimensional level here and how they shift people's relationships with nature.
0:24:45 - Adrian
Amazing. So this podcast is called Embodied Pathways. So obviously embodiment is something I'm very engaged with. Yes, do you have any thoughts on - this is quite a big question. but that embodiment, psychedelics, nature, connectedness there's something going on there or something we might explore?
0:25:03 - Sam
Yeah, I think it seems to be very much coming to awareness, the you know the importance to our health of the mind-body connection and interoception as well. You know that sort of like the link between body and mind. And this seems like a new frontier now that's opening up in terms of mental health, both with and without psychedelics being involved. And I find that quite interesting. And I know a few therapists who were kind of working at the forefront of psychedelic clinical work, and there does seem to be, if not a consensus, then certainly a growing awareness of the importance of kind of embodiment practices being incorporated into psychedelic therapy, into the kind of integration phase as well. I think that's really important, is my kind of hunch, and I say that as someone who perhaps can be a little bit cerebral and a little bit through the work that I do I think I can be quite sort of yeah, heady And then nature, getting out into nature and exercising, running, walking is a good kind of counterbalance to that. And obviously there's there's many other practices as well that can embody us. Embodiment practices incorporated into into psychedelic therapy. And also, yeah, incorporating them into nature connection practices as well, outside of psychedelic use. I feel like it's important stuff of value that's worthy of further exploration and cultivation, I think.
0:26:29 - Adrian
Earlier on, you mentioned ego dissolution, and this is this is another big aspect of the psychedelic experience. So for those who haven't heard of it, ego dissolution - sometimes dramatically called 'ego death' - it's when basically your ego just disappears. I've got a quote from Michael Pollan's book that, just for the sake of our listeners, I'll read.
"I watched as that familiar self began to fall apart before my eyes, gradually at first, and then all at once. 'I' now turn into a sheaf of little papers no bigger than Post-its, and they were being scattered to the wind". (How to Change Your Mind, Pollan, page 263).
So the self just kind of like, just goes 'poof!'- just kind of falls apart and goes away. Is ego dissolution a factor in nature relatedness, do you think?
0:27:13 - Sam
Yes, it's a good question, and not an easy one to answer well, right at this stage because there's conflicting kind of information on this. So there are a number of independent retrospective survey studies - like the kind of yeah, the first kind of research really looking at nature connectedness took the form of these studies - and interestingly, they did find an association in retrospective usage of ego dissolution with positive changes in nature relatedness, and that we found that in our, in the study that I collaborated on with Imperial - a prospective survey study design, so before, after long term follow up. We also found, as well as access to nature based settings for the psychedelic experience, ego dissolution was one of the factors that predicted such increase. However, I guess I think a more rigorous study that I've been involved in with Imperial, that was, like you know, a clinical, controlled placebo, controlled prospective study design. So, yeah, shining, when you you know, when you're starting with people and you've got a control group and you're starting with psychedelic naive people, like the degree of resolution and rigour that you can kind of apply there is elevated, you know. It's considered like, say, it's like the gold standard of science is when you can have that prospective controlled study design. And what was interesting and quite surprising is based on the previous work that I've been involved in and that I've read, I would have assumed that ego dissolution would have come out as a strong factor predicting downstream changes in nature connectedness. But it didn't. There was a weak, pretty weak, association between ego dissolution and downstream shifts in nature connectedness, and in our study it was, as mentioned, it was the changes in trait absorption and general connectedness that seem much more important for those changes.
And I think one thing to consider here is that we might be partially limited by the actual measures and scales that are used in these studies, in the sense that, you know, ego dissolution is sort of a bit of a nebulous term, in the sense that I feel like it might not necessarily just be the kind of dissipation or dissolution of the ego, but what follows in the wake of that? In the sense that I feel like, you kind of need to kind of get out the way of yourself in a sense, which I think maybe ego dissolution can help you with, and once you've done that, experiences of deep unity and interconnection are more accessible to you. It's like your sense of individual self kind of needs to be pushed to the back of the room, in a sense, to allow access to those more expansive states of unity and interconnection. So I think that's more, might be more of what's kind of going on. It's like we just need a bit more resolution to shine light on the actual agents of, or mediators of, change there perhaps. And that's why there's this slight disparity between some studies showing there's a positive association and others - a more recent one, showing there isn't much of one - and I think that's sort of like the ego dissolution measure is kind of almost acting as a bit of a pick-and-mix bag of other types of experience people undergo in psychedelics. For instance, the mystical experience is strongly tied to experiences of ego dissolution, and some scientists, researchers, would only want to really refer to it as ego dissolution because that's kind of the science term for the kind of more spiritual, transcendent experiences people can have.
0:30:45 - Adrian
I find that the tension between, on the one end, the very, how can I put it? The classic scientific focus on the objective - we need the facts and figures - and then the spiritual dimension that's coming in. There's this sort of this tension going on. But that's another topic. But it's one that's interesting to me, the way there's this kind of like, yeah, this middle ground.
0:31:08 - Sam
Yeah, interesting seeing those dynamics.
0:31:11 - Adrian
One of the really interesting bits of research you're involved with suggested that psilocybin, the psychedelic in magic mushrooms, has more of an impact on nature relatedness than other psychedelics.
0:31:23 - Sam
This is interesting. So this idea for the study actually was prompted by my friend collaborator, David Luke and it was quite a while ago now but a psychedelic conference Breaking Convention he showed this slide of this study sample that he'd done. And he was and it was the first ever work actually that I was aware of in the space that was kind of looking at pro-ecological awareness and nature connection involving psychedelics. And this immediately kind of struck a chord. Yeah, given my love of nature, given that I had a PhD in Ecology and I was like 'Oh, wow, I didn't know'. I didn't know anyone was working at the intersection of ecology and psychedelics until I encountered David's presentation. And that's because there wasn't really many, many people or any people, particularly at that time, doing that part of the work. So this is the intersection of two areas that interest me and I think are important. I want to kind of explore this more and kind of hopefully like widen the wide, widen the area a bit. And he showed this table of different types of drug, including psychedelics, and top of the pile for it for increasing nature connectedness but also sort of igniting pro-ecological concern, was psilocybin. More so than the other psychedelics you know, like ayahuasca and LSD were sort of like nearly roughly joined second ish and mescaline was a bit further down than that. That really kind of intrigued me, and I was, I wanted to know like was that a quirk of David's data - the data set - or is this a more general pattern that, for whatever reason, applies? I, yeah, I eventually kind of led to me emailing and contacting different researchers that i knew had data sets looking at nature relatedness and different types of psychedelic to see if we could kind of join forces and collaborate and analyze all the data together, which is what we did. So we combined five different data sets totalling just over 3800 participants and we we sort of looked at whether, yeah, past use, retrospective use of different psychedelics, did that influence nature relatedness. And by influence i mean it's important to point out actually that because this was a retrospective study, it wasn't showing a causal association. We're limited to kind of looking back in time, so we cannot definitively say from that, that people who are taking psilocybin are becoming more nature related. It may just be that, for whatever reason, more nature related people seem to be drawn to psilocybin, like. So i have to caveat that and just just say it's showing a correlation, a correlative association rather than a causal association. But hopefully this other study with Imperial will kind of shed some light on hopeful causal mechanisms. So, yeah, we did, we crunched the numbers and, interestingly, the same relationship emerged from this big data treatment.
Once more, psilocybin was top of the pile. In fact it was the only psychedelic that kind of showed a positive association with nature relatedness. And not just that, but also the three sub-dimensions that make up the, the measure. So 'NR (Nature Relatedness) experience', which captures one's appreciation for having contact with nature, their engagement with nature; 'NR self', the degree to which you see yourself as part of the natural world; and 'NR perspective', which kind of captures conservation based, pro-nature based attitudes, behaviours. And so psilocybin, yeah, it had an association with overall nature relatedness and those three sub-dimensions, uniquely among the other psychedelics. And this wasn't just down to, for example, people ingesting mushrooms more frequently in nature based settings or having the prior motivation more commonly to connect with nature prior to taking them. So we did, you know, we did take into account motivations and also the settings that people were in and, for instance, access to natural settings was very similar among psilocybin, ayahuasca and LSD users, but it was only the psilocybin using group that showed this sort of association. So I thought that was really interesting.
I should just add there was a similar study published in Brazil just just a few months before our paper came out, because we incorporated it into the discussion, which was a nice little kind of angle to explore. But it was looking at a Brazilian sample of different psychedelics used in the past and it found that ayahuasca was top of the pile and psilocybin was kind of in second place. And i found this interesting because obviously in Brazil and South America more widely like, ayahuasca is a much more familiar, culturally integrated substance, whereas to us here in the UK it's kind of a little bit more of an exotic, alien, less known substance, whereas psilocybin is, that is our, you know, liberty caps, psilocybin is our native, indigenous psychedelic. It's more culturally familiar to us. So those differences between countries, I think, do hint that cultural factors can kind of come into the mix here as well. And that isn't that surprising in the sense that you know nature connectedness is complex and multifaceted and there are different aspects of it that that kind of comprise it. So it's interesting but, yeah, we need to do further work, I think, to kind of to build on it.
0:37:00 - Adrian
Yeah, okay, so so an interesting finding, but no idea of why that might be.
0:36:08 - Adrian
No no, we can say like, no. As to that is the case, no. We weren't able to actually glean anything that that kind of provides an explanation there, you know. We did kind of like, obviously considered that the cultural factor side of things. Could it be qualitative differences between different psychedelics? I mean, there was a study published recently, very recently, just a few days ago, saying that you know, essentially people dosed with mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, apart from the slightly different time scales of effects and things like that, according to the psychometric ratings assessing the effects of these different drugs, they all basically seem very much the same. I'm personally, a little bit part of me is a bit wary of that. Obviously, in science you're always limited by the, the measures and the scales that you use - that that applies across the board. But i think for something like this, where you're probing highly personal experiences, qualitative experiences, and you kind of need qualitative approaches, I think, which weren't used, it was limited to psychometric scales. So part of me I think some the psychometric scales used might be a bit blunt to capture something this sensitive. Personally. The researchers might disagree, but that's my, that's my view. I think there is a bit more, personally, nuance and variation between different psychedelics. I don't think. I think obviously there's a lot of common ground, but i don't think it's all common ground. Could there be a variation in effects between the different psychedelics that potentially give rise to this, these perceived differences? So I mentioned the qualitative paper that was published earlier, where it's we found that by far the most central mechanism of change was experiences of interconnectedness. Could psilocybin potentially elicit experiences of interconnectedness and unity more commonly than LSD or mescaline? I mean, maybe not. I honestly don't know, but it's just, could there be something there?
i think it's interesting that in the Brazilian case, in this case, it is organic psychedelics that are linked to this increase in nature connectedness. I mean, certainly Albert Hoffman was very outspoken about LSD's role in this regard. I mean he came to view it as perhaps its most fundamental property was that it could reconnect our increasingly alienated species back to the earth. And you know, some people will just miss it outright. It's like, well, you know, it's made in a lab ... Like that kind of prior conception of it may not work in its favour compared to something that's grown or produced from the earth, like ayahuasca, like psilocybin and I do think context is important. Like if you've gone and you've you know, if you've picked some liberty caps from a hillside or from Dartmoor or something, like you know, you've gone on a trip and you've gone out into nature and like you're, you're sort of connect, actively connecting with nature to go and harvest those things. Or you've grown that fungus from a spore and you've put in the time and energy and applied that knowledge and you've been connected to the fungal life cycle.
We know that context is quite important with psychedelics and maybe those factors, before you've even ingested the psychedelic, you've engaged with some nature connecting practices, essentially, by either picking wild fungus or growing your own. So does that feed into the experience that you then have? i think it's possible. But saying that the Imperial work that I've been involved in, that that didn't evolve any of that context. That was people being administered a capsule of pure lab made psilocybin and it didn't seem to, at least from data we've got, it didn't seem to negate its potential for shifting people's connectedness to nature. I mean, who knows what it could have been if it had been people's own hand-picked mushrooms, but obviously mushrooms are very variable in potency. So we have to, modern science likes to use standardized high purity dosages, which is fair enough, I guess, yeah when you're doing the research you have to have, you need to know exactly what it is.
0:41:03 - Adrian
Yeah, there's one the last topic we'll have time for. So there's this emerging field called Psychedelic Assisted Therapy, which we've touched on and been talking about how it's been used to treat all sorts - depression and alcoholism and all sorts of stuff. There's ways in which we can combine, bringing the ecotherapy dimension, which is something I've been looking at. Again, we're edging into unresearched territory, but, bearing that in mind, any thoughts on how we might combine psychedelic therapy with ecotherapy?
0:41:32 - Sam
Yeah, no, I think it's a really interesting area in the sense that - I have heard ecotherapy defined as facilitating a connection between humans and nature for healing essentially, and that seems to be what psychedelics can do quite reliably. So it seems like they're very much already, that they're very much aligned to the core aim of ecotherapy essentially. So it seems ripe for further work. It's not easy in the UK because psilocybin and any other psychedelics have to be administered in a licensed research hospital setting. It's very much against the law to take people out tripping into nature that are simply not allowed at this time and won't be until psilocybin, I think, is rescheduled as a Schedule 2. So researching this is impossible here, legally at this time. You'd need to do it somewhere like, say, The Netherlands, or maybe Jamaica or Brazil, you know, somewhere where the laws are a bit more flexible. And I'm talking now about, you know, implementing ecotherapy practices during a psychedelic experience. You don't necessarily need to do it that way, because I wrote a paper with a few collaborators and we kind of made a case for some ecotherapy or nature connecting practices, but doing them either side, you know, potentially weaving them into the preparation or the integration side of things, and there were varying degrees, you, I think, and things you can do here, depending on, like, your resources or your intent, and you know you can start off quite sort of low level and sort of small intervention. So one nature connectedness enhancing intervention is the simple act of observing things around you in your day-to-day in nature, things that evoke emotion like a sense of wonder or fascination, that move you in some way, and then you kind of record a sentence of that experience to kind of help embed it and you record like what emotions it evoked in you. And I think the study intervention was doing this three times a day for five days. And obviously that that's not a big time commitment to kind of look out for three things in your day-to-day in nature and then simply make a record them in the form of a sentence. So anyone can do that. It doesn't matter how busy your lifestyle is. Yes, something something like that, either side of a psychedelic experience could be good if you want to start off very kind of low level, low input. But then you could kind of like kick up, kick things up a notch, so you've got things like horticultural therapy. And I think that's an interesting area to kind of consider. So part of David Luke's findings, of that study, of which he showed that particular figure I mentioned earlier, or the table of the different psychedelics and nature connectedness pro-environmental concern, in his sample he found that over 50% of people reported gardening more as a result of their psychedelic use, which I thought was a really lovely, wholesome statistics. I can't the Daily Mail pick up, pick up on something like that and run with it.
Ros had a few interesting ideas for horticultural therapy practices that we wove into the paper, and she said I said about you know, you could potentially tend the plot of land and like, tend to prepare the soil as a kind of ritualistic act before - as you're tending your own psychic ground or soil before going into a psychedelic experience. Yeah, or potentially you could plant a seed or have, you know, have a little plant that kind of is is part of one of come, sort of joins you in that, in that experience, and then you take that away, that that seed, and you nurture that plant as you're hopefully nurturing the insights that you've obtained from your experience, and certain things like that. I think, kicking up a notch further, outdoor, walk and talk psychedelic therapy. Because some people are very much proponents of outdoor therapy anyway, without even considering psychedelics. You know that it can potentially eliminate the power dynamic, that you get in sort of more clinical settings where you know you go into your therapist sort of like place or office and you're you know there's a bit of a power dynamic there, whereas in nature you're on neutral ground. And as well as that, both therapist and client can gain from being in nature. It kind of supports the mental health of both parties. And people having therapy in those contexts, they can, they will and can return to the nature based setting, to kind of self-soothe, without the therapist being there. And some people have said, like you know, for me my ideal form of psychedelic therapy would be having a having a dose of a psychedelic and going off hiking or walking with my therapist. That's something you know that's quite interesting. There's some ethical stones that need to be stepped over and things considered and how you'd sort of best go about doing that. But I think that's sort of quite interesting.
And then the big bucks way of doing it - if money's not an option - you could build ecotherapy, psychedelic nature, connection type centres, you know, in stunning areas of nature and thinking multi-habitat, so maybe a bit of forest/woodland and a bit of coastal, you know. So you've got a bit of a mix. Great vistas and stuff. You can construct those, yeah, those buildings using biophilic design, they're nature inspired, nature inspired, you know, big skylights and windows. And so kind of almost titrate the amount of like nature that's sort of observable, depending on the needs and wants of the individual having that session. Yeah, and then there'll be all kinds of potential for add-on supplementary practices like Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing and, and I'm sure, a whole suite of other ecotherapy practices that would be really potentially positive to kind of add on there. That's not such a low hanging fruit, that kind of idea. But what do you think, Adrian? what would you like to see?
0:47:18 - Adrian
I love that vision. Actually, I'm hoping somebody's watching this. Who's got a big pot of money, who's going to go 'Whoa, yeah, I'm going to help you guys build this psychedelic ecotherapy centre!' I've had some experience when I was working at Synthesis of trying to bring some of these things in, mostly in quite a low level way, but we were beginning to integrate it into some of the retreats. We did some Shinrin-yoku with some people and did nature mandala's, which is lovely, as part of the integration process within the actual experience itself. So, yeah, I think there's a huge amount of potential here. I think that's the way forward. As you say, they come together so beautifully, don't they?
0:47:55 - Sam
Yeah there's some kind of real natural, nice overlap and rich fertile terrain where they do overlap, that could really be explored and cultivated a lot more. And yeah, it'd be good to see more talk of this, I guess, in more kind of mainstream conference circles, because I feel like if we're not talking about nature connectedness and the associated mental health benefits, without considering even the bigger picture stuff, even purely from a therapeutic mental health perspective. a trick is being missed, a big trick, particularly as well, because the shifts that people experience, particularly with nature connectedness, perhaps beyond other forms of connectedness, as those changes seem to be sustained. It's not a fleeting kind of ephemeral thing. It seems to from the evidence we've got, those shifts in people's relationships and connection to nature, people hold on to them after the psychedelic.
0:48:51 - Adrian
We must come to a close, but that's been fascinating. But I'm sure that you and I are both going to be going forward with this and continuing to explore it and encouraging this ongoing conversation, which is absolutely fundamental, especially in a time of such significant climate change, as well as everything else.
0:49:09 - Sam
Yes, definitely topical and important. You know, and also quite hopeful.
0:49:14 - Adrian
That's been super. I've really enjoyed our conversation and I hope we can prompt some more discussion about this.
0:49:20 - Sam
I really enjoyed it too. No, so it's been rich.
0:49:24 - Adrian
Well, thank you very much, Sam. We must bring this to a close.
0:49:26 - Sam
Thank you, Adrian. Thanks for having me Catch up again soon.
0:49:28 - Adrian
Take care, Cheers, mate. Bye-bye.