Psychedelic CSR: The Inherent Environmentalism of Psychedelia

This is the second installment of the weekly Psychedelic CSR blog, this time diving into psychedelics and climate change. There are many parallels between the psychedelic experience and subsequent ecological thought, environmentalism, and connectedness to nature. As a new industry, we ought to respond to these parallels by executing efforts against climate change.

psychedelics and climate change

How Psychedelics & Climate Change Relate to Each Other

Part of what makes the psychedelic experience such a powerful tool for therapy is it’s unique ability to tailor it’s messaging, so to speak, towards the individual. Commonly reported effects of psychedelics, such as hallucinating and undergoing an altered sense of time, are not necessarily the part of the trip that induces narratively challenging, personal, or healing dialogue amongst patients. Instead, it is likely psychedelics’ ability to disrupt vigorous thought patterns that provides therapeutic value, as shown in neuroimaging research spearheaded by Robin Carhart-Harris.1

And yet, though every trip is tailored towards the individual’s own back catalog of experiences, memories, and beliefs, recurring themes do occur quite often. Indeed, those who enter altered states of consciousness tend to report notions of boundary dissolution between themselves and the world and the universe. In other words, psychedelics often provoke a sense of unity, interconnectedness, and self transcendence. This phenomenon can be seen in many psychedelic clinical studies, including a 2017 Imperial College London study focusing on psilocybin.2
In many cases, this more generally refers to a sense of connectedness to nature (where folks recall no longer feeling like a separate entity to nature, but rather an absolute part of nature).

Moreover, this subsequent sense of connection towards nature has a rich history all across the world and in the U.S.’s 1960s psychedelic heightening. In more recent news, a 2019 Imperial College London study investigates this psychedelic-nature relatedness phenomena, and even argues that psychedelics could play a positive role in the fight against climate change.3
This piece aims to explore the inherent environmentalism of psychedelia, from past to present, and presents a case for psychedelic medicine companies to join the fight against climate change.

The Rich History of Psychedelics & Ecology

Though much of the thoroughly documented correlates of psychedelics and climate change advocacy appear later in modern history, the record of psychedelic states and ecology goes back much, much further. This is largely because shamanic religions, which can date back to 30,000 years ago, are often one in the same with “earth-based” religions. Shamanic cultures partook in various consciousness-altering rituals, including taking psychedelic drugs sacramentally (though these populations are more likely to use the term plants than drugs). Indigenous populations still partake in these psychedelic religious ceremonies.

Since the dawn of religion, psychoactive plants have been used in shamanistic cultures with sacraments ranging from ayahuasca brews and peyote buttons to snuffed yakoana powder.4 Furthermore, ecological values are prioritized very heavily in these cultures and during these rituals. One of the more prominent examples is the Tucano people of South America, who’s shamanic rituals serve to preserve ecological balance.5 More broadly, many of these populations are more emerged in beautiful, vibrant nature – such as the Amazonian rainforest – where climate change is perhaps more directly felt than here in the West.

Shamanic cultures are often rooted in oral tradition, however, we can also find this parallel between psychedelia and ecological thought in the written archives of Albert Hoffman, Stanley Krippner, and other influential psychedelic figures. Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD, famously said the following during a 1984 interview with psychiatrist Stanislav Grof:

“Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom. I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.”

This quote echoes the sentiment of one who is immersed in psychedelia, profoundly connected to nature, and is concerned about the future livelihood of nature (e.g., climate change, extinction of certain animal and plant species, the over harvesting of forests, etc.). In a 2009 MAPS Bulletin, parapsychologist Stanley Krippner and University of Greenwich Professor David Luke expanded on this idea, arguing that the consumption of psychedelic substances leads to an increased concern for nature and ecological issues.6 Mycologist and celebrated psychedelic figure Paul Stamets, ethnobotanist and pharmacologist Dennis McKenna, and British religious religious studies scholar Graham Harvey all argued similar points. Readers are encouraged to judge the aforementioned arguments by their own merits.

Finally, the back-to-the-land movement, a staple of 1960s hippie counterculture, boasted that psychedelics helped them get in touch with nature.7 This subculture grew food and lived off the land, so it is speculated that climate change was indeed a top concern for them.

Research Pertaining to Psychedelics & Nature-Connectedness

Though the recent research arguing that psychedelics could aid in the fight against climate change stands on its own legs, one must contribute the origin of this idea to Terence Mckenna. In his writings and lecture of “The Gaian Mind,” he argued that psychedelics geared the human mind towards the ecosystem’s cry for help, so to speak.8 For the sake of brevity, we will move on to modern era research regarding this topic, but interested readers can learn more about McKenna’s Gaian Mind theory in his 1991 book entitled The Archaic Revival.

The previously mentioned 2019 Imperial College London study, published in the reputable International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was titled From Egoism to Ecoism: Psychedelics Increase Nature Relatedness in a State-Mediated and Context-Dependent Manner. It included 654 participants. “The frequency of lifetime psychedelic use was positively correlated with nature relatedness at baseline,” the study reports. “Nature relatedness was significantly increased 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 2 years after the psychedelic experience.”

Furthermore, the basis of this study was rooted in previous research on feelings of connectedness towards the natural world amongst those administered psychedelics. Given that nature connectedness is a psychological research topic in itself, and “nature therapy” has been shown to alleviate mental health symptoms, it is perhaps unsurprising that the paper concludes these findings bear relevance for mental health treatment models. They go on to say that, based on previous findings, feelings of nature-connectedness (especially in natural settings) can enhance environmental awareness/one’s desire to take care of nature.

If this is the case, co-author of the study Sam Gandy was correct to write that “it would seem widespread prohibition is not in the best interests of our species, or the biosphere at large.” Regardless of psychedelics’ application in fighting climate change, I feel strongly that prohibition is not in our best interest, but rather decriminalization and harm-reduction infrastructure.

Psychedelics and Climate Change

Real Psychedelics & Climate Change Advocacy Doesn’t Require Tripping

As a psychedelic enthusiast, I find all of the aforementioned points very interesting. But as a journalist interested in public policy and corporate social responsibility (CSR), I want to remind readers that fighting climate change goes far beyond implementing individual green behaviors. Likewise, it would be unfair to assume the researchers looking at psychedelics and climate change believe we could “trip the problem away.”

If we are to take anything away from these findings, it’s that the emerging psychedelic industry ought to respond to the inherent environmentalism of psychedelia by taking a stand against climate change. Psychedelic companies can do so both internally and externally in a multitude of ways. Internally, a company can collect data on their own greenhouse emissions. From here, once an organization “knows their enemy,” they might consider:

  1. Optimizing employee transportation (though less of a problem during COVID, this can lower the amount of car pollutants in our environment).
  2. Utilizing renewable energy.
  3. Reducing waste and avoiding “obsolete” materials (using long lasting materials/infrastructure means producing less waste over time).
  4. Reducing energy consumption (greener infrastructure and equipment can help significantly in this effort. Companies ought to consider working with sustainable suppliers, too).

Externally, companies are encouraged to mobilize for political change towards the fight against climate change. Considering that this industry will be in the public eye of psychedelic enthusiasts who are more likely to care about climate change (as this article illustrates), it is beneficial for a company’s brand to promote their climate change advocacy. This is a win-win for planetary health and psychedelic public relations. 

Perhaps most importantly, companies are urged to donate a percent of their profits towards pro-environment efforts. Donating to funds such as the ClimeWorks, TradeWater, and the Sunrise Movement are great places to start. If a company wishes to simultaneously support psychedelia and the environment, they ought to consider donating to the McKenna Academy.

As I’ve echoed in other CSR-focused pieces, social responsibility is this nascent industry’s chance to separate itself from “business as usual” industries which have directly hurt the working class. If we are truly in the business of helping the mentally afflicted, we ought to expand our definition of “helping” to more over encompassing territories, such as ensuring a habitable earth for generations to come.

[1]: Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Hellyer, P. J., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., Chialvo, D. R., & Nutt, D. (2014). The entropic brain: A theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020

[2]: Watts, R., Day, C., Krzanowski, J., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2017). Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(5), 520–564. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167817709585

[3]: Kettner, H., Gandy, S., Haijen, E. C. H. M., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2019). From Egoism to Ecoism: Psychedelics Increase Nature Relatedness in a State-Mediated and Context-Dependent Manner. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24), 5147. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16245147

[4]: VanPool, C. (2019). Ancient medicinal plants of South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(23), 11087–11089. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1906805116

[5]: Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. (1976). Cosmology as Ecological Analysis: A View from the Rain Forest. Man, 11(3), 307–318. https://doi.org/10.2307/2800273

[6]: Krippner, S. & Luke, D. (2009). Psychedelics and Species Connectedness. Spring 2009 Vol. 19, No. 1 Special Edition: Psychedelics and Ecology. MAPS. Retrieved https://maps.org/news/bulletin/articles/1276-special-edition-psychedelics-and-ecology

[7]: Rome, Adam (2003). “Give Earth a Chance”: The Environmental Movement and the Sixties Archived 2015-05-01 at the Wayback Machine. The Journal of American History, 90 (2): 543-544.

[8]: Gabriel, T. (1993, May 2). Tripping, but Not Falling (Published 1993). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/02/style/tripping-but-not-falling.html

Ali Shana

Ali Shana

Ali Shana is a Palestinian-American writer and grad student studying clinical mental health counseling. He tends to report on a variety of drug-related topics, such as policy reform, psychopharmacology, and medication-assisted therapies.