Several studies suggest that psilocybin is a viable therapeutic resource for treatment-resistant depression, but a new study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests other potential (and possibly related) outcomes. The London-based researchers found that treating depressed patients with psilocybin (two doses administered a week apart) corresponded with a significant increase in nature relatedness (defined as "the subjective sense of connection with the natural environment") and a significant decrease in authoritarian political views. These changes remained in effect at follow-ups between seven and 12 months later.
"Psilocybin with psychological support might produce lasting changes in attitudes and beliefs," concluded the researchers, who stressed that the study suggests a relationship but does not infer causality.
For the uninitiated, psilocybin is the psychoactive compound in psychedelic mushrooms. To assess political and nature views during the study, the researchers utilized "a recently validated subset of questions (five items) from the Libertarian-Authoritarian Questionnaire" and "the validated 6-item Nature Relatedness Scale." Fourteen participants took part in the study, which was sponsored by the Imperial College London.
"Psychedelic drug use in the 1960s and 1970s was strongly associated with anti-establishment and egalitarian counter-culture movements, yet very little controlled research has investigated the link between psychedelic use and political perspectives," the study noted. "Here we show for the first time, in a controlled study, lasting changes in political values after exposure to a psychedelic drug. This is in line with early research showing that recreational LSD users score higher on attitudes of ‘personal liberty’ and ‘foreign policy liberalism’ than control subjects. Psychedelic users have also been shown to score higher on ‘concern for others’ and place lower value on ‘financial prosperity’ than non-users of illicit substances as well as users of amphetamine, cannabis or heroin."
The researchers also provided a literature review of similar studies that suggest psilocybin has wide-ranging therapeutic value, especially when paired with concurrent mental health therapies. As part of the current study, the researchers cited the findings of several other psilocybin studies, which include the following:
Enduring increases in trait openness and life satisfaction
Improvements in symptoms of addiction, anxiety and depression
Increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism in patients with anxiety
Lower rates of suicidality and psychological distress
Increases in optimism and/or reductions in pessimism
Long-term improvements in psychological wellbeing
Rapid and enduring reductions in depressive symptoms
Increased concern for others, nature and the environment
"Taken together," the researchers noted, "these findings indicate that psychedelics can promote enduring changes in personality traits, attitudes and beliefs."
Interestingly, psychedelics are associated with better mental health, and "there is some support for a link between lower authoritarianism and better mental health," suggesting the change in political perspective might reflect an improvement in mental health. Conversely, research suggests that "excessive alcohol use promotes a detachment from nature, chronic stimulant use promotes an aggressive industriousness and hubris—and potential for paranoia—and psychedelic experiences promote a generalized sense of connectedness, including greater altruism."
To quote one participant in the psilocybin study, "Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting… [But now I see] there’s no separation or distinction, you are it."
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