By: Caleb Levitt
Society is poised at the edge of two major revolutions. The first, known universally at this point, is the challenge of mitigating climate change and working to survive its potential devastation. The second, growing in awareness and popularity, is the second psychedelic revolution. All around the world, archaic notions that psychedelics can be of no potential benefit to people’s lives are being challenged by a less biased generation, hopeful that drugs such as LSD can improve their human experience. Even with attitudes about LSD becoming more accepting, research on the power and benefits of the subjective personal experience of the “trip” on society has been hard to come by. One area of future research crucial for understanding LSD’s societal impact is exploring the link between the psychedelic experience and increased environmental awareness and efficacy. The psychedelic resurgence and the radically fresh perspective it would bring may be exactly what we need to shake off our lethargy towards climate change and incite a new wave of environmental progress.
In fact, LSD may have even played a role in causing this progress. Many key environmental activists were actually motivated by their psychedelic experiences to protect the environment. For example, on one LSD trip, Stewart Brand “looked toward a curved horizon and imagined the spherical Earth and just how limited resources on our planet are” (TIME staff). This insight inspired Brand to campaign for NASA to publicly release images of Earth from space. The famous and influential Whole Earth Catalogue was born from the thoughts of an LSD trip. This catalogue inspired a generation of environmentalists to see the big picture of planetary health and act sustainably. LSD has not only been used as a tool to generate dissident thinkers, but has also inspired creative solutions to societal problems. What we need to fight climate change today is the same kind of thinking. LSD’s past influence suggests that it may be the tool required to unlock this mindset and inspire collective change.
It would not be fair to discuss LSD and the environment without also discussing what aspects of the LSD trip contribute to increased environmental thought. One major aspect of the LSD experience is that psychonauts feel a deep kinship with nature when under the influence, a feeling that extends beyond the trip’s duration. Part of the reason why there are still so many people apathetic to climate change is that modern society’s structures disconnect people from the natural world and form a human-nature separation. Viewing nature as a resource and a commodity is promoted, rather than seeing it as part of humanity. Counteracting this, LSD trips induce a state of intrinsic appreciation for all natural elements of a user’s setting. The spiritual “energies” of each organism can be felt, and it is easy to feel as if many parts of the environment have human-like intentions. This personification of nature would level the playing field and increase the significance that “inferior” organisms play in people’s lives. LSD makes it easier to imagine tangible connections between species. This would help break down the human-nature binary manufactured by modern society and increase environmental respect. In this way, wider usage of LSD would increase environmental protection through rekindling the intuitive passion that many people have for the environment and illuminating the beauty that it adds to the human experience.
The LSD experience also brings a sense of deep wonder to everyday life. When listening to LSD psychonauts talk about their experiences tripping, the amount of emphasis placed on commonplace objects is striking. It is common to hear about the divine perfection of a park bench or a maple tree, thoughts that seem laughable to most people. LSD changes brain activity in such a way that a sense of wonder is tied to each component of a user’s setting. Users somehow internalize how incredible it is to exist as a human, a fact that I feel is widely underappreciated and not marveled at enough in the grind of everyday life. This ability to inspire a new positive outlook on life is reflected through successful clinical research done with LSD therapy to alleviate the symptoms of depressed patients.
This sense of wonder also grants the ability to think of widely accepted ideas through a fresh perspective. For example, the classic psychonaut “revelation” that love is a crucial part of life seems obvious to most people. However, it’s not that psychonauts think of this idea for the first time while tripping, it is that they truly feel its universal truth for the first time. In other words, LSD trips bring the user outside of the normal patterns of life and allow certain values to be reaffirmed. This can be easily applied to climate change. The facts and issues surrounding this issue are repeated in media and conversation so frequently that they lose their significance and disconnect people from its true power. LSD tends to invoke such a strong sense of presentness and mindfulness that even seemingly obvious thoughts seem life-altering. Perhaps this type of mindset is exactly what we need to break our habitual mindlessness surrounding climate change and allow us to internalize its connection and threat to human existence, precipitating environmental action.
Another aspect of the LSD experience that ties personal motivation and action to collective consciousness and large-scale change is the experience of ego dissolution, or when someone tripping feels their “sense of being a self or ‘I’… diminished or altogether dissolved” (Letheby and Gerrans). This concept is hard to imagine, and this is exactly why it is so influential for LSD users. The feeling of having one’s self-importance dissolve and finally know what it’s like to fully blend into and be absorbed into one’s environment is a huge reason why LSD can be so beneficial to climate change mitigation and consciousness. When the self decreases in importance, other aspects of life such as connection and collaboration are enhanced. In the modern world, filled with increasing technology and other facilitators of division, this can be a tool to increase interpersonal connection and help society mobilize to push back against climate change, something that we are all causing.
As proven by historical connection and the nature of its subjective experience, LSD may be a crucial tool to accelerate society’s fight against climate change. Although change may be near, as of now, the same governments that have failed to take action against climate change also ensure that the experience of LSD is kept from their constituents. Although LSD legalization has its downsides, there must be a reevaluation of this policy, as there are significant potential benefits surrounding LSD use regarding environmentalism and quality of life in general. Ending the era of restricting thought and freedom through the War on Drugs may lead to a time of increased environmental consciousness and progress. After all, when you hug a tree and it graciously hugs you back with all the love in the universe, how could you neglect its health for any longer?
- Baumeister, Roy F., and Kathleen S. Placidi. “A Social History and Analysis of the Lsd Controversy.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 23, no. 4, Oct. 1983, pp. 25–58, doi:10.1177/0022167883234003.
- Fuentes, J. J., et al. “Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials.” Frontiers in psychiatry, vol. 10, no. 943, 2020. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943
- Kettner, Hannes et al. “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 (2019): 5147. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16245147.
- Letheby, Chris, and Philip Gerrans. “Self Unbound: Ego Dissolution in Psychedelic Experience.” Neuroscience of Consciousness, vol. 2017, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1093/nc/nix016.
- Staff, TIME. “Virtual Reality: The LSD Trip Behind the Whole Earth Catalog.” Time, Time, 22 May 2018, time.com/5286135/virtual-reality-lsd-trip-whole-earth-catalog/.