Magic mushrooms could help people nip authoritarianism in the bud and feel more connected to nature, preliminary research has found.

Soap bubble.

Hold your horses, it’s just a soap bubble.
Image credits Pashminu / Wikimedia.

Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, has been shown again and again to elicit changes in people’s demeanor and personality. A novel study comes to expand on the list of nice changes this substance can elicit in people, as its results suggest psilocybin can make people feel more connected to nature and less supportive of authoritarianism. This is the first study to show the mushrooms can cause long-lasting changes in these areasges in these areas.

Psychedelics have long been associated with anti-authority countercultures starting with the hippies of the 1960s. By-and-large, this seems to be more than a simple stereotype — one previous study (1,487 participants) found that people reported enjoying time spent in nature and were more likely to feel part of nature after taking psychedelics like LSD or magic mushrooms. Another (900 participants) found that use of psychedelics was associated with liberal and libertarian political views, more openness to new experiences, and feelings of being related to nature.

Which is all well and good, but while the results suggest a link between the drugs and such traits, they don’t prove a connection — correlation, after all, does not imply causality. So, Taylor Lyons and Robin Carhart-Harris from the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London set out to determine whether psilocybin use promoted traits such as anti-authoritarianism and nature relatedness, or if it came as a consequence of these traits.

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This shroom kills fascists

“Our findings tentatively raise the possibility that given in this way, psilocybin may produce sustained changes in outlook and political perspective, here in the direction of increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarianism,” the authors write.

The study worked with 7 participants with treatment-resistant major depression, who received two oral doses of psilocybin, and 7 healthy control subjects who didn’t receive psilocybin. The substance was administered in two oral dosing sessions (10 mg and 25 mg) 1 week apart. The team surveyed each participant about their political views and relationship to nature before the first session, then again after 1 week and at the 7-12 month mark.

Participants who received psilocybin showed a significant increase in nature relatedness one week into the study. The change persisted until the 7-12 month follow-up. They also showed a marked decrease in authoritarian attitudes, which also persisted to the end step of the study. Finally, the team reports that these participants showed a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Participants who didn’t receive psilocybin didn’t show any significant change in attitudes or behavioral patterns.

“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,” one participant in the psilocybin group told the researchers.

The study allowed Lyons and Carhart-Harris to look at the cause-effect relationship between psilocybin and behavior, unlike previous studies. However, the duo worked with a very limited sample, and it’s possible that the observed changes in authoritarianism and nature relatedness were indirect effects of the compound, which reduced depressive symptoms.

“It would be hasty, therefore, to attempt any strong claims about a causal influence due specifically to psilocybin at this stage,” the team cautiones.

Still, the findings raise a very intriguing avenue of research. In the face of rising political turmoil, a cresting wave of illiberalism sweeping through the world, and a silent epidemic of depression, any little mushroom helps.

The paper “Increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarian political views after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression” has been published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.