If you go down to the woods today, either with friends or by yourself, you might be wondering if this is the most ideal environment to be having a psychedelic experience. An adventure such as this might involve a few close friends or a small group, or for those more accustomed to these altered states of consciousness, it may be simply taking the time just to be with yourself and the sounds, sights, and smells of the natural world. I’m sure most people would agree that things like trees and flowers are aesthetically pleasing when you’re having a psychedelic trip, and there’s even been some research to suggest that this greater awareness of the natural world within these altered states can contribute towards healing experiences.
Dr Sam Gandy is one individual who’s explored the increasing disconnect between humans and our natural environment in a 2020 study, looking at how the use of psychedelic substances can lead to greater nature ‘connectedness’ or ‘relatedness’. This sense of being more connected to nature seems to lead to an overall increased sense of well-being, which would suggest being out in the forest with a few close friends after consuming some magic mushrooms for example, might be the best place to have a positive and potentially healing experience. Some might say this is a tried and tested method, and all that’s needed is more access to these substances either through decriminalisation or legalisation, and then we can be free to just enjoy psychedelics as we see fit, right?
The Psychedelic Renaissance
There has certainly been some traction across the pond, with US states such as Oregon both decriminalising psilocybin and legalising it for supervised non-medical use in November 2020, as one example. However, the UK is still far behind with access to these substances remaining prohibited. The resurgence of interest in psychedelic therapy, as a legitimate and promising avenue for mental health treatment, has meant that substances like psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD have undergone rigorous scientific scrutiny to provide more evidence of their benefits and create wider acceptance within society.
I’m sure we can all agree that more acceptance is needed to make these treatments accessible, but one begins to wonder whether this scientific rigour actually falls into the trap of perpetuating a prohibitionist mindset – one based on the notion that these substances are inherently dangerous, meaning we look to the experts in this field to keep us safe from a potentially negative experience. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has even gone one step further with this mindset to fund a four-year research project to develop new medicines which hold the same potential as psychedelic substances, but without the bad trip.
In a therapeutic setting, the focus is often on introspection, guided by trained professionals to navigate the complexities of the mind. These sessions aim to unearth buried traumas, alleviate anxiety and depression, and foster a profound sense of self-awareness. The clinical approach provides a structured environment that can be particularly beneficial for those grappling with deep-seated psychological challenges.
Whilst the therapeutic aspect of the psychedelic narrative is getting most of the attention, there is still much to be explored in the profound healing potential found in joyous psychedelic experiences outside this clinical setting.
The power of joy and laughter
Laughter can take on a whole new dimension when paired with psychedelics – there has been a long-standing association between the creative influence of psychedelic substances on the art form of comedy, particularly in their power to subvert narratives. Notable mentions such as the late American stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, and more recently in the age of social media, there are satirists poking fun at the wider psychedelic community. I spoke to one of these satirists, Dennis Walker a.k.a Mycopreneur Podcast who thinks this way of delivering content works like an ‘exorcism’ and ‘packages things in a way which takes the power away from that thing’.
The sheer joy and interconnectedness experienced during these moments can be transformative. Shared laughter with friends or the simple act of finding amusement in one’s own thoughts can provide a unique form of catharsis. Laughter can help reveal truths and challenge the normal order of perception, potentially shifting the effect of difficult situations we might encounter and allowing for some release.
One of the undeniable benefits of joyous psychedelic experiences lies in the social connections forged during these journeys. Whether surrounded by a group of close friends or navigating the depths of one’s own mind in solitude, the sense of connection to something greater than oneself can be profoundly therapeutic.
One of the undeniable benefits of joyous psychedelic experiences lies in the social connections forged during these journies. Whether surrounded by a group of close friends or navigating the depths of one’s own mind in solitude, the sense of connection to something greater than oneself can be profoundly therapeutic.
In the context of group settings, laughter can provide a tool for bonding and the communal nature of these experiences can create an important support network, which is possibly missing from the clinical context. The countercultural aspect of the psychedelic experience has allowed networks to flourish and provide integration of these experiences on a wider community level – maybe there’s something missing when much of the attention seems to be focused on healing individual trauma?
Therapeutic mindset vs. joyful exploration: Finding a balance
There’s no denying that the healing experience is deeply personal, but it may be that finding a more holistic path can provide a greater overall sense of well-being.
Psychedelic therapy can provide the necessary tools for navigating our minds and addressing specific mental health challenges, but the unbridled joy found in less structured settings (perhaps in relation to others) may allow us more insight into how we exist as individuals within wider society. Healing can take many forms, and it’s up to us to navigate these different areas to explore which will serve us best, but we should still take care to avoid thinking one model is the best, especially with the rise of corporate interest in the psychedelic space.
The worry is that as these therapies become more widely accepted, they may fall prey to the same profit-driven motives that have characterised other segments of the healthcare industry. Resisting the corporatisation of psychedelic therapy is not merely a nostalgic yearning for the days of underground explorations, but a critical consideration for the integrity and accessibility of these transformative healing modalities.
As psychedelic therapies continue to evolve, the challenge is to strike a balance that ensures accessibility, authenticity, and a commitment to the profound potential for healing that these substances offer. In doing so, we can navigate the psychedelic landscape with a sense of responsibility and respect for the traditions and values that have long been associated with these kinds of experiences.