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Study suggests psychedelic drugs increase people's sense of connectedness - to the self, others, and the world

Psychedelic drugs can positively increase people’s sense of connection - to the self, to others, and to the world in general - and this sense of connection may be what underlies the strong therapeutic potential of psychedelics for depression, anxiety, and addiction, new research published has found. This sense of connection appears similar to ‘the overview effect’ experienced by some astronauts looking back at our planet from space - “characterised by a sense of ‘awe’ and perceived smallness in the presence of vastness.”

Patients in a study on psilocybin for depression were asked “Did this treatment work for you, and if so how?” The authors note that 100% of patients “made reference to one particular mediating factor: a renewed sense of connection or connectedness. This factor was found to have three distinguishable aspects: connection to (1) self, (2) others and (3) the world in general (Watts et al. 2017).”

This sense of connectedness lasted for several weeks or months for some patients.

Increased connectedness is particularly interesting given that depression is strongly related to the sense of disconnection. Connectedness is considered a key factor of psychological well-being.

The authors propose that psychedelic therapy addresses a core factor of mental health - specifically connectedness - and that this is why psychedelics show promise for so many mental health diseases, including depression, addiction and anxiety. Interestingly, the authors noted that depression patients felt that typical treatments (e.g. SSRIs) had reinforced their sense of disconnection.

Psychedelics, well-being, and connectedness

“Post-treatment, participants referred to feeling reconnected to past values, pleasures and hobbies as well as feeling more integrated, embodied and at peace with themselves and their often troubled backgrounds.”

The authors also note that they believe it is important to achieve “connection-to-self” first - first healing themselves, before they can properly heal their relationships, and communities.

These “connecting experiences” sound analogous to “the overview effect” experienced by some astronauts - “characterised by a sense of ‘awe’ and perceived smallness in the presence of vastness,” the authors highlight.

In their other research, the authors have also proposed that the serotonin receptors that psychedelics interact with are involved in bringing about “a state of rapid plasticity that is conducive to major change (e.g. in outlook and/or behaviour)—when such change feels necessary (e.g. to aid mental or physical survival). Such a function may be related to humans’ unique capacity for adaptability.”


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