On April 19, 1943, Albert Hofmann became the first known human to drop LSD. The Swiss chemist had synthesized the drug five years earlier as a central nervous system stimulant, not knowing its psychedelic powers. But when he discovered what the substance was capable of, he took a dose and went for a ride on his bike to see what would happen.
What happened is he changed history. Hofmann’s account of that bike ride is not only the first documented report of a full-on acid trip, it’s also the first account of one of the hallmarks of the psychedelic state: a feeling of oneness with nature that lasts long after the drug has worn off.
“Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature, and of the animal and plant kingdom,” he said in an interview in 1984. “I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.”
Hofmann became a fervent environmentalist, and since then, similar anecdotes abound from people who have taken psychedelics. Movies and TV shows like The Trip and Six Feet Under are rife with tripping characters talking to trees or getting advice from the personification of Mother Nature, not to mention Birkenstock-clad environmentalists with a penchant for mushrooms.
But beyond the cultural trope, researchers have long suspected there was something real at play here. In a 2009 paper titled “Psychedelics and Species Connectedness,” the psychologists Stanley Krippner and David Luke hypothesized that the consumption of psychedelics creates a greater concern for ecological issues. Several other psychologists have even argued that psychedelic drugs were the catalyst for the environmental movement that sprung up in the late 1960s.
Of course, none of these theories have advanced much since LSD became illegal in the 1960s, leading the FDA to shut down all research into the potential benefits of the drug and others like it. But in the midst of today’s psychedelic renaissance, researchers are reconsidering these drugs’ potential to make us feel one with nature — and how that potential might confer therapeutic benefits.