Can an acid trip or an ayahuasca ceremony make you a better, more effective leader?
In short: not exactly.
Psychedelics and plant medicines can be a powerful force for change, but you have to work with them to embody the change you wish to see.
Think about the concept of “the force” from Star Wars. As we saw in the movie, this force can be used for “good” or “evil.” Just like a knife can be used to save a life, it can also be used to kill someone.
What determines the outcome is the intention behind this force.
Think about psychedelics as having this same kind of underlying force, like the force behind water flowing down a river, we need to learn how to channel that energy in the right way.
This is why some people sit in ayahuasca ceremonies and become more narcissistic, while others have life-transformative experiences and use that force for doing good in this world, stepping onto the heart-warriors path to enact and inspire real change for the better.
And this is exactly the point. I’m not just talking about leadership for self-gain, I’m talking about fostering the leader that lives within each of us that’s willing to hold an inner vision of a better world, and courageous enough to transmute that vision into reality.
This science-backed list is for heart-centered leaders –– and with the state of the world right now, we can use as many of those as we can get.
Here are 9 Science-Backed Reasons Why Psychedelics Can Forge Your Into a More Effective (Heart-Centered) Leader
1. “Prosocial” Behavior
Prosocial behaviors are defined as actions we take to help and support other people without expectation of reward or return.
A broad range of actions fall under prosocial behaviors like:
- Helping (Stopping to pick up a stranded person on the side of the road.)
- Sharing (Donating a portion of earnings to people in need.)
- Cooperating (In case you haven’t heard yet, this is also considered one of the top skillsets for the 21st century.)
- Comforting another person (even at work.)
People who are motivated by prosocial behaviors are primarily concerned with the welfare of our fellow humans, and value equality of rights and freedom.
People who can foster prosocial behavior make for incredibly effective leaders who can play an active role in finding solutions to the greatest challenges we face (like inequality for example.)
Henrik Jungaberla from the European Foundation for Psychedelic Studies and a team of researchers looked at over 77 psychedelic studies with almost 10,000 participants, applying concepts from positive psychology for measuring the effects of recreational and ceremonial use of psychedelics and entactogens.
The researchers state:
“Psychedelics and entactogens were shown to produce acute and long-term effects on mood, well-being, prosocial behaviors, empathy, cognitive flexibility, creativity, personality factors like openness, value orientations, nature-relatedness, spirituality, self-transcendence and mindfulness-related capabilities.”
The quote above also mentions empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to share someone else’s feelings by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.
This means we have to be willing to move beyond our own narrow (often self-absorbed) view of reality, or frame of reference, and use enough mental flexibility to adopt someone else’s viewpoint.
It’s not that hard, honestly, but people rarely take the time to really feel how someone else might feel. This is one of primary factors missing in so many of the heated discussions unfolding throughout these highly polarized times.
As Carl Rogers says:
“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, and true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”
Psychedelics can help because they help support the kind of cognitive flexibility imaginal thinking that empathy requires.
They help increase one’s concern for the well-being of other people, increase one’s value of human equality, and they encourage a deepening sense of our connection to our fellow human beings.
3. Cognitive Flexibility
Let’s keep going on this thread, and talk about cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility isn’t only necessary for empathy, it’s also necessary for thriving in these times of change.
Part of the reason the challenges we face are staggeringly complex is because our world is becoming increasingly hyper-connected. Just look at how things fell apart during the pandemic.
Cognitive flexibility is also a crucial component in “systems thinking”, our ability to look at things from a more integrated, interdisciplinary perspective. Leaders need to understand the larger-scale implications of decisions they make, and this requires cognitive flexibility.
One of the advantages of cognitive flexibility is that it allows someone to toggle between zooming in to explore the details of an issue while simultaneously zooming out to hold a bigger picture perspective.
Several studies have shown that psychedelics, including microdosing, can help support cognitive flexibility. Psychedelics accomplish this is by fostering neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, which directly underpins cognitive flexibility, while simultaneously preventing cognitive degeneration.
Cognitive flexibility also plays a role in creativity, and I’m not talking about painting on canvas, I’m talking about creative problem solving, the most crucial skillset we can all learn to foster for the decades to come.
The challenges we face individually and collectively are increasingly complex. Uncovering innovative solutions requires leaders to not only think outside of the box, but learn to ditch the box altogether — and that’s exactly what psychedelics can help us do.
There are numerous studies emerging to show how psychedelics enhance creativity and support the creative process. Even one ayahuasca ceremony is shown to promote divergent thinking, an essential component of creativity.
One of the ways psychedelics can support a creative mindset is by enhancing a personality trait called “openness.”
But ranking higher on the “openness scale” doesn’t just make you more creative, although that is a wonderful side-benefit.
A high level of openness lends itself to more imagination, curiosity, and can make you more aware of your inner feelings.
Generally, openness is strongly correlated with open-mindedness; a necessity for the change-makers of our time.
People with low levels of openness prefer familiar routines, familiar people, and old ideas; they are also usually perceived as closed-minded. (Think about those people you know who are clinging to the status quo and old, outdated paradigms.)
Changing one’s personality, especially later in life, can be very challenging. And openness, in particular, tends to decrease with age.
Despite this tendency to become less open as we traverse the years of our lives, there have been several studies showing that psychedelic use is positively correlated with openness.
A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” — created lasting changes in personality, even up to 14 months, particularly in the personality trait known as openness.
Pretty remarkably right?
6. Progressive Rather Than Authoritarian Views
It makes sense that a strong sense of openness would lead to more progressive views.
In this context, having a liberal perspective means you’re open to new ideas and willing to break from the status quo.
Psychedelics are particularly good at helping us to shake out old ways of perceiving reality, offering us a fresh perspective on life. It isn’t surprising then that studies show that psychedelic use positively predicts a liberal political perspective while negatively predicting authoritarian political views.
7. Lower Concern for Financial Prosperity
Many of us know that our current financial and economic systems are fundamentally flawed and lead to increasing socio-economic inequality.
One study shows that people who use psychedelics have a lowered appreciation for financial prosperity. (The same study showed that the use of alcohol and other drugs like cocaine showed no such correlation.)
They simply place less emphasis on the importance of money in their lives.
Imagine having a world filled with leaders whose primary concern wasn’t their personal financial gain? When we stop focusing on the accumulation of wealth, we can start focusing on solving the greater challenges we face.
8. Criminal Behavior
By now it should be pretty clear that psychedelics can (remember intention is still the key here) inspire people to do better and instill a valuable inner moral compass system.
And sorry to point out the obvious, but of course we don’t want leaders (or anyone else for that matter) to be criminals, especially not people in positions of power.
In a study led by Peter Hendricks, Department of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama, researchers tested the relationships between classic psychedelic and criminal behavior among over 480,000 United States adult respondents pooled from the last 13 years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Here’s what the study found:
Using psychedelics was associated with reduced odds of any of the following criminal behaviors over the past year:
- Larceny and theft
- Arrest for property crime
- Arrest for violent crime
The researchers found that their findings were consistent with past results of the protective effects of psilocybin on antisocial criminal behavior.
(The next time you’re on a dating app, one of the first questions you should ask your next date is if they have experience with psychedelics.)
9. Nature Relatedness
This is crucial.
Many scientists agree that we are facing what’s being called “the sixth mass extinction” — and what sets number six apart from the last five, is that this one is precipitated by human behavior.
Biodiversity is plummeting. We desperately need leaders who are willing to fundamentally rethink how we do business, and the economic impact it has on our environment.
What if the super-rich were actually taxed appropriately and that money went towards discovering innovative solutions to environmental restoration––just look at the solutions that world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets is discovering with bioremediation.
One of the most powerful benefits we receive from psychedelics and sacred plant medicines is that they awaken within us a sense of biophilia, which means falling in love with the incredible biodiversity that shares this planet with us, including plants, animals, and fungi.
Psychedelics give us a good kick in the pants so we can wake up and see how we’re polluting our air and killing our oceans. They help us remember our inherent connection to this gorgeous planet and essentially reorient our thinking, so we take better care of our environment.
In a large-scale psychedelic study led by Matthias Forstmass from Yale University, sampled almost 1500 people from the general population, investigating the relationship between psychedelic use with nature relatedness and ecological behavior, like recycling for example.
The study found that:
“Experience with classic psychedelics uniquely predicted self-reported engagement in pro-environmental behaviors, and that this relationship was statistically explained by people’s degree of self-identification with nature”
The use of psychedelics is strongly correlated to increased measures of nature relatedness, not just temporarily, but in an enduring sense.
What’s more, there is a substantial body of scientific studies that demonstrate that nature relatedness is correlated with a broad range of measures of psychological well-being, including greater happiness and positive emotions, a deeper sense of meaning in life, as well as a key predictor of pro-environmental awareness and behavior.”
These are just some of the ways that psychedelics and sacred plant medicines can help shape and forge us into heart-centered leaders.