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Syndeogens: Psychedelics as Connection-Generating Agents

in this article
  • Introduction
  • Brain Connectivity, Neurogenesis, and Neuroplasticity
  • Ideas, Creativity, and Synthesis
  • More Connected to Oneself
  • Connection to Others
  • Increased Nature Relatedness
  • Stronger and More Frequent Contact With the Present Moment
  • Connection to Something Much Bigger Than Ourselves
  • Some Nuance is Necessary

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

I previously wrote about how we can think of psychedelics as trickster chemicals, based on how their effects often align with the attributes of the trickster archetype. This is not meant to replace other terms for psychedelics, such as entheogen or medicine, but merely supplement them. But there are other unique and common effects that psychedelics have, and I think enhanced connection is one that particularly stands out. This is not just increased connectedness in the sense of feeling more connected to others; this effect also applies to the brain, our ideas, the self, nature, the world, the present moment, something greater than ourselves, and reality.

I would therefore like to propose the term syndeogen as an alternative (but not replacement) for psychedelic. This derives from the Greek words syndeo (meaning ‘connect’) and genésthai (meaning ‘to come into being’ or ‘generate’); thus syndeogen means ‘connection generating’. Drawing on research and insights from the field of psychedelic science and therapy, we can make the case for psychedelics as connection-generating agents.

Brain Connectivity, Neurogenesis, and Neuroplasticity

Brain connectivity refers to a pattern of links between distinct units within the brain, and these units can correspond to individual neurons or segregated brain regions. The connectivity pattern is formed by structural links such as synapses (the junctions between two nerve cells) and dendrites (highly branched structures extending from the nerve cell, where a neuron receives input from other cells).

Researchers have found that psychedelics can induce neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (the number or complexity of connections between neurons). Neurogenesis can be viewed as neuroplasticity since it facilitates the brain’s adaptive response to new stress by integrating new neurons into related areas. Moreover, the more nerve cells there are, the greater the number and complexity of connections that are possible. 

Regarding neurogenesis, results from studies are mixed: LSD had no effect on adult neurogenesis in rats, a high (but not low) dose of ayahuasca reduced it in rats, and DMT and 5-MeO-DMT increased it in mice. The evidence is much more favourable when it comes to neuroplasticity, with LSD, psilocybin, and DMT promoting the expression of genes related to synaptic plasticity (modifying the strength of connections) and increasing synaptic and dendritic growth. Nonetheless, multiple studies have found that psilocybin can promote neuroplasticity by increasing neurogenesis, dendritogenesis, and synaptogenesis.

Psychedelics act on the serotonin 5-HT2A receptors, so we would expect the greatest increases in neuroplasticity in brain regions with high 5-HT2A receptor expression. Data so far supports this theory. Psychedelics have been shown to enhance synapse and dendrite growth in the neocortex and hippocampus. The latter brain region – linked to learning, memory, and emotion – is implicated in depression, as there is evidence suggesting that people struggling with this mental health problem have reduced adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN). Studies have confirmed that depression shrinks the hippocampus, which has long been tied to depressive symptoms. The ability of psychedelics to promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity in the hippocampus has, therefore, been associated with their mental health benefits.

Enhanced neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are effects that can remain long after a psychedelic experience is over. During acute subjective effects (the experience itself), what we see is a hyperconnected brain. Brain regions that don’t normally communicate with each other start talking. In human studies, psilocybin-assisted therapy has been shown to increase brain connectivity both during and after treatment.

Ideas, Creativity, and Synthesis

Researchers have discovered that psychedelics increase openness to experience (a personality trait characterised by being highly curious and creative), although results on whether psychedelics can enhance creativity are mixed and complicated. Nevertheless, for many users, these compounds act as powerful generators of ideas and creativity. In terms of this discussion on connection, psychedelics seem to enhance people’s ability to make connections between ideas or synthesise different ideas, something essential to creative thought and the generation of philosophical theories and worldviews.

More Connected to Oneself

Psychedelics are also associated with greater connection to oneself, in a multitude of ways. They can increase connection to the unconscious mind (such as the shadow, which includes repressed memories), one’s emotions, and one’s authentic self (rather than a false and maladaptive sense of self). During and after a psychedelic experience, someone may find themselves connecting strongly, in a newfound way, to both positive and negative emotions; their personal history; and their authentic traits, values, attitudes, needs, desires, and goals.

Connection to Others

Psychedelic experiences can lead to a heightened sense of connectedness with other people, often brought on by experiences of unity with other living beings, described as an increased inclusion of others in the self. These feelings of connectedness between oneself and others are also associated with reduced depressive symptoms. One may feel more connected to other people during a psychedelic experience in a variety of ways:

  • Ultimate unity (seeing everyone as intrinsically interconnected and interdependent, on a metaphysical level)
  • Enhanced compassion (arising out of thoughts and feelings related to humanity’s pain, or the realisation that everyone has the same morally relevant traits: sentience and complex emotional lives)
  • Increases in feelings of love and kindness, which can make one want to remedy, improve, or strengthen one’s relationships
  • Increased empathy, bonding, and sense of community during group psychedelic experiences

These connections to others aren’t limited to humans, however. One may also feel more connected to non-human animals based on the kinds of experiences described above.

Increased Nature Relatedness

Psychedelics are unique in their ability to enhance nature relatedness, which refers to how connected we feel to the natural environment, with psilocybin being particularly effective at increasing this trait. The researcher Sam Gandy has been involved in a number of studies looking at the ability of psychedelics to increase one’s self-identification with nature. In fact, enhanced nature relatedness is one of the longest-lasting effects of psychedelics, with such increases remaining two years after a psychedelic experience. This is also associated with mental health benefits.

During a psychedelic journey, one may feel more deeply connected to the natural world, and embedded in it, rather than separate from it. These compounds can also induce biophilia: the idea, proposed by biologist E.O. Wilson, that humans have an inherent fondness for the natural world. By manifesting and amplifying this trait, psychedelics not only bolster people’s bonding with the natural world, it can also increase motivation to connect to nature more often. This is a passionate and normative sense of connection. In addition, people who have psychedelic experiences in nature often report experiencing nature relatedness and biophilia very strongly.

Stronger and More Frequent Contact With the Present Moment

A 2020 study published in European Neuropsychopharmacology revealed that a single dose of psilocybin can lead to long-term increases in mindfulness (keeping one’s attention on the present moment and having a non-judgemental attitude towards the unfolding of experience moment by moment. This matches many people’s experiences with psychedelics.

After a particularly profound experience, someone can have a sense of being more connected to sensations, experiences, and the outside world. And this can occur not just during the ‘afterglow period’ (the elevation in mood in the days and weeks after a journey) but for months and even years after a psychedelic session. Psychedelics, then, can move people away from living life in their thoughts – and feeling disconnected from everything – towards a state of close contact with one’s immediate experiences. This state of living more mindfully is associated with improved mental health, increased life satisfaction, and more peace of mind.

Connection to Something Much Bigger Than Ourselves

Researchers have found that psychedelics can lead to encounters with what users describe as God or ultimate reality. In this way, these experiences can involve connecting to something much larger than ourselves, which may be a supernatural being, the entire universe, fundamental reality, or the totality of existence (and all of these descriptions may, for some users, refer to the same single reality). Of course, how users interpret this contact with something apparently much larger than themselves varies. In any case, these encounters are also associated with long-term improvements in mental health.

Some Nuance is Necessary

While I believe the above discussion presents a strong case for viewing psychedelics as syndeogens, some balance is needed. After all, psychedelics have the potential to be disconnecting agents. A recent study published in PLOS One showed that some of the most common forms of extended difficulty following psychedelic use include social disconnection; depersonalisation (feeling detached from your physical body, self, or thoughts); and derealisation (the feeling that the world is unreal, or feeling detached from your surroundings).

These long-term difficulties post-psychedelic use, while uncommon, are still experienced by many users. On the other hand, it is also true that psychedelics don’t always induce experiences of the divine, yet the term entheogen is still in common usage, and they don’t always heal people (and can sometimes harm people), but they are still referred to as medicines. Perhaps, then, we can describe the syndeogenic effects of psychedelics as common, and more likely to occur in ideal circumstances (when ‘set and setting’ are respected: having a ready and prepared mindset, and making sure environmental factors help to support positive experiences and reduce negative ones).

The term ‘psychedelic’ (meaning mind-manifesting) will always be an ideal term to use when referring to these kinds of compounds, due to how broad it is – it covers all effects that may arise. But I believe if we want to pinpoint why psychedelics are so effective at improving our lives, it can help to also use the term syndeogen. The researcher and clinical psychologist Rosalind Watts developed the Watts Connectedness Scale (WCS), which measures our sense of connectedness to self, others, and the wider world, which she and other researchers believe is correlated with mental health outcomes post-psychedelic use. Indeed, at many different levels, these compounds can enhance our well-being by moving us away from disconnection and towards connection.

Sam Woolfe | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | www.samwoolfe.com

Sam is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

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