“Ice Spirit Eye~” by Piucca io
In an experiment conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, a single high dose of the hallucinogen psilocybin was enough to bring about a measureable personality change lasting at least a year.
The change was found in only one aspect of personality, a dimension known as Openness. And the change was found only if the participant had a mystical experience while taking the drug.
For those participants who had mystical experiences during their psilocybin session, their Openness remained significantly higher more than a year later.
Openness is one of the so-called Big Five universal dimensions of personality, the others being Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Openness (or Openness to Experience) is an umbrella term for a cluster of traits that include intellectual curiosity, a preference for novelty and variety, an active imagination and general broad-mindedness.
A large body of research suggests that these core personality traits are pretty much set by the age of 30. In this study, however, almost two-thirds of the subjects had a sizeable increase in their level of Openness.
Moreover, the scale of change as measured on a standard personality test was larger in magnitude than changes typically observed over decades, the scientists say.
The positive benefits that certain psychoactive drug experiences can bring are well known to many therapists. One of the reported benefits is the potential to change one’s personality in a positive direction.
The John Hopkins team believe this is the first study to demonstrate personality changes in healthy adults after a single experimental event.
Psilocybin, in the natural form of mushrooms, has been used for centuries, possibly millennia, within some cultures for divinatory or religious purposes.
In response to the epidemic of hallucinogen abuse that occurred in the 1960s, clinical research with psilocybin and other hallucinogens largely ceased. Responsible human research with psychedelics was revived in the mid 1990s, however, and has been making good progress.
Previous studies have shown that psilocybin triggers personally and spiritually significant mystical experiences which in turn give rise to long-term changes in behaviours, attitudes and personal values. This is probably the first study to focus on lasting personality changes.
These findings are also consistent with previous studies and anecdotal reports from psilocybin users, who have said the drug changed their interactions with the world long after the short-term effects wore off. Openness itself is closely linked to creativity, which many believe to be improved by psychedelics.
But note that the key to personality transformation seems to be having a spiritual experience rather than the drug per se. The drug is merely a way to facilitate an ego-transcending state.
The researchers suggest that mystical experiences without drugs could have similar long-lasting effects on personality — indeed, such experiences have been found to help people fight addictions and cope with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
MacLean, K., Johnson, M., & Griffiths, R. (2011). Mystical Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin Lead to Increases in the Personality Domain of Openness Journal of Psychopharmacology DOI: 10.1177/0269881111420188. http://jop.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/09/28/0269881111420188
The same researchers wrote a paper a few years ago entitled “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance”. This is available online here:
For more about psychedelic research in general, see the MAPS.org website (that’s the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).