Can Psychedelics Improve Personality?September 29, 2011 6:15 am hallucinogen, human, in vivo
Katherine MacClean, Matthew Johnson, and Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins have published their study of changes in personality after psilocybin-occasioned mystical experience. (Full disclosure: they’re friends.) From the abstract:
In participants who had mystical experiences during their psilocybin session, Openness remained significantly higher than baseline more than 1 year after the session. The findings suggest a specific role for psilocybin and mystical-type experiences in adult personality change.
Openness is considered one of the five main aspects of personality. It relates to interest in and appreciation of culture, ideas, imagination, and different experiences. This new finding therefore extends an old study by McGlothlin and colleagues (link) that reported greater interest in and participation in aesthetic activities (going to museums, buying music) after LSD.
Openness is also closely linked to creativity, which many believe to be improved by psychedelics (although the literature is not convincing). If one wants to look for benefits of psychedelics, Openness is probably a much better construct than creativity because there is solid current research on it and established ways to measure it.
One big question is how much this finding generalizes to other people. The participants were carefully prepared and monitored; all were psychedelic-naive but had some involvement in spiritual practice. As they say on the internets, your mileage may vary. A second minor question is whether the mystical experience is really the cause of the change or if some other aspect of the experience, indirectly measured by measures of mystical experience, is really responsible. The authors consider this possibility and argue against it (as visualized in their figure below), but I don’t think the data they have allows definite conclusions.
Figure shows changes in Openness after psilocybin in participants who did and did not have mystical experiences.
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