30 September 2011
Single dose of magic mushrooms "may create lasting personality change"
by Kate Melville
After a single dose of the hallucinogen psilocybin, lasting personality changes in volunteers occurred that were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences, say Johns Hopkins researchers who are studying the effects of magic mushrooms. Their study, appearing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, notes that after the age of 30, most people's personalities don't usually change significantly.
Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as "openness," which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. "Normally, if anything, openness tends to decrease as people get older," says study leader Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry.
The study participants completed up to 5 eight-hour "drug sessions." They were informed they would receive a "moderate or high dose" of psilocybin during one of these sessions, but neither they nor the session monitors knew when it would occur.
During each session, participants were encouraged to lie down on a couch, use an eye mask to block external visual distraction, wear headphones through which music was played and focus their attention on their inner experiences.
Personality was assessed at screening, one - two months after each drug session and approximately 14 months after the last drug session. Griffiths believes the personality changes found in this study are likely permanent since they were sustained for over a year by many of the participants.
Griffiths says that lasting personality change is rarely looked at as a function of a single discrete experience in the laboratory. In the study, the change occurred specifically in those volunteers who had undergone a "mystical experience," as validated on a questionnaire developed by early hallucinogen researchers and refined by Griffiths for use at Hopkins.
He defines "mystical experience" as among other things, "a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things accompanied by a sense of sacredness and reverence."
Psilocybin may have therapeutic uses, Griffiths believes. He is currently studying whether the hallucinogen has a use in helping cancer patients handle the depression and anxiety that comes along with a diagnosis, and whether it can help long-time cigarette smokers overcome their addiction. "There may be applications for this we can't even imagine at this point," he concluded. "It certainly deserves to be systematically studied."