Johns Hopkins Study Finds Ingredient in Magic Mushrooms May Create Long Lasting Personality Change

Posted on September 29, 2011

A Johns Hopkins study has found that a single dose of hallucinogen psilocybin - the active ingredient in mushrooms nicknamed "magic mushrooms" - may cause a measurable personality change lasting at least a year. The study found that at least 60% of the 51 participants had a long lasting personality change.

The researchers say lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which they say includes traits related to "imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness." The scientists also say, "Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences."

Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, "Normally, if anything, openness tends to decrease as people get older."

Here is a description of the hallucinogen experiment:
The study participants completed two to five eight-hour drug sessions, with consecutive sessions separated by at least three weeks. Participants were informed they would receive a "moderate or high dose" of psilocybin during one of their drug sessions, but neither they nor the session monitors knew when.

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 to two months after each drug session and approximately 14 months after the last drug session. Griffiths says he believes the personality changes found in this study are likely permanent since they were sustained for over a year by many.

Nearly all of the participants in the new study considered themselves spiritually active (participating regularly in religious services, prayer or meditation). More than half had postgraduate degrees. The sessions with the otherwise illegal hallucinogen were closely monitored and volunteers were considered to be psychologically healthy.
Griffiths says, "We don't know whether the findings can be generalized to the larger population."

He also said that some of the study participants reported strong fear or anxiety for a portion of their daylong psilocybin sessions. He cautioned that if hallucinogens are used in less well supervised settings, then possible fear or anxiety responses could lead to harmful behaviors.

The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.