Get on the Bus: New Study Says Mushrooms Lead to Greater Openness

Rebecca Jones

In the 60’s many a flower child turned to psychedelic drugs to open their mind to new experiences and greater creativity and now thanks to research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology it seems that their experimentation may have had scientific merit.

According to the new study, people who are given even a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, can undergo a personality change that leaves them with an enhanced sense of “openness”. According to researchers, openness in defined as being more imaginative, broad-minded and sensitive to aesthetics and feelings. Of the 5 globally recognized aspects of personality researchers found that the other four; extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness were unaffected.

Ever since Timothy Leary founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project while a professor at Harvard, researchers have been curious to see what effect psilocybin’s have on the personality. Study leader Roland Griffiths says that what makes this particular study so important is that it is the first time a “short-term intervention with long lasting personality changes” has been found. It is commonly believed that by the time a person reaches their twenties or thirties their personalities are solidified and difficult to manipulate or change.

“The remarkable piece is that psilocybin can facilitate experiences that change how people perceive themselves and their environment. That’s unprecedented.”

To conduct their study, researchers assembled 51 participants who were asked to lie on a couch blindfolded and with headphones playing music. They were either given a placebo or a medium to large dose of psilocybin and asked to direct their energy inward. Sessions were repeated but no participant was given psilocybin at more than one session. 60% of participants spoke of having a “mystical experience” involving a sense of reverence and interconnectedness. Tests given to these participants over the next 14 months revealed that these feelings of greater openness lasted well beyond the effects of the actual drug and could even lead to a permanent change in personality.

Researchers warn about trying these experiments at home citing the potential dangers of psychedelic drugs in general and psilocybin specifically. Some of the study’s participants experienced strong feelings of fear and anxiety during the session and though no long term negative effects were reported participants were kept in a controlled hospital setting during the experiment and were thoroughly supervised while under the drugs influence.

Researchers are excited about the potential applications of psilocybin; relieving depression and anxiety in cancer patients or helping people quit smoking but warn that psilocybin is a controlled and illegal substance and it is still unclear what effectiveness it would have among the general population.