"Magic mushrooms" containing the hallucinogen psilocybin can induce long-term changes in personality, according to new research published by investigators at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The changes were related to aspects of personality described as "openness," which the researchers defined as traits associated with imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Sixty percent of subjects who received a single high dose of the drug reported enhanced openness up to a year after ingesting the mind-altering drug.
Measured by a widely accepted and well-validated personality inventory, the changes were more significant than changes in personality ordinarily observed in adults after decades of life. In general, personality changes little after the age of 30.
But among subjects who described having a "mystical experience" during their experimental "trip" there were significant and lasting changes in aspects of personality related to openness. "Normally, if anything, openness tends to decrease as people get older," said study leader Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Researchers cautioned that it is unclear whether the changes would occur in just anyone. The relatively small study featured 51 subjects, the majority of whom reported being "spiritually active," meaning they meditated, prayed, or participated regularly in religious services.
Conceivably, such individuals are more "open" to the mind-expanding qualities of the drug than less spiritual individuals. Griffiths also noted that some subjects experienced temporary anxiety and/or fear during their psychedelic experience, therefore he cautioned that taking the drug outside of a controlled environment could be risky. The drug is presently illegal in most countries.
Nevertheless, Griffiths said there may be therapeutic uses for the ancient drug that have been overlooked. "There may be applications for this we can't even imagine at this point," he says. "It certainly deserves to be systematically studied." Produced by dozens of species of mushrooms, primarily in the genus Psilocybe, the psychedelic drug has been used for thousands of years among indigenous cultures in Central and South America, where it plays a role in sacred and religious ceremonies.
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