Taking magic mushrooms (psilocybin) can have a lasting change on the individual’s personality, making them more open about their feelings and the way they perceive things, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA, wrote in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The authors explained that those who had mystic experiences while on psilocybin were more likely to subsequently exhibit certain personality changes, making them more forthcoming about their feelings, becoming more focused on being creative, curious, and appreciative about artistic things.

Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug – a substance whose main action is to alter perception and cognition. Its molecular formula is C12H17N2O4P. Its mind-altering effects are similar to those of mescaline and LSD. It effects may include, an altered sense of time, spiritual experiences, perceptual distortions, and thinking processes. Psilocybin can also cause nausea and panic attacks. This psychedelic drug can be found in over 200 types of mushrooms, the most powerful coming from the genus Psilocybe, including P. cubensis, P. semilanceata, and P. cyanescens.

In this latest study, headed by Roland Griffiths, personality changes that occurred in those who took magic mushrooms were still there twelve months later. The authors believe that the psilocybin may well have a long-term effect.

Professor Griffiths said:

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

Magic mushrooms used to be used by Timothy Leary, a former Harvard professor of psychology. Leary founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

Openness is one of five main personality traits that span all cultures worldwide, the other four are extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Degrees of openness are fairly constant throughout an individual’s lifetime. The researchers found that the other four personality factors were largely unchanged after people consumed magic mushrooms.

The authors say their study is the first finding of a short-term intervention with long-lasting personality changes.

The study involved 51 individuals who underwent two to five eight-hour psilocybin sessions, with a three-week interval between each session. During a session they lay down on a couch, wore an eye mask and listened to music through headphones while concentrating on an inner experience. Their personalities were screened at the beginning of the studies, and then during a two-month and 12-month follow-up.

Thirty of the volunteers had a mystical experience, according to the researchers’ criteria gathered from a set of psychological scales. Their openness scores increased, indicating more focus on aesthetics, inner feeling, values, imagination and ideas. The rest of the participants, those with no mystical experiences, underwent no apparent personality change.

The authors concluded:

“The findings suggest a specific role for psilocybin and mystical-type experiences in adult personality change.”

Archeologists have gathered evidence of the presence of psychoactive mushrooms used in religious rituals for thousands of years.

Ancient paintings in Villar del Humo, Spain, show evidence of Psilocybe hispanica usage in religious ceremonies about 4,000 BC.

Murals in southeast Algeria, in the Sahara desert, dated 7000 to 9000 BC suggest psilocybin mushroom use.

In the Aztec language Nahuatl, psychoactive mushrooms were called “teonanacatl” (God flesh). Mayan archives have data pointing to common usage of psilocybin mushrooms in ceremonies and rituals.

Written by Christian Nordqvist