How do our most profound experiences change us? An increasing number of clinical trials and research papers show that psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ayahuasca could be effective in the treatment of mood, depression, anxiety, and addiction disorders. These substances are known to have powerful effects on the brain and can profoundly alter one’s consciousness. Truffle Report looks at a collection of studies which examine the relationship between the use of psychedelics and changes in personality.
What is Personality?
Personality refers to patterns of thought, feelings, and behaviour that may distinguish a person from others. It is what makes humans unique individuals. Personality embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is more visible in interaction with other people. According to American Psychological Association (APA), the study of personality focuses on two areas:
- Understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics
- Understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole
It impacts how people view themselves and what they believe about others and the world around them. Traits, emotions, and patterns play important roles in building one’s personality.
Psychedelics and Personality
In a 2011 Johns Hopkins University study, people who took psilocybin became more emotionally open after the experience, and the results were still visible twelve months later. The study involved 51 individuals who underwent two to five eight-hour psilocybin sessions, with a three-week interval between sessions. According to the researchers, this aspect of personality normally doesn’t change significantly after the age of 30.
“Normally, if anything, openness tends to decrease as people get older,” said principle investigator Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
In a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2017, MDMA was found to increase openness and decrease neuroticism when used therapeutically, which could be helpful for treating post-traumatic stress.
According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews in 2018, even a single LSD drug trip can affect personality for weeks, months, or even years.
Researchers from the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education (ICEERS), Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (UAM), and the University Sao Paulo (USP) analysed studies that focused on the psychological effects that LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca had on a person’s personality. The research reviewed 18 studies published between 1985 and 2016, all of which examined the relationship between the use of psychedelics and changes in personality.
After reviewing the studies, the results showed that psychedelic substances did appear to influence and change personality long-term, perhaps even permanent, compared to people who had never taken psychedelics.
“Psychedelic drug users and nonusers appear to differ in some personality traits,” authors wrote in the research paper. “Psychedelics administered in controlled settings may induce personality changes, such as increased Openness and Self-Transcendence. Increases in global brain entropy induced by acute psychedelic administration predicted changes in Openness, and Self-Transcendence was negatively correlated with cortical thinning of the posterior cingulate cortex in long-term religious ayahuasca users. Acute and long-term use of psychedelics is associated with personality changes that appear to be modulated by 5-HT2A receptors.”
According to the review, these changes were beneficial and “should be further explored in randomized controlled studies.”
A study published in the journal Scientific Reports in March, 2021, examined the association between the ceremonial use of ayahuasca and changes in personality. The research was based on the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality, which focuses on five characteristics:
- Neuroticism – anxiety and depression
- Extraversion – sociability and outgoing
- Openness – imagination and curiosity
- Agreeableness – compassion and respectfulness
- Conscientiousness – disciplined and goal-directed behaviour
The study aimed to answer the questions:
- Is ceremonial use of ayahuasca related to changes in self-and informant-reported personality?
- Are there factors that predispose or potentiate change in personality?
Results from the study suggest that the ceremonial use of ayahuasca can lead to a significant reduction in neuroticism, a personality trait associated with anxiety and depression. For their study, the researchers analyzed 256 participants’ data from three ayahuasca retreats across South and Central America.
“Attending ayahuasca ceremony was associated with a medium-sized decrease in neuroticism, and our results pointed to predisposing and experiential factors that may potentiate personality change. Attributes of ayahuasca ceremony may be particularly powerful as a treatment for neuroticism/internalizing psychopathology, especially among individuals at elevated baseline levels,” stated the researchers.
In a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in August, 2021, researchers aimed to test if a psychedelic experience can change someone’s personality.
Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo analyzed data from two-parallel-group randomized, placebo-controlled trials to investigate the effects of ayahuasca on personality. Each study was designed to assess the effects of ayahuasca on face recognition, emotion, and empathy.
“In this analysis of changes in personality from two randomized controlled trials involving the administration of ayahuasca to healthy volunteers, no significant effects were observed in Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness scores within and between groups,” wrote the authors. “The only significant results were observed in Openness, where groups were significantly different on baseline scores.”
However, this study has some limitations, including different concentrations of DMT in the psychedelic brew, set and setting conditions, and characteristics of volunteers.
According to a new study conducted at the Imperial College London and led by Brandon Weiss, psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca can promote positive and long-term personality changes.
The research published in Frontiers in Psychology in November, 2021, analyzed data from 148 adults that were recruited online, to examine prospective changes in personality traits after using psychedelic drugs. Participants were asked to answer questions about their personality and social relationships at three-time points: one week before their psychedelic experience, two weeks after their experience, and four weeks after the experience.
Researchers used the FFM to measure personality traits. They also measured two types of social connectedness – one’s perceived sense of belongingness and one’s social relationships in general.
The study aimed to investigate:
- The change in personality traits related to social functioning and perceptions of social connectedness, as well as covariance between these sets of outcomes over time
- Factors that may potentiate or suppress personality change in relation to a psychedelic experience
Researchers found that two traits showed significant change after the participants underwent a psychedelic experience.
“First, people seemed to report that they were not as quarrelsome or critical in their interactions with others,” explained Weiss. “Second, people reported that they were less easily upset by things and less anxious.”
According to the study, the use of psychedelics was also associated with “substantive increases in feelings of belonging to one’s social environment.”
“Use of psychedelics was associated with substantive decreases in neuroticism and increases in agreeableness, both of which are relevant to social functioning via links to relationship satisfaction and prosociality. Specific adaptive effects on personality involved changes in anxiety, emotional lability, quarrelsomeness, and enthusiasm,” wrote researchers. “These data add to the robustness of findings involving a psychedelic-induced antidepressant effect and shows evidence of this effect extending to the general population of psychedelic users.”
Though more data is needed to confirm this research, this paper opens up the possible effectiveness of psychedelics in clinical settings with future studies focusing on the personality traits related to aggression and physical violence.