million people affected worldwide

Current Treatments

Psychedelic research currently is in Preclinical

Key Insights

  • Personality entails the characteristics of patterns, thoughts, feelings and behaviours that a make a person unique. Personality its ever changing and can be influenced by a range of factors.
  • Psychedelics ability to influence the various dimensions of personality tends to be a secondary measure in studies focusing on their ability to alleviate symptoms of menta health disorders such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.
  • Based on the limited evidence available, psychedelics hold the potential to positively impact personality if they are close-minded and perhaps introverted but further research is needed to clarify this.

Author: Iain Burgess is a researcher at Blossom. He studied Global Health (M.Sc.) and Physiology (B.Sc.) and has researched the various scientific, societal, cultural and political dynamics that have shaped our understanding of psychedelics throughout history.

If this topic is of particular interest to your company, then consider collaborating with Blossom. We are currently looking for research collaborators to expand these reports.

What is personality?

At the simplest level, personality entails the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make a person unique. Personality is ever-changing throughout the course of a person’s life, as they are subject to various environmental factors and life-changing experiences.

Fundamental characteristics of the thoughts and emotions that underlie personality include psychological and physiological processes, a recognizable and regular order to behaviours, how one responds to their environment and acts in certain ways as well having multiple expressions which can be seen in our thoughts, feelings, close relationships, and other social interactions [1].

There are numerous ways to characterize the various dimensions of personality and no universally accepted method exists. One well-known theory has been termed the ‘Big Five.’ As the name suggests, the Big Five consists of five broad categories which encompass various personality traits.

These categories include extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Underlying each of these categories are various qualities that range between two extremes i.e extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion [2].

Researching personality can provide fascinating insights into how a person changes and develops over a lifetime and personality assessments can be used to help people learn more about themselves and their strengthens and weaknesses [1].

Such findings can have important real-world implications such as what career a person may be best suited to or how well they may perform in a particular job. Furthermore, research has found that personality can impact both mental and physical health [3].

Given the impact personality has on a person’s quality of life, researchers are continuously exploring the various dimensions of personality to gain a better understanding of how personality works and if it can be altered.

Psychedelics and Personality

In the realm of psychedelic science, psychedelics have been shown to influence various aspects of personality. Seeing as personality entails a range of different dimensions, researchers are continuing to explore how different psychedelics can influence the various aspects of personality. Measuring the effects psychedelics have on various aspects of personality are common secondary measures in trials exploring the impact of psychedelic-assisted therapy on mental disorders.

A comprehensive review by Bouso and colleagues (2018) on the influence psychedelic can have on personality yielded interesting results. Given that some personality traits seem to be related to 5-HT2A receptor expression, Bouso and colleagues postulated that acute and long-term use of serotonergic psychedelics is associated with personality changes through modulation of 5-HT2A receptors.

Based on their findings, the researchers also found that, when administered in a controlled environment, psychedelics may increase Openness and Self-Transcendence in individuals.

Other studies have found that psychedelics can increase Openness, which could be associated with the therapeutic benefit people gain when undergoing psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Using LSD, one placebo-controlled study found decreases in functional activity and higher-order networks in the brain which were predictive of increases in Openness up to two weeks after LSD consumption. In this study brain activity was measured using fMRI and the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) was used to measure personality traits.

A follow-up study to a MAPS sponsored trial exploring the effects of MDMA-assisted therapy found that increased levels of Openness under the influence of MDMA plays a role in the observed reduction in PTSD post-therapy session. The same study also found that decreased Neuroticism had no effects.

A different open-label study exploring the effects of psilocybin in people with treat-resistant depression yielded interesting results at a 3-month follow-up. These researchers found that Neuroticism was decreased while Extraversion and Openness were increased.

Using the NEO-PI-R, researchers in this separate study also found that a single high dose of psilocybin led to increases in Openness and long-term increased mindfulness.

Microdosing, the practice of regularly using low doses of psychedelic, may also have the ability to lead to changes in personality.

In this prospective survey study, most participants microdosed using either psilocybin or LSD. After one month of microdosing, researchers found increases in Conscientiousness and decreases in Neuroticism all while Agreeableness, Openness and Extraversion remained unaffected. Additionally, extraversion was positively correlated with participants’ number of lifetime doses and the duration of their prior microdosing experience, while neuroticism was negatively correlated with the duration of prior microdosing experience [4].

A study exploring the effects of ceremonial ayahuasca consumption on personality found similar results regarding Neuroticism. Across the Big Five categories, the open-label study reported decreases in neuroticism directly after the ayahuasca ceremony and three months later to be their strongest findings. However, given that there was no control group, these results should be taken lightly.

Noteworthily, a survey study conducted by the team at Johns Hopkins found that Neuroticism may contribute to the strength of challenging experiences with psychedelics in uncontrolled settings [5].

The various dimensions of personality have a multifaceted relationship with how one views the world and arguably their political orientation. There is a belief that psychedelics have the ability to change one’s worldview in a unidirectional manner toward more left-leaning liberal ideologies. A popular notion during the counterculture revolution of the 1960s which accompanied the downfall of psychedelic research was that psychedelics like LSD could improve society.

A recent article used case studies to debunk the idea that psychedelic use is linked to increased environmental concern and liberal politics. Instead, it is argued that the psychedelic experience can lead to a shift in any direction of political belief. The authors instead suggest that the historical record supports the concept of psychedelics as “politically pluripotent,” non-specific amplifiers of the political set and setting.

Thus, while psychedelics may have the ability to positively alter dimensions of personality it may all come back to the importance of set and setting.

Final Thoughts

Psychedelics do have the potential to alter the various characteristics of personality. Similarly, personality has the ability to alter the psychedelic experience. Whether the changes to personality incurred as a result of the psychedelic experience are truly long-lasting remains to be seen.

Based on the limited evidence available, psychedelics hold the potential to positively impact personality if they are close-minded and perhaps introverted. In this area of psychedelic science, further research will tell us if the current increases in Openness we are seeing are associated with positive therapeutic outcomes.

Nonetheless, the ability of these psychoactive drugs to influence a person’s personality is not going unnoticed and more concrete evidence will emerge in the years to come.

References

1. Cherry, K. (2020). What is personality? VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-personality-2795416

2. Lim, A. (2020). The Big Five Personality Traits. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/big-five-personality.html

3. Smith, T. (2006). Personality as Risk and Resilience in Physical Health. Current Directions in Pscyhological Science. https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1467-8721.2006.00441.x

4. Dressler, H., Bright, S., & Polito, V. (2021). Exploring the relationship between microdosing, personality and emotional insight: A prospective study.

5. Barrett, F., Johnson, M., & Griffiths, R. (2017). Neuroticism is associated with challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms.

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