million people affected worldwide
Psychedelic research currently is in Preclinical
- Personality entails the characteristics of patterns, thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make a person unique. Personality is 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 mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.
- Based on the limited evidence available, psychedelics hold the potential to impact personality positively, making people more open to new experiences and extraverted, but further research is needed to clarify this.
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 recognisable and regular order to behaviours, how one responds to their environment and acts in certain ways, as well as having multiple expressions which can be seen in our thoughts, feelings, close relationships, and other social interactions .
There are numerous ways to characterise personality’s various dimensions, and no universally accepted method exists. One well-known theory has been termed the ‘Big Five,’ NEO PI-R, or OCEAN. As the name suggests, the Big Five consists of five broad categories encompassing various personality traits.
These categories include extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Underlying these categories are qualities that range between two extremes, i.e. extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion .
Researching personality can provide fascinating insights into how a person changes and develops over a lifetime. Personality assessments can help people learn more about themselves and their strengths and weaknesses .
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 mental and physical health .
Given the impact of personality on a person’s quality of life, researchers are continuously exploring personality’s various dimensions to better understand how personality works and if it can be altered.
Psychedelics and Personality
In 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 psychedelics may increase Openness and Self-Transcendence in individuals when administered in a controlled environment. 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 the 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 treatment-resistant depression yielded interesting results at the three-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 increased Openness and long-term mindfulness.
Microdosing, the practice of regularly using low doses of psychedelics, 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, 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. In contrast, neuroticism was negatively correlated with the duration of prior microdosing experience.
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.
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.
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 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 alter dimensions of personality positively, it may all come back to the importance of set and setting.
Psychedelics do have the potential to alter the various characteristics of personality. Similarly, personality can alter the psychedelic experience. Whether the changes to personality incurred due to the psychedelic experience are truly long-lasting remains to be seen.
Based on the limited evidence available, psychedelics can potentially impact personality if they are close-minded and perhaps introverted positively. 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.
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 Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1467-8721.2006.00441.x
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