Featured art by James Christensen
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have recently published the results of a study into the benefits of the mind-altering drug psilocybin (the active chemical present in Magic Mushrooms), and it shows that the drug could cause permanent, positive transformations in personality.
One of the volunteers for the study, Brian, a 50-year-old scientist, said: “It was sort of like an anti-inflammatory for the ego, the swelling went down and I got to see what was underneath.”
The research team found that more than a year after taking the drug, the volunteers showed improvements in major behavioral factors such as openness, experiences, and perceptions.
The team of researchers examined personality data on 52 volunteers with an average age of 46 years. The volunteers were given different doses of psilocybin under highly regulated conditions at the hospital, in two to five sessions. Personality tests were conducted on the volunteers prior to taking psilocybin, then again some months after every drug session, and a third series of tests were conducted about one year later.
The same set of 52 volunteers had taken part in an earlier study conducted by the Johns Hopkins research team, with results showing positive psychological changes in happiness, calmness, and kindness. These changes were all noted by the volunteers, their family members, and associates. Also, there was evidence of long-term changes in the fundamental personalities of the drug takers.
According to Katherine Maclean, leader of the research team and a Johns Hopkins University postdoctoral student; “The most surprising thing was that we found a change in personality that is really not expected in healthy adults, not after such a discrete event.”
Even though results from other studies have shown that certain treatments such as effective therapy using antidepressants, intensive medication, and dialectical behavioral treatment for borderline personality disorder affect adult personality, permanent positive change has never been attained as an outcome of taking some doses of a drug.
The personality changes also went against the norm as individuals age. The norm is for people to become progressively less open to new experiences and fresh ideas as they grow older. On the other hand, in volunteers who had what the researchers referred to as a “full mystical experience,” they observed a move toward more openness and increased curiosity, as though the participants had become years younger.
“It ended up being the best experience of my life,” states Maria Estevez, a 67-year-old retiree. “It was marvelous, radiant. I felt like I was coming into a magnificent palace, expansive and joyous.”
However, for those without the complete mystical experience, there were no signs of a personality change. According to the scientists, full mystical experiences are those that created a sense of everything is connected and is “one,” an experience of having risen above time and space, a sense of holiness and peace which no words can rightly describe.
That gives an apt description of Brian’s experience. Although because his first dose was a placebo, he didn’t experience anything. He simply had to sit blindfolded and listen to classical music playing through his headphones in a tranquil, sophisticated room with a study monitor in attendance. “Four hours went by and nothing really happened,” he says.
However, for Estevez, who heard about the study through a classified ad, the initial experience was the complete opposite. She was selected at random to get the highest dose possible initially, and it ended up being an experience to forget. “I was slammed, I was inundated, I felt like I was drowning,” she says. “I was knocked around and tumbling beyond all sanity.”
Estevez’s main motivation for taking part in the study was her desire to experience the same kind of spiritual exploration as Aldous Huxley after reading about his mescaline experience.
Even though she had some support from the study monitors, she thought about dropping out. She had a rethink after realizing that her chances of getting a better psychedelic experience were next to nil.
Undeniably, a high proportion of the volunteers in the study were driven to enroll either out of interest in magic s’ influence or due to the fact that they just wanted to do some self-reflection. The researchers admitted that because a lot of the participants already explored spiritual undertakings such as prayers, meditation, and religious services, these factors provide an explanation for their sensitivity to the drug’s effects.
For Brian, a deeply spiritual individual who had in recent times been attracted to Eastern religions including the concept that separating ourselves from every other thing on earth was misleading, curiosity was the main reason for signing up for the experiment. On why he didn’t try psychedelics earlier, he says “I was actually a victim of my own good judgment in my youth.”
He describes his experience with a greater dose of psilocybin; “I was just able to drop ego totally and experience the world without all those filters, and experience Brian without all that.”
And on the highest possible dose of the drug: “There was this point where, basically, I forgot about anything Brian-like or who Brian was. I was really in touch with all experience: whatever happened was part of me. I was not observing — I was whatever was happening. The other thing that was so memorable was that everything was so beautiful and it made me cry because the beauty was so exquisite. And then I’d remember how painful and how messy it all was. I was laughing and crying for like three hours straight.
I was absolutely that certain that everything was just the same thing, just different flavors and tastes of one underlying reality and being so grateful to be alive and able to experience it.”
Brian’s experience increased his levels of compassion and tolerance, “What was happening to me was real and [yet] the person next to me might not be seeing the same thing. It became absolutely obvious that perspective determines your experience with reality and that maybe being able to take more perspectives than one will give you a more rich and probably more true version of what reality is.”
Estevez describes her most positive session as one in which she experienced a godlike presence. According to her; “It said to me, ‘Is there anything you want?’ I thought, ‘want?’”. “[I knew that] there was this person named Maria in space and time and that she had long lists of things she wanted. That was me. But I just said no. Later, I thought, Wow, if that was case, who was answering?”
Estevez feels that her openness and ability to empathize have increased since she started taking psilocybin. “I am much more forgiving of friends and strangers,” she says. “I’m much more accommodating because I’ve been there, and it really isn’t such a big deal.” She says.
There is the possibility of negative side effects from psilocybin use, so it is important to carry out some research to see if there are any long-term adverse effects.
According to the Roland Griffiths, a Johns Hopkins professor of behavioral biology and co-author of the research, “we haven’t seen [any evidence of lasting negative effects] in our studies.” People can have very negative effects of psilocybin and have anxiety or fearfulness but that’s time-limited, and none of those people report lasting negative effects.”
With a proposed new study into the possible mood-boosting effects of psilocybin in depressed former or current sufferers of cancer in the pipelines, scientists hope that through the use of psychedelics, they will be able to extensively research the nature of consciousness and provide therapy for mental illness.
Read more about the power of psychedelic mushrooms at here.