If you could improve your personality with a hallucinogenic drug, would you? | The White Noise, Scientific American Blog Network
October 27, 2011 |
Perhaps magic mushrooms really are magic. In fact, recent research suggests that shrooms could augment the openness of our personality, also effectively sticking a leg out to trip our brains before we lose our sense of openness that could occur as we age. And these aren’t the first whispers we’ve heard of psychedelic mushrooms’ positive effects. Earlier research has shown has shown that shrooms may better overall mental health.
Similar to LSD, magic mushrooms affect the central nervous system to induce (sometimes wild) distortion of perceptions. They don’t cause users to hallucinate, rather, they tweak reality. While considered to be more mild than LSD, shrooms can enhance colors, emotions, sounds and textures. The type of “trip” depends heavily on a user’s mental well-being and environment when taking the drug. A “bad trip,” can occur when users feel anxiety, paranoia and fear, often induced in a highly structured setting or when harboring negative emotions when taking the drug.
A NYC MFA student blogged about her first-time experience using shrooms:
My head wasn’t cloudy (the way one’s thoughts can be muddled when drunk) and with the city being an explosion of stimuli, my mind zipped through so many connections. I was aware of all of them, if only briefly.
If this experience could be teased out, however subtly, and bled into our everyday consciousness, would we want that? To be open to so many connections? Openness, the welcoming of new ideas and experiences, is one of the five overarching personality traits in psychology, and it tends to decrease as we age, if it changes at all.
In a Johns Hopkins study, 52 participants were given one high dose of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) on site, the effects of which were monitored for a period of 14 months. The participants who said they experienced a “mystical” experience at onset reported higher degrees of openness 14 months later.
Experiential reports from participants can be as slippery as magic mushroom trips themselves. However, overall, users and their families were pleased with a heightened level of openness in their loved ones. Previous research also shows potential for psilocybin use in anxiety and depression treatments. However, we don’t know if shrooms’ effects are permanent or if they actually fade over time. More importantly, shrooms can be dangerous, especially for those with existing mental conditions: study researchers warn readers against trying the drug on their own.
But let’s stretch our suspension of disbelief: say psilocybin is a miracle personality booster. Say that science effectively ridded the drug of dangers and put users in a nice, wondrous padded place whereby they could have a “mystical” experience…Would we want that?
As a treatment method, I could see the benefits — losing debilitating anxiety or easing irrational fears. But as a recreational boost, some magic dust that’s just supposed to make us better, more open? Would we still be ourselves then? Would this be a new, improved me or an artificial version? Would my mom still be herself if she lost her narrow Southern view of religion? I’m not so sure.
If risk wasn’t an issue, would you do it? Or, would you want your parents, siblings, spouse or friends to participate in drug-induced personality boot camp?