Happy Days for 'Shroom Heads

By Jeff Forester 10/03/11

"Openness," one of the Big Five personality traits, is boosted long-term by magic mushrooms, say scientists.

They open you up, man. Photo via

Researchers into "magic mushrooms" have found out for themselves what users always suspected. Just a single trip can prompt an enduring but "positive" personality change in almost 60% of subjects—the increased levels of "openness" discovered encompass possible boosts to adventurousness, curiosity, imagination and vocabulary. This is startling, as personality traits have long been regarded as largely stable characteristics. The researchers, at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, were experimenting with psilocybin, the active ingredient in 'shrooms. Study author Roland R. Griffiths, a psychiatry and neuroscience professor, said, "psilocybin actually changes one domain of personality that is strongly related to traits such as imagination, feeling, abstract ideas and aesthetics, and is considered a core construct underlying creativity in general." What's more, "the changes we see appear to be long term." Researchers used 51 "psychologically healthy" volunteers—almost all deemed themselves "spiritually active" and more than half had completed postgrad education. These brainy guinea pigs were given "moderate to high" psilocybin doses over two to five sessions of about eight hours, while lying down wearing eye masks and headphones with music. Each time neither they nor their monitors knew whether they'd been given the drug or a placebo. Follow-up "states-of-consciousness" testing showed that most baseline personality traits remained unchanged—neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness matched pre-drug testing. But "openness" not only increased dramatically, but remained elevated throughout a 14-month follow-up period. The findings echo what a long line of luminaries like Aldus Huxley, Timothy Leary, tribal shamen and AA founder Bill Wilson have believed; counter-culture author Ken Kesey once said, "LSD lets you in on something...And I don't know of anybody who hasn't come back from that being more humane, more thoughtful, more understanding." The news follows reports that August's Hurricane Irene may have helped produce a bumper crop of magic mushrooms on the East Coast. But the study's authors add the obligatory disclaimer: "we certainly don't want to imply that there's not risk associated with these compounds," stressed Griffiths. "And we wouldn't want to be a reason for an uptick for non-medical, uncontrolled use of this sort of thing."

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.