Magic mushrooms, LSD, and other psychedelic drugs are known to produce an array of mind-altering effects, ranging from complete ego dissolution to strange encounters with otherworldly entities. The highly idiosyncratic nature of these experiences makes it difficult for scientists to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the outcomes of taking these substances, although new research indicates that it may be possible to predict how someone will respond to psychedelics based on their personality.
Ever since the early days of psychedelic research, psychiatrists have noted a correlation between personality structure and drug-related experiences. For example, people who score highly for neuroticism tend to be more likely to have bad trips, characterized by intense anxiety and an inability to surrender to the psychedelic experience.
In an attempt to build on these findings, Petter Grahl Johnstad from the University of Bergen has just published a paper in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, highlighting a number of interesting correlations between personality traits and subjective responses to psychedelics.
To conduct the study, Johnstad assessed the personalities of 319 psychedelics users using two questionnaires that are designed to pick up on certain elements of a person’s nature. The first of these, known as the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), is commonly used to measure the so-called Big Five personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness.
In addition, respondents were asked to complete the Risk Taking Index (RTI), which is used to evaluate a person’s proclivity for risky behavior. Results were then correlated with participants’ self-reports of their psychedelic experiences in order to determine the impact of these personality traits on drug-induced trips.
A quick glance at the results reveals that psychedelics users tend to score higher than average for all of the Big Five traits as well as risk-taking, which suggests that motivation to use these substances may be driven by a person’s make-up. More interestingly, though, the nature of each individual’s psychedelic trips tended to be influenced by their test scores.
For example, people with high levels of openness were found to be the most likely to experience “love, inner visions, and contact with non-ordinary beings and transcendent forces” when on psychedelics. Johnstad and his colleagues hypothesize that the curiosity and open-mindedness of such people may cause them to “pursue unusual and intense experiences” when tripping, which could explain these outcomes.
Highly extroverted individuals, meanwhile, were found to be the least likely to encounter non-ordinary beings and tend to discover a deeper sense of connection to other people instead. This, say the authors, probably reflects these people’s preference for social interaction over delving into the inner reaches of their psyche.
In addition, those with high emotional stability were the least likely to experience fear during a trip, while ego-dissolution was directly correlated with risk-taking. This final finding is explained as a possible consequence of risk-takers’ increased tendency to pursue extreme psychological experiences.
Taken together, these results could have important implications for the use of psychedelics as psychotherapeutic adjuncts. For instance, ongoing research indicates that psilocybin-containing mushrooms may be effective in the treatment of depression, and the findings from this and other similar studies could help clinicians to predict how different patients might respond to such therapies in order to identify suitable candidates.