Multiple researchers have set out to establish whether our personality traits can affect psychedelic experiences and if these experiences can, in turn, reshape our characters.
Personality influences how we interact with the world, our thoughts, our feelings, and our relationships. But can personality traits affect our response to a psychedelic trip? And can a psychedelic experience affect our personality traits?
Our genes determine some of these traits, while some develop as a response to our life experiences. Once we reach adulthood, our personalities settle in and go through small, gradual changes as we age.
Psychedelics have the power to disrupt this stability in our personality traits, being able to introduce profound, possibly long-lasting changes to our personalities. This power can be attributed to psychedelics’ capacity to open up our minds to new experiences and perspectives, providing insights into our emotions that were previously inaccessible.
While putting in the work to integrate the psychedelic experience will determine whether it changes our personalities, researchers and mental health practitioners are tapping into this potential to improve the mental well-being of their patients.
Which are the big five personality traits?
Before delving into the research on how psychedelics can modify these traits, let’s go over them as defined by the Big Five Model, the most widely accepted personality theory in psychology.
Every trait is a spectrum with two extremes; depending on your personality, you fall somewhere in the middle.
Extraversion refers to a person’s eagerness to seek out social interactions and their enjoyment of them.
Someone with high extraversion is typically outgoing, talkative, and emotionally expressive. Those with low extroversion, or introverts, tend to be more reserved and often assume a passive role in social situations. While this doesn’t mean they dislike socializing, it’s not as easy for them and can be exhausting.
Agreeableness describes how a person interacts with other people.
Those high in agreeableness are warm and trusting and tend to look out for the needs of others to help them feel comfortable and at ease. Low agreeableness makes a person difficult to deal with, as they can lack empathy, be selfish, and ignore other people’s needs and feelings.
Openness to experience
Openness to experience refers to how much or little someone is willing to try new things and step out of their comfort zone.
A highly open person may display artistic talents and an innate curiosity for the world around them. Someone who is closed off or has a low openness score is more comfortable following a routine in every aspect of their life. This allows them to think more practically but may make them struggle with creative tasks or abstract thinking.
Conscientiousness determines a person’s ability to set goals for themselves and follow them strictly without being sidetracked by more pleasurable activities.
A highly conscientious person is driven and determined and gains satisfaction from getting things done. Someone with low conscientiousness may struggle with adversity and have the impulse to abandon a task if it becomes frustrating.
Neuroticism describes an individual’s emotional stability and propensity to experience negative emotions. It’s also defined by how an individual tackles life’s challenges and their attitude towards them.
Highly neurotic people tend to be anxious and doubt themselves at every turn. These recurring thoughts undermine their self-esteem, making them sad or irritable. Those with a low score on neuroticism are more calm and confident, which allows them to trust themselves and maintain high self-esteem.
Can Personality Traits Affect the Psychedelic Experience?
Yes. Researchers have found that your response to a psilocybin mushroom journey can depend on your personality. A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a correlation between the above-mentioned 5 personality traits and individuals’ response to a psilocybin mushroom journey.
What researchers found is that:
- Individuals scoring high on Openness: are more likely to experience “love, inner visions, and contact with non-ordinary beings and transcendent forces”
- Individuals scoring high in Extraversion: reported deeper connection to others. They were also found to be “the least likely to encounter non-ordinary beings”. This, say the authors, probably reflects these people’s preference for social interaction over delving into the inner reaches of their psyche.
- Those scoring high on Neuroticism: are more likely to have a ‘bad trip’.
Moreover, researchers found that:
- Highly emotionally stable individuals are less likely to experience fer during a psychedelic trip and risk-takers are more likely to experience ego death or ego dissolution because they have a higher tendency to pursue extreme psychological experiences.
Can Psychedelics Affect Personality Traits?
Yes, it appears that way. According to recent findings, psychedelics can:
- Increase openness
- Increase extraversion
- Decrease Neuroticism
- Increase Conscientiousness (trend-level)
These findings are based on a study by David Erritzoe titled Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure. Published in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, this study explored the effects of psilocybin administration in a supportive setting on the Big Five personality traits in 20 patients with treatment-resistant depression.
Five patients had previous experiences with psychedelics, having taken them for recreational purposes in early adulthood. Eighteen met the criteria for severe or very severe depression during their first screening. At the same time, the other two suffered moderate depression, according to their Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (QIDS) score.
Their first screening also assessed the patients’ baseline personality traits using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), composed of multiple questions per personality trait that can be answered on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly. With these answers, the researchers could assign a score to determine how neurotic, extroverted, open to experiences, conscientious, and agreeable the patients were at the start of the study.
The study consisted of two psilocybin dosing sessions that were one week apart. The patients were given a 10 mg dose on the first session and a 25 mg dose on the second.
To integrate the experience into their lives, the subjects had to return to the facilities the following day and one week after the final dose, where they answered the Altered State of Consciousness Questionnaire. This instrument allowed them to describe their experiences during the psychedelic trip based on different factors. They also had to answer the QIDS and NEO-PI-R surveys again.
The results saw a general decrease in neuroticism scores while extraversion and openness scores increased. Conscientiousness scores increased marginally, while agreeableness scores remained identical from the baseline assessment.
While these results can also be achieved through conventional antidepressant treatment, psychedelic therapy seems to increase extraversion and openness in a way other treatments cannot. High openness appears to be the key to profound psychedelic experiences, as patients with a high score were more likely to reach a blissful state, feel a strong sense of unity, and have a spiritual experience at the peak of the trip. Sadly, those with high neuroticism scores only had minor improvements to their depressive symptoms.
The patients maintained these results at a three-month follow-up, suggesting that one large psychedelics dose with psychological support can induce long-lasting changes to personality traits.
Can Microdosing Psychedelics Affect Your Personality Traits?
Yes. New studies suggest that microdosing could also alter your personality, helping you curb bad habits and introduce positive changes to your behavior.
Microdosing psychedelics involves taking small, controlled doses of these substances regularly. This practice has risen in popularity due to its purported benefits for psychological well-being, work performance, and creativity.
But how does that happen?
A study by Hannah Dressler et al., published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, aimed to explore whether microdosing leads to changes in self-reported personality traits. The study’s 76 participants had to have past and current experience with microdosing to qualify and have no prior or current mental health-related diagnoses. After answering an online survey to assess their personality traits and disclose their microdosing behavior, they were ordered to continue their regimen for another month.
At the follow-up point, the participants reported an increase in Conscientiousness, decreased Neuroticism. However, other personality traits such as Agreeableness, Openness, or Extraversion remained the same. The participants also reported feeling more organized, responsible, and determined, which helped them take on daily, mundane tasks.
Another study published in the journal of Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs Online, discovered that microdosing could make you feel more authentic, providing fresh insights into the potential benefits of this practice. In it, the participants reported experiencing significantly higher levels of state authenticity on the day they microdosed and the day after compared to other days. You can read more about this study by visiting our article titled New Study Reveals Microdosing Could Make You Feel More Authentic
Based on these findings, it appears that microdosing can:
- Increase Conscientiousness
- Decrease Neuroticism
- Make one feel more organized
- Make one feel more responsible
- Make one feel more authentic
Can Personality Impact Your Microdosing Regime?
Yes. It seems like Extraversion and Neuroticism play a role in how well individuals maintain their microdosing regimen.
The same study by Hannah Dressler et al., found that individuals with high Extraversion scores were more likely to initiate and sustain a microdosing regimen over time, whereas those with high Neuroticism scores reported fewer and shorter experiences with microdosing. Most patients adopted this practice to encourage personal growth and self-medicate, while a smaller number aimed to boost their productivity or creativity.
One small caveat is that the subjects’ previous experience with microdosing played a big role in the positive outcome of the study. Those unfamiliar with the practice could score higher in neuroticism from their baseline results.
Initial psychedelic experiences can increase a user’s emotional awareness, triggering negative emotions, as shown in this study. However, the insights from the trip can also give them the tools to work through these issues.
Difficult personalities can make it harder for individuals to integrate and progress in society and may make forming deep connections with others more difficult. As demonstrated in Erritzoe’s study, depressive people who score high on neuroticism are less receptive to treatment. Still, psychedelic experiences that are profound enough to alter their personality traits show promise in improving their condition.
The ongoing psychedelic renaissance is slowly casting light on the myriad of ways these substances can positively impact their users’ lives. After decades of scarce research on their benefits, the floodgates have opened, positioning psilocybin, LSD, and other compounds as safe and effective methods to treat mental health issues.