Magic mushrooms
Magic mushrooms

New research, sure to be controversial, finds that the hallucinogen psilocybin, the active drug found in "magic mushrooms," can benefit the personality.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say their study shows that even a single dose of the drug can enhance one's sense of "openness" -- a term embracing creativity, imagination, broad-mindedness and sensitivity to feelings and aesthetics.

The changes were still in place a year later, suggesting a long-term effect.

The personality change seen in the study also has researchers speculating that psilocybin could be used to ease depression and anxiety in cancer patients, or possibly to help smokers quit.

Under controlled conditions, researchers gave 51 adults either psilocybin or a placebo in up to five eight-hour sessions. Of the 51, 30 had a "mystical" experience, after which their "openness" scores rose. The other 21 showed no change.

"The remarkable piece is that psilocybin can facilitate experiences that change how people perceive themselves and their environment," said Roland Griffiths, a study author and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore. "That's unprecedented."

Dr. Stephen Ross, clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction in New York City, said he viewed Griffiths' work as a "landmark" in the field of hallucinogen research.

"I say this because we think of personality as being cemented in your 20s, certainly by your 30s," he said. "So the fact that openness was increased, seemingly permanently, after a single experience of psilocybin is quite remarkable.

"But, of course, as interesting as the implications for future therapies from this might be, the message should be that people should not try this at home or in any kind of uncontrolled environment," Ross added.