Recent studies have suggested therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for a variety of mental health conditions. The understanding of how single psychedelic administrations can induce long-lasting effects are, in large, still lacking. However, recent studies in both healthy and clinical populations suggest a role for personality changes.
To test support for some of these plausible mechanisms we evaluated (cross-sectional) associations between recreational use of psychedelics and 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and (a) personality measures and (b) key markers of cerebral serotonergic signalling (serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding).
In 10 psychedelic-preferring recreational users, 14 MDMA-preferring users and 21 non-using controls, personality was assessed using the ‘big five’ instrument Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). Frontal serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding potentials were quantified using [11C]DASB and [18F]altanserin positron emission tomography, respectively.
Of the five NEO-PI-R traits, only openness to experience scores differed between the three groups; psychedelic-preferring recreational users showing higher openness to experience scores when compared with both MDMA-preferring users and controls. Openness to experience scores were positively associated with lifetime number of psychedelic exposures, and among all MDMA-preferring user/psychedelic-preferring recreational user individuals, frontal serotonin transporter binding – but not frontal serotonin-2A-receptor binding – was positively associated with openness to experience.
Our findings from this cross-sectional study support increasing evidence of a positive association between psychedelic experiences and openness to experience, and (a) expands this to the context of ‘recreational’ psychedelics use, and (b) links serotonergic neurotransmission to openness to experience. A modulation of personality induced by psychedelic experiences may have important therapeutic implications via its impact on peoples’ value systems, cognitive flexibility, and individual and social behaviour.
Erritzoe, D., Smith, J., Fisher, P. M., Carhart-Harris, R., Frokjaer, V. G., & Knudsen, G. M. (2019). Recreational use of psychedelics is associated with elevated personality trait openness: Exploration of associations with brain serotonin markers. Journal of Psychopharmacology., 10.1177/0269881119827891