Do Psychedelic Trips Change Your Political Views?
If you know any veteran psychonauts, odds are they're not Republicans.
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs investigated the relationship between psychedelics, personality, and political perspectives, finding the use of psychedelics to be associated with liberal and anti-authoritarian political views.
This might not be a huge surprise: Timothy Leary—the notorious Harvard psychologist who pioneered research into acid and magic mushrooms—espoused the mantra, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out," and the belief that, "to think for yourself, you must question authority." But the interesting thing is that psychedelics might actually make people more liberal after they use them by breaking down their ego and driving them to feel more open and connected to nature.
Lisa Evans, a study author from Imperial College London, said personality has been traditionally regarded as stable and unchanging once you hit adulthood. "However, data from a few studies in the last decade have shown that a single psychedelic experience can lead to an increase in one of the 'Big 5' personality traits—openness," Evans told Motherboard.
To conduct the study, the researchers collected responses to an online survey from nearly 900 people. The survey asked questions about their experiences with psychedelics and other drugs, personality, their relationship with nature, and their political orientation.
The data suggests a causal relationship between psychedelics and personality change that could help people grow, or even heal from trauma, Evans said. In the study, she and fellow researchers Matthew Nour and Robin Carhart-Harris found a link between using psychedelics and more open personalities.
When personality becomes more malleable after a psychedelic experience, it's often credited to the "mystical experience"—officially defined by feelings of "internal and external unity, transcendence of space and time, ineffability and paradoxicality, sense of sacredness, sense of ultimate reality ('noetic quality'), and deeply felt positive mood. The mystical experience has also led to positive life changes like fewer cigarette cravings, or reduced depression and anxiety.
When tripping, people have often described transcendent mythical states of consciousness and oneness with themselves and others. "In this state the sense of 'self' that pervades normal waking consciousness is reduced, and may disappear completely," Nour wrote over e-mail.
This state is termed "ego dissolution," he explained. "We found that people who reported the most intense past ego dissolution experiences on psychedelics also rated higher on openness, liberalism, and nature-relatedness. This is important because it shows that it may be something about the psychedelic experience itself that is related to these personality traits and attitudes."
Nour is quick to establish that correlation doesn't equal causation, in regard to psychedelics and liberalism. "Our study, for example, is correlational and doesn't provide evidence for a causal link between psychedelics and a certain political viewpoint," he said. He suggests it's possible that liberals may be more likely to try psychedelics in the first place, so it's a self-selecting group.
Still, the researchers found a link between greater ego dissolution during intense psychedelic experiences and their openness, liberalism, and closeness to nature. "Ego dissolution seems to be an important part of the way in which people might change from using psychedelics," Evans said.
The study's findings align with other research on psychedelics, such as a study last summer that looked how how LSD affects language: Tripping can result in a "cascade of associations that allow quicker access to faraway concepts stored in the mind." In this sense, it's possible that psychedelics could help people break outside their regular modes of thought, and the overarching "cognitive metaphors" that frame their political perspectives.
"I think psychedelics break down barriers [and] they do a very good job at reminding us of our tendency to build walls—both physical and psychological—around ourselves and our communities." These substances help people entertain new ideas, serving as catalysts for change and growth, she went on. "This is of course in direct opposition with conservatism, which attempts to keep the traditional and familiar intact."