Over fifty years ago random, covert and often dangerous experiments with LSD were conducted by the CIA.
The subjects were unwitting American civilians and military personnel and the outcomes could fuel your worst nightmare. Nonetheless, many of these chaotic experiences, in addition to the hippie culture’s evangelized reports, informed our perceptions.
“Intelligence is sexy” t-shirt?!
Until now that is, since recent double blind studies conducted by respected scientists offer truly remarkable outcomes. To understand the effects of LSD we need wrap our mind around a paradox. Measured psychological effects run the range of positive, negative, mystical and strange.
The short term experiences from a single dose administered to healthy adults consistently included a psychosis-like altered state. Mid to long term experiences (more than one year), however, reported a heightened sense of well being. This past February, scientists and psychiatrists at the Imperial College, London, published results that noted the greater benefit being an improved quality of cognition. This “loosened cognition” afforded the participants more flexibility in their sense of Openness.
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There are five measureable domains of our personality: Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Openness includes aesthetic appreciation, creativity, and imagination. More flexibility in Openness translated to a broader sense of interconnectedness with all people and things, a sort of transcendence of their former beliefs.
Commonly identified as the mystical experience of LSD, earlier research (2011) uncovered the same increase in one’s personality domain known as Openness. Though personality traits are relatively enduring and fairly stable by age 30, similar experiments resulted in long term changes in behaviors, attitudes and values at least 40-50% of the time. Despite consistent short-term psychosis-like events, participants described a greater sense of peace and joy that were elevated from previous patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.
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Will this lead to clinical benefits? Treatment for issues of depression, addiction and end-of-life anxiety are being explored. But if you’re curious for anecdotal, personal experience, you might enjoy this amazing narrative, or this brief highlight by pioneering neurologist Oliver Sacks.