Tune in, turn on, do better. A new study published in the journal Psychopharmacology reports that “feelings of awe” brought on by psychedelic drugs can reduce narcissistic personality traits by increasing feelings of universal oneness and compassionate empathy.
The study was authored by Valerie van Mulukom, a research fellow at Coventry University, and Ruairi Patterson, a PhD student at the University of Surrey. Both had previously gathered data indicating that psychedelic experiences promote feelings of communal connectedness while generally improving users’ mental well-being.
The purpose of the new investigation, they said, was to determine how psychedelics might impact narcissism. They chose that focus because recent psychedelic therapy research has largely been directed toward depression.
“Lower empathy is pivotally implicated in narcissism and in particular so-called maladaptive, or exploitative-entitled, narcissism,” the authors wrote, “so we were interested to see if there might be links between psychedelics use and levels of maladaptive narcissism.”
The research involved surveying 414 subjects who had used common psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. The subjects were asked to detail their most elaborate, intense, significant, and “awe-inspiring” psychedelic experiences of the past five years. Then they answered extensive questions designed to analyze feelings of connectedness, empathy, and narcissism.
“Awe” proved to be the key term of the study. While some researchers hypothesized that “ego death” ( or, the loss of “self” users can experience while tripping) would have counteracted narcissism, it was actually positive overwhelm, or awe, that enacted the emotional surges of connectedness and empathy.
“We found that people who had a recent, highly significant experience while using psychedelic drugs, scored lower on maladaptive narcissism,” the authors told PsyPost, “especially if they had significant feelings of awe during their experience. Recent awe-inducing experiences under the influence of psychedelic drugs in turn led to currently stronger connections to nature and humanity, as well as a higher motivation to engage in emotional empathy.”
The authors point out that the study was not a controlled experiment and therefore they can’t conclusively claim that psychedelics will reliably alleviate narcissism. They also issued a moderate “don’t try this at home” warning.
“We do not advocate that people self-medicate with psychedelic drugs,” van Mulukom and Patterson said. “For psychedelic drugs to be used therapeutically, they need to be administered in a carefully controlled environment in sessions led by medical professionals.”
Next up, the team said they want to study other means of accessing awe. “In our current research, we are further investigating the link between awe experiences and narcissism outside of psychedelic drug use as well as between narcissism and mindfulness meditation.”
How awesome, man.