A 34-year-old woman with aphantasia has developed the ability to experience mental imagery for the very first time after taking magic mushrooms. Describing the unusual case, a researcher from Lumière University Lyon 2 in France explains that the woman had lived her entire life with no mind’s eye, yet began thinking and dreaming in images following her psychedelic trip.
It’s thought that between 2 and 4 percent of people have aphantasia, which refers to an inability to generate mental pictures. Describing her experience, the subject of the new and as yet not peer-reviewed case report said that "if someone tells me 'imagine a castle,' I can only imagine a castle that I know, like Hogwarts, and it takes the form of descriptions I have read, not images."
Though aphantasia is not a disability or a disorder, the woman revealed that her lack of mental imagery made it difficult for her to remember routes and caused her to regularly lose her way or get lost. However, following a dose of psilocybin mushrooms, her internal universe suddenly became populated by graphic scenes.
"I found it incredible because it was the first time I had images in my mind, and I realized that you can play with images, zoom in, zoom out, break down colors,” she explained. “The possibilities with mental images are endless and not limited to the visual and sensory experiences of real life.”
Shortly after her shroom trip, the woman began dreaming in images, and reports that her mind’s eye has now remained open for a full 12 months. "Before this experience, I had no visual memories of my life, and after the first intake, I was able to have them,” she said. “For example, one of my best memories, when I was running after the chickens at my grandmother's house when I was two years old, now materializes in visual form as well."
To assess the changes in the woman’s everyday conscious experience, the case report author asked her to retrospectively complete the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire. Results showed that her score increased from the minimum rating before taking psilocybin to the maximum, suggesting a dazzling explosion of mental magnificence.
A year later, her score had dropped to the average rating for a person without aphantasia, indicating that her ability to perceive mental imagery had persisted but was now less spectacular than it had been immediately after her trip. For instance, she revealed that her internal visualizations had become less colorful in the 12 months since her mushroom experience.
Though it’s impossible to say how this reversal came about, the author of the case report explains that psilocybin is known to alter visual perception. At the same time, aphantasia has been linked to dampened emotions, and it’s, therefore, possible that the influence of psychedelic drugs on emotional processing may somehow impact mental imagery.
Despite the woman’s eye-opening story, the author says “it is important to note that this case report is based on a single individual who experienced the emergence and persistence of mental imagery over time, and should be interpreted with caution.”
“Further research involving larger samples, long-term follow-ups, and controlled studies is needed to explore the potential effects of psilocybin and their durability on the quality of life and mental imagery of aphantasic… individuals.”
The case report is awaiting peer review and is available as a preprint on PsyArXiv.