Can Psychedelic Drugs Enhance Creativity?

Originally appearing here. As readers of my column are aware, scientific research into the benefits of psychedelic drugs is currently experiencing a global renaissance, and new medical treatments are being developed that offer hope for many people with conditions that physicians thought were untreatable. Additionally, the illegal and unauthorized use of psychedelic drugs by creative individuals is helping to foster an artistic renaissance, which is radically influencing virtually every aspect of human culture, and this influence appears to be growing more and more all the time. It’s almost as though planet earth has been invaded by an alien intelligence, and it’s presence is everywhere we look. Although many popular artists, musicians, scientists, and media icons have been sharing their psychedelically-inspired creations with us for years, this influence appears to be dramatically increasing. Numerous references to psychedelic drugs–as well as the influence of psychedelic mind states–can be clearly and pervasively seen throughout popular culture and the arts. If you know where to look, psychedelic influences and references appear just about everywhere–in film, music, television, comedy, advertising, comic books, fashion, toys, video games, and other multimedia art forms. Sometimes the reference or influence is blatantly obvious, while other times it is subtle, or hidden with a knowing wink–like secret messages encoded for people who have awakened the psychedelic circuits in their brains. But it’s certainly no secret that psychedelics hold incredible potential to enhance creativity. The relationship between cannabis and creativity was the subject of one of my previous columns, and many highly-acclaimed artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and creative people of all sorts claim to have received creative inspiration from cannabis and more potent psychedelics–like LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin–for decades. Research studies by Willis Harmon, James Fadiman, Oscar Janiger, and others have confirmed that something substantial underlies these claims. These studies provide compelling evidence that not only can LSD and other psychedelics significantly enhance the imagination, inspire novel thought, and strengthen problem-solving abilities–they can actually improve creativity and artistic performance. In 1955 Louis Berlin investigated the effects of mescaline and LSD on the painting abilities of four nationally-recognized graphic artists. Although the study showed that there was some impairment of technical ability among the artists, a panel of independent art critics judged the experimental paintings as having “greater aesthetic value” than the artists’ usual work. In 1959 Los Angeles psychiatrist Oscar Janiger asked sixty prominent artists to paint a Native American doll before taking LSD and then again while under its influence. These 120 paintings were then evaluated by a panel of independent art critics and historians. As with Berlin’s study, there was a general agreement by the judges that the craftsmanship of the LSD paintings suffered, however many received higher marks for imagination than the pre-LSD paintings. In 1965 James Fadiman and Willis Harman at San Francisco State College administered mescaline to professional workers in various fields to explore its creative problem-solving abilities. The subjects were instructed to bring a professional problem requiring a creative solution to their sessions. After some psychological preparation, subjects worked individually on their problem throughout their mescaline session. The creative output of each subject was evaluated by psychological tests, subjective reports, and the eventual industrial or commercial validation and acceptance of the finished product or final solution. Virtually all subjects produced solutions judged highly creative and satisfactory by these standards. These studies are summarized in James Fadiman’s recently-published book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. In addition to the scientific studies that have been conducted there are also a number of compelling anecdotal examples that suggest a link between creativity and psychedelic drugs. For example, architect Kyosho Izumi’s LSD-inspired design of the ideal psychiatric hospital won him a commendation for outstanding achievement from the American Psychiatric Association, and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs attributes some of the insights which lead to the development of the personal computer to his use of LSD. Additionally, a number of renowned scientists have personally attributed their breakthrough scientific insights to their use of psychedelic drugs–including Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and Kary Mullis. Anecdotal reports suggest that very low doses of LSD–threshold level doses, around 20 micrograms–are especially effective as creativity enhancers. For example, Francis Crick was reported to be using low doses of LSD when he discovered the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. There hasn’t been a formal creativity study with the classical psychedelics since 1965, although there are numerous anecdotal reports of artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other people who attribute a portion of their creativity and inspiration to their use of psychedelics. This is an area that is more than ripe for study. Although scientific studies into creativity and psychedelics are long overdue, there is, however, currently a study underway at the University College London, conducted by Valerie Curran and Celia Morgan, that is looking at the relationship between cannabis and creativity. Since creativity lies at the heart of solving every problem that we face as a species, new studies in this area are desperately needed. To learn more about the relationship between cannabis and creativity, check out the Summer issue of High Times Medical Marijuana magazine, which contains an article on the subject by me and fellow Patch writer Maria Grusauskas. To find out more about Curran and Morgan’s cannabis and creativity study see: Author David Jay Brown explores how psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline can significantly enhance creativity. Citing previous psychedelic research studies, he makes a compelling argument that psychedelics and their relationship with creativity is something that should be researched in a serious capacity.