Psychedelics and Creativity
Last major update: July 2020
Psychedelics and creativity have intertwined ever since the dawn of history. From psychedelic mushrooms rock art in Spain and Mayan mushroom statues to Aldous Huxley and Steve Jobs taking a pinch (or two) of psychedelic. Psychedelics inspire one to see the world anew.
Individual reports of creative outbursts on psychedelics are abundant. With MDMA coursing through your brain, the critical narrator is muted. A dose of psilocybin makes even the most ordinary scene shine with brilliance. And that third hit of DMT may take one beyond the confines of this universe.
Research before 1970 seems to confirm these findings with some large-sample studies. More careful experiments, but still mostly natural-setting studies, are slowly converging on more solid evidence of what aspects of creativity (i.e. convergent vs divergent) are influenced by psychedelics. As we understand more about the neurology of psychedelics, the mechanisms become clearer.
Creativity itself isn't defined very robust, and this report dives deeper into the different measures used in studies. Openness to experience and other factors interact with creativity. And as always, much more research has to be done.
But this hasn't stopped companies, and millions of individuals, from exploring psychedelics as a tool to enhance creativity. From microdosing LSD to macrodosing psilocybin, we've identified how psychedelics are being used to stimulate our creative toolkit.Research Papers Compared Measured Researchers Gaps Companies
State of Research
Early - No big trials or good measures
Quality of Conclusions
Medium - There is something 'there'
15 Papers studying this directly
0 Companies working on this
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Our vision is that psychedelics can be used worldwide to better the lives of as many as 450 million people who suffer from mental health problems. Our information hopes to make that vision come to life just a little faster.
In 2008, Ben Sessa asked, "Is it time to revisit the role of psychedelic drugs in enhancing human creativity?". He paints a picture of psychedelics as tools to increase complexity and openness. This may, according to Sessa, challenge our worldview, pre-conceived ideas, and constraints that our ego has put on our cognition.
Griffiths and colleagues (2006, 2008) showed that a single session with a high dose of psilocybin was rated as a uniquely meaningful and significant experience. The participants (n(number of participants)=36), hallucinogen-naïve but spiritually engaged, rated the experience as one of the five most meaningful (58%) and spiritually significant (67%) in their lives. Another study (MacLean, Johnson & Griffiths, 2011) shows that the trait openness is enhanced up to 18 months after a psychedelic experience, for those who had a mystical experience.
Openness and creativity are correlated (Silvia et al, 2009 ). And plasticity predicted various aspects of creativity. But does a psychedelic experience (micro or macro) lead to more creative individuals?
If you just look at survey data on drug use (Humphrey et al, 2014), one is tempted to say no. They found that openness almost perfectly correlated with creativity (n=787, r≈1). Drug use did have a small positive effect on creativity. Yet they conclude that "Many of the drug effects have appeared to be rooted in what people expect from the drugs rather actual physiological changes from the drugs."
Recent experimental studies have tried to come to a more nuanced answer. They look at specific psychedelics and measure creativity at different moments. Creativity itself is somewhat of a fuzzy concept and therefore let us first define it.
Here we will use the 'standard definition' as discussed by Runco & Jaeger (2012): "Creativity requires both originality and effectiveness." In other words, creativity consists of two components, divergent and convergent creativity. One part that generates new original ideas, another to effectively select the utility or value of the ideas.
Divergent and Convergent Creativity
Divergent thinking is often cited as the aspect of creativity that is spurred on by the use of psychedelics. For instance: "... psychedelic substances aiding dissolution of cognitive boundaries and temporarily allowing the individual to escape their reality tunnel. This aid to problem-solving may be just what we need to solve the complex problems facing us today." (Adams, 2010)
A study (Sweat, Bates & Hendricks, 2016) that looked into creative problem-solving (n=68) found that those who had used psychedelics and had a mystical experience (n=11) were faster at solving a functional fixedness task (Duncker’s Candle Problem p(significance)=0.02, d(effect size, large)=–.87).
The mystical experience, now twice mentioned, is most often measured with the Pahnke–Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire and was rated as being a full mystical experience if participants rated at least 0.6 on each of the seven subscales. One still needs to ask how much the mystical experience is something that causes these outcomes, is a mediator, or is only a measure of the 'fullness' of a psychedelic experience.
Microdosing - Creativity Abound
At the sub-perceptual level, Anderson et al (2019) used a questionnaire (n=909, 65% of which microdosed) which included the Unusual Uses Tasks as a proxy for divergent creativity. They found that people who microdosed psychedelics (mostly LSD (65%) and psilocybin (28%)) were more creative (p<0.001, r(effect size, small)=0.15). The component measures (clever, uncommon, and remote) were all correlated. Noted should be that the relationship between microdosing and creativity doesn't imply causation.
Looking at creativity during a microdose directly, Prochazkova and colleagues (2018) found that both divergent and convergent creativity were improved. They used the Picture Concept Task (PCT) to measure convergent creativity, and the Alternate Uses Task (AUT) to measure divergent creativity.
The study was completed by 27 participants and was done without a placebo (open-label, natural setting). At the 1,5 hour mark, versus before ingestion, the participants scored higher on both measures of creativity. Showing a medium effect size on convergent thinking (p=.017, Cohen’s d(medium)=.493) and significant increases in divergent thinking (fluency, flexibility, originality, but not on elaboration scores).
Macrodosing - Diverge Your Thinking
At the macrodose, this is partly contradicted by Kuypers et al (2016). They looked at creativity during a full psychedelic experience (macrodose) of Ayahuasca. They state that: "It was shown that during the acute inebriation, ayahuasca caused a decrease in conventional convergent thinking [measured on the PCT, p=.017] and enhanced creative divergent thinking [only ratio, p=.023]."
Although it's interesting to see this study that is in line with the brain chemistry we will discuss shortly, the conclusions are presented stronger than warranted. The participants didn't show changes on the PLMT test, nor fluency and originality (the two other subscales of divergent thinking used).
Another study (Frecska et al, 2012) had previously found that originality of thinking (divergent) was increased two days after an Ayahuasca retreat. This was measured on the visual components of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and only applied to the measure of highly original solutions.
The day after a high dose of psilocybin (27.1mg), participants in a retreat showed a significant improvement in divergent creativity (fluency and orginality, but not ratio). Mason and colleagues (2019) found this effect at one day, but it didn't persist at the seven-day follow-up. They did find at seven days that convergent thinking, both measured with the PCT, was improved somewhat (d=.46).
Taken together, we can currently say very little conclusive about the effects of psychedelics on creativity. Both because the concept itself is difficult to measure, and very little studies have been done to this date. One would also be very curious to see what happens with different psychedelics (including MDMA) and at a variety of dosages (e.g. 50% of a typical macrodose).
Peering into the Creative Brain
Psychedelics enable us to take a closer look at how the brain works. Carhart-Harris and Friston (2019) have presented the most complete model up to this date. Their REBUS, relaxed beliefs under psychedelics, model opens a door into our cranium.
A possible explanation of why creativity could be enhanced by psychedelics is that they lead to a lighter weighting of priors (top-down) and an increased sensitivity to bottom-up signaling. This may allow potential revision of previous information, you become less confident of their trueness, and so come to new creative solutions.
They write: "[C]onfidence in high-level models is first relinquished so that content previously hidden from consciousness by the occluding influence of overly confident priors is now allowed to emerge, thereby enabling fresh perspectives to be entertained. Under conditions of relaxed high-level priors, disinhibited information is allowed to travel up the hierarchy and impress on consciousness as it does. In this way, one may be granted a fresh opportunity to cultivate changes to the relevant assumptions instantiated by high hierarchical levels."
At a higher level, the brain also becomes more unconstraint. Carhart-Harris and colleagues (2012) showed, using fMRI, that there was a decrease in "activity and connectivity in the brain's key connector hubs, enabling a state of unconstrained cognition." The hub regions affected were the thalamus, anterior, and posterior cingulate cortex.
This was also found by Lord et al (2019) and they described it thus "[Psilocybin] modulates the brain's dynamical repertoire by selectively destabilizing a brain functional network (i.e., frontoparietal control system) and promoting transitions towards a globally coherent PL [phase-locking] state." Or put more generally, the psychedelic state leads to more integration versus locally segregating activity.
Girn and colleagues (2020) build on this previous work and fit the creative process in the Dynamic Framework of Thought . They propose that the psychedelic state is one in which both automatic and deliberate constraints are weak. It may therefore be good for idea generation (divergent) but not for idea evaluation (convergent). In the article they also propose that creativity can best be seen as a process of simulated annealing, of moving between weak and strong constraints to eventually come to a creative outcome. "That is, assuming multiple cycles of idea generation and evaluation in the creative process, it may be the case that initial iterations of generation have relatively low/broad constraints, which are progressively increased/focused in successive iterations."
These studies point towards possible mechanisms through which creativity (or at least divergent creativity) may be enabled during a psychedelic experience. When the top-down mechanisms quit down, new and unexpected connections can possibly be made. The sober evaluation (convergence) of the new insights should then happen at a later date.
This is corroborated by a case study on creativity using fMRI. Mayseless, Aharon-Peretz & Shamay-Tsoory (2014) showed that the left temporoparietal areas part of a neural network was involved in evaluating creativity (convergent). And that decreased activity in this area led to more creative ideas (divergent).
Studying spontaneous improvisation also showed that "creative capacity enhancement is associated with reduced engagement of executive functioning regions and increased involvement of spontaneous implicit processing" (Saggar et al, 2016).
As we get a better understanding of how the brain works, we may better map what processes are responsible for divergent and convergent creativity and how to stimulate it. But with a difficult to measure term like creativity, direct connections may turn out to be elusive.
To Go Forward, We Have To Look Back
A review by Baggott (2015) captures much of what has been discussed above. Although there is a link between creativity and psychedelics, it's tentative: "Results are modest and inconclusive but are consistent with reports that psychedelics give rise to unusual or novel [divergent] thoughts. Given the lack of robust changes in creativity measures, I suggest creativity may be too specific of a construct to accurately and fully characterize the putatively beneficial cognitive changes that psychedelic users report."
Studies to this date have not provided spectacular (nor consistent) changes in creativity measures. Results that have been found for depression (Carhart-Harris et al, 2016), PTSD (Oehen et al, 2013), and a variety of mental disorders where rigidity and a lack of fluidity are present.
And earlier studies, best summarized by Krippner (1985), often referenced as evidence for the effects on creativity, were not blinded and often didn't find an overall positive effect on creativity. Divergent creativity was often found to be enhanced, but this didn't always converge on useful outcomes (e.g. more beautiful paintings).
In time, one could expect studies that examine how to stimulate creativity with psychedelics. You could for instance stimulate divergent thinking during a psychedelic experience and offer integration services to converge on truly useful insights. Current integration protocols could be adjusted to make space for that type of exploration.
The experiments may mirror those described by Fadiman (2011) in The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide. Several groups of knowledge workers brought work problems to a session under the influence of a moderately high dose of mescaline or LSD. In some of the experiments, participants reported having creative insights on problems they had been stuck on for months.
A placebo-controlled and larger-scale version of these experiments may lead to more applicable results than only measuring directly what can be found on creativity tests. Yet still, even here the generalizability is difficult to estimate. Would a high dose of psilocybin help an engineer make safer bridges, whilst overwhelming a project manager?
At the neurological level there are also still many questions left unaswered. Kuypers (2018) summarizes where we stand and how psychedelics influence our brains. With clever experiments we can better look at what neurotransmitters are involved in (divergent) creative thinking, and how other factors like mood, openness, and empathy are influenced by psychedelics and influence creativity.
Some of the companies that offer retreats or coaching with psilocybin already incorporate creativity in their marketing. Synthesis for instance advertises their 3-day retreat as a way to "catalyze creative breakthroughs, deepen self-understanding, and feel ready to make their next big ‘leap’ in life."
Retreats like this could be a partner for creativity research (i.e. Synthesis is already working together with Imperial College London). Longitudinal surveys that also take measures before someone has done psychedelics (asking about or testing creativity) might offer more insight too.
It's still a wide-open field, a blue ocean, or a black box when it comes to creativity and psychedelics. Creativity is a skill that we use every day, it would be great to see if psychedelic can reliably make the world a more creative place. As Aldous Huxley describes below, you won't know exactly what you will get, but psychedelics do bring about change.
"I don't think there is any generalization one can make on this. Experience has shown that there's an enormous variation in the way people respond to lysergic acid. Some people probably could get direct aesthetic inspiration for painting or poetry out of it. Others I don't think could. For most people it's an extremely significant experience, and I suppose in an indirect way it could help the creative process. But I don't think one can sit down and say, "I want to write a magnificent poem, and so I'm going to take lysergic acid [diethylamide]." I don't think it's by any means certain that you would get the result you wanted -- you might get almost any result." - Aldous Huxley, interviewed for The Paris Review (1960) found in Manifesting Minds
In our literature study we came across the following studies of note. Browse the meta, review, commentary articles for an overview. Check out the individual studies for specific experiments and observations.
Meta, Review, Commentary ▽ Individual Studies ▽
A Dose of Creativity: An Integrative Review of the Effects of Serotonergic Psychedelics on Creativity
2022 | Costa, M. A.
This review (2022, s=11) finds some positive effects on creativity (e.g. increased convergent thinking) after psychedelics use. Still, the number of studies, small sample size, and lack of randomisation are preventing more robust conclusions from being drawn.
Phenomenology, Structure, and Dynamic of Psychedelic States
2016 | Preller, K. H., Vollenweider, F. X.
This academic book chapter (2016) explores the phenomenology, structure, and dynamic of altered states of consciousness (ASC) produced by classic serotonergic hallucinogens or psychedelics.
The Viability of Microdosing Psychedelics as a Strategy to Enhance Cognition and Well-being – An Early Review
2019 | Bornemann, J.
This 2019 review examines the viability of microdosing psychedelics as a method to improve cognition and well-being. Available evidence indicates a variety of benefits including improvements in mood, focus, and creativity, with some people experiencing no discernible effects or expressing concerns about selective negative consequences like increased anxiety, however, most insights stem from observational studies using convenience samples that are biased or unrepresentative of the general population.
Lysergic acid diethylamide: a drug of ‘use’?
2016 | Barnwal, P., Das, S., Mondal, S., Ramasamy, A., Sen, S.
This review (2016) provides a chronologic history of LSD and examines its safety profile, the potential for abuse, its therapeutic potential to treat alcoholism or terminally ill patients. It also summarizes insights about its receptor pharmacology, mechanism of action, and (adverse) effects, while highlighting some of its potential clinical applications such as an antianxiety agent, a creativity enhancer, a suggestibility enhancer, or a performance enhancer.
Turn On, Tune In, Drop In: Psychedelics, Creativity and Entrepreneurship
2020 | Silver, L. S.
This review paper (2020) for a management audience looks at (the history of) psychedelics and creativity.
Potential safety, benefits, and influence of the placebo effect in microdosing psychedelic drugs: A systematic review
2020 | Bouso, J. C., Ona, G.
This systematic review (2020) of (mostly) observational studies on microdosing psychedelics (LSD & psilocybin) finds that it is experienced both positively and negatively by participants (n=3,619).
Out of the box: A psychedelic model to study the creative mind
2018 | Kuypers, K. P. C.
This hypothesis article (2018) proposes a psychedelic model to study the creative mind. Kuypers goes into depth on the brain structures and processes influenced by psychedelics.
Breakdown or Breakthrough? A History of European Research into Drugs and Creativity
1999 | ten Berge, J. T.
This literature review (1999) looks at European research with (psychedelics) drugs on creativity between 1940-1970. A disinhibiting effect of psychedelics (allowing creative breakthroughs) is proposed.
Updating the dynamic framework of thought: Creativity and psychedelics
2020 | Carhart-Harris, R. L., Christoff, K., Girn, M., Mills, C., Roseman, L.
The theory-building paper (2020) argues that the psychedelic state may facilitate creative generation and discusses the neurocognitive states in which creative thought takes place.
The Meaning-Enhancing Properties of Psychedelics and Their Mediator Role in Psychedelic Therapy, Spirituality, and Creativity
2018 | Hartogsohn, I.
This perspective article (2018) looks at the evidence for meaning-enhancing as a mediator in psychedelic therapy, spirituality and outcomes on creativity.
LSD and Creativity
1989 | Dobkin de Rios, M., Janiger, O.
This literature review (1989) looks at creativity and LSD. This is mostly done through the lens of artists who painted over 250 works.
Psychedelic Drugs and Creativity
1985 | Krippner, S.
This comprehensive review (1985) of the literature on psychedelics and creativity spans most of the research that had been done before the doors of perception were shut for 40 years.
Psychedelics and Creativity: a Review of the Quantitative Literature
2015 | Baggot, M. J.
This review (2015, pre-print) of the psychedelics literature on creativity argues that creativity is too elusive/inconsistent a measure that is confounded by other changes.
Psychedelics and holistic thinking: a tool for science
2010 | Adams, C.
This commentary paper (2010) matches the tone of Sessa (2008) that also argued that psychedelics and creativity should be studied again.
Is it time to revisit the role of psychedelic drugs in enhancing human creativity?
2008 | Sessa, B.
In this commentary article (2008), Ben Sessa reflects on the studies into creativity and psychedelics and proposes that we get back to studying the link between the two.
LSD and creativity: Increased novelty and symbolic thinking, decreased utility and convergent thinking
2022| Araújo, D. B., Daldegan-Bueno, D., Falchi, M., Feilding, A., Gross, M. E., Maia, L. O., Mason, N. L., Palhano-Fontes, F., Ramaekers, J. G., Ribeiro, S., Schooler, J. W., Tófoli, L.F., Wießner, I.
This double-blind placebo-controlled study (n=24) assessed the impact LSD (50μg) has on measures of creativity. Near peak drug effects, participants were given a number of creative tasks to complete. Creativity was then assessed by scoring creativity criteria, calculating divergent thinking and convergent thinking, computing semantic distances and searching for data-driven special features. Compared to placebo, LSD changed several creativity measurements pointing to pattern break, disorganization and meaning which seemed to fundamentally influence creative cognition and behaviour.
Persisting effects of ayahuasca on empathy, creative thinking, decentering, personality, and well-being
2021| Kiraga, M. K., Kuypers, K. P. C., Mason, N. L., Ramaekers, J. G., Toennes, S. W., Uthaug, M. V., van Oorsouw, K.
This provisionally accepted study (n=40) explored the effects of ayahuasca on processes involved in stress-related psychopathologies. Volunteers attending an ayahuasca ceremony were given a series of questionnaires at baseline, the morning after and one week after the experience. Researchers found ingesting ayahuasca is associated with positive therapeutic outcomes.
Mental health of a self-selected sample of psychedelic users and self-medication practices with psychedelics
2018| Kuypers, K. P. C., Mason, N. L.
The observational survey study (n=1,967) investigated the frequency and efficacy of self-medication practices amongst psychedelic users and found that the prevalence of lifetime psychopathologies amongst psychedelic users was higher than in the general population. Although psychedelics were seldom used for self-medication, those who did use psychedelics in this manner reported it to be more effective than the current lines of treatment for mental illness.
Ayahuasca’s ‘afterglow’: improved mindfulness and cognitive flexibility in ayahuasca drinkers.
2020| Murphy-Beiner, A., Soar, K.
This study (n=48) investigates the ‘afterglow’ effects of ayahuasca, focusing on improved mindfulness and cognitive flexibility to study its psychological mechanisms using Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), Experiences Questionnaire (EQ), Cognitive Flexibility Scale (CFS), Wisconsin Picture Card Sorting Task (WPCST) and Stroop tests. The study findings reported that further changes in cognitive flexibility in the ‘afterglow’ period do occur and also supports the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca to improve mindfulness for naïve and experienced ayahuasca users.
Might Microdosing Psychedelics Be Safe and Beneficial? An Initial Exploration
2019| Fadiman, J., Korb, S.
This diary study investigates the "safe and beneficial" use of psychedelics in small quantities (microdosing; 10 micrograms LSD) to improve positive moods by evaluating positive and negative emotional states using the PANAS checklist and written reports. The study showed that microdosing of a psychedelic in clinical and non-clinical populations improved health habits, increased energy, and improved work effectiveness. Furthermore, smaller samples demonstrated alleviation of symptoms in migraine headaches, traumatic brain injury, pre-menstrual syndromes (PMS), shingles, and other such conditions that have not been previously associated with psychedelic use.
Microdosing psychedelics and its effect on creativity: Lessons learned from three double-blind placebo controlled longitudinal trials
2021| Fejer, G., Fiacchino, D., Hommel, B., Kuchar, M., Marschall, J., Prochazkova, L., Rifkin, B. D., Schoen, N., van Elk, M.
This preprint of three double-blind placebo-controlled longitudinal experiments (n=175) investigated the effects of microdosing psilocybin (0.74 - 1.71mg) on creativity and found that it increased the originality of their ideas while generating novel applications for ordinary things (divergent thinking). However, it did not increase the number of novel ideas, or their ability to detect features that are common across multiple things (convergent thinking).
Sub-acute and long-term effects of ayahuasca on affect and cognitive thinking style and their association with ego dissolution
2018| Broers, N. J., Kuypers, K. P. C., Mason, N. L., Ramaekers, J. G., Riba, J., Toennes, S. W., Uthaug, M. V., van Boxtel, M., van Oorsouw, K.
This longitudinal study (n=57) investigated the effects of ayahuasca and found improved convergent thinking/creativity, decreased ratings of depression and stress up to four weeks later. These changes were significantly correlated with the level of ego dissolution experienced during the acute trip/ceremony.
A Qualitative Study of Intention and Impact of Ayahuasca Use by Westerners
2021| Bathje, G. J., Fenton, J., Hill, L. C., Pillersdorf, D.
This qualitative interview study (n=41) found that ayahuasca use by Westerners (in group settings), led to many sustained positive outcomes. These related to mental health, substance use, interpersonal relationships, and also creativity, physical health, connection to nature. Two participants indicated problematic experiences (sexual assault, enduring psychotic symptoms).
Cannabis and Ecstasy/MDMA: Empirical measures of creativity in recreational users
2014| Blagrove, M., Jones, J. A., Parrott, A. C.
This study compared the creativity levels of 15 recreational MDMA users, 15 cannabis users, and 15 controls. It found higher scores for cannabis users on one scale and self-rating of creativity on another scale for MDMA users. As this was just an observational study, nothing much about the creativity of all three groups can be said.
Creativity and Psychoactive Substance Use: A Systematic Review
2016| Demetrovics, Z., Griffiths, M. D., Iszáj, F.
This systematic review (2017) examines 14 empirical studies and 5 case studies that investigated the relationship between artistic creativity and psychoactive substance use. The nature of this relationship is not clearly established, given that most studies had a very small sample size, unrepresentative samples, overreliance on self-report, non-standardized assessment tools, and speculative research questions. Results indicate that psychoactive substances may change the quality of artistic work even amongst ordinary individuals by modifying functions related to creativity (enhancing experiences and sensitivity and loosening conscious processes), but the correlation of increased psychoactive substance use amongst artists may alternatively be a form of self-medication which stabilizes an unstable mode of functioning that is related to their creativity.
Spontaneous and deliberate creative cognition during and after psilocybin exposure
2021| Da Rios, B., Feilding, A., Kuypers, K. P. C., Mason, N. L., Mueller, F., Ramaekers, J. G., Reckweg, J., Stiers, P., Toennes, S. W., Tse, D. H. Y.
This double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-subjects study (n=60) investigated the effects of psilocybin (11.9 mg/70kg) on creativity in healthy participants, with respect to acute and persisting changes in convergent and divergent thinking in relation to restructuralization of Default Mode Network (DMN) connectivity. Although subjects felt more insightful under the acute psychedelic state, their ability to generate ideas and associations in a goal-directed manner was impaired. However, 7 days after psilocybin administration, participants generated a higher quantity of novel ideas for uses of an everyday object. Decreased integrity of the DMN under the acute state was the strongest predictor of subjective insightfulness, acute decrease in scores of originality, and a long-term increase in the generation of novel ideas.
Self-blinding citizen science to explore psychedelic microdosing
2021| Blemings, A., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Feilding, A., Kartner, L., Nutt, D. J., Rosas, F. E., Szigeti, B.
This self-blinding experiment (n=191) finds that the placebo and microdosing groups both experienced similar improvements in self-rated psychological well-being and cognitive function (e.g. mood, energy, creativity) after four weeks. This study provides more evidence that microdosing benefits can be attributed to expectancy (placebo) effects.
Semantic activation in LSD: evidence from picture naming
2016| Bolstridge, M., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Family, N., Kaelen, M., Nutt, D. J., Vigliocco, G., Vinson, D.
This single-blind placebo-controlled study (n=10) investigated the effects of LSD (40-80μg) on lexical retrieval in a picture-naming task and found an increase in the rate at which subjects substituted items with similar words within the same semantic category. These results are consistent with the notion that LSD increases the spread of activation within semantic networks.
Jekyll and Hyde Revisited: Paradoxes in the Appreciation of Drug Experiences and Their Effects on Creativity
2011| ten Berge, J. T.
This commentary article (2002) imagines the two sides of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as two parts of a psychedelic experience. This is applied to artists in this somewhat esoteric article.
Self-Reported Drug Use and Creativity: (Re)Establishing Layperson Myths
2014| Humphrey, D. E., Kaufman, J. C., McKay, A. S., Primi, R.
This survey study (n=787) found that Openness to experience was the strongest predictor of creativity (four measures), but self-reported drug use did have some (positive) effect on creativity.
Sub-Acute Effects of Psilocybin on Empathy, Creative Thinking, and Subjective Well-Being
2019| Kuypers, K. P. C., Mason, N. L., Mischler, E., Uthaug, M. V.
This open-label study (n=55) found that a high-dose of psilocybin at a retreat led to more divergent thinking and emotional empathy the day after (n=50). At seven days (n=22) enhancement of convergent thinking and well-being persisted.
Psychedelic Agents in Creative Problem-Solving: A Pilot Study
1973| Fadiman, J., Harman, W. W., McKim, R. H., Mogar, R. E., Stolaroff, M. J.
This is the first known study (1973, n=27) in which creativity under influence of psychedelics (mescaline, 200mg) was being studied in professionals and within a very positive/guiding setting.
Enhancement of Creative Expression and Entoptic Phenomena as After-Effects of Repeated Ayahuasca Ceremonies
2012| Frecska, E., Luna, L. E., Móré, C. E., Vargha, A.
This open-label study (n=40) on those who participated in a two-week ayahuasca retreat found that they had more creative (divergent, 'high originality', 'phosphenes') responses after the retreat. The participants, however, also had a higher baseline on this creativity measure.
Microdosing psychedelics: personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers
2019| Anderson, T., Dinh-Williams, L., Farb, N. A. S., Hapke, E., Hui, K., Petranker, R., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C. R.
This study used a questionnaire (n=909, 65% of which microdosed) which included the Unusual Uses Tasks as a proxy for divergent creativity. They found that people who microdosed psychedelics (mostly LSD (65%) and psilocybin (28%)) were more creative (p < 0.001, r = 0.15).
The Associations of Naturalistic Classic Psychedelic Use, Mystical Experience, and Creative Problem Solving
2016| Bates, L. W., Hendricks, P. S., Sweat, N. W.
This study (n=68) found that having a mystical experience during psychedelic use is correlated with quicker completion times on a measure of creativity (completion time of Duncker's Candle Problem). The number of mystical experiences was not correlated with completion time.
Exploring the effect of microdosing psychedelics on creativity in an open-label natural setting
2018| Colzato, L. S., Hommel, B., Kuchar, M., Lippelt, D. P., Prochazkova, L., Sjoerds, Z.
In a non-blinded experiment (n=38) with with microdoses of psilocybin, participants showed an improvement on convergent and divergent creativity tests.
Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking
2019| Barker, S., Kuypers, K. P. C., Ramaekers, J. G., Riba, J., Theunissen, E. L.
This study (n=26) found that ayahuasca decreased convergent thinking (a part of creativity) on very experienced participants in an ayahuasca ceremony. The conclusion about divergent thinking (increased) was found on only one of the measures (ratio).
Psychedelics currently show little causal effects on creativity measures. This is partly because it hasn't been studied much, partly because there may not be such a strong connection there. But what is the competition, are there other aspects, or mediators, that influence creativity.
The meaning-enhancing effect of psychedelics may influence the creative outcomes. Hartogsohn (2018) wonders if the sense of meaning itself may assist in lowering self-criticism and other factors that hold back (divergent) creativity. Measuring the meaningfulness of a psychedelic experience and subsequent outcomes on creativity measures may shed light on this possible connection.
As mentioned in the very beginning, the personality trait openness is increased for those who have a mystical experience (MacLean, Johnson & Griffiths, 2011). In relationship to personality traits, this is also the one that most highly correlates with creativity. A meta-analysis by Feist (1998) for instance showed that more creative scientists had higher scores on openness (median d = .31). In the discussion Feist describes the commonalities of the creative person: "... more autonomous, introverted, open to new experiences, norm-doubting, self-confident, self-accepting, driven, ambitious, dominant, hostile, and impulsive."
Sleep may also affect creativity. A quantitive review by Marguilho and colleagues (2014) found that more sleep was correlated with better creativity scores. The effect was modest, and was not influenced by moderators.
Mood also has a small influence on creativity. Baas, de Dreu & Nijstad (2008) found in their meta-analysis that positive moods produce more creativity than neutral moods (r = .15/.10). But no such relationship was found between neutral and negative or postive and negative moods.
But still, in an age where creativity is posed to be come ever more important (see A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink ), there aren't set ways of enhancing creativity. And if one puts on a more philosophical hat, that may be for the better, would it still be creativity otherwise?
Creativity is difficult to capture in a single measure. Not only can two distinct parts (divergent and convergent) be identified, creativity is expressed in various different ways in everyday use. These measures, in alphabetical order, are the ones used by the studies. The mystical experience scale is also added for completeness.
Duncker’s Candle Problem
The candle problem/test aims to measure functional fixedness.
A participant is asked to fix and light a candle on a wall (a cork board) in a way so the candle wax won't drip onto the table below. They are given a box of matches and a box of thumbtacks to complete the task. The right solution includes attaching the box the thumbtacks came in to the wall.
This test measures functional fixedness, which is sometimes interpreted as a measure of (divergent) creative problem solving.
Sweat, Bates & Hendricks (2016)
Pattern/Line Meanings Task (PLMT))
This test is composed of patterns to which a participant has to give meaning.
A participant is provided with patterns or lines and has to generate explanations for them.
This test aims to measure divergent thinking. It is scored on fluency (number), originality (unique, not by other participants) of ideas (and the ratio between them).
Kuypers et al (2016) - doesn't link to the test directly
Picture Concept Task (PCT)
This test is composed of stimuli from two Wechsler Intelligence tests.
A participant is provided with pictures between which they have to find associations. There is only one correct answer to converge on. But participants are asked to also provide alternative (not shown) answers.
This test aims to measure convergent creativity with the first part and divergent creativity with the second. The former is measured by completion time, the latter by fluency (number), originality (unique, not by other participants) of ideas (and the ratio between them).
Kuypers et al (2016) - doesn't link to the test or previous use of this selection
Prochazkova et al (2018)
Mason et al (2019)
Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)
These tests are different measures of (divergent) creativity.
The TTCT consists of multiple components to which someone gives a verbal answer (with either a verbal stimuli or not) and a non-verbal component.
This test aims to measure divergent creativity. It was originally scored on fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. Parts of the test are used in different psychedelics papers.
Frecska et al (2012) - visual components
Anderson et al (2019) - only UUT (see below)
Unusual Uses Task (UUT)
This test asks to find creative uses for mundane objects.
A participant is asked to think of "the most unusual, creative, and uncommon uses you can imagine". The duration is usually one minute per item (e.g. a brick).
This test aims to measure divergent creativity. In the paper below, they divided that further into three dimensions: uncommon, clever, and remote. It's also part of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking.
Anderson et al (2019)
Prochazkova et al (2018) - but call it 'Alternate Uses Task' and given five minutes.
Pahnke–Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ)
This test is a measure of someone's mystical experience.
The test consists of 100 questions of 43 are scored (30-items in the revised version). This is usually given shortly after an experience but in surveys has been used up to 8 years later.
The subcomponents of the measure are: internal unity, external unity, transcendence of time and space, ineffability and paradoxicality, sense of sacredness, noetic quality, deeply-felt positive mood.
Sweat, Bates & Hendricks (2016)
It's probably too early to say who will become the leading creativity researcher when it comes to psychedelics. Historically that title could have gone to James Fadiman, but that may be partly because he has written and spoken widely about it (The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide). In the 21st century it's Kuypers who has partaken in the most studies on psychedelics.
Psychedelics may inform us as much about creativity as it's currently doing for consciousness. But to do this, a lot more research has to be done. On the side of the measurements, it would be interesting to see both more experiments with the 'standard' creativity measures, as well as with 'real-life' outcomes.
The protocol under which creativity may flourish might be very different from that of current experiments. Where one now lays on a couch or bed with eyeshades on, you could see someone writing, drawing (as in the 1960s), or walking around. Specific experimental protocols could be developed around this, and much could also be learned from the experience of retreats where creativity is already part of the equation.
Creativity for 'healthy-normals' is something that is of interest for commercial and industrial purposes. Studying creativity with regard to mental disorders may also turn up interesting findings. You could imagine that creativity scores go up after a psychedelic (possibly mystical) experience, but that this is all mediated by elevations of mood.
Some of these ideas may take decades to be studied. Funding is more readily available for studies on mental disorders (and maybe rightly so), but a creative researcher might be able to add a creativity test to some of that research to gain some preliminary insights. And surveys like the Global Drug Survey (GDS) may help further our understanding of creativity as experienced by the laymen.
Retreats like previously mentioned Synthesis market the experience as something that could increase creativity. But to our current understanding, there is no company or research program working directly on creativity (enhancement) or the explicit testing of (novel) drugs for creativity.
Creativity and psychedelics are a hot topic in certain circles. Many in the Bay Area (San Francisco) are microdosing on LSD or psilocybin and reporting benefits from doing this. Petranker et al (2020, pre-print) found that enhanced mood, creativity, focus, and sociability were commonly reported.
Findings like this are described for instance in a WIRED article as follows: "It helps me think more creatively and stay focused, I manage my stress with ease and am able to keep my perspective healthy in a way that I was unable to before".
It is also described in IFLScience with the gripping title 'LSD ‘Microdosing’ Is Trending In Silicon Valley – But Can It Actually Make You More Creative?' . In the article they make some links to the brain mechanisms described above and explain a possible positive effect on creativity as follows: "LSD at low doses may produce mood elevation and creativity, mediated by the serotonin-mimicking effects. Actions on both glutamate and serotonin may also act to improve learning and cognitive flexibility , necessary for creativity, in the workplace. These findings could partly help to explain the microdosing phenomenon."
Amanda Feilding has also spoken about her intention of studying creativity and psychedelics. In this WIRED article , she speaks of using the game Go as a proxy for creativity. From her own anecdotal evidence she thinks that one is better able to play Go whilst on psychedelics.
Other articles that mention creativity and psychedelics are:
- Can microdosing LSD unlock creativity? (i-D, October 2020)
- The Artist's Muse: Do Psychedelics Boost Creativity? (Psychedelic Spotlight, December 2020)