Exploring the effect of microdosing psychedelics on creativity in an open-label natural setting

In a non-blinded experiment (n=38) with with microdoses of psilocybin, participants showed an improvement on convergent and divergent creativity tests.

Abstract

Introduction Taking microdoses (a mere fraction of normal doses) of psychedelic substances, such as truffles, recently gained popularity, as it allegedly has multiple beneficial effects including creativity and problem-solving performance, potentially through targeting serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors and promoting cognitive flexibility, crucial to creative thinking. Nevertheless, enhancing effects of microdosing remain anecdotal, and in the absence of quantitative research on microdosing psychedelics, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions on that matter. Here, our main aim was to quantitatively explore the cognitive-enhancing potential of microdosing psychedelics in healthy adults.

Methods During a microdosing event organized by the Dutch Psychedelic Society, we examined the effects of psychedelic truffles (which were later analyzed to quantify active psychedelic alkaloids) on two creativity-related problem-solving tasks: the Picture Concept Task assessing convergent thinking and the Alternative Uses Task assessing divergent thinking. A short version of the Ravens Progressive Matrices task assessed potential changes in fluid intelligence. We tested once before taking a microdose and once while the effects were expected to be manifested.

Results We found that both convergent and divergent thinking performance was improved after a non-blinded microdose, whereas fluid intelligence was unaffected.

Conclusion While this study provides quantitative support for the cognitive-enhancing properties of microdosing psychedelics, future research has to confirm these preliminary findings in more rigorous placebo-controlled study designs. Based on these preliminary results, we speculate that psychedelics might affect cognitive metacontrol policies by optimizing the balance between cognitive persistence and flexibility. We hope this study will motivate future microdosing studies with more controlled designs to test this hypothesis.”

Authors: Luisa Prochazkova, Dominique P. Lippelt, Lorenza S. Colzato, Martin Kuchar, Zsuzsika Sjoerds & Bernhard Homme

Notes

The third author has been under investigation by Leiden University, see this report by Retraction Watch. This paper is probably not affected by this.

This paper was also (maybe too optimistically) analysed by Psillow.

The paper does a good job of defining creativity and the circumstances under which it’s influenced. Next to mentioning that mood and flexibility can boost divergent thinking, they state:

“Creativity is a multilayered phenomenon, commonly defined as the ability to generate ideas, solutions, or products that are both novel and appropriate (e.g., Amabile 1996; Sternberg and Lubart 1999). Creativity is not a unitary function but consists of a number of subcomponents (Wallas 1926) that provide different, to some degree opposing cognitive challenges. It is crucial to distinguish between convergent thinking, which requires identification of a single solution to a well-defined problem (Mednick 1962), and divergent thinking, which requires the collection of many possible solutions to a loosely defined problem (Guilford 1967).

Of further importance to our present study is the fact that creative thinking is not a hardwired virtue. Several behavioral studies have shown that the processes underlying creative thinking can be systematically enhanced and impaired by both behavioral interventions, such as meditation, as well as, psychopharmacological agents, as for instance cannabis, tyrosine, and Adderall.

The study looked at many different interaction effects, but found none for weight, body mass index, ingested dosage, and prior experience.

What they also considered was a possible testing effect, participants scoring higher because they did a similar test twice. Earlier studies point to this not being a problem, what could be a confounding factor is an expectation effect (e.g. the participants tried harder at the second test moment, 1.5 hours after microdosing). A similar effect (placebo) effect is often reported with microdosing (related to mood).

The current study contradicts the findings by Kuypers et al (2016) that studied the effects of a psychedelic/high dose of ayahuasca on creativity. In that study, they only found positive effects on divergent thinking, not on convergent thinking. One possible explanation for the difference is the large difference in dosage and a possible inverted U shape of the effects.

“Previous research has shown a relationship between 5-HT2A receptor activity and goal-directed behavior likely due to indirect modulation of DA release (Vollenweider et al. 1999; Sakashita et al. 2015; Dalley et al. 2002; Boureau and Dayan 2011). Dopamine-related adaptive behavior follows an inverted U shape (van Velzen et al. 2014), suggesting that smaller doses, such as the microdoses ingested by the participants in our current study, are more likely to move participants towards the most efficient mid-zone of the performance function than higher doses do.”

“Microdosing therefore might promote the speed or smoothness of switching between persistence and flexibility—an ability that Mekern et al. (2019a, b) refer to as “adaptivity.””

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