Is it time to revisit the role of psychedelic drugs in enhancing human creativity?

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.

Abstract

Human creativity is difficult to define and measure, but it is undoubtedly an important cognitive process. This makes it an interesting challenge for modern neuroscientific exploration — especially given the current interest in developing cognitive enhancers for commercial and clinical uses. There are similarities between the typical traits of creative people and the subjective psychological characteristics of the psychedelic (hallucinogenic) drug experience. This phenomenon was studied in a number of small trials and case studies in the 1960s. Results were inconclusive, and the quality of these studies — by modern research standards — was merely anecdotal. Nevertheless, with today’s current renaissance in psychedelic drug research and the growing interest in cognitive-enhancing drugs, now may be the time to re-visit these studies with contemporary research methods.

Author: Ben Sessa

Notes

The author makes the strongest link between psychedelics and creativity in the following passage.

“The psychological experience induced in humans under the influence of psychedelic drugs is multifarious and idiosyncratic, but nevertheless a broad range of common characteristics are frequently identified. These include alterations in the user’s perceptions (in all the sensory modalities), changes in the emotions, and expansion in an individual’s sense of thought and identity. A particular feature of the experience – that is encompassed by all the above characteristics and has special relevance to the creative process is, that of a general increase in complexity and openness, such that the usual ego-bound restraints that allow humans to accept given pre-conceived ideas about themselves and the world around them are necessarily challenged. Another important feature is the tendency for users to assign unique and novel meanings to their experience – together with an appreciation that they are part of a bigger, universal cosmic-oneness.”

After reviewing much of the literature, also see our review on creativity, Sessa makes several arguments for why we should be picking up creativity research again. It could lead to new findings for the commercial industry (think Steve Jobs). For clinical research, he mentions work done with people with autism which hasn’t been done since 1969. The set and setting of previously done studies might not have been conducive to creative outbursts and even how they interact/enable creativity is not yet understood.

Finally, he notes that the relatively safe profile of psychedelics (see Drugs Without the Hot Air) and a better political climate, may enable researchers to dive deeper into psychedelics again and the positive outcomes they may enable.

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