LSD and Creativity

This literature review (1989) looks at creativity and LSD. This is mostly done through the lens of artists who painted over 250 works.


“The effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on creativity were examined in a unique experiment in the late 1950’s. In this project, artists were asked to draw and paint a Kachina doll both prior to and one hour after the ingestion of LSD. Evaluations of these artistic productions were analyzed by a professor of art history in order to investigate the impact of LSD on artistic creativity. Certain representative changes were found in the artists’ predominant style. The most significant change was noted in those artists whose styles were intrinsically representational or abstract to more expressionistic or nonobjective. Other changes noted included the following: relative size expansion; involution; movement; alteration of figure/ground and boundaries; greater intensity of color and light; oversimplification; symbolic and abstract depiction of objects; and fragmentation, disorganization, and distortion. Many artists judged their LSD productions to be more interesting and aesthetically superior to their usual mode of expression. The above-mentioned changes contributed to the artists’ convictions that they were fashioning new meanings to an emergent world.”

Authors: Oscar Janiger & Marlene Dobkin de Rios


The dosage used in the studies was 2.5ug/kg or about 175ug at 75kg (high dose).

There were over 2000 doses given to 848 participants.

The experiment(s) spanned 7 years and 250 works of art (drawings and paintings) were produced.

The style of the artists was changed and the authors note the differences observed.

Contrary to (popular) expectation, the artists were able to paint during intoxication (and improved over time).


Aldous Huxley wrote that hallucinogens may well be remembered for the impact they had on society, and there is a large literature of self-reports by drug users concerning their perceived enhanced creativeness.

Janiger and his colleagues tried to weigh a pound of leaping mice, and were lucky to have seen several mice hit the scale at the same time. This was part of a large clinical project to study the effects of LSD on normal subjects.

Candidates were selected from a large number of applicants and given LSD in two settings: a living room and an artist’s studio. They were encouraged to provide a written account of their experiences.

A practicing professional artist insisted on drawing a Deer Kachina and later exclaimed, “This is four years of art school!”. The study was expanded to include almost seventy practicing professional artists.

This study will examine the artwork produced by artists who drew and painted the Kachina doll both prior to and one hour after ingestion of a prescribed dose of LSD.


The research literature on LSD and creativity is scant, but four studies were undertaken to examine the subject. They found impairment of finger-tapping efficiency and muscular steadiness, but all were able to complete paintings.

was somewhat impaired.

McGlothlin, Cohen and McGlothlin studied 72 graduate students who took LSD and found that they had a greater appreciation of music, but no increase in sensitivity or performance.

Fadiman and colleagues (1966) found that mescaline increased the capacity to restructure problems, enhance fluency of ideas, increase visual imagery, increase concentration, increase accessibility of unconscious material, and increase the ability to visualize the completed solution.

Two of the five studies cited above indicate that experimental LSD use in unselected graduate students does not seem to increase their creativeability. However, in the three remaining studies utilizing hallucinogenic drugs, an enhancement of creative ability among artistic individuals was demonstrated.

Six artists changed their style from being predominantly abstract to being nonobjective, two artists changed their style to being distinctly expressionistic, and one artist retained an essentially abstract style.

Eight of the changes were to an essentially expressionistic style, six were to a nonobjective one, two were to a predominantly abstract style, and two were ambiguous and unclassifiable.

Although the work done under the influence of LSD was more interesting on a sensational level, the individual artist’s aesthetic preferences were retained in the majority of cases.


The most commonly reported phenomena resulting from an LSD experience were greater freedom from prescribed mental sets and syntactical organization, synesthesia, remarkable attention to detail, and heightened emotional excitement.

The data from this study and others by Janiger seem to support the thesis that the evidence from LSD-induced artwork reveals perceptual changes indicative of those generally found under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

The figure tends to fill all available space, shrink down or fill less space, become more compact or imbedded in a matrix, change viewpoint, merge with surroundings, have greater vibrancy and emotion, and are depicted as abstractions.


Most artists find it possible to exercise some technical proficiency, with varying degrees of success, under the influence of LSD. The artistic productions are not ipso facto inferior to those performed in ordinary states of consciousness.

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Literature Review