Microdosing psychedelics and its effect on creativity: Lessons learned from three double-blind placebo controlled longitudinal trials

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).

Abstract

Introduction: Microdosing refers to the repetitive administration of tiny doses of psychedelics (LSD, Psilocybin) over an extended period of time. This practice has been linked to alleged cognitive benefits, such as improved mood and creativity, potentiated by targeting serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors and facilitating cognitive flexibility. Nonetheless, in the absence of robust, quantitative and double-blind research on the effect of microdosing, such claims remain anecdotal.

Methods: Here, our main aim was to quantitatively explore the effect of microdosing psychedelic truffles on two creativity tasks assumed to rely on separable processes: the Picture Concept Task assessing convergent thinking and the Alternative Uses Task assessing divergent thinking. We present results from 3 double-blind placebo-controlled longitudinal trials (of which one was pre-registered) conducted in a semi-naturalistic setting. Furthermore, we controlled for expectation and learning biases, and the data were mega-analyzed across trials with a pooled sample of 175 participants in order to maximize statistical power.

Results: In the final analyses we found that active microdosing increased the ratio of original responses (originality/fluency), indicating higher quality of divergent answers in the active microdosing condition. The unadjusted originality score was significantly more pronounced in the active microdosing condition, but only when relative dosage (dose/weight of participants) was considered. These effects were present after controlling for expectation and demographic biases. No effects of active microdosing were found for convergent thinking or any other divergent-thinking score.

Discussion: The results suggest that the effects of truffle mirodosing are limited to divergent quality and are more subtle than initially anticipated. Our findings furthermore highlighted the importance of controlling for expectation biases, placebo effects, and prior psychedelic experience in microdosing practice and research.

Authors: Luisa Prochazkova, Michiel van Elk, Josephine Marschall, Ben David Rifkin, George Fejer, Neil Schoen, Donatella Fiacchino, Martin Kuchar & Bernhard Hommel

Notes

Microdosing remains a controversial topic within psychedelic science. The practice has been shown to be beneficial to many and is practiced by a large number of people. It has positive effects on mood, creativity, productivity, amongst other positive changes (e.g. Kuypers, 2021). But, much of that can be attributed to placebo or expectancy effects. Researchers have been struggling to find a common ground between the lived experience of thousands of microdosers and double-blind placebo-controlled studies.

This meta-analysis grouped the data of three of those studies and analyzed the creativity scores of 171 participants. Two commonly used creativity tasks (Picture Concept Task, Alternative Uses Task) were used to measure the convergent (honing in on a solution) and divergent (finding multiple possibilities/solutions/uses) creativity.

This is what we know about creativity and microdosing in the lab

  • The microdosing group scores higher on the ratio of original responses, which indicates an improvement in the quality of divergent answers
  • But no effect was found on the other sub-scales of divergent creativity, nor on the convergent creativity scale
  • The study did control for expectation effects, making the findings more robust

The current study finds that the effects of microdosing are still very subtle. One explanation could be that the participants were already using psychedelics for a longer time, which may have reduced the effects found in the current study. A way around this is to research those who haven’t used psychedelics before. Another reason could be the mismatch between the measure (the two tasks) and ‘real life’ creativity. Whereas the tasks are well-defined, creativity in the broadest sense may still be helped by someone engaging in microdosing (or going on a full trip to work on a problem).

The jury is still out, but this is one more point for team placebo.

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