Psychedelic potential: could LSD and “magic” mushrooms be the key to opening new doors for creativity?

In today’s world, we rely on new and innovative ideas to enact change and progress. Creativity and creative thinking are important tools for going about life in the best way possible, especially in making your own life better and making the world better. The challenge of this, however, is not the execution of those creative ideas, but rather the source of inspiration for them. Enhancing creativity remains a challenge for many to accomplish and maintain, but some recent research suggests that there are viable solutions. One option in particular has a great deal of potential… that is if our society is willing to open their minds to hallucinogenic drugs.

Psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin (also known as “magic” mushrooms) have been scarcely tested or trusted by society over the years, and thus have been put away on the shelf and labeled as both dangerous and useless. Both are powerful hallucinogens; LSD is more intensive and can lead to more extreme consequences, most notably dramatic mood changes (such as anxiety), as well as delusions and hallucinations, whereas psilocybin is less potent but elicits very similar effects. Both are somewhat popular today for recreational use, but their history has led to a somewhat skewed perspective on them as nothing more than a drug that changes your state of mind for the worse. 

Despite the negative consequences which usually overshadow these drugs, LSD and psilocybin can also evoke positive experiences as well. The “trips” that people typically experience when on these psychedelics have the potential to be pleasurable and even, in some cases, life-altering. Several personal accounts speak to spiritual experiences which led them to make changes in their lives for the better. People have reported encounters with lost loved ones, reflection on previous relationships, and even epiphanic experiences which led them to change certain habits, cut out damaging parts of their lives, and behave more positively towards others (Pollan). 

Here is where the mind-blowing benefits come to light. One more important benefit of these drugs, which has been more recently examined by researchers, is the potential for enhanced creativity. While it has been shown that a typical dose of a psychedelic drug like LSD and psilocybin can potentially lead to traumatizing experiences, microdoses paint a very different picture. This is a growing trend in popular culture and it could prove to be useful in other settings besides simply recreational use. 

One study from 2019 examined microdosing psychedelics and its effects on creativity, personality, and mental health. Even though this was merely a correlational study, they surveyed groups of current and former microdosers of both LSD and psilocybin and found relationships between consistent microdoses and positive changes in all categories. Specifically, they found that microdosers scored lower on measures of dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality, and scored higher on wisdom, open-mindedness, and creativity (Anderson, et al., 2019). Below is a chart that shows the statistical significance of open-mindedness comparing microdosers and non-microdosers.

This suggests not only that psychedelics can be effectively administered and studied in small quantities in future studies, but also that such work could prove to be groundbreaking for psychedelic research and the benefits of drugs such as LSD and psilocybin.

A similar study, also published in 2019, examined sub-acute (between acute and chronic) effects of psilocybin on creative thinking, as well as empathy and well-being. They had subjects complete tests on these three parameters before, during, and after ingestion of psilocybin, and they found again that when taken in natural settings, psilocybin effectively enhanced constructs of creativity, specifically divergent thinking (which is believed to enhance psychological flexibility) and convergent thinking (Mason et al., 2019). The charts below depict the variables of divergent and convergent thinking over a 7-day period. They show that divergent thinking peaked the morning after psilocybin administration, and convergent thinking peaked on day 7.

Not only do findings from studies such as these highlight the potential of psychedelic drugs as therapeutic solutions, but they also confirm consistent findings from several studies over the years that creativity is enhanced through administration of these drugs. 

So, now that we know that these drugs actually are beneficial, why aren’t we utilizing this resource? Prior research and the legal status of these drugs alone are enough to turn people away and look for other options. Whether the intended use is for creativity or therapeutic reasons, people have seen psychedelic drugs as controversial and unsafe over the past several decades. But what in our brains makes a psilocybin trip any less safe than skydiving or even driving a car? What people do not realize is that this is an area of science that has only gotten surface-level exploration and we need not be as afraid of it as we actually are. 

A boost in creativity is just one of the many possible benefits of safely administered psychedelic drugs, but it is one that could prove to be especially influential in our society today. In our changing world of technological, medical and societal advancements, creativity is what propels the change we see every day. In addition, creativity is believed to be important to our overall health in terms of cognition, and mental and physical well-being (Stahl, 2018). It is a rewarding and impactful strength to foster, and psychedelic drugs are an important factor that can be used to tap into that potential. 

Do we still have much to learn about these drugs and their effects? Are we still unsure about some of the risks that come with these drugs? Will it be a challenge to convince the public that these drugs are, in fact, useful and worthwhile? The answer to all of these questions is yes, but that should not deter people from this very real solution to problems in our world today. Drugs like LSD and psilocybin could be groundbreaking solutions for problems like cancer, addiction, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many other disorders. It could even lead to the development of ideas and technologies that help in our fights to address big issues such as the climate crisis, public health, and human rights. While this may seem like a bit of a leap, the argument can be made that creativity is a resource that should not be forgotten or disregarded, and psychedelic drugs can help on that front.

Anderson, T., Petranker, R., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C. R., Dinh-Williams, L., Hui, K., . . . Farb, N. A. (2019). Microdosing psychedelics: Personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers. Psychopharmacology, 236(2), 731-740. doi:10.1007/s00213-018-5106-2

LSD (Acid): Effects, hazards & extent of use. (2021, April). Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.drugs.com/illicit/lsd.html

Mason, N. L., Mischler, E., Uthaug, M. V., & Kuypers, K. P. (2019). Sub-acute effects of psilocybin on empathy, creative thinking, and subjective well-being. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(2), 123-134. doi:10.1080/02791072.2019.1580804

Pollan, M. (2019). How to change your mind: The new science of psychedelics. In How to change your mind: The new science of psychedelics (pp. 1-137). London: Penguin Books.

Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms): Uses, effects & hazards. (2021, April). Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.drugs.com/illicit/psilocybin.html

Stahl, A. (2018, August 12). Here’s how creativity actually improves your health. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2018/07/25/heres-how-creativity-actually-improves-your-health/?sh=46dca66c13a6

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