What if you could open your mind and unlock the untapped potential of your imagination, unleashing a world of boundless inspiration? What if there are profound materials that strengthen our connection to something greater?
No matter how you refer to them—consciousness-expanding, mind-altering, ceiling-shattering, or ground-breaking—creatives and intellectuals throughout history have been enamored by the enigmatic, striking effects of psychedelics.
From ancient historical uses to the counterculture movement of the 1960s, a wide variety of renowned personalities have used them for their purported benefits for improving ingenuity and mental health issues like depression and PTSD.
The impact of entheogens on creativity is a subject that extends beyond even discussions of their role in mental health treatment, as their potential uses may surpass healing and enter the realm of transcendence.
This article offers a more in-depth look at one of our key points in The Benefits of Combining Psychedelic Therapy and Talk Therapy. Let’s venture into the scientific research regarding creativity and what exact measures and methods are used to quantify such an intangible quality in relation to psychedelic usage.
Types of Creativity & The Cognitive Tests Associated
Creativity is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that can manifest in various forms, but it is typically discussed in terms of divergent and convergent thinking in psychology and other related fields.
Divergent thinking is associated with generating multiple potential solutions to an open-ended problem with no “right” answer, while convergent thinking involves finding a single, correct solution.
First proposed in the 1950s by J.P. Guilford, president of the American Psychological Association, Guilford postulated that creativity is a “natural resource” and can be heightened through creativity-training activities (Runco, 2014).
Divergent thinking is more classically associated with “creativity” because it involves generating a broad range of ideas, and convergent thinking is actually synonymous with deductive reasoning.
Guilford also postulated that creative thinking is a more complex neurological process of pattern identification and solution potential analysis, which echoes a quote from the ingenious designer and inventor, Steve Jobs:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” — (The Guardian, 2011)
In a 2011 review by O. Vartanian, greater variation in EEG alpha wave activity was found in those ranking as highly creative on certain markers of creativity testing. The confirmation that creativity is linked to “task-related variation in cortical function” is interesting given that alpha brain wave activity is associated with wakeful relaxation states and mindfulness meditation practice.
It was also found that divergent thinking is responsible for problem identification as well as solution, and is “involved in leadership, managerial creativity, and entrepreneurship” (Acar and Runco, 2012).
Carl Jung did say, “To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem” (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1981), suggesting that creativity being able to identify a problem is as important as being able to solve one.
Furthermore, creative individuals often employ a combination of both divergent and convergent thinking in their work. In fact, many creative endeavors involve a back-and-forth action between the two.
Creativity according to this definition is not limited to any one field or domain and can be found in a variety of contexts, including art, science, business, and beyond. Overall, this form of imagination and originality plays a crucial role in complex problem-solving, idea generation, and innovation.
Scientific Research on Psychedelic-Induced Creativity
In a previous article, we dove into how psychedelics affect the brain, but specifically when referring to their effects on creativity, the efficacy of psychedelics lies in their ability to alter the activity of certain neural networks.
One primary example is the default mode network (DMN), which is active when the brain is at rest and not engaged in perceiving external stimuli. The DMN is involved in self-referential thinking, introspection, and daydreaming.
Psychedelics have been shown to decrease the activity of the DMN, in other words shutting off egoic thinking and rumination, which has also been shown to be associated with certain mental health conditions like depression.
Hallucinogens have also been shown to increase neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections and reorganize itself in response to new experiences, as well as induce changes in personality and spirituality.
What does this have to do with creativity? Well, the default mode network is a neural habitual patterning of activity across various regions of the brain that seems to be “re-opened” or dissolved by psychedelics. Simply put, being able to open up to new patterns of thinking could obviously lend itself to the idea of unique and novel creative ideas and problem solutions.
Furthermore, a 2021 study published by Mason and colleagues showed that the consumption of psilocybin can enhance creative thinking. Researchers found that acute and persisting effects were associated with altered activity in the DMN.
As the study notes, “Psilocybin increased ratings of (spontaneous) creative insights, while decreasing (deliberate) task-based creativity. Seven days after psilocybin, the number of novel ideas increased.”
This study only measured acute effects up to seven days which could potentially be attributed to the afterglow effect, so more testing is needed to understand lasting effects and take into account more prolonged usage.
A 2022 study by Wiebner and colleagues investigated the effects of LSD on creativity using various tasks and approaches on 24 healthy volunteers. Participants received either LSD or a placebo and completed a “creativity task battery.” Results showed that LSD led to increased originality and symbolic thinking but decreased organization.
These findings suggest that LSD encourages “a shift of cognitive resources ‘away from normal’ and ‘towards the new,’” which could be useful not only in creative tasks and roles but also in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
The study does raise a valuable distinction between spontaneous and deliberate creative thinking and posits the need for more research that distinguishes between acute and prolonged effects of LSD on creativity.
Because psychedelics are currently being investigated in research as a potential treatment for mental health disorders—which are often characterized by inflexible and rigid thought patterns—these results have clinical significance.
A 2016 publication by Kuypers and colleagues echoed these exact same results for ayahuasca, showing that measures of creative divergent thinking increased in users while convergent thinking decreased.
This reduction in “judgmental processing,” according to the study, exhibits “classic goals of mindfulness psychotherapy,” with potential uses for generating “new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies.”
In conclusion, research results are steadily showing increased creative thinking patterns in psychedelic users with a decrease in the types of thinking which are, in excess, associated with a wide variety of mental health conditions.
Microdosing For Heightened Creativity
The last study we will cover is a randomized, double-blind study conducted in 2018, which found that microdosing psychedelic truffles had a significant impact on standardized measures of creativity.
Participants on microdoses of psychedelic truffles displayed increased levels of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking. The researchers expressed particular interest in divergent, symbolic thinking, which has been associated with mental fortitude and resilience via faculties of openness, receptivity, and pattern (meaning) formulation.
For many, microdosing can be a more accessible and manageable way of experiencing the diverse, transcending benefits of psychedelics, whether for performance optimization, creativity enhancement, or anxiety reduction.
The potential risks of microdosing have not been adequately studied in clinical trials, but many studies have suggested that psychedelics in general are widely safe and beneficial when taken in the right setting (Rootman et al., 2021).
Through the alteration of perception and the breaking down of cognitive barriers, psychedelics can provide new perspectives and connections in the mind. By providing a temporary shift in consciousness and a new way of thinking, these substances may be able to help us break through creative blocks and reach new heights of productivity and inspiration.
However, it is important to approach the use of psychedelics for creative purposes with caution and responsibility, considering the potential risks and legal implications associated with psychedelic use.
The best way to mitigate risk is to have an intentional psychedelic experience, with special consideration for set and setting. The presence of a psychedelic guide can help increase the likelihood of having a safe and transformative trip.
This brings us to our offerings here at Psychedelic Passage where we connect clients with a network of pre-vetted psychedelic facilitators who specialize in preparation, integration, and harm reduction.
Each facilitator in our network is experienced in navigating the realm of psychedelics and managing stress during the journey as well as techniques for optimizing your experience such as setting powerful intentions.
If you are interested in having a guided psychedelic experience, we encourage you to book a consultation with our call takers to get connected with facilitators in your area. We also offer additional articles and information, which you can check out on our resources page. We hope you enjoyed learning about the optimistic scientific research surrounding creativity and psychedelia.
Frequently Asked Questions About Psychedelic Impact on Creativity
How long do the effects of psychedelics on creativity last?
While the lasting effects of psychedelics in general vary based on a wide array of factors, studies have tested the acute effects of psychedelics on creativity up to 7 days post-trip.
More research is needed to conclude if there are lasting, life-long changes. However, considering that creativity and divergent thinking is believed to be developable skill, long-lasting effects are within the realm of possibility.
What famous artists or creatives have credited their work to the use of psychedelics?
Many well-known creatives and intellectuals have credited the inspiration behind their work to the use of psychedelics, such as Steve Jobs and John C. Lilly. Musicians like The Beatles and Sting, writers like Aldous Huxley and William James, and visual artists like Alex Grey and Robert Venosa have also been known to incorporate their psychedelic experiences into their art.
Can microdosing psychedelics improve creativity without taking larger doses?
Microdosing involves taking very small amounts of a psychedelic substance, with advocates suggesting that it can enhance focus, creativity, and mood without producing hallucinations and other intense effects.
The allure of microdosing is that it can potentially provide therapeutic and desired benefits while remaining more functional and practical for day-to-day use. Research studies have been conducted with results indicating that microdosing psychedelics can have positive effects on creativity without the intensity of taking a macrodose.