The hallucinogenic heyday has certainly made its mark on art and culture. Psychedelics have inspired the work of artists, writers, and musicians for over 60 years, their creative influence has not gone unnoticed.
These substances are no longer confined to a counterculture. Psychedelics are infiltrating into modern medicine and revolutionising psychiatric practice, but their effect on creativity still lingers. We’re now seeing a rise in psychedelic use in the workplace, in the form of microdosing.
It’s where science meets art: can microdosing inspire creativity?
What is microdosing?
Microdosing is the act of consuming sub-hallucinogenic doses of psychedelic substances, particularly LSD and psilocybin-containing ‘magic mushrooms’. A microdose is about a 10th of a standard recreational dose; it’s not enough to prompt a psychedelic trip, but perhaps enough to subtly change our cognitive ability.
The clinical potential of high-dose psychedelic use has long been investigated. Since the 1950s, LSD has shown promise in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction. Psilocybin may be effective in the treatment of depression, existential anxiety, and many more mental health disorders. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is on the precipice of success, and the clinical interest in these drugs is rising.
In contrast to high-dose psychedelic use, there is a lack of reliable, peer-reviewed research into the effects of microdosing, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying it for themselves.
Microdosing is gaining popularity, but why are people doing it? Some people find that a psychedelic microdose can alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression. Others feel that it improves their productivity and concentration. But perhaps the most common reason for microdosing is to inspire creativity.
Psychedelics unlock creativity
Psychedelic trips are met with wild and wondrous hallucinations, which are arguably the pinnacle of inner creativity. For decades, this psychedelic experience has inspired artists across the globe. The influence of LSD on musicians in the 60s– the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd among them– even led to the emergence of psychedelic subgenres of music.
Creativity is the use of our imagination to generate new ideas. It is both subjective and situational, which makes it rather hard to define experimentally. Some would even say that creativity is the antithesis of science.
Scientists are determined to understand creativity in the brain. A recent study found that a single dose of psilocybin increased spontaneous creative thinking during cognitive tasks. Participants became more insightful and were able to generate more new ideas, even a week after the initial dose. Can the same be said for microdosing? This is what researchers are trying to figure out.
Microdosing and creativity: the evidence
Silicon Valley, the hub of high-tech corporations such as Apple, Google, and Meta, is perhaps one of the greatest case studies of microdosing. Professionals have turned to LSD and psilocybin to boost creativity and advance their careers, claiming that microdosing is the ultimate productivity hack.
There is even data to support this. Studies of microdosers have shown that both current and former microdosers exhibit greater creativity, open-mindedness, and wisdom than non-microdosers. In an analysis of 278 microdosers, improved creativity was reported by nearly 13% of participants and was the third most commonly reported benefit, after improved mood and focus.
To date, only one study has directly explored the effect of microdosing on creativity. Published in Psychopharmacology in 2018, researchers investigated how psilocybin-containing truffles altered the performance of 36 participants during various tasks. After the microdose, participants exhibited more out-of-the-box thinking, more original problem-solving ideas, and more fluency and flexibility in their creative thought.
However, as an ‘open-label’ study, the participants knew what they were taking. The study was also conducted on members of the Psychedelic Society, who may have already been aware of the reported benefits of microdosing. So, there is nothing to say that the results seen weren’t just an example of the placebo effect.
Several double-blind placebo-controlled trials–the gold standard of experimental design–have found that the effects of microdosing on creativity are, if anything, very subtle. The science still has a long way to go, but it looks as though the effects of microdosing are less clear-cut than previously thought.
The case for mental clarity
A quiet mind is key to unlocking creativity. When our anxious thoughts are loud, our creative mind is silenced. As anecdotal reports suggest, microdosing psychedelics can help to relieve stress and anxiety. And since stress is the ultimate creativity-killer, microdosing could help to reverse this.
Creativity might be hard to measure experimentally, but stress isn’t. Researchers have shown that microdoses of the psychedelic DMT can alleviate anxiety in animal models. If similar results are found in humans, microdosing psychedelics may promote a state of calmness and mental clarity that could help us to access an infinite reservoir of creativity.
The future of microdosing
Attitudes towards psychedelic drugs are changing. As the evidence for psychedelic therapy piles high, many are riding the wave of the psychedelic renaissance in the form of microdosing.
Despite reports that microdosing improves productivity and creativity in the workplace, HR departments won’t be recommending magic mushrooms anytime soon. Psychedelics, including LSD and psilocybin, remain Class A and Schedule 1 drugs in the UK. Their possession and supply are illegal, even in small quantities, so it’s important to consider these legal implications and other potential risks before choosing to microdose.
The evidence is lacking and the science is lagging behind, but it’s hard to believe that the use of such powerful hallucinogenics– even on a microscopic scale– doesn’t have any effect on the way we think or perform. So, research continues. Does microdosing psychedelics inspire creativity? Only time will tell.