Hallucinogenic substances: are they increasing creativity?

A long list of natural occurring hallucinogenic  alkaloids, such as mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) or psylocibin as well as the ergotamine-synthesised LSD have been object of countless books and music, to the point that, once A. Huxley opened “The doors of perception”, an entire generation followed and gave life to the psychedelic era. (1)

The anecdotal new abilities as intensified senses, curiosity, interconnection with the others and nature and the general idea of a deeper visualisation of the world through the kaleidoscopic glasses of hallucinogenic drugs, tickled the curiosity of scientists:  some were self testing and attributed to LSD experiences the “switch” needed to focus on their Nobel-winning ideas (Francis Crick or Kary Mullis), others were conducting experimental analysis. (1,2)

Scientific studies

The psychiatrist O. Janiger in the 60’s ran a very long study on artists in order to assess the effects of LSD in their production.

Compared to their artwork previous LSD use, the colours of their paintings became extremely vivid, their art was communicating more emotions and excitement in a style free from mental preclusions . (1)

In 1967, with the expertise of the benefits of good setting, mescaline was administered to a group of creative professionals; their task was to choose a problem from their field work and offer solutions during the consumption of peyote extract.

All the subjects reported reduced inhibition and anxiety as well as as sharpening of concentration, imagination, flexibility of ideas also when far in association (discriminant of divergent thinking, a marker for creative thinking). (We discuss Divergent Thinking tests in this article ) (1,3)

photo credit Evan


One concept must be stressed:

Nurture, in this case substances, can only act upon nature.

It is still not extremely clear whether psychotic and reflective personalities, high QI and mental flexibility are the actual ingredients for the recipe of creativity. (We went more in details on creativity testing here)

Nonetheless, a study of 1967 conducted by Zegans, showed that varying concentrations of LSD in unprepared graduate students did not result in a total increase in creativity (accordingly to psychometric tests), but did so only in the students who were already showing “creativity traits”, enlightening their path to recall the most concealed ideas. (1)

Concluding remarks on hallucinogenic substances

There are strong grounds that psychotropic agents are low in toxicity and relatively safe and that they amplify a pervasive attitude towards new knowledge via the transformation of a known dimension (notes, words, colours..) into the vastness of imagination.

Socio-political reasons clustered these substances in the Inferno’s circles and henceforth clinical studies have been stopped since the 70’s, denying a scientific understanding of their properties, and with that, of pluralism, awareness and deeper use of mental abilities.

Questions remain still unanswered: how do psychedelic substances help human creativity? What is their mechanism of function and how to use them safely?


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1) Sessa B.J (2008) Is it time to revisit the role of psychedelic drugs in enhancing human creativity.Psychopharmacol. 22(8):821-7.

2) Mullis, K. (1998) Dancing naked in the Mind Field. Vintage Books.

3) Guilford, J.P. (1950) Creativity, American Psychologist, 5(9), 444–454.

Viola Brugnatelli

Viola Brugnatelli is a Neuroscientist specialised in Cannabinoid circuitry & GPCRs signalling. Her academy and research training let her gain extensive experience on medical cannabis and terpenes both from preclinical as well as clinical perspective. In her vision, collective human knowledge behold the power for overall improvement of life, thus, it should be accessible and shareable. Viola is Founder of the science online magazine Nature Going Smart, and works as a consultant for companies & individual patients, as a speaker at seminars and workshops and as a lecturer in a CME course on Medical Cannabis in Italy, at the University of Padua.

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