The creativity-enhancing effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics are highly regarded by artists, musicians, and even the occasional CEO, but there has been little scientific evidence to support these claims — until now.
Last week, the Translational Psychiatry journal published a new placebo-controlled clinical study confirming that psilocybin can indeed enhance creativity. To conduct this groundbreaking new trial, a team of researchers from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and the UK recruited 60 healthy subjects for a three-part trial. Each subject had used psychedelics in the past, but not for 3 months before the study began.
In the first stage of the trial, subjects were asked to complete a variety of standard creativity tests while remaining completely sober. For the second stage, subjects were either given a full dose of psilocybin or a placebo, and then asked to complete the same creativity tasks. One week later, subjects returned for a final session in which they repeated these tasks while sober.
The researchers discovered that the subjects who consumed psilocybin did indeed show enhanced creativity, with a catch. During the second stage of the trial, subjects who were dosed with psilocybin showed increased ratings of spontaneous creative insights, but rated lower on tests for deliberate, task-based creativity. The researchers also found that the insight-boosting effects lingered on after the initial trip. One week after consuming psilocybin, the subjects in the test group still showed enhanced spontaneous creativity.
These findings “suggest that psilocybin acutely impairs the idea generation and evaluation phase of creative thinking, while enhancing the feelings of quality of generated ideas,” the study authors wrote. “This discrepancy between acute increases in feelings of insight, but decreased number of ideas, could suggest that psychedelics acutely increase the potential for spontaneous creative thought, while decreasing the potential for deliberate creative cognition.”
Based on these results, the study authors suggest that “psychedelics could be a novel tool to investigate underlying neural mechanisms of the creative process. In addition, these findings add some support to the historical claims that psychedelics can influence aspects of the creative process, reducing conventional, logical thinking, and giving rise to novel thoughts, but emphasizes the distinction between spontaneous and deliberate creative cognition, as well as acute and persisting effects of the drug.”
Not only does this study back up anecdotal claims that psilocybin can boost creativity, it can also help researchers understand how this natural psychedelic can help treat mental health issues. Previous studies have found that people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other disorders often have trouble thinking “outside of the box.” By inspiring new, spontaneous thoughts, psilocybin could help people overcome rigid, inflexible thinking.
“Namely, while under the influence of a psychedelic, rigid thought content (convergent thinking) could be decreased, while unguided, spontaneous thoughts may give rise to new insights and perspectives of previous events and current problems,” the authors conclude. “Patients may then be able to integrate these insights with a therapist, and come up with new, more effective strategies that facilitate adaptive interpretation and coping abilities.”