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Getting high and being struck by inspiration is a classic cliche. But reading your wild notes the next day can sometimes feel silly and begs the question of how many of these ideas ever work out. Yet, a rapidly growing community claims that psychedelics are a hack for finding innovation, a real-life set of creativity drugs.

As far as we can tell, the link between artistic expression and psychedelics is, in fact, ancient. Mushroom idols found in Guatemala are potentially as old as 1000 BC which are suspected to be part of a cult that took psilocybin-containing mushrooms ritually. Cave paintings at Tassili n'Ajjer dated more than 12,000 years old contain shamans with mushrooms, and ancient medicine songs defy dating.

The psychedelic experience is so unique that even those who haven’t taken drugs can identify psychedelic art. Today, visual artists, musicians, and writers continue to create material that evokes feelings so similar to being on a psychedelic that discounting the drug's involvement in the process would be ridiculous.

What is becoming an increasingly popular conversation is that psychedelic inspiration is no longer solely connected to art. Namely, in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley, psychedelics have become an open secret essential to generating business innovations. Engineers, programmers, designers, and CEOs search for overlooked optimization in their companies by taking psychedelics to find that extra edge by exploring consciousness from outside the box.

Tim Ferris told CNN that most billionaires "The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis," Steve Jobs is famous for playing chess on acid in university and claimed LSD was one of his most important life experiences. Scientist Kary Mullis apparently stated he had doubts he would be "creative enough" to create his noble prize-winning DNA copying PCR test without LSD.

Most mainstream hype around psychedelics these days is around clinical research, startups, and legal developments. But for many people taking psychedelics during prohibition, these were never the goal. It wasn't healing depression, quitting smoking, or curing PTSD that put psychedelics on the map. Psychedelic's ability to shift perspective has inspired many, going beyond novelty by manifesting as real-world projects.

If psychedelics increase creativity was a popular topic in psychedelic research conducted in the 50s and 60s. The explosion of writing, visual art, and music being attributed to psychedelic use was no secret. There was interest if psychedelic use could inspire innovations in other more formal fields like engineering or design. However, nothing conclusive appeared, and the research died with prohibition. While there is a current reassurance of psychedelic research, science prefers to be grounded in measurable results like quitting smoking or changes in mood. Creativity is a far more elusive force to measure, and FDA approval traditionally comes from hard facts rather than proof of “outside the box thinking.”

Creativity is a nebulous thing. We usually know when we see it or experience inspiration ourselves, but what exactly is it? Oxford dictionary says "the ability to create." Some will tell you it's being more "right-brained." Other researchers define creativity as flexible or divergent thinking, meaning open-ended thinking. Think ideas sprawling out like a mind map where new connections are made. Other’s say creativity is something new or novel that did not exist before.

Steve Jobs defined creativity as "making new connections." Psychedelics certainly do that. Brain scans of people on psychedelics show areas of the brain not typically connected in everyday sober life communicating with each other, creating effects like "seeing sound" or "feeling the colors." But those effects are not only about external senses. Internally these scrambled connections facilitate new meanings for our lives, interpretations of the world around us, or even connections to the entire universe.

This reorganization means new ideas are also a staple of psychedelic experiences. Sophisticated scientific problem solving like the structure of DNA or founding the controversial underground internet forum 4Chan, are both ideas attributed to psychedelics. Be it breathtaking art or enormously profitable businesses, integrating psychedelic sourced ideas into the real world knows no standards. No matter if researchers or those using psychedelics a sacrament approve or not, creative inspiration seems to be an inescapable symptom of psychedelic use- and highly a highly individual process at that.

Anyone with the right contacts can obtain psychedelics. It was in the 60s that psychedelics escaped traditional ceremonial circles and laboratories on a large scale. Yet, the ensuing unrestrained recreational use of LSD is often given credit for a cultural revolution. One of today's many cultural revolutions is happening in Silicon Valley, and from anecdotes seems to be at least partially fulled by psychedelic use.

In this culture, self-improvement and psychedelics are becoming terrific friends. However, profit-seeking or self-involved personal optimization psychedelic intentions are being met with the worry of watering down psychedelics' powerful gift to heal. Advocates point out that until relatively recently in human history, psychedelics were reserved for the ceremony. Pushback to this criticism is that creative innovation is what the world needs, and technology can deliver solutions.

Perhaps the most popular trend at the moment is microdosing culture. A vast online community is experimenting with microdoses claiming relief from depression, ADHD, migraines, and even brain injuries. After mainstream news outlets published stories about Silicon Valley programmers using LSD and psilocybin like a performance-enhancing creativity drug, along with claims that focus was improved, while comparing microdoses of psychedelics to Adderall, everyone else wanted to try too.

Some very bright psychedelic minds have backed psychedelic microdoses for some time. Albert Hoffman, the creator of LSD, felt microdosing had huge potential. A researcher from the 60s named James Fadiman wrote The Psychedelic Explorers Guide showcasing psychedelic research he conducted on creativity and popularized a microdosing protocol. He promoted microdosing as potentially changing neural architecture, which has been echoed in recent years with the buzz around neuroplasticity.

This phenomenon of neuroplasticity is a favorite term associated with psychedelics. Neuroplasticity increases after large psychedelic doses and is seen as a kind of rewiring your hardware. Donald Hebb coined the saying "Neurons that fire together, wire together," which is now loosely used to describe how the circuitry in our nervous system creates a well-worn pathway for our thought patterns. Neuroplasticity from psychedelic use might offer an opportunity to build new neural pathways and, therefore, behaviors.

Restructuring these pathways could be one of the changes following classic high-dose psychedelic trips resetting people's lives. Proponents of microdosing suggest a great reset is not required and that ongoing neuroplasticity offers an edge. However, current science is not sure about this. The most extensive study on microdosing to date showed that microdosing did give people some benefits claimed by anecdotes. But so did placebo.

The results showing microdosing as a placebo were further driven home by participants who were interviewed on whether or not they thought they had a microdose or placebo. Those in the study who believed they were taking a microdose scored higher on positive outcomes than those who didn’t. The Psychedelic Scientist point summarizes this nicely. He points out that popular opinion in the media or online communities has created an environment where people take microdoses with very high and clear expectations, leading to their positive placebo results.

In a recent podcast interview, psychedelic researcher Dr. Matthew Johnson and neuroscientist Dr. Huberman chatted about microdosing and placebo. Johnson noted that microdosing appears to be a placebo from a scientific standpoint but added carefully that everything in medicine has the "belief effect." Johnson didn't slam the book shut on microdosing either, saying, "It wouldn't be crazy that stimulating a serotonin receptor has ant-depressant effects." Many psychedelic effects are attributed to their interaction with the serotonin receptors in our brain, similar to common anti-depressants. Therefore taking something that activates these receptors for an extended period might have an anti-depressant effect.

Also interesting was Stanford professor Dr. Huberman's take on neuroplasticity. He pointed out that neuroplasticity at all times is perhaps not wise. He said "directed plasticity" is the goal. He had more confidence in the high dose process used in clinical studies where therapists can support reframing a traumatic event or shift someone's depressive thought patterns. He even pointed out that a fringe view of schizophrenia is ongoing neuroplasticity in the brain, which, if microdosing works as claimed, is just what people are doing.

While the schizophrenia viewpoint is not a mainstream view, and no one is suggesting if your microdosing you're schizophrenic, it brings to mind the connection between so-called mental illness and creativity. Many great minds and creative powerhouses were eccentric at best and crazy at worst. Today's conversations would maybe put some of these people in a neurodivergent category that is no longer "the disabled" but a community with unique challenges and gifts.

Whether macro or microdosing, making creative breakthroughs with psychedelics is by no means a given. Oscar Jangier, who for years in the 60s dosed professional artists with LSD and studied the pictures they drew, pointed out that creating while under the influence of LSD was a challenge. Even professionals would become confused and have difficulty focusing under a high dose. In another separate study comparing pictures drawn sober and others on LSD, the images made by participants on LSD were rated significantly less creative.

While there is no doubt that certain artists or musicians perform and create on all manner of substances, this is arguably a skill they have practiced. And another key point is many innovative and creative types who use psychedelics for inspiration are also highly creatives when sober. Oscar Jangier pointed out non-creative people do not magically become creative with the help of psychedelics. Along with this, following through on innovative ideas does not magically happen. Inspiration plus action is a standard formula for creative expression. Those with refined skills are readily able to follow through with ideas. Many of us get insight on and off psychedelics but building out a project is a different story.

Even if the microdosing tech-bros of Silicon Valley are just psyching each other up with a placebo to produce results, they can do so because of who they are, the training they have, and their environment. And at the end of the day, science-backed or not, it is hard to argue with results.

In the 1960s, James Fadiman conducted a study on professionals with a light dose of mescaline. The study is now criticized for its design and is not as rigorous as today's research, but the results are still interesting. Many of the professionals - engineers, architects, designers, and others found solutions in the hours after the peak of their mescaline trip. The solutions were implemented or led to future projects, and 25% thought the mescaline contributed to their creative process. However, what stands out is that 20% reported being unable to focus on their work project because, under the mescaline's influence, they were compelled to examine issues in their personal life.

The importance psychedelics brought to personal life over work goals brings to mind the healing nature of psychedelics that many defend. Setting intentions with psychedelics leading to specific outcomes is notoriously tricky. When taking a large dose, it is not easy to predict what will ultimately happen. The reality is how to use psychedelics exactly is arguably not something western humans have figured out. Fadiman's experiment showed that psychedelics guiding the tripper to examine any number of topics is quite possible, and assuming too much before any psychedelic adventure can be a setup for a bad time.

However, this mental flexibility is one of psychedelic’s most consistent teachings. Go searching for a previously unheard-of business idea and walk out dealing with childhood trauma. It’s not about always about getting what you wanted, as much as being able to keep up with the mental gymnastics. But this exercise is perhaps also a catalyst for new ideas - mental flexibility is related to creative behavior.

The point here is that no one can guarantee that “psychedelics will make you more creative." They might help develop specific capacities related to creativity, but statements like psychedelics "give you what you need" or "show what is already there" are more reliable. Maybe creativity is already part of your life, and a new project is what you need. But being prepared to observe and integrate any aspects of your life is probably more important. Anyone taking such powerful substances needs to be ready for this challenge.

Watching science wrestle with questions psychedelics put forward - like the significance of a "mystical experience" or if we can augment creativity is a fun observer sport. But any real confirmation of creativity isn’t quantified with neat graphs but an experience.

One of the most notable examples of the marriage of psychedelics and creativity is Alex Grey, a pioneering visionary artist. A few seconds of looking at this man's paintings can bring anyone an eyewitness account of something not typically part of human consciousness.

Alex's Grey says his art "has always been a response to visions" and points out the power it has to attract people all around the world who resonate with what it contains. Grey explains his art "develops the inner sight," where he believes the source of creativity lies. Psychedelics revealed this insight that he developed further and has subsequently created an entire art movement still expanding rapidly as others try to convey transcendental experiences in a way that mandates experimentation with techniques humanity has not seen before.

It is tough to imagine him doing these paintings without having potent and unique inspiration. His LSD experiences led him to become an anatomical illustrator, working in a morgue to understand the human body and then create art that moves observers far outside the limitations of the human form. He does not make a clear distinction between psychedelics and creativity itself, more alluding to they both feed one process coming from the same source within him.

But in life, and certainly psychedelics, there are no free rides. Being highly trained helps, but another great point around cannabis is the substance doesn't magically create good ideas, just lots of ideas. But it is far better to have ten bad ideas than none. Psychedelics are also famous for offering more information than we can always apply, and sorting through creative ideas is an art unto itself.

So are psychedelics the creativity drug? It is hard to rule out, and answering yes only adds more questions. Psychedelics aren’t addictive, but can we abuse them? Sure, side effects are an obvious concern with microdosing. For example, is taking them multiple times a week ok? But what about the ethics of using ancient medicines to increase quarterly profits? How about taking synthetic psilocybin by yourself in your condo and realizing how to be kinder to your employees? What if that happens to improve quality of life and productivity in synergy? What exactly are the rules for such a powerful tool? Or can there be rules for what people do with their consciousness at all?

While scientists and traditional medicine carriers hold clear guidelines on how psychedelics should be used, the reality is millions of people around the world don't follow the rules. Psychedelics are illegal for the most part, and prohibition leads to diversification, along with innovation. This means the use cases of psychedelics, for better or for worse, are not limited to laws or traditions. At this point, turning the tide back on decades of underground and unsupervised use seems tricky, if not impossible.

A tidy conclusion about psychedelic's creative power leading us to a better world would be nice, but in reality, creation is a far more messy process than simply downloading utopia on drugs. Psychedelics will always reflect the people and culture taking them. And there are now a lot of people and cultures taking psychedelics. How best to use these compounds is turning into an open debate. Traditional viewpoints and the modern approach are far from reconciled, with many more voices likely to join in the coming years—another opportunity for psychedelics to offer another creative solution.

Gwella Mushrooms |
Gwella Mushrooms |


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