Psilocybin mushrooms greatly improve creative thinking, a new clinical study confirms
The creativity-boosting effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics are highly valued by artists, musicians, and even the occasional CEO, but there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
Last week, the Journal of Translational Psychiatry published a new placebo-controlled clinical study confirming that psilocybin can actually boost creativity. To conduct this groundbreaking new study, a team of researchers from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and the UK recruited 60 healthy subjects for a three-part study. Each subject had used psychedelics in the past, but not for 3 months before the study began.
In the first phase of the experiment, the subjects were asked to perform various standard creativity tests while remaining completely sober. For the second stage, subjects received either a full dose of psilocybin or a placebo and were then asked to do the same creativity tasks. A week later, the subjects returned for a final session in which they repeated these tasks soberly.
The researchers found that the subjects who consumed psilocybin actually showed heightened creativity, with a catch. During the second phase of the study, subjects given psilocybin had increased scores on spontaneous creative insight, but scored lower on tests for intentional, task-based creativity. The researchers also found that the revealing effects persisted after the first trip. One week after consuming psilocybin, the subjects in the test group still showed increased spontaneous creativity.
These results “suggest that psilocybin acutely impairs the idea generation and evaluation phase of creative thinking and at the same time improves the feeling of quality of the generated ideas,” write the authors of the study. “This discrepancy between acute increases in insight but decreased number of ideas could suggest that psychedelics acutely increase the potential for spontaneous creative thinking while decreasing the potential for intentional creative cognition.”
Based on these results, the study’s authors propose that “Psychedelics could be a novel tool to study the underlying neural mechanisms of the creative process. In addition, these results support historical claims that psychedelics can affect aspects of the creative process, reduce conventional logical thinking, and generate novel thoughts, but emphasize the distinction between spontaneous and deliberate creative awareness, and acute and persistent effects of the drug. “
Not only does this study support anecdotal claims that psilocybin can boost creativity, but it also helps researchers understand how this natural psychedelic can help treat mental health problems. Previous studies have shown that people with depression, anxiety, and other disorders often have trouble thinking “outside the box”. By stimulating new, spontaneous thoughts, psilocybin could help people overcome rigid, inflexible thinking.
“While under the influence of a psychedelic, rigid thought content (convergent thinking) it could be diminished, unguided, spontaneous thoughts could produce new insights and perspectives on past events and current problems,” the authors conclude. “Patients may then be able to incorporate these findings into a therapist and develop new, more effective strategies that enable adaptive interpretation and coping skills.”