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Effects of microdosing psychedelics on creativity: A scientific study

*the following article is based on research carried out by the University of Leiden, by Luisa Prochazkova, Dominique P. Lippelt, Lorenza S. Colzato, Martin Kuchar, Zsuzsika SjoerdsBernhard Hommel 


News organizations worldwide are covering the trend of professionals utilizing small quantities of psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, truffles, or peyote to enhance creativity and productivity in the workplace. With more people microdosing, it is only normal that more and more research comes to light on the topic. 


Let’s dive right into this research paper and examine what the study is all about!


A bit of background

During the 1960s, psychedelics were used extensively for experimental research, clinical settings, in creative and scientific vocations, and recreationally. However, due to the growing counterculture movement of the 1960s and the failure to establish the efficiency of LSD treatment, most countries around the world made psychedelics illegal.


Fast forward several decades of disregard and psychedelics have emerged as a legitimate and promising research area within the fields of clinical/experimental psychology. Certain countries, like The Netherlands, have even legalised the status of psychedelic truffles, which has offered many researchers a chance to move from qualitative studies to a quantitative approach. The qualitative approach has given us a lot of reports of its effects, but these are very subjective as each individual's brain mechanism and experience varies. 


According to research carried out through the 21st century, psychedelic substances are thought to affect the serotonergic system, which may be advantageous in situations requiring mental flexibility and the ability to break away from rigid thought patterns. If future research demonstrates the positive effects of microdosing on brain and cognition, it could emerge as a desirable alternative due to its subtler nature, potentially avoiding the perceptual distortions often associated with moderate or high doses.


However, although a lot of research points to it being beneficial it is still difficult to assess if it really improves creativity, as creativity is a multilayered phenomenon (it has many different aspects and is difficult to define in simple terms). Moreover, tracing creativity is further complicated as it can be separated into convergent thinking and divergent thinking:


  • Convergent thinking → identifying one solution to a well defined problem 

  • Divergent thinking → identifying as many possible solutions to a loosely defined problem 

Nevertheless, it's worth noting that all creative tasks require a degree of both types of thinking to be integrated in the process.


The actual study

Well, what makes this study different from others is that they are currently the first ones to conduct a scientific study to investigate the potential cognitive benefits of microdosing on humans in a natural setting. This unique opportunity to carry out quantitative research outside of a lab arose during the events of the Psychedelic Society of The Netherlands. 


The study aimed to examine the impact of psychedelic truffles on creative thinking. To achieve this, convergent and divergent thinking was tested using three tests: Picture Concept Task, the Alternate Uses Task, and the Raven's Progressive Matrices task. Each test was used to assess specific cognitive abilities as follows:


  • Picture Concept Task: evaluates cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, reasoning, and the ability to identify patterns and relationships between visual stimuli. Participants are shown a series of related pictures and asked to identify the common theme or concept linking them together. 

  • Alternate Uses Task: measures creativity by asking individuals to come up with as many different and innovative uses for a common object as possible. It evaluates the individual's ability to generate ideas, their flexibility in thinking, and the uniqueness of their ideas. This test is often used in psychology and creativity research and also in educational and occupational settings to assess creative potential.

  • Raven's Progressive Matrices task: A nonverbal intelligence test that measures an individual's ability to solve problems without relying on language or cultural knowledge. It involves selecting the missing piece from a series of geometric patterns and evaluates cognitive abilities such as spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and analytical thinking.


Participants in the study ingested an average of 0.37 grams of dried psychedelic truffles, and the second session was conducted 1.5 hours after consumption, when the truffles' effects are expected to peak. During this session, participants were asked to repeat the tasks performed in the baseline session. 

The peak effects of truffles are known to occur between 30-90 minutes after ingestion, followed by a few hours of peak effects, hence the 1.5 hour wait. 

The Results 


The study found that a microdose of psychedelic truffles led to a significant increase in divergent idea generation, as measured by the Alternate Uses Task (AUT). The participants showed higher scores in fluency, flexibility, and originality, along with an increase in convergent thinking on the Picture Concept Task (PCT). 


While there was no change in fluid intelligence scores between the two measurement time-points, the results suggest that microdosing may improve creativity performance without affecting general analytic cognition. 


These findings are in line with earlier research, carried out by the likes of James Fadiman, that has demonstrated positive effects of high doses of psychedelics on creative performance.


Limitations of the study

The study has several limitations due to the use of a quasi-experimental design and the absence of a control group. The quasi-experimental design did not allow for randomization of participants or experimental conditions, which could have resulted in potential biases and confounds.


Additionally, the experiment was conducted in a natural setting, which provided a more ecologically valid environment but limited the control over extraneous variables. The absence of a placebo condition prevented the ability to differentiate the effects of the administered substance from those of the placebo effect or expectancy effects.


While the researchers argued that the possibility of learning effects was unlikely, they were unable to quantify their influence on the results. The absence of a control group and randomization of the substance also limited the generalizability of the findings.


Furthermore, mood could have contributed to the observed effects on the divergent thinking task, as a positive mood has been shown to enhance creativity. Therefore, future studies should consider the potential influence of these limitations when interpreting the results of similar experiments.



Conclusions

The study suggests that microdoses of psychedelic substances could be a promising alternative to large doses, which can result in undesirable side effects. Microdosing may eliminate the risks of challenging experiences while maintaining the potential benefits of psychedelics on human emotion and cognition.


The naturalistic study is the first to show quantitatively that microdosing psychedelics could enhance creative performance. This effect may be due to inducing a state of unconstrained thought that allows for increased novel idea generation. The researchers hope that their findings will encourage further research into the potential beneficial effects of microdosing psychedelics.


Apart from its potential benefits as a cognitive enhancement technique, microdosing could be investigated further for its therapeutic efficacy in slowing down cognitive decline or helping individuals who suffer from rigid thought patterns or behaviour, such as those with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.


If you wish to know more about the study click here



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