Thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers determined to study these controlled and controversial substances, research on the therapeutic applications of psychedelics is underway for the first time in decades. The medical uses of these substances to promote healing are just the beginning of their reintroduction into our society. The ability of psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety-related conditions and substance dependence is establishing respect and recognition of their usefulness and is helping to shift the discourse toward more rational and evidence-based approaches. However, their ability to stimulate creative thinking and facilitate problem solving may be next in line to capture our imaginations.
As Stanislav Grof recounts in his 1980 book LSD Psychotherapy, the potential of psychedelics to enhance the creative process was noted by LSD therapists in the 1950s and 60s, and the subject was explored comprehensively in Robert Masters’ and Jean Houston’s 1968 book Psychedelic Art. Many artists who participated in these studies found that their psychedelic experiences left them with access to deep sources of inspiration and helped them achieve greater degrees of originality and artistic freedom. It also wasn’t rare for their professional colleagues to note an improvement in the quality of their work.
Creative benefits like these weren’t limited to professional artists; Grof notes that, during psychedelic sessions, people tend to explore various forms of expression, such as drawing or poetry. The product can be impressive due to the emotional intensity of the experience, as illustrated by this series of self-portraits drawn by a woman during an LSD session. Experimenting with different forms of expression during a trip can lead people to find a new creative outlet that they start to pursue regularly, which can be very beneficial regardless of whether they show initial talent.
Others discover new ways to appreciate and engage with various art forms, which can similarly open up new dimensions of experience. Grof points out in LSD Psychotherapy that a single LSD session in people who were indifferent to “non-conventional art forms” could develop deep insight into a variety of more abstract art forms including cubism, impressionism, and surrealism. In an interview on drugs and creativity, Aldous Huxley made a similar point on how these experiences can show us how different artists naturally see the world: “It does help you to look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Gogh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in.”