LSD, Creativity, and the Modern Psychedelic Renaissance
Creativity can manifest itself in as many ways as there are ideas to bring to life. From chainsaw art to writing code, any time you use your imagination to solve a problem or make something new you’re being creative. But what if there’s a problem that’s stumping you or a concept you’re struggling to give form to? What if your creativity needs a boost, what do you do?
Some people exercise or meditate. Some people drink alcohol. Some people have sex.
And some people drop acid.
Generally, when we think of people taking LSD, we think about college-aged kids pushing their boundaries and exploring their new freedom, hippies in the summer of love, or artists like Jerry Garcia and Alex Grey. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) has long been thought to be the purview of the young, the rebels, the counter-culture. But, before that, before Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna, before the psychedelic revolution of the late 1960s, before Steve Jobs and Susan Sarandon discussed it openly in the 2000s, there was Albert Hofmann.
In 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann developed a compound that he hoped would function as a respiratory and circulatory stimulant. When it failed to fulfill that role, LSD was set aside. It collected dust until 1943 when Hofmann, inspired to try again, synthesized a new batch and, in true pioneer form, dosed himself. In a memo to the head of the pharmaceutical division at the chemical company where he worked, Sandoz, Hofmann wrote the following:
Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to stop my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and to go home, as I was seized by a peculiar restlessness associated with a sensation of mild dizziness. On arriving home, I lay down and sank into a kind of drunkenness which was not unpleasant and which was characterized by extreme activity of imagination. As I lay in a dazed condition with my eyes closed (I experienced daylight as disagreeably bright) there surged upon me an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness and accompanied by an intense, kaleidoscope-like play of colors. This condition gradually passed off after about two hours.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In the years since, LSD has been lauded as a miracle and vilified as poison. It’s been used by celebrities and inventors, musicians and scientists. And it’s been outlawed in all 50 states and by many other countries. Despite years of medical and psychiatric research, and several promising studies into its use as a treatment for alcoholism and depression in the 1950s, Congress passed the Staggers-Dodd bill in 1968, banning LSD nationwide. Luminaries in the field of psychedelic research, like Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, were ostracized by the academic and medical establishments, and denounced as “quacks.”
In the 2000s, the tide began to change and science again turned its eye to LSD. Despite difficulty obtaining funding, prestigious universities like Johns Hopkins and UCLA began studying acid and other psychedelics, picking up where the studies from the 50s and 60s had been forced to drop off. Alcoholism, opiate withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, a wide variety of the plagues of modern mental health, are being studied in relation to how they respond to treatment with not just LSD, but also MDMA and psilocybin. The modern psychedelic renaissance has officially begun.
In 2016, a groundbreaking study published in Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience described what changes take place in the brain when you trip. Brain scans of volunteers who had been injected with LSD showed connections between parts of the brain that are not usually connected, allowing information to be processed in new and unorthodox ways. Dr. Neiloufar Family, one of the researchers on the study, told the International Business Times, “‘The effects of LSD on language can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far away concepts stored in the mind...Including a hyper-associative state may have implications for the enhancement of creativity.’”
So what does that mean? Well, because of an LSD-induced boost in certain neural networks, thoughts, concepts, and connections that you may be storing subconsciously can more easily come to the surface. It also means that LSD may be a boon for anyone who needs to think around a problem or to come up with unique or novel solutions, but we knew that even without the science. People have been dropping acid to open their minds for over 75 years now, and it’s not just the usual suspects. CEOs and programmers and athletes also partake, trailblazers not just in music and art, but in genetics and mathematics.
Steve Jobs famously said that taking LSD was “one of the two or three most important things I ever did in my life,” and that it “reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
Doc Ellis, pitcher for the Pirates in the 1970s, took acid before being called in to pitch a game he was not scheduled to play. He proceeded to pitch a no-hitter. Phil Jackson, the famed coach of the record-breaking 1990s Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers and forward for the Knicks in the 70s, said his love for the game was deepened and strengthened during an early morning Malibu acid trip.
Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis, claimed his experiences with LSD in the 60s and 70s were more instrumental in his success than any classes he took while a student. He told the BBC: “What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR (polymerase chain reaction, a biochemical testing technique)? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
Even today, the trend of microdosing, or taking small doses of LSD, is gaining ground around the world and across industries. Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, and all around cool guy, frequently waxes rhapsodic about the benefits of LSD microdosing, and the trend is taking Silicon Valley by storm. Small doses, below the level necessary to trigger hallucinations, are being used to improve cognition and heighten awareness and focus. This raises the question, though, of how microdosing is any different than, say, popping a Xanax or an Adderall? How is microdosing then pitching a no-hitter, any different than the doping scandals that have rocked the MLB over the last decade?
For starters, LSD isn’t addictive. It doesn’t cause users to exhibit drug-seeking behavior commonly seen in opiate or benzodiazepine addicts. There are also no known long-term side effects from microdosing. Long-term alcohol use almost certainly results in liver damage, and long-term use of opiates or benzodiazepines can cause everything from liver damage to brain damage. With LSD, aside from a bad trip, the risks are basically nil.
Will there be a world one day where LSD is considered legitimate medicine? Where doctors are not only allowed to but encouraged to prescribe it to their patients instead of dangerous opioids? Where, along with legal cannabis, people have access to safe, non-addictive medicine that just so happens to also go well with rave music and a light show? While there is currently no legislation pending that would reschedule LSD to allow it to be studied more easily, the stigma is lifting. As with cannabis, a more accepting public view is the first step to a more accepting legal view, and we are gaining ground every day.
Did You Know?
Silicon Valley runs on strong coffee and LSD. (source)
FDA agreed to test the party drug on P.T.S.D. patients. (source)
LSD Basics: (source)
Full Name: LSD-25 – Lysergic Acid Diethlyamide
Nicknames: Acid, Lucy, LSD
1st synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann.
Wanna Dig Deeper?
Maps of the Mind: The Outlaw Of Psychedelic Substances Is Irrational, Unjust, and a Violation of Freedom by John Andrew
CNN: This is your brain on LSD, literally by James Griffiths
NPR Podcast: 'A Really Good Day' Recaps A Month-Long Adventure Of Macrodosing LSD by Maureen Corrigan
Book: Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal by Tom Shroder
Background, Context & Reference
The Third Wave: Famous People Who Have Used Psychedelics
Beckly Foundation: The World’s First Images of the Brain on LSD
Beckly Foundation: LSD Microdosing Research
The Psychedelic Library: LSD
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