Do drugs make people more creative?

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Many people, including some prominent artists, claim that using psychoactive substances like LSD increase their creativity. But a review of studies suggests the link between drugs and creativity is still a scientific uncertainty.

“Creativity is often associated with substance use (in the media or among substance users), however it was not clear if this assumption has any scientific support or not,” explained study author Zsolt Demetrovics of Eötvös Loránd University. “That’s what we were interested in. We wanted to see if it’s a myth or if there are any scientific findings that underline this assumption.”

The researchers conducted a systematic review, and uncovered 14 empirical studies and five case studies regarding the relationship between psychoactive substances and creativity.

Demetrovics told PsyPost it was surprising how little research had been conducted on the topic. “Compared to how much talk there is about this in the media, we know practically nothing on this issue. Fourteen empirical studies: that’s a very low number.”

The past research had several methodological problems, such as small sample sizes, non-standardized assessment methods, and self-reported data.

The review of past research found a general association between creativity and substance use. But it failed to turn up any substantial evidence that drug use directly increased creativity. “The results that we have suggest no direct link between the two,” Demetrovics said.

There was some evidence that those with higher creativity are more likely to use drugs. And there was some evidence that drugs could significantly alter a person’s stylistic approach, without necessarily increasing creative production.

Demetrovics was also involved in a qualitative study of 72 artists. The majority of the participants said that alcohol and cannabis helped to facilitate creativity. They told researchers that the drugs could be used as “tools in balancing the extreme emotional states that are present during the creative process.”

The study, “Creativity and Psychoactive Substance Use: A Systematic Review“, was also co-authored by Fruzsina Iszáj and Mark D. Griffiths.



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