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An Exploration of Psychedelics and Creativity

Colourful Mushroom with Drug Science Logo

Event review written by Nikol Naydenova

At the edge of central London, over 300 people gathered in an Art Deco cinema eager to listen and discuss cutting-edge studies on psychedelics and creativity. This wonderful educational opportunity was made possible through the collaboration of Drug Science and Seed Talks; two organisations with the goal of helping people to learn something new. In fact, we learnt a lot of new things from the remarkably informative panel led and hosted by Head of Research at Drug Science, Dr Anne Schlag.

‘An Exploration of Psychedelics & Creativity’ is one of the many discussions on psychedelic research in the Seed Talks collection. Held at Genesis Cinema in East London, the event attracted many different types of audience members, from scientists to “psychonauts”. The expert panel line-up included Dr Sam Gandy, Dr Valerie Bonnelle and Dr David Luke, all co-authors of the scientific paper, Psychedelics as Potential Catalysts of Scientific Creativity and Insight which came out in May of this year. They discussed the idea that creativity in sciences is often overlooked or underappreciated, and the potential for psychedelics and similar mind-altered states to shift this.

In the venue foyer, attendees were given the opportunity to sign the petition for psilocybin to be rescheduled (as part of the Psilocybin Access Rights, or “PAR”, campaign), which in turn would allow for wider medical research. With a flip counter marking petition signatures and a ballot box on the table collecting postcards to MPs, audience members were able to actively contribute to supporting necessary drug policy changes. To the right of the PAR stall, manned by Research Officer, Alkyoni Athanasiou-Fragkouli, was the Drug Science stall where people could take away one of Prof. David Nutt’s educational books in return for a donation to the charity. Other than buying books and signing petitions, people also had the opportunity to buy one of the fun and exclusive Seed Talks t-shirts to wear and proudly flaunt around London!

Drug Science information Stall at event

With drinks and popcorn in hand, audiences filled the impressive red hall and took their seats. Mags Houston introduced Drug Science and the panellists, and the discussion began. Led by the questions of Anne Schlag, the group discussed creativity as a multidimensional domain. It involves a variety of elements, from synthetic and analytical thinking, to inspiration and imagination. Psychedelic and hypnagogic states appear to have an association with an increase in these elements. As was brilliantly summarised by Valerie Bonnelle: “What psychedelics do is enhance the divergent thinking, … the intensity of what is perceived… and thus more ideas come to mind”. This insight into how psychedelics bring about creativity is key to understanding how mind-altering states may contribute to extensive scientific breakthroughs.

Stage with full attendance in the seats Drug Science Logo

Sam Gandy offered up some excellent examples of people through history whose psychedelic experiences played a role in their breakthroughs, and these really drove home the benefit of psychedelics for scientific creativity. From computing to biology, it was revealed that some of our most brilliant minds were influenced by psychedelics to reach those “eureka” moments. The full list of these individuals can be found in the afore-mentioned paper – including Kary Mullis, the inventor of polymerase chain reaction – or PCR swab test. Mullis visualised himself “sitting on a DNA molecule” and thus understood how things worked from the first-person perspective of a protein.

Through anecdotal and scientific research, dreams, hypnagogic and psychedelic states have been proven to play a role in the creativity behind these globally-impacting discoveries. Insightfully, the speakers proposed using specially curated psychedelic dosing protocols for this creativity-related research – this is because more common dosages as used for therapeutic purposes in clinical trials would be too high and would impair cognitive processing, which would be distracting for the participant.

Drug Science Panel talk

The panel discussed the global applications of using creativity enhancement through the use of psychedelics – it was even said that psychedelics could be an essential tool in our battle against climate change. Perhaps the global connectivity and openness which is often seen during and post psychedelic use will be necessary in engaging us with protecting and preserving the nature around us.

The discussion concluded with a personal account from a participant of David Luke’s psilocybin study who described what it was like to be a part of the trial. As well as described how he spoke to a pear on the table, the participant shared that the scientific idea, which he composed during his trip, is now being used in NASA today.

After a fruitful Q&A session, including questions on microdosing and controversially whether psychedelics could eventually be given to children, the most keen individuals continued the discussion with the speakers over a glass of wine at the bar.

This event felt loaded with optimism and hope that there are future research avenues that could uncover more about our brains, creativity and the solutions to the societal challenges we face today. 

Drug Science team

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