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Since LSD became a popular psychedelic hallucinogen in the 1960’s, it has been used as a creativity enhancer by many artists and musicians. The drug itself created a huge wave called the Psychedelic Movement. The psychedelic art movement generally included surrealistic subject matter, fractal patterns, high contrast colors and diffraction patterns. These common characteristics of the movement were influenced by different LSD or “Acid” experiences of many different people. Therefore, scientists were interested in how this substance affects the human brain and how it changes the perception by creating a different kind of ‘creativity’.
LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) is a hallucinogenic chemical that has a strong effect on the human brain. It was created by the Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann in 1938. The substance is known for its psychedelic effects on the human brain, which causes an altered thinking process, changes in perception, and an altered sense of time and spiritual experiences. In addition to the physiological effects, it was also a famous symbol of the hippy movement in the 1960’s and seen as a tool to enhance creativity and productivity for some artists.
Hallucinogens create an altering effect within the human brain. The classic hallucinogens are known to interact with the neurotransmitter serotonin. The effects of the hallucinogens are more often seen in the frontal cortex of the brain, which is also the area that is involved in controlling mood and perception cognition.
LSD, which is under the title of psychedelic hallucinogenic drugs, creates effects on the mind, the state of consciousness, and also perception. LSD when taken binds with dopamine, adrenal, and serotonin receptors in the brain.
Even though it has been decades since the invention of LSD, its psychedelic effects on the human brain are not still well understood by scientists. Though, it is connected to the increasing release of glutamate in the cerebral cortex. A neuroscientist Stuart Sealfon from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said: “In order to function, the cortex is integrating different signals, for example glutamate signals and serotonin signals and what hallucinogens must be doing is they are disrupting this process so that sensory perception is altered by them.” The main receptor that LSD affects is 5-HT2A, which stands for serotonin 2A type receptor. The neurotransmitter serotonin is in control of your perception, regulation, and behavior systems; and it also plays role in your level of happiness. The scientists claim that 5-HT2A receptors are the receptors that are activated after using a hallucinogenic substance and that these substances directly affect the serotonin receptors and the postsynaptic activity of the serotonin neurons. These receptors can be found all over in the central nervous system and circulatory system. In the brain, they are particularly significant in the frontal cortex and visual cortex. Even though the studies haven’t proven the possible cause of the hallucinogenic effects of LSD yet, scientists assume that when the 5-HT2a receptors are stimulated by the effects of LSD, the glutamate
cell activity in the frontal cortex increases as well. The receptors are placed on these cells and stimulation of LSD causes these neurons to fire more often than they normally would be- without the LSD stimulant. It’s thought that the effects of 5-HT2A receptor on glutamate signaling are responsible for the sensory distortion and possibly the visual system.
The human brain is responsible for everything we experience, feel, perceive and do. Our brains contain receptors where neurotransmitters are taking action in order to regulate the human body, senses, and perceptions.
LSD creates 3 different kinds of effects on the body: physical, psychological and sensory. The physical short-term effects of LSD are an increased heart rate and body temperature; sleeplessness, sweating, numbness, impulsiveness, and emotional shifts. As for any long-term effects, LSD can cause visual and mood disturbances, HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder), paranoia, and can create difficulties connecting one’s thoughts. LSD causes the person to see, hear, and sense things that are not actually existing, or existing as its perceived by the human in real life. The effects of LSD within the human body generally last for 12 hours. LSD’s psychological effect, also known as ‘trip’ experiences, vary in different situations, moods, settings and personalities and each person experiences a different ‘trip’ according to their own state of mind and environment. LSD can also create a long-term psycho-emotional effect for the user. Some users have stated that LSD affected their personality and created a different perspective in their life, as one particular artist stated “Psychedelics … often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.” According to Timothy Francis Larry, an American psychologist that worked with psychedelic drugs in 70’s and 80’s, there is a big range of different effects. He explains it as set and setting, which set stands for the normal, general mind state of the LSD user and setting stands for being under the influence of the drugs effects. A person can experience two feelings at the same time; happy and sad, elated and depressed. . Some of the psychedelic experiences could include an experience of colored patterns behind closed eyes, an altered sense of time, slowed motions, morphing objects and such and a loss of sense of identity or experiencing an ‘ego-death’ while the user experiences a dissolution between the outside real world and themselves. Therefore, the ‘inner-journey’ idea lead some people to use LSD in the purpose of finding the spirituality and religious aspects.
The sensory effects of LSD are more related with perception; such as touching, smelling or hearing things in a subjective perception. LSD creates an altered sensory experience, depending on the tolerance and the dosage that was ingested. The people who are under the influence of LSD start to mix the sensual reality within the senses, they are seeing sounds and hearing colors and some of the senses are enhanced by brighter colors, sharper edges and louder sounds. High dosage of LSD may cause fundamental distortions within the sensory system and perception. It might influence synesthesia, which person experiences additional dimensions and additional spatial.
In addition to the effects of LSD, the substance quickly creates a tolerance in the human body, which makes the user take higher doses to reach the optimal ‘first time’ effects. It is also seen that cross-tolerance is seen between LSD, psilocybin and mescaline. However, the tolerance is weakened a few days after it has been taken, and is thought that it is related with the down regulation of 5-HT receptors in the brain.
Besides being taken for a psychedelic drug experience, LSD was also used in other fields, for medical use. In the 1950’s and 60’s, LSD was used in psychedelic therapy, which some scientists believed that LSD would be useful at revealing the subconscious of the patient. . In addition to this, LSD was also used for alcoholism treatment in the late 1960’s. It was also studied by Eric Kast in the 60’s for pain management and suffering caused by major trauma or cancer. It was found that users were not experiencing less pain, however they were more disturbed by the existence of the pain in their body, which also reduced the anxiety. This is perhaps, an effect of the increased amount of serotonin in the body.
It has been a great wonder for several artists, musicians and also scientists if LSD actually affected the creativity of a person. In fact, there are several artists or musicians that were associated with LSD and psychedelic movement. The Jazz musician John Coltrane stated that he has used LSD for 2 years and this influenced his music between 1965 and 1967. The artist Keith Haring stated that he took LSD when he was young and this encouraged him to draw. He claims that the drawing on that occasion seeded all the work that he had done, created a new aesthetic and system of ‘creating’. In addition, it is assumed that famous musician Jimi Hendrix was under the influence of LSD when it lead him to a certain musical aesthetic, since he described his musical experience as ‘playing the colours’. By the time Pyschedelic art became popular, art was also applied to the LSD itself. LSD was put on a piece of paper that was supposed to be put on or under the persons tongue. In early 70’s this piece of paper became a canvas for representing the psychedelic art itself. What people are used to see in psychedelic paintings, posters or the psychedelic images, patterns, colours and geometrical shapes were put on the paper. It became increasingly popular. Mark McCloud was considered as a recognized artist by his works he had done on the blotter LSD papers.
The psychedelic influence in the art was becoming so popular that people gathered up groups and little communities to show the art to society. In fact, USCO(The Us Company) a group that was created in the 1960’s which contained a collective of artists, film makers, engineers, poets and ‘creative crafters’, were showing their acid-inspired art shows/works in galleries and museums around the United States of America. Since this movement became popular in a short period of time and was acid influenced, it grasped scientists’ attention. Therefore, in 1960’s, when the substance was most popular and still legal, psychiatrists such as Humphry Osmond (1952), Sidney Cohen (1960-1964), Sanford Unger (1963), Abram Hoffer, (1965), Walter Pahnke (1969-1970) and Stanislav Grof (1980) researched the effects of LSD and other psychedelics on perception, cognition, emotion, and behaviour. Oscar Janiger, a psychiatrist from University of California Irvine, worked on LSD and its effects on creativity and conducted experiments with about 900 people from every class, race, and age. The 900 people attended his LSD researches and were recorded in order to come to a conclusion on the characteristics of LSD experience. He created a standard dose of LSD that was 2 micrograms per kilogram of the body weight. After the substance was taken, the subjects were asked to write a personal narrative. In addition to this particular research, during one of the tests, an art professor taking part in the study, made a drawing of a Kachina Doll. The artist later figured that using LSD had a great influence on his aesthetics and style and suggested to invite other artists to explore this change. Later on, Janiger separated his research into a different level the majority of Janiger’s research was focused on artists and creativity. He worked with seventy professional artists and wanted them to draw Hopi Indian Kachina Doll two times, one before ingesting LSD and one after the influence of LSD had taken hold. It was seen that all the artists’ first rendition of the Kachina doll was realistic, detailed and more material. The artists’ second drawing of the Kachina Doll was abstract, exaggerated and unusual. Frank Murdoch was an example to one of those artists; he was a bipolar, alcoholic patient of Janiger’s. He was given LSD to cure his alcoholism. Murdoch was asked to paint still-live paintings both under the influence of LSD and when he is sober. The paintings included the Kachina Doll, which he had made the other artists paint too. The artist created several paintings under the influence of LSD.
When Art historian Carl Hertel examined 250 before and after paintings that were created by Janiger’s group in 1971, he noticed a pattern in the changed styles and differences. Hertel claimed that the paintings that were created under the influence of LSD were more abstract, symbolic, emotionally loaded and aesthetically adventuresome, non-representational and tended to use all available space on the canvas. According to De Rios, Oscar Janiger didn’t feel strong about LSD enhanced creativity and it wouldn’t make someone an artist if that person didn’t have the talent or the skill. However, he thought that the substance is giving allowance within some part of the brain that creates a different frame of mind and perspective, therefore is an offered tool for the artist to show many unusual perspectives.
One of the studies in 1966, called Psychedelics in Problem Solving was aiming to test LSD’s effects on problem solving and the creative process. The experiment was done with 8 people; 2 groups and 4 people in each group. While one group was receiving 50mg of LSD, the other group received 100mg. Then, everyone in the two groups was assigned to work on some problems that they were given by the researchers. In conclusion of the study, it was seen that both of the groups showed an incensement in positive creativity, however they all had lack of investment in the tasks and their motivation was decreased, which prevented them to come to a conclusion.
According to known characteristics of LSD experiences , the general claims of the users are that LSD helps them think without the personal filters (anxiety, fear, ambitions, personal interest and goals) and it creates a more ‘sincere’ or true creation of art. Their individual subjective experiences are being reflected on the art. They believe it is a tool to take themselves out from the material world, space, language, sensory and time barriers, which creates a different way of a ‘unique’ life experience. Even though they are having different kinds of experiences, the visual, audio and other senses are affected in the same way. Therefore, even though if it is ‘increasing’ the level of creativity by blocking the reality frame, by a certain pattern in style, that is creating a creativity limitation because of the common sensory, visual and audio effects of LSD.
In conclusion, even though LSD was thought to be a creativity tool for many artists, musicians, writers and even scientists; especially during the hippie-movement in 50’s and 60’s, no study had actually proven that it is enhancing a person’s creativity. In fact, according to Drugs and the Human Body, studies of paintings, writings and other art forms done under the influence of LSD showed that artistic creativity is not heightened and in some cases it is even diminished. It is true that these substances are affecting everyone’s own experiences according to their memories, moods, personalities and states of mind. Therefore, the experiences would become subjective and would influence the art or the music according to the subjective experiences that vary from one person to another, especially with the influence of the individual’s subconscious. It might inspire or point out different details, mediums, or subjects for an artist, according to their personal experiences. Yet, the person would not become more creative, they would instead be more open to different sensual perceptions and reflecting it on their art.
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