Microdosing—the practice of ingesting tiny does of a psychedelic drug—has been touted as a novel way to increase productivity on the job. While evidence for this effect has been anecdotal to date, new research from the Netherlands suggests that the practice may indeed enhance one important aspect of on-the-job performance: creativity.
Participants in a small-scale study scored higher on two measures of creativity after swallowing a tiny serving of hallucinogenic truffles—about one-tenth of a recreational dose. The drug did not stimulate similar improvement in an intelligence test, suggesting that its effects may be limited to enhancing innovation.
"Consuming a microdose of truffles allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem," writes a research team led by Luisa Prochazkova and Dominique Lippelt of Leiden University in the Netherlands. Moreover, it also improved performance "on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct, or best, solution."
Why bother with electronic brain stimulation when you can get the same positive results from a few grams of fungus?
The study was conducted at a meeting of the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands—a nation where some hallucinogens are legal. Thirty-eight participants agreed to complete three tests just before ingesting 0.37 grams of dried truffles, and again 90 minutes later, when the substance's effects were at their peak.
The Alternative Uses Task asks participants to come up with as many uses as possible for a common object. It measures divergent thinking—the ability to open up one’s thinking in a variety of directions.
The Picture Concept Task involved finding a common association between several images. It measures convergent thinking—the ability to pick out the right answer among several possibilities. A third test measured fluid intelligence—the capacity to think logically and solve problems, even in novel situations.
The researchers report that participants did significantly better on both creativity tests when under the influence of the drug. Indeed, participants scored higher on three measures of the Alternative Uses Task: fluency, flexibility, and originality. The drug had no effect on scores for the test measuring fluid intelligence.
One might assume these results reflect the fact psychedelics free up the mind, creating "an unconstrained brain state," as the researchers put it. But while that would explain the truffles' positive impact on divergent thinking, the fact that convergent thinking also improved suggests that such reasoning is reductive at best.
The researchers offer a different explanation. Both creativity tasks, they note, require people "to be persistent and flexible at the same time, or at least in quick succession. Microdosing therefore might promote the speed or smoothness of switching between persistence and flexibility."
Determining this explanation with certainty, and confirming these admittedly preliminary results, will require more research. But the researchers raise the intriguing possibility that microdosing could make us more creative, and perhaps even be therapeutic for people who suffer from some conditions that involve rigid thinking, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And for artists such as painters or composers, the possibilities are limitless. If you want to write the next Trouble in Mind, you might want to keep truffles in mind.