Narco Nation: Psychedelic drugs heighten perception, but do they foster creativity and inspire art?

The instances and references to psychedelic drugs, as well as their influence on the state of mind, can be seen distinctly in popular culture and arts


                            Narco Nation: Psychedelic drugs heighten perception, but do they foster creativity and inspire art?
(Pixabay)

America has been plagued with the drug problem for decades now, and the opioid endemic, in particular, still continues to rage on. Despite there being awareness of the harms caused by drug use and drug possession, every year tens of thousands of people succumb to drug-related deaths. MEA WorldWide's (MEAWW) Narco Nation campaign will examine different aspects of the issue including its illicit trade and legal protocol.

For over six decades now, scientists have been researching the benefits of psychedelic drugs in stimulating creativity, in reaction to anecdotal evidence coming from artists and musicians. Many creative figures have repeatedly attributed their best works to have been created whilst they were high from consuming a hallucinogenic drug. Although they have been considered as a medical alternative in treating mental health and psychological illnesses, psychedelic drugs for recreational use have largely been illicit. The research that is presently underway to look into psychedelic drugs' role in the creative industry is experiencing new developments. But on the other hand, it is also helping foster an artistic renaissance that has influenced American culture since the late 1950s. 

Psychedelic drugs, also known as psychoactive drugs, send a person into an altered state of consciousness when consumed. According to Encyclopedia.com, the altered states are characterized by the following features: alterations in ones thinking pattern, where lines between cause and effect blurred and logical dissonance may coexist; the chronological order of the sense of time and space may be disturbed; there is a sense of loss of control in which the person becomes less inhibited; it acts upon your emotions; there is a dissolution of boundaries between one's self and the world and body image change; one may experience perceptual distortions, illusions, heightened sense of visual imagery; there is a heightened sense of meaning and significance; there is also a sense of explicability, where a person is unable to put their experience in coherent words; and feelings of rebirth and rejuvenation. 

Mescaline (Unsplash)

The most common types of drugs in consumption include Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Mescaline, Psilocybin and Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA) and Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). They have been in use, both legally and illicitly, to arouse aesthetic appreciation, artistic techniques and enhance creativity. Marijuana, for that matter, has been used to increase comprehensiveness, foster creativity and heighten perception. Despite creative figures sharing their psychedelically-inspired work for years, the influence of the drugs appears to be on a dramatic rise. The instances and references to psychedelic drugs, as well as their influence on the state of mind, can be seen distinctly and pervasively in popular culture and arts. Art critics have judged works of experimental art and deemed them as having a "greater aesthetic value" in comparison to the artists' usual work.

Hallucinogens have been integral to many civilizations in history. From ancient Greeks to the Amazonians, psychedelics have been innate to the ritualistic practices of various cultures around the world for millennia. Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is believed to have composed most of his unfinished poem, 'Kubla Khan', while in an opium-induced trance. The ancient Greek priestess of the oracle of Delphi, Pythian, inhaled medicinal fumes to facilitate revelations. The institutionalized 20th century Native American Church continues to use Peyote, much like their ancestors, to promote intense religious experiences. British author, Aldous Huxley, known for his book 'Brave New World', that is one among his works detailing the effects of psychedelics on consciousness. He experimented with mescaline and LSD in the mid-1950, which prompted him to write a novel, 'Island'. Here a tribal populace ingests moksha, a psychedelic medicine made from mushrooms, amid crucial periods of life. Even on his deathbed, Huxley asked his wife to inject him with LSD, which he used for his transition into death.

Harry Styles attends Spotify Celebrates The Launch of Harry Styles' New Album With Private Listening Session For Fans on December 11, 2019, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Singer-songwriter Harry Styles revealed in an interview that mushrooms (Psilocybin) were consumed during the making of his second album 'Fine Line' and had some influence over the creative process. The Beatles also experimented with LSD in 1965, and George Harrison said he had felt something unbelievable after it hit him. "We’d just sat down and ordered our drinks when suddenly I feel the most incredible feeling come over me. It was something like a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life," he said later. "It was fantastic. I felt in love, not with anything or anybody in particular, but with everything. Everything was perfect, in a perfect light, and I had an overwhelming desire to go round the club telling everybody how much I loved them – people I’d never seen before." Harrison also claimed that the shared experience of LSD brought him and John Lennon closer together, and the drug also had a profound influence over The Beatles' songwriting and recording. 

In evaluating the effects of the psychedelic on artistic experience it is important to define creativity and its three aspects: pertaining to the creative person, the creative process, and the creative product. When it is attributed to the person, this usually means something of an extraordinary experience, while the process would mean a discovery or gaining significant insight. Creativity in terms of the product means it should hold some measure of social use while possessing qualities such as novelty, uniqueness, originality, aestheticism, value and coherence. Psychiatrist Oscar Janiger researched the effects of LSD on creative output in 1954, where he gave an unnamed artist a series of LSD doses. The artist was also given crayons, pencil and paper to channel his creativity while on a hallucinogenic high. The results of his study have been lost in time, but his research supposedly involves over 100 professional artists and more than 250 artworks over seven years.  

Experimental art (Unsplash)

In addition to the artistic realm, psychedelics are also used in the innovative process of creating new technology. The Silicon Valley is believed to drop LSD a couple of times each year when brainstorming for the next big thing. In a competitive and dynamic world where there is a new invention every day, the need to expand one's area of creativity is dire. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, said he did LSD in his late teens even calling it one of the two or three most important things that he ever did. He attributed LSD to his unique perspective that enabled him to think of the world differently. "Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it," he once said. "It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and human consciousness as much as I could."

Mike Jay in his book 'Artificial Paradises' proposed that the reason we associate drug use with creativity isn't only because it is more prevalent in the creative community, but because it is often the creative artistic expressions, more than scientific descriptions, which give form to the effects which drugs produce. The new renaissance in psychedelic research is also furthering the understanding of hallucinogens in unlocking the creative outlet. LSD and MDMA have both been categorized as less harmful among the commonly abused substances. The current political climate is also beneficial in diving into the therapeutic abilities of these drugs that have so far been considered illegal because they have been used recreationally. The various extensive and comprehensive studies may also contribute to improving our understanding of neuroscience.

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