Can Drugs Have A Positive Impact On Creativity?

Drugs Sign

More famous writers than you probably realise were alcoholics. And judging by their game it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted the quality of their work. I sometimes have a drink while writing and find it helps my creativity greatly. I know people in other creative industries who do the same too. My inner critic becomes silenced and the connection from my brain to my hand is much more fluid.

Surely then it’s just a natural progression that other drugs could help the creative process as well.

I can name a few authors I enjoy reading who were known for their use of drugs. Philip K. Dick springs to mind, the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (later adapted in to the film Blade Runner) who descended in to amphetamine abuse during his life. Philip K. Dick was an incredibly prolific writer, publishing 44 novels and writing hundreds of short stories during his life. While he suffered in the long run from drug abuse, I find myself asking whether his use of drugs was beneficial to his writing. Would he have written about and explored such interesting concepts if he had never touched drugs during his life?

“Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen…”

Alan Watts, (Joyous Cosmology Prologue, 2nd ed. 1970).

I have to agree with my favourite philosopher Alan Watts here. Just so long as you are capable of knowing when to stop, I think drugs can be a powerful tool for self-awareness and exploration. All drugs, from caffeine to LSD, have their positive and negative sides. Just because something is socially acceptable to consume doesn’t mean it’s any safer than something declared illegal. It’s obviously a difficult subject to approach though, as social stigma means any real honest discussion on the benefits of drugs happens behind closed doors.

So what do you think, can drugs have a positive impact on creativity? Or is anything more than morning coffee just a path to ruin?

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Jose Venegas licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

4 thoughts on “Can Drugs Have A Positive Impact On Creativity?”

  1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is notoriously rumored to have written Kubla Khan under the influence of opium, if not stronger substances. I suspect that there was quite a bit of experimentation among the Romantics; though I haven’t researched it, I think there’s a pretty good literature out there on the subject.

    Problem, though, with being inspired by a few drinks: the next day you CAN’T READ the wonderful inspirations you raced to jot down. :-0!

    1. I seem to remember reading even Shakespeare had an opium habit. I guess it’s quite prevalent when you start looking in to it.

      I find any writing I do while drinking tends to be very hit or miss. It’s either terrible or great with little middle ground. Thanks for reading.

  2. Interesting question, and one with a bunch of answers. I don’t drink when I’m writing, but I do my writing right after I wake up in the morning, when I’m not interested in alcohol. OTOH, I like my beer in the evening, and I’m often editing then. Does it help? I don’t know. Does it hurt? I don’t think so, but I do think I get sleepier earlier if I’ve had a couple.

    About alcohol and well-known writers — the association is there for sure. The booze may have helped them write, but my strong hunch is that it also, and maybe primarily, helped them deal with writing. Writing, like art-making, and any creative work, can be very, very strange. When you let go of your various inhibitions strange things happen. For Hemingway and others, men in particular, raised to be rational and under full control at all times (except maybe when having sex), drinking might have helped damp down the weirdness. Or it might have helped them release it. It might have given them an out: “Christ, was I drunk last night!”

    Drugs, I don’t know. My lifetime use of drugs other than alcohol has been less than minimal. Those who know more than I do say it really does enhance their perceptions and open their minds. I think it’s possible to do this without drugs, to cultivate one’s ability to dive deep and soar high and see things that most people can’t. I don’t know. My mother was an alcoholic. Growing up I saw what rage unleashed, and untempered by concern for others, could do. I’ve always been a little afraid of alcohol, although, like I said, I like my beer.

    1. Writing almost always ends up being self-biographical. I find it forces you analyse everything, especially yourself, to an extreme level. People all react differently under a microscope, and so drinking is probably the most socially accepted contender for coping with that process. I suppose drugs or alcohlism are then just a natural next step if you can’t face it sober.

      Personality must come in to it as well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of great writers were great alcoholics. They let the alcohol consume them just like the writing.

      Thanks for the comment, appreciate it.

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