Psychedelics in problem-solving experiment

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Psychedelic agents in creative problem-solving experiment was a study designed to evaluate whether the use of a psychedelic substance with supportive setting can lead to improvement of performance in solving professional problems. The altered performance was measured by subjective reports, questionnaires, the obtained solutions for the professional problems and psychometric data using the Purdue Creativity, the Miller Object Visualization, and the Witkins Embedded Figures tests.[1] This experiment was a pilot that was to be followed by control studies as part of exploratory studies on uses for psychedelic drugs, that were interrupted early in 1966 when the Food and Drug Administration declared a moratorium on research with human subjects, as a strategy in combating illicit use.[2]


Some weeks before the actual experiment, a preliminary experiment was conducted. It consisted of two sessions with four participants in each. The groups worked on two problems chosen by the research personnel. The first group consisted of four people with professional experience in electrical engineering, engineering design, engineering management and psychology. They were given 50 micrograms of LSD. The second group consisted of four research engineers, three with a background in electronics and one in mechanics. They were given 100 milligrams of mescaline. Both groups were productive in ideation but, according to Fadiman, the fact that the participants didn't have actual personal stake in the outcome of the session negatively affected the actualization of the ideas. This is why the actual study focused on personal professional problems that the participants were highly motivated to tackle.[3]

The experiment was carried out in 1966 in a facility of International Foundation for Advanced Study, Menlo Park, California, by a team including Willis Harman, Robert H. McKim, Robert E. Mogar, James Fadiman and Myron Stolaroff. The participants of the study consisted of 27 male subjects engaged in a variety of professions: sixteen engineers, one engineer-physicist, two mathematicians, two architects, one psychologist, one furniture designer, one commercial artist, one sales manager, and one personnel manager. Nineteen of the subjects had had no previous experience with psychedelics. Each participant was required to bring a professional problem they had been working on for at least 3 months, and to have a desire to solve it.

Commonly observed characteristics of the psychedelic experience seemed to operate both for and against the hypothesis that the drug session could be used for performance enhancement. The research was therefore planned so as to attempt to provide a setting that would maximize improved functioning, while minimizing effects that might hinder effective functioning.[4] Each group of four subjects met for an evening session several days before the experiment. They received instructions and introduced themselves and their unsolved problems to the group. Approximately one hour of pencil-and-paper tests were also administered. At the beginning of the day of the experiment session, subjects were given 200 milligrams of mescaline sulphate (a moderately light dose compared to the doses used in experiments to induce mystical experiences). After some hours of relaxation, subjects were given tests similar to the ones on the introduction day. After the tests, subjects had four hours to work on their chosen problems. After the working phase, the group would discuss their experiences and review the solutions they had come up with. After this, the participants were driven home. Within a week after the session, each participant wrote a subjective account of his experience. Six weeks further, subjects again filled in questionnaires, this time concentrating on the effects on post-session creative ability and the validity and reception of the solutions conceived during the session. This data was in addition to the psychometric data comparing results of the two testing periods.


Solutions obtained in the experiment include:[3][5][6]

  • a new approach to the design of a vibratory microtome
  • a commercial building design, accepted by the client
  • space probe experiments devised to measure solar properties
  • design of a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device
  • engineering improvement to a magnetic tape recorder
  • a chair design, modeled and accepted by the manufacturer
  • a letterhead design, approved by the customer
  • a mathematical theorem regarding NOR gate circuits
  • completion of a furniture-line design
  • a new conceptual model of a photon, which was found useful
  • design of a private dwelling, approved by the client
  • insights regarding how to use interferometry in medical diagnosis application sensing heat distribution in the human body

The participants also reported following experiences of enhanced functioning: low inhibition and anxiety, capacity to restructure problem in larger context, enhanced fluency and flexibility of ideation, heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, increased ability to concentrate, heightened empathy with external processes and objects, heightened empathy with people, subconscious data more accessible, association of dissimilar ideas, heightened motivation to obtain closure, visualizing the completed solution.


According to a recent unpublished review by Matthew J. Baggott, PhD, the experimenters co-administered methamphetamine as an "energizer" along with the mescaline. This went mysteriously unreported in Fadiman's published work.

"[T]he preliminary report of the study indicates that participants received methamphetamine and chlordiazepoxide along with the mescaline: 'In the individual sessions the drug regime consists of psychic energizers and a psychedelic drug (200 mg. of mescaline sulphate in these experiments), usually with additional energizer at mid-day' (Fadiman et al. 1965, p 4). The nature of these energizers is clarified later in the report where methedrine (methamphetamine) and librium (chlordiazepoxide) are explicitly mentioned (ibid, p B-1). Because the co-administration of other drugs was not described in the peer-reviewed publication by Harman et al. in Psychological Reports, very few subsequent commentators have noted this confound (Krippner (1968) notes the use of 'energizers' without comment)"[7] p.8

Related research[edit]

In the overview of the experiment, Harman and Fadiman mention that experiments on specific performance enhancement through directed use of psychedelics have gone on in various countries of the world, on both sides of the Iron Curtain.[8]

In the book LSD — The Problem-Solving Psychedelic, Stafford and Golightly write about a man engaged in naval research, working with a team under his direction on the design of an anti-submarine detection device for over five years without success. He contacted a small research foundation studying the use of LSD. After a few sessions of learning to control the fluidity of the LSD state (how to stop it, how to start it, how to turn it around)[dubious ] he directed his attention to the design problem. Within ten minutes he had the solution he had been searching for. Since then, the device has been patented by the U.S., and Navy and Naval personnel working in this area have been trained in its use.[9]

In 1999 Jeremy Narby, an anthropologist specialized in amazonian shamanism, acted as a translator for three molecular biologists who travelled to the Peruvian Amazon to see whether they could obtain bio-molecular information in the visions they had in sessions orchestrated by an indigenous shaman. Narby recounts this preliminary experiment and the exchange of methods of gaining knowledge between the biologists and indigenous people in his article Shamans and scientists.[10]

In 1991, Denise Caruso, writing a computer column for The San Francisco Examiner went to SIGGRAPH, the largest gathering of computer graphic professionals in the world. She conducted a survey; by the time she got back to San Francisco, she had talked to 180 professionals in the computer graphic field who had admitted taking psychedelics, and that psychedelics are important to their work; according to mathematician Ralph Abraham.[11][12]

James Fadiman is currently conducting a study on psychedelic micro-dosing for improving normal functioning.[13] Micro-dosing (or sub-perceptual dosing) means taking sub-threshold dose, which for LSD is 10-20 micrograms. The purpose of micro-dosing is not intoxication but enhancement of normal functionality (see nootropic). In this study the volunteers self-administer the drug approximately every third day. They then self-report perceived effects on their daily duties and relationships. Volunteers participating in the study include a wide variety of scientific and artistic professionals and students. So far the reports suggest that, in general, the subjects experience normal functioning but with increased focus, creativity and emotional clarity and slightly enhanced physical performance. Albert Hofmann was also aware of micro-dosing and has called it the most under-researched area of psychedelics.[14]

Since the 1930s, ibogaine was sold in France in 8 mg tablets in the form of Lambarène, an extract of the Tabernanthe manii plant. 8 mg of ibogaine could be considered a microdose since doses in ibogatherapy and -rituals vary in the range of 10 mg/kg to 30 mg/kg adding usually up to 1000 mg.[15] Lambarène was advertised as a mental and physical stimulant and was "...indicated in cases of depression, asthenia, in convalescence, infectious disease, [and] greater than normal physical or mental efforts by healthy individuals". The drug enjoyed some popularity among post World War II athletes, but was eventually removed from the market, when the sale of ibogaine-containing products was prohibited in 1966.[16] In the end of 1960's The International Olympic Committee banned ibogaine as a potential doping agent.[17] Other psychedelics have also been reported to have been used in similar way as doping.[18]

In 1948, Swiss pharmacologist Peter N. Witt started his research on the effect of drugs on spiders. Witt tested spiders with a range of psychoactive drugs, including amphetamine, mescaline, strychnine, LSD, and caffeine. All the drugs tested reduced web regularity except for small doses (0.1–0.3 µg) of LSD, which increased web regularity.[19][clarification needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harman, W. W.; McKim, R. H.; Mogar, R. E.; Fadiman, J.; Stolaroff, M. J. (1966). "Psychedelic agents in creative problem-solving: A pilot study". Psychological Reports. 19 (1): 211–227. doi:10.2466/pr0.1966.19.1.211. PMID 5942087.
  2. ^ Tim Doody's article "The heretic" about doctor James Fadiman's experiments on psychedelics and creativity
  3. ^ a b "The Psychedelic explorer's guide - Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys. Chapter 12: Group Problem-Solving Sessions" James Fadiman, Willis Harman 2011, pages 167-177.
  4. ^ "The Psychedelic explorer's guide - Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys. Chapter 9: Breaktgrough Research: Selective Enhancement of Creative Capacaties" James Fadiman, Willis Harman 2011, pages 122. Table 9.1
  5. ^ Scientific Problem Solving with Psychedelics, James Fadiman, YouTube
  6. ^ Psychedelic agents in creative problem solving: A pilot study, W. Harman et al, 1966, Psychological Reports: Volume 19, Issue, pp. 211-227
  7. ^ Baggott, Matthew (June 2015). "Psychedelics and Creativity: a Review of the Quantitative Literature" (PDF). PeerJ PrePrints.
  8. ^ "Selective Enhancement of Specific Capacities Through Psychedelic Training" Willis W. Harman and James Fadiman
  9. ^ LSD — The Problem-Solving Psychedelic Chapter III. Creative Problem Solving. P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
  10. ^ Shamans and scientists Archived 2014-03-02 at the Wayback Machine Jeremy Narby; Shamans through time: 500 years on the path to knowledge p. 301-305.
  11. ^ The San Francisco Examiner, August 4th 1991, Denise Caruso
  12. ^ Mathematics and the Psychedelic Revolution - Ralph Abraham
  13. ^ Psychedelic Horizons Beyond Psychotherapy Workshop - Part 3/4
  14. ^ "The Psychedelic explorer's guide - Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys. Chapter 15: Can Sub-Perceptual Doses of Psychedelics Improve Normal Functioning?" James Fadiman, 2011, pages 198-211.
  15. ^ Manual for Ibogaine Therapy - Screening, Safety, Monitoring & Aftercare Archived 2013-03-07 at the Wayback Machine Howard S. Lotsof & Boaz Wachtel 2003
  16. ^ Ibogaine: A Novel Anti-Addictive Compound - A Comprehensive Literature Review Jonathan Freedlander, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Journal of Drug Education and Awareness, 2003; 1:79-98.
  17. ^ Ibogaine - Scientific Literature Overview The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Service (ICEERS) 2012
  18. ^ Psychedelics and Extreme Sports James Oroc. MAPS Bulletin - volume XXI - number 1 - Spring 2011.
  19. ^ Rainer F. Foelix (2010). Biology of spiders. Oxford University Press. p. 179. ISBN 978-0199813247.

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