The drug LSD has always been infamously linked to bright, swirling colors, and the strangest of hallucinations. As such, it has been the subject of a lot of scientific research, particularly in the 1950s when there was still a lot to learn about the drug. In fact, between 1950 and the mid-1960s, over 1,000 clinical papers discussing 40,000 patients took place.

These days, federal permission is needed to conduct experiments with the drug, and there is a lot of hostility towards such studies in the psychiatric profession. As such, we often have to rely on these earlier studies for a lot of our insights into the impact of LSD on the human brain.

The Study’s History

During the 1950s, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger at the University of California-Irvine led multiple studies into the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (or LSD for short). One such study has always stood out, however, for the fascinating insight it has provided into the way the creative mind behaves on LSD.

Starting in 1954 and continuing for seven years, 100 professional artists volunteered to be a part of Janiger’s study in which he administered two 50-microgram doses of LSD (each dose separated by an hour) to each artist.

They were given a box full of artistic materials, and left in a room with Janiger, encouraged to draw, sketch, or paint pictures of Janiger over an eight hour period. He then used these portraits to try to better understand the effects of LSD on their artistic output and creativity. Throughout the duration of the study over 250 drawings and paintings were produced.

The pictures collected in this article all came from the same artist during one of the experiments, although the artist in who created these incredible portraits remains a mystery.

The Sketches

20 Minutes


20 minutes after the first dose, the subject claimed not to feel any different.

85 Minutes

lsd85minutes-242x300After 85 minutes, the subject said, “I can see you clearly, I am having a little trouble controlling the pencil.

It seems to want to keep going.” Janiger commented, “The patient seems euphoric.”2 Hours 30 Minutes

lsd2hr30min-252x3002 hours and 30 minutes after the dose, Janiger notes that the patient is now very intently focused on his work.

While creating the image, the artist commented, “I feel as if my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s now active – my hand, my elbow… my tongue.”

Over the next few minutes, the subject creates two more drawings in quick succession, Janiger noting that he “seems gripped by his pad of paper.”

These images appear far less detailed or complex than many of the other images produced during the study.

2 Hours 45 Minutes


At the 2 hours 45 minute mark, things seem to make a sudden stylistic change.

Before completing the picture, Janiger noted that he tried to climb into the box holding all of the artistic materials and that he has become largely non-verbal.

The artist is reported to have said, “I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling… your face… interwoven… who is…”

4 Hours 35 Minutes

lsd4hrs35mins-242x300After 2 hours of resting, he makes a sudden and deliberate movement towards the drawing pad and starts to create a portrait using pen and watercolor.

He is quoted as saying, “This will be the best drawing, like the first one, only better.”

8 Hours

lsd8hrs-240x300Finally, after 8 hours, the intoxication has worn off, and the artist appears to have lost enthusiasm for the experiment, “I have nothing to say about this last drawing.

It is bad and uninteresting.

I want to go home now.”

What is Happening?

Looking at the pictures the artists created, it is quite clear that the LSD had an impact on their interpretation and or representation of Oscar Janiger. The style of the portrait went from representational when sober, to something a little more expressionistic or abstract.

In the subsequent analysis of the drawings from this experiment, a lot of theories suggesting why the results turned out the way they did have surfaced. Anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios wrote, “LSD experiences may wildly enhance artists’ creative potential without necessarily enhancing the mechanisms needed to harness that creativity toward artistic ends.”

As such, the representations resulting from the experiment may only scratch the surface of what these artists were actually experiencing in their heads. Though the drug certainly appeared to change the artists’ perceptions, it appears as though it “did little to facilitate the development of technique,” as stated by Yale psychiatry professor Andrew Sewell who has completed a lot of research into psychedelic drugs.

According to Sewell, Janiger concluded that the art produced under the influence of LSD was “no better or worse, but it was different. LSD is not a creativity tool, nor does it unlock creativity. Rather, it makes accessible parts of the individual not normally available.” This is quite important to remember, and it harks back to the question of how we might choose to define “creativity.”

It is important to remember that those taking part in the experiment were professional artists. Janiger concluded by reminding us all that under the influence of LSD, “Uncreative people are not suddenly made so.”

This article was written by The Hearty Soul. The Hearty Soul is a rapidly growing community dedicated to helping you discover your most healthy, balanced, and natural life.


1. Colman D. Artist Draws Nine Portraits on LSD During 1950s Research Experiment Open Culture. Openculturecom. 2013. Available at: http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/artist-draws-nine-portraits-on-lsd-during-1950s-research-experiment.html. Accessed September 15, 2016.

2. Janiger Ode Rios M. LSD and Creativity. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 1989;21(1):129-134. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2723891. Accessed September 15, 2016.

3. MAPS: Dr. Oscar Janiger’s Pioneering LSD Research. Mapsorg. 2016. Available at: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v09n1/09107jan.html. Accessed September 15, 2016.

4. Science L. Slideshow: Scientists Analyze Drawings by an Acid-Tripping Artist. Live Science. 2011. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/33166-slideshow-scientists-analyze-drawings-acid-trip-artist.html. Accessed September 15, 2016.

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  The drug LSD has always been infamously linked to bright, swirling colors, and the strangest of hallucinations. As such, it has been the subject of a lot of scientific research, particularly in the 1950s when there was still a lot to learn about the drug. In fact, between 1950...