Playing Go on LSD

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A growing number of people have started eating small tabs of LSD with their morning coffee. These microdosers, who take very low doses of the psychedelic drug as part of a daily routine, claim that it boosts creativity, eases mental health issues, and makes them more productive. Accounts from psychedelic drug enthusiasts, however, aren’t worth much in the world of science, so when researchers want to study microdosing in a legitimate way, they have to turn to the public.

Fortunately for them, the public isn’t as judgmental as the government.

On Tuesday, researchers with the Beckley Foundation, a United Kingdom-based think tank that supports psychedelic research, announced that they’re launching the world’s first LSD microdosing study by launching a crowdfunding campaign. The goal is to raise $2 million, which will be used to determine the effect of 10, 20, or 50-microgram doses of LSD on 20 participants as well as quantify these effects through MRI brain scans. Because LSD is a very controversial scheduled drug in the UK, psychedelic research organizations like the Beckley Foundation can’t bank on public institutions for funding.

“As far as the government is concerned, it’s evil stuff that nobody should be playing with,” Ben Taub from the Beckley Foundation told Inverse.

Playing Go on LSD

…[Feilding’s] throwing the established protocols for evaluating cognition and creativity out the window in favor of a much more straightforward objective: How do test subjects fare when playing the ancient Chinese game of Go?

It’s a protocol imagined from her experiences among friends as students of physiology and psychology more than 50 years ago. “We were working very, very hard,” she tells Inverse. “And as recreation in the evenings, we used to play the ancient Chinese game of Go. I found that I won more games if I was on LSD, against an opponent I knew well. And that showed me that, actually, my problem-solving, my creative thinking, was enhanced while on LSD.”

…Feilding’s study, to be run through the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme, is designed to have 20 participants take a dose of LSD at 10, 20, and 50 micrograms (a typical recreational dose is 100 micrograms) and also a placebo. Each time they will complete questionnaires on their mood and other vectors, will undergo brain scans, and will play Go against a computer.

Go is a complex game, because the number of possible moves on a given turn is so large. Even the world’s fastest computers couldn’t calculate the consequences of all the possibilities, which is why beating humans at Go was such a lauded feat in the world of artificial intelligence. The best moves in the five-game standoff between Google’s AlphaGo and human Go champion Lee Sedol weren’t the ones that followed the usual script, they were the ones that were so far outside of the box that no one — especially the opponent — would ever have predicted or even considered them.

“The tests of creativity, which are current, like Torrance Test, they don’t really test for creativity. They test more for intelligence, or word recognition, or whatever,” says Feilding. “They can’t test those ‘aha’ moments in putting new insights together, whereas the Go game does test for that. You suddenly see, ‘Aha! That’s the right move to enclose the space.’”

Playing Go on LSD

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