From Aldous Huxley to the Beatles: how LSD has inspired art

Nicola Davis
Photograph: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty

While the neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt and colleagues campaign for rules around psychedelics to change to aid research, such drugs have a long history in creative circles.

  • LSD was important to the Beatles, whose song Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is thought to be a nod to the drug, with psychedelics referred to in Day Tripper among others. LSD is also thought to have played an important role in the creation of the album Revolver. John Lennon and George Harrison were enthusiastic about taking the drug, whereas it took Paul McCartney some time to begin taking it.

  • In November 1963, as Aldous Huxley lay dying from cancer, he asked his wife, Laura, to give him LSD. The results were recorded in a letter from Laura to Huxley’s brother. “Suddenly he had accepted the fact of death; he had taken this moksha medicine in which he believed. He was doing what he had written in [his utopian novel] Island [which features psychedelic drug use], and I had the feeling that he was interested and relieved and quiet,” she writes.

The novelist Aldous Huxley with his wife, Laura. Photograph: AP
  • While psychedelic trips are often connected with artists from the 1960s, modern painters have also explored the impact of mind-altering drugs. Among them is Joe Roberts, who has produced works inspired by trips from LSD, DMT, and psilocybin. In 2018, he explained his thinking: “Perhaps the most important thing is to inspire someone to see for themselves what the psychedelic experience is. I think they are incredible tools or teachers that we have access to, and they should be used. And like any tool, they should be treated with respect and used with caution.”

Susan Sarandon. Photograph: Greg Allen/Invision/AP
  • Within the acting community, Susan Sarandon is among those known to advocate for psychedelic drugs, including LSD. “It’s not going to solve all your problems,” Sarandon told the Daily Beast “But, yes, I’m totally supportive of that means to reframe your universe.”