When the neurologist Rivka Inzelberg noticed that patients of hers suffering from Parkinson's were making more art than might be expected of people their age, she began wondering exactly why. Patients who were writing a lot of poetry, drawing obsessively or painting non-stop all seemed to be connected by one thing – a synthetic dopamine-precursor pill called levadopa, one of the main drugs used to treat Parkinson's.
This week, Inzelberg published a study in the Annals of Neurology that explores the connection between levadopa, obsessiveness and increased creative impulses. Speaking to Atlantic, she said: “Because the medication can cause a loss of impulse control – let's say, obsessive painting, obsessive hobby-ism – we wanted to check if there was a correlation between creativity measures and impulsivity and compulsivity measures."
One woman who began taking Levodopa for Parkinson's developed what neurologists described as a devastating painting addiction. "I started painting from morning till night, and often all through the night until morning. I used countless numbers of brushes at a time. I used knives, forks, sponges," the 41-year-old patient describes in the medical journal. "I would gouge open tubes of paint... Then, I started painting on the walls, the furniture, even the washing machine."
In a series of word and image association tests, Inzelberg discovered that that there was no relationship between compulsiveness and the creativity exhibited by patients being treated with higher doses of levadopa. But she did find out that those on the drug scored significantly better on the tests than their peers and were able to offer more creative answers. "The results support a genuine change in neuropsychological processes underlying creativity," writes Inzelberg.
Dopamine and creativity have been long been connected; Inzelberg cites great artists like Vincent Van Gogh and writers like Ernest Hermingway and Virginia Wolf, who suffered from dopamine-linked conditions like psychosis and bipolar disorder.
Inzelberg suggests that to notice the benefits of accentuated creativity through administered dopamine, it's possible that you might need the abnormally sensitive, dopamine deprived receptors. Parkinson's causes disease in the dopaminergic receptors in the brain, depriving them of the chemical.
"If a normal person takes these medications and tries to become creative," Inzelberg warns, "well, we don’t know if that would work." So if you've been suffering from writer's block or stuck on a painting that you've been working on, it might not be worth hitting the streets looking for Levodopa.
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