Marijuana and Creativity

Marijuana Leaf Watercolor
Photo by: kunanon/Shutterstock

My wife loves to paint. I... do not. This particular creative endeavor has always eluded my grasp, and I'm reluctant at best to get in on the action. But one day as I stood before a tiny canvas on the patio with nothing but trepidation at trying to fill it up, I had one last desperate thought: I know I still have that disposable vape cartridge somewhere. And I did! After a brief moment of guilt, I sought permission to take a hit or two before we started. She just laughed, pulled out her own vape pen, and said, "What, you think I'm naturally this creative?"

Personally, I prefer to use cannabis as a way to relax. I've certainly felt the telltale tug of psychoactive effects expanding my mind in unusual ways, but I hadn't until this point considered it as a creativity aid. While I know a ton of creative people who consume cannabis, I never asked whether they were creative because they smoked, or whether they enjoyed smoking more because they were creative to begin with. There are many claims on both sides, but are they just hot air? Let's explore how marijuana and creativity intersect.

What Does the Science Say?

I was a little surprised to find out about multiple studies on marijuana and creativity. I figured that with how little information we have on the medical side of things, it would be difficult to find anything that showed a link between getting high and being more creative. But, as it turns out, there are quite a few studies out there dating back to 1970 ? they just happen to lead to different conclusions.

Let's start with a common baseline: According to a 2003 study, over 50% of cannabis users report heightened creativity while they were stoned. That sounds right in line with what a lot of the Fine Arts stoners from college thought, but they're in pretty good company. The renowned Carl Sagan even wrote an essay extolling the virtues of cannabis and its effect on his own personal creativity. But is cannabis a true creativity enhancer? This seems to depend on a couple of different factors.

  • Dosage: The most recent study on marijuana and creativity came out of Leiden University in the Netherlands, in 2015. This study had participants do tasks that called on either divergent or convergent thinking.
    Divergent thinking is what happens when you try to find as many solutions as you can to a loosely defined problem. The most accurate layman's term is "brainstorming." Convergent thinking is finding the most effective solution to a clearly defined problem. Divergent thinking has been linked to higher levels of striatal dopamine (DA).
    The researchers dosed participants with a placebo, a 5.5 mg THC dose, or a 22 mg THC dose. They found that there was a correlation between cannabis and increased divergent thinking, but it stopped at a certain point. The 5.5 mg of 18% THC led to a small increase in divergent thinking, but the 22 mg dose actually tanked divergent thinking scores to below the group's sober levels. In other words, a small dose of marijuana may enhance creativity, but at some point higher levels actually do the opposite.  
  • Rate of Use: Keep in mind that the above study was conducted on cannabis users who self-reported using marijuana at least four times weekly over a minimum of two years. It's known that this population is prone to having lower levels of dopamine overall, which could have skewed the study in somewhat unpredictable ways.
  • Individual Factors: Your baseline level of creativity seems to make an acute difference as well. Researchers at London's University College approached the subject differently. They divided their participant pool of regular users into those who were high or low on a scale of creativity. The participants were then asked to smoke their own stash in their homes and fill out thinking assessments before and after getting high.
    Interestingly, the low-creativity participants reported a significant increase in divergent thinking, but the high-creativity group didn't see much of an uptick. In other words, you might get a boost if you're not terrifically imaginative, but if you're already a creative powerhouse, cannabis may not do much for you.
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Tips for Encouraging Creativity with Cannabis

Left vs Right Brain Creativity
Photo by: Kirasolly/Shutterstock
So, you're in a creative rut or just want some inspiration to strike. It seems that marijuana in moderation may in fact help with that, so where should you start? Here are three tips to help you use cannabis to jog your creativity in any activity.

  • Pick the Right Strain: It's crucial to choose a strain that suits the activity you're about to do. Trying to come up with a new food or drink recipe? Better not smoke something that gives you cottonmouth! Do you prefer your thoughts calm and serene, or are you trying to open the floodgates into a stream of consciousness? That will dictate whether you choose a racy sativa or a stony indica. If you're trying to get actual work done, choose a strain you already know and love. But if you just want to experiment, it's worth doing some strain research to find the best one for you!
  • Start Slow: According to the studies we looked at, a moderate amount of THC is what does the trick. Smoking a whole bowl carries the risk of descending into paranoia, or simply losing your motivation to start or complete your activity. And worst of all, it may actually decrease your creativity levels, like in the University of the Netherlands study. Just take a few puffs, wait a few minutes, and see what comes to you. If you're a heavy smoker, it may be worth a tolerance break to get the creative benefits of marijuana back.
  • Focus on Your Senses: While marijuana can increase your creativity, it doesn't just manufacture it from nowhere. Creativity is in part a mindset, and using basic mindfulness techniques in combination with cannabis is where things really get cooking. Pay attention to the sensory expansion you begin to feel. Examining and savoring the effects is a surefire way to heighten your experience!

 

Cannabis is known for having different effects on different individuals, and creativity is no exception. But at least now you know the evidence that a marijuana and creativity intersection is out there! We hope you'll find out how it works for you.