Can cannabis make you more creative?

In an effort to find out whether using weed actually helps people with creating original ideas, let’s take a look at a couple of objective studies using objective measures undertaken in this complex area.

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It seems since time began, we’ve heard claims that smoking weed enhances creativity and helps creative people do what they do. The likes of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Bob Marley, and more recently Snoop Dog, Lady Gaga and many others have all praised the herb for assisting them to come up with unusual and original thoughts which help them create their ‘art’. It’s also been said that clay pipes containing cannabis were found in William Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, so maybe the famous playwright thought a smoke was useful while he was penning his sonnets!

On the flip-side, anecdotal evidence also abounds with stories of people who had written down the apparently amazing and creative ideas they had while stoned, only to find that once sober, those ideas are confusing, scrambled, or just not that great at all.

What do we mean by the word ‘creativity’?

It’s a word that’s hard to define, and even more difficult to measure accurately, but most would agree creativity relates to the generation of new ideas. With this in mind, we’re including more than musicians, playwrights and painters when we talk about ‘creatives’ – we can include anyone who generates new ideas – mathematicians, physicists, inventors, entrepreneurs, they are all creative.

Before we look at some research into the effect cannabis has on creativity, it needs to be said that there are probably many things that can actually inhibit people from generating new ideas and being creative, such as wanting to conform and follow the ‘rules’, fearing ridicule for coming up with a whacky idea, fearing failure if the idea doesn’t work, and believing you’re just not a creative person.

But can using marijuana help with creativity?

In an effort to find out whether using weed actually helps people with creating original ideas, let’s take a look at a couple of objective studies using objective measures undertaken in this complex area.

Study #1

In the first study led by Mikael Kowal, researchers set out to investigate the acute effects of cannabis on creativity. Put very simply, they did this by administering low potency cannabis to one group of participants and high potency cannabis to another group, and then measured the effects on different ways of thinking. They chose to use two well-established assessment methods: divergent and convergent thinking. Convergent thinking relates to finding the one solution to a well-defined problem and divergent thinking is the ability to find lots of solutions to a loosely defined problem – the kind of thing we do when we’re ‘brainstorming’.

The findings in this study suggest cannabis with low potency doesn’t have any impact one way or the other on creativity, while highly potent cannabis actually impairs divergent thinking. The study found no significant effect on convergent thinking.

Study #2

In the second study, researchers set out to look at semantic priming among those under the influence of cannabis, and non-users. Semantic priming is the process whereby we generally respond faster with a second word (the answer) when an initial provided word is a related word (such as ‘table’ and ‘chair’) than when words are unrelated (such as ‘chair’ and ‘fish’). If this priming effect is increased it may enhance creativity, but it can increase to a point that is unhelpful, where the normal train of thought is slowed by things that seem related but are actually not. People with schizophrenia are more likely to exhibit priming abnormalities.

In this study, the priming effect was seen to be increased among ex-users and those under the influence of cannabis and this increase was in the absence of other schizophrenic-like symptoms.

So can we draw any conclusions from the results of these studies?

These studies, like most others, are not conclusive and as-ever, more research is needed to give us more definite answers to the timeless ‘cannabis and creativity’ question.

Despite this, the studies do suggest cannabis doesn’t increase creativity and in fact, decreases the brain’s ability to think of multiple, creative solutions to a problem.

To find out more, read the two studies in their entirety:

 

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