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Cannabis and Creativity


Cannabis and creativity seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter! Looking at the last hundred years in the U.S., how many social, artistic, or even business movements has cannabis played a role in?

When one thinks of early jazz, it’s hard not to think of legendary musicians Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday and not associate “reefer” with their respective creative genius. Present day, musicians from Snoop Dogg to Willie Nelson, have ascribed near mystical powers to cannabis and its influence on their work. Cannabis has been a part of major literary movements — think of The Beat Generation, a precursor to the 1960s counterculture movement, lead by legendary pot-smoking hipsters Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Even Silicon Valley! Steve Jobs famously said that in his early days, he would often smoke cannabis or eat “pot brownies” to help him relax and let his creative juices flow. Billionaire Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook) has been funding legalization efforts in California.

The link between cannabis and creativity is undeniable. But what exactly is creativity? And, what does science say about cannabis and creativity? Does cannabis ignite that creative fire? Or, are creative people just drawn to cannabis?

What Is Creativity?

Let’s start by defining creativity. According to Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work: “Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” What a great definition! Many of the most innovative and successful individuals in society and throughout history demonstrate an uncanny ability to look at things in unique ways, identify patterns, connect the dots, and develop breakthrough solutions. Nonetheless, creativity is subjective, making measuring it, a wee bit difficult.

What Does Science Say About Cannabis and Creativity?

Given the subjectivity of creativity, what does science say? To quantify creativity scientists have to come up with objective measures to compare data, so they create tests to measure different types of creativity: divergent, lateral (out-of-the-box), aesthetic thinking, etc. You can see why it would be difficult to measure creativity — not only is it subjective, there are so many kinds! Unsurprisingly, there haven’t been a huge number of studies examining the link between cannabis and creativity.

Of the few studies, many were done in 1970s — an era before dabbing, vaping, edibles of every variety, etc. Since the early studies, a growing number of researchers have opined that we need to revisit the cannabis and creativity link. In 2011, a group out of Australia decided to do just that. The researchers embarked on an empirical study — meaning it was observational. They recruited subjects from three distinct populations who self-identified as: cannabis users, ecstasy (MDMA) users, and non-drug users.

To recruit participants, they posted flyers at local pubs and by “snowballing.”  Snowballing sounds more fun than it is. The “snowball method” simply refers to a non-scientific sampling technique in which study subjects are recruited from current research subjects’ acquaintances. There are some shortcomings to these methods. Most notably, the pool of subjects is much more homogenous than if researchers conducted a totally random sample. Nonetheless, the study elicited some intriguing results — as they used both objective and subjective measurement tools. The researchers didn’t administer cannabis to the subjects; instead, they were looking at general associations, to see how people differed in creative capacity across these groups.

Some of their findings may surprise you — others may not:

Cannabis users are more creative: While there was no statistically significantly difference among the groups in terms of the raw number of “creative” ideas they each came up with, cannabis users came up on top for the most important measure: uniqueness. Cannabis users performed significantly better than other groups in terms of the number of genuinely unique creative ideas they produced.

Ecstasy users are not as creative as they think they are: Yep, you got that right! Ecstasy users tended to think of themselves (and their ideas) as highly creative, but they produced no more uniquely creative ideas than any other group.

Cannabis users are more humble: In contrast to ecstasy users, cannabis users didn’t think of their ideas as being particularly unique, however, objective analyses revealed that were, in fact, more creative.

So what does this tell us about cannabis and creativity? Well, it certainly scientifically confirms the link between the two. But, based on this study, we don’t know whether the regular use of cannabis enhances creative thinking — or, if creative types are just naturally more drawn to using it. Quite frankly, it could be a little of both.

Is Cannabis a Creative Elixir?

What about cannabis as a creative elixir? Scientifically, it’s plausible that cannabis would help the creative process, but the research hasn’t been able to provide much conclusive data. However, in spite of the limited data, in 2014, researchers conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature since the 1960s. Predictably, they concluded that based on the data, they could only partially verify expectations that using cannabis positively influenced creativity. They noted one study showing subjects who smoked joints with a low dose of THC (3 mg), performed significantly better on two “divergent” thinking tasks, than those who consumed high dose THC (6 mg) cannabis. Evidence consistent suggesting THC produces biphasic effects (desirable outcomes in low to moderate doses; undesirable in higher doses).

The researchers cite another study that compared oral consumption of a placebo (containing no active ingredients) to oral consumption of THC (at 7.5 and 15 mg), and found a dose-dependent effect on verbal fluency. And, those who consumed low to moderate doses of THC outperformed those who consumed the placebo.

Final Thoughts

Most “cannassuers” swear by cannabis for its mystical creativity enhancing powers. While limited research and variability in methodology from study to study has yielded inconsistent data, we see a number of patterns: First, cannabis users do tend to be more creative than other people. Duh! Second, the adage “less is more” rings true. If it’s creativity you’re seeking, lower doses seem to produce superior results to higher doses. (And, in fact, higher doses may stifle — not promote — creativity.)  

It’s probably safe to say — for most, but not all, people — the more potent the administration method (e.g. dabbing shatter), the more likely it is that you’re going to feel really high, but much less likely to be as creative as you may think you are being. (Sometimes those ideas that seemed so creative at the time — e.g. the “Jump to Conclusions” doormat you thought would be a runaway success — may not seem so creative later.) But, given THC’s psychotomimetic properties, cannabis probably enhances creativity by helping us connect seemingly unrelated concepts, an aspect of creative thinking considered essential. So it’s likely much more than folklore (or stoner mythology) that cannabis (in moderate amounts) promotes creativity.

Keep in mind, however, researchers haven’t really compared various consumption methods (e.g. vaping vs. smoking vs. edibles), nor have they considered the fact every strain is chemically unique. Could low dose chocolate edibles work better than say, taking a bong rip — or vice versa? What about cannabinoids beyond THC — how do they interact with each other while influencing outcomes? There’s no doubt: different cannabinoids and terpenoids produce different effects. Why do people report some strains help them unleash creativity, while other strains cause “couch lock?”

That being said, one thing we do know for sure, a cognitive effect of cannabis intoxication is that it’s harder to encode new memories. How many times have you used cannabis — thought of a seemingly brilliant idea — only to completely forget the idea the next day? So, if your goal is to stimulate the creative process (and capture these ideas), use a notepad (or your trusty iPhone) to write those ingenious ideas down, so you don’t lose them!

To make your next creative kush session a little bit more interesting — try pairing your favorite strain with meditation. Meditation is known to be an incredible way to boost creativity. Who knows? Perhaps coupling meditation and cannabis could produce a synergistic effect? Now, that would be a study that would be great to see! Mix it up a bit — see how chocolate edibles compare to tinctures, vaping to smoking, higher CBD strains to higher THC strains — you get the point. See if you notice any difference.

Do you use cannabis to stimulate the creative process? What have you found? Do you prefer a particular method? What strains do you find work best? Don’t be shy! Share your experiences in the comment section.

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Wikileaf fan
10:26, February 23, 2017
I #choosetoconsume for creative purposes. Marijuana extends my arms giving me the ability to reach areas of my mind that were previously unaccessible. Mota es muy bueno. Oh yeah it makes me know Spanish too. Straaange. Haha
Wikileaf fan
2:48, February 06, 2017
It helps me study & it helps me with creativity and my depression.
Wikileaf fan
9:00, February 05, 2017
I choose weed not only for a creative mind, or even to relax but, I have a serious issues with depression, and when I get in that state of mind, I tend not to eat for certain amount of weeks. Also, I have scoliosis in my lower spine, which doesn\'t help me cause I can no longer sleep more than 4 hours. I consume it cause it helps me gain an appetite and it eases the pain for me to sleep.
Wikileaf fan
9:58, February 04, 2017
I choose to consume for many reasons, first and foremost to help me deal with adhd and my Bipolar 1. Weed relaxes me and makes me realize that everything isn\'t as bad as my brain would have me believe.
It also sparks my creativity, and as a writer it\'s great for getting past writer\'s block. Words just seem to flow onto the page.
And, finally, I choose to consume for fun. Weed is nuch, much safer than most other drugs available, and the high just makes me wanna laugh.
Wikileaf fan
11:11, January 30, 2017
I choose to consume because it helps me relax, it helps with my insomnia, and boosts my creativity especially in the kitchen.
Wikileaf fan
7:13, January 29, 2017
I choose to consume for my chronic back pain , to help spark creativity for my budding business and to escape the harsh realities of a Trump presidency!!!
Wikileaf fan
4:17, January 29, 2017
#Ichoosetoconsume because it brings out the creativity within myself, and it helps deal with chronic joint pain too! Nothing better than feeling good, and getting active.
Wikileaf fan
5:24, January 27, 2017
Why wouldn\'t you choose to consume? Is the real question! The people you meet, the places (mentally and physically) cannabis can take you, the healing properties, the creativity I feel! Cannabis is a way of life!
Wikileaf fan
1:35, January 27, 2017
Marijuana releases my imagination and creativity. I love to work with my hands, and build things from my imagination. I would love to be picked to take a vacation. Thank you!
Wikileaf fan
3:51, January 17, 2017
Creativity and happiness
Wikileaf fan
4:39, January 16, 2017
Creativity while i make music
Wikileaf fan
3:49, December 22, 2016
It helps me to stop, enjoy the moment, see beautiful things around, to be a better person, get inspiration and creativity, relax and chill and smile smile smile.
Wikileaf fan
9:11, December 18, 2016
I choose to consume to fight my psychosis and to open my creative mind
Wikileaf fan
11:39, December 08, 2016
I choose to consume cannabis for multiple reasons. My main reason is because of the constant pain and nausea I get from PCOS. I\'ve seen prescription addiction ruin lives of those close to me and they make me feel terrible! Without cannabis I would be in a lot of pain, I\'m so grateful! Also, it helps me relax and boosts my creativity. I\'m not much of a drinker and I love not waking up with a hangover!
Wikileaf fan
3:44, December 01, 2016
I choose to consume because I choose happiness, peace, love, creativity and a clear mind. I choose cannabis because I choose Mother Earth.
Wikileaf fan
1:47, November 29, 2016
I choose to live my life everyday despite the hardships that are brought on by anxieties both generalized and social, by depression, by ADHD. They\'re not mental illnesses to me anymore, they\'re life upgrades that help me become the best version of me that I can be one day. I also choose to let my worries drift away when they seem larger than the world when in reality those worries are never really large at all when the storms dissipate. I choose creativity for my passions in art & writing music. I LOVE consuming & I will probably consume until the day of my death when I\'m way down the road in my years. #ichoosetoconsume
Wikileaf fan
3:58, November 25, 2016
I consume to spark my creativity and relax with my friends and loved ones.
Wikileaf fan
7:37, November 24, 2016
I choose to consume to help me relax and not be anxious, and to focus my creativity.
Wikileaf fan
2:41, November 23, 2016
I choose to consume for the creativity, and open mindedness.
Wikileaf fan
6:23, November 22, 2016
I choose to treat my health without chemicals. I choose the possibility of happiness over unrelenting anxiety and depression. I choose positivity and creativity.
Wikileaf fan
7:37, November 18, 2016
#Ichoosetoconsume because it helps me focus and process my thoughts while in college (psychology major). #Ichoosetosmoke because it connects me to nature, my creative abilities, mars , brings laughter into my day, calms my ptsd symptoms, helps me sleep and eat...pretty much does everything an antidepressant does..without the side effect
Wikileaf fan
11:52, November 17, 2016
I choose creativity!
Wikileaf fan
11:32, November 16, 2016
Why I consume:
to relax my mind and busy thoughts
to bring out the colors in everything
for creativityto draw the adventures of my robots
to laugh at everything
to eat anything in site
Wikileaf fan
2:42, November 16, 2016
I choose happiness
I choose creativity
I choose life
Wikileaf fan
8:33, November 15, 2016
I choose to relax, be calm, & in control. I choose to be able to sleep at night. I choose creativity. I choose to not be anxiety ridden. I choose to not poison my body with government approved drugs. I choose to be happy!
Wikileaf fan
5:16, November 14, 2016
I\\\\\\\'m an army veteran. I smoke it because I prefer it over alcohol, pills and all other drugs. It\\\\\\\'s good for the pain I always have to deal with. It also helps keep me positively creativity influenced.
Wikileaf fan
10:49, November 13, 2016
I choose to consume due to debilitating joint pain and the horrendous die effects opiates have on my mental and physical health. Also, cannabis aides me in my creative writing and overall great state of mind.
Wikileaf fan
3:19, November 13, 2016
I prefer to inhale with my desktop vape every day to relax and for creative work (paintings such as the one in this pic)
Wikileaf fan
11:19, November 12, 2016
I choose to consume for my stomach pains, head pains, and my creative soul.
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