Creativity and cannabis have been interconnected for a long time. Musicians, artists, and writers have been using cannabis as a source of creativity for a long time. But does the connection between cannabis and creativity really exist? What is their relationship and is it possible to prove it? Cannabis has a reputation of being a portal to achieving higher creativity levels, and still today there are a large number of creatives using cannabis to achieve new ideas and inspirations. Cannabis can open our imagination and make us more creative. But what is behind all of it?
Creativity might seem like an intangible, amorphous property, however scientists can measure it objectively and in various ways. For example, they can count the number of solutions somebody thought of to solve a certain problem. Its an expression of their diverse thinking, which is often connected to creativity. However, it is important to emphasize the dangers of tweaking results to show what we want to show, with question formation and the use of statistics. If we wanted to show that cannabis does not increase our creativity levels, we could simply use a high THC cannabis (25 mg or more) in our experiments. At these levels individuals will almost certainly not be creative. They could be very sleepy and even paranoia can occur. Lower THC doses in combination with less creative individuals usually result in increase of creativity.
DIVERGENT THINKING AND CREATIVITY
Divergent thinking is commonly a scientific measure of creativity. It is a way of thinking, which explores man possible solutions and usually occurs in a spontaneous, free, non-linear manner. In other words, divergent thinking includes methods such as brainstorming, creative thinking, and free writing to achieve out of the box ideas.
In everyday life, divergent thinking is commonly used when stating multiple solutions to achieve innovative results. From how to reach the quarterly fiscal target, to improved inventory optimization and similar. Broadly speaking, we use divergent thinking whenever we want to open our mind in multiple directions and to new solutions, approaches.
After researching various literature, Schafer, and colleagues (2011) concluded that cannabis effects on creativity have not been studied deeply enough. Furthermore, they found out that mechanisms through which it stimulates activity are poorly understood. They concluded that cannabis has psycho-mimetic symptoms that could lead to connection of concepts which seem completely unconnected. This is a part of divergent thinking that is considered a primary part of creative thinking. Altered mental states caused by psychoactive substances can free us from traditional way of thinking. Moreover, we increase the probability of new ideas and associations generation.
CREATIVITY AND CANNABIS
Dr. Alice Flaherty, a neurology and psychiatry teacher at the Harvard Medical Faculty claims that connection between cannabis and creativity has not been researched enough. It starts with the basics such as how to define creativity and how to measure it. For example, was Steve Jobs more creative than Louis Armstrong? They were both recreational cannabis users.
How are creativity and cannabis connected on biological level? Cannabis increases the blood flow to the brain areas that are connected to creativity including:
- “Nucleus accumbens” connected to reward,
- Amygdala, involved in feelings of happiness and euphoria,
- Frontal lobe, involved in emotions regulation and executive action.
Cannabis can also stimulate blood flow to the parts connected to paranoia and other negative emotional states – highly connected to too high dosage.
Dopamine, Creativity and Cannabis
A 2010 study explored the relationship between dopamine and creativity. It concluded that too high or too low level of dopamine negatively affects divergent thinking. Mid-levels are optimal conditions. THC is known to stimulate the release of dopamine in the part of the brain responsible for creative activities. However, chronic cannabis use can lead to the opposite effect. You can read more about the connection between cannabis and dopamine on this link.
Researchers agree that divergent thinking or out of the box thinking is the trigger of creativity. 10 years ago, researchers at University Faculty London explored the effects of smoking cannabis on creativity. The results showed that cannabis can stimulate the ability of connecting unrelated concepts, which is a part of divergent thinking. Furthermore, they found out that cannabis stimulates dopamine release, which can consequently cause increase verbal flow abilities – in this case every individual had to state as much words as possible starting with a certain letter in 1 minute. This proved especially positive for individuals who thought they were less creative. It had less effect on already highly creative persons.
Pianist Alexa Silverman has similar experience when using cannabis. She claims that cannabis makes her not overthink her music and allows her to experiment with more interesting, advanced chords. Without cannabis she quickly becomes too focused on thinking about the rules of standard musical theory. It helps her achieve the right mindset and step out of the box.
There is a lot of literature on this topic, however the results are very mixed. A common consensus is that with cannabis use, less creative people become more creative and people who are already highly creative do not notice a lot of change creativity wise. There is some logic behind this. Less creative individuals are more prone to make large steps in creativity area when consuming cannabis, while highly creative people already made them. Positive effects of cannabis on creativity can only be proved short term, while we are under the effects of it. Currently, it is not possible to prove that long term cannabis use can increase our creativity, also when we are not under the effects of its use.
Chicken or Egg Problem
It is hard to determine if cannabis stimulates creativity or if creative individuals are just more likely to use cannabis. A 2017 study concluded that cannabis users report increases in creativity and also achieve better scores in creativity tests. The study also tested personality types. It used the popular metric Big 5 and found that cannabis users achieved better results in the category “openness to experience”. This metric expresses high creativity and imagination properties. The research concluded that although cannabis users achieve higher creativity levels, these effects might be an artefact of their increased openness to experience.
These results create a smaller chicken and egg problem. Does cannabis use improve our creativity or are creative individuals more inclined to using cannabis?
It is important to mention that it is very likely that we perceive ourselves as more creative while using cannabis, than an outside observer would. This can happen with many psychoactive substances. For example, due to alcohol many people think they are hilarious, while in reality they are embarrassing themselves.
Current state of our mind is very important as well as our surroundings while we are consuming cannabis (similar to most psychoactive substances). For example, a certain dose of cannabis increased our creativity levels very much yesterday, but not today as we are more stressed or anxious due to a certain event at work. It is very hard to understand what exactly is going on in a certain moment in a certain case.
Smaller Doses Help, Larger Doses Hinder
A 2014 study concluded that dosing is key for using cannabis to increase creativity levels. They found that in small doses (5.5 mg THC) cannabis improves two parts of divergent thinking: number of answers and flexibility or variations of answers.
The results proved to be much better from the point of originality and uniqueness of answers. When dosage was increased to 22 mg of THC, the results were worse in all categories (explanation or details of explanations were low – slightly better with the placebo group).
Less Creative Individuals
Another study (from 2012) divided participants in 2 groups. The first group included individuals evaluated as very creative and the second one individuals evaluated as less creative. Both groups were tested with and without THC affect (there were some differences in strains and chemical composition of cannabis with different users). Cannabis had very little effect on very creative individuals. With less creative individuals it showed an increase in creativity.
The study concludes that if you are less creative cannabis can help you with creativity. In case you are already very creative you might not see a change in results. However, some very creative artists claim that cannabis helps them relax their body, remove mental barriers, stress, and consequently they can use their natural potential at a higher level.
CANNABIS AND INCREASED FOCUS
In popular representation, cannabis is connected to creativity much more than it is to focus. However, there is a long tradition of using cannabis to increase focus, especially in long term physical activity (also commonly used in martial arts). For example, martial artists in Northern India consume “bhang”, a drink containing cannabis. It helps them increase long term focus during exhausting full day training. Many artists and thinkers used the positive effects of cannabis on creativity. Steve Jobs once said: “The best way I could describe the effect of the marijuana and hashish is that I t would make me relaxed and creative”.
Scientists focused much less on the effects of cannabis on focus. Many individuals report that lower cannabis dosages or eve CBD help them focus. One of the theories explains that cannabis or CBD use improves our focus as we mute distractions such as anxiety, stress, and chronic pain. Moreover, scientists have evidence that cannabis affects older and younger brain in different ways. Due to this, focus increasing effects can vary depending on our age.
People who are chronically exposed to stress will have a greater focus improvement compared to individuals who are not exposed to much stress. Chronic stress can often lead to chronic inflammation.
FIND OUT WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
As with other areas of cannabis research, there is a lot more work that has to be done in researching the connection between creativity and cannabis. Scientists do not have a very firm, clear conclusions on this very abstract topic. Cannabis can increase a person’s creativity, however only under certain conditions and with certain people. Even then the effects on creativity can vary from one moment to another. Cannabis can be a portal to creativity, which is not necessarily opened all the time.
If you are already creative and think that certain dosage of cannabis improves your creativity, then the scientific forecast of the result should not be too important to you. Do what you think works for you. If you are still exploring how creativity and cannabis can serve you, try different dosages, creative activities, strains, and surroundings. In this way you can find the real artist in you.