Have you ever wondered if your creative flare while stoned is just a coincidence? Well, you wouldn’t be the only one. There have been many artists across the ages who have sworn by marijuana’s ability to increase creativity. While there is some research on the affirmative side, there are Dutch researchers who observe a limit to this truth. Keep reading to learn more about cannabis and creativity.
Is it just a coincidence that so many musicians, artists and entrepreneurs have admitted to using cannabis? There are mountains of famous creative geniuses and bedroom artists that swear cannabis inspires their creative juices. How much truth is there to it?
Most of us who have had some experience with marijuana can even testify to having more creative thoughts, even if they don’t lead to the next masterpiece.
The suspicion that cannabis plays a role in the activity of the right side of the brain (which Carl Sagan talks about in great length in his book, Dragons of Eden) might not be without reason. And yes, the right side of the brain is the more creative side. Some scientific research suggests that although factors such as dose and strength play a part, it could be true.
For those whose substance exploration goes further than marijuana, it might not be such a farfetched idea that creativity increases after using. Ancient humans, such as the ancient Egyptians and native Americans, were fond of using psychedelics and making art.
But before marijuana enthusiasts get too excited about the potential, scientists say that doses too high might actually counteract creativity. So, it seems that there is perhaps a sweet spot where marijuana can inspire works of art. Let’s investigate.
The British study
Carl Sagan is one of many great thinkers who have reported elevated levels of thinking after using marijuana. For him, it wasn’t just about inspiration to create. Marijuana seemed to hold the power to take his mind outside of the places that it usually went, allowing space for new kinds of thoughts.
In Mr. X, Sagan’s marijuana chronicle, he says “I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for.”
And he isn’t alone in that revelation. There are many stoners out there who experience similar changes in thought processes. There is even a scientific study that suggests the same.
The University College in London attempted to measure the “schizotypy”, otherwise known as divergent thinking, between two groups of people. Divergent thinking is usually tested by assessing a person’s ability to come up with many solutions to a single problem. On the contrary, convergent thinking is tested by finding the best solution to one problem.
For the purpose of this study, researchers were looking for signs of heightened creativity. In this study, the two groups were distinguished by their creative qualities (a low creativity group vs a high creativity group). Regular marijuana users (those who used at least 15 times a month) were also tested as a part of this study.
Interestingly, the subjects considered to be regular users were sent home to smoke their own marijuana. They were not tested in labs, but rather were given assessment tasks to do at home, both when they were sober and stoned. The idea behind these three groups was to assess how marijuana affected the creativity of different kinds of people.
In the low creativity group, researchers found that divergent thinking increased profoundly after smoking marijuana. In fact, the low creativity group (after having smoked marijuana) were considered to be as creative as the highly creative bunch when they were sober. Unfortunately for the high creativity group, no such results were observed: There wasn’t a big change in divergent thinking for the already creative ones.
What does this tell us? Basically, if you’re already creative, it isn’t marijuana doing the magic. It’s you! But if you’re a bit creatively stunted, then cannabis could be the perfect tool for getting you inspired.
The leaders of this research didn’t observe marijuana making too much of a difference for those who already considered themselves artists. This is interesting, because it’s generally artists that are swearing by the creative potential of using cannabis.
The Dutch Study
While British researchers seem to think a little bit of marijuana could be good for the uncreative type, the Dutch have something different to say. The Dutch study, conducted in 2015 at Leiden University.
Both the divergent and convergent processes were tested in their subjects. The subjects of this study were limited to regular users of cannabis, the repercussions of which we’ll discuss a little bit later.
Now, it makes sense that the effects of THC might have the effect of starting all that neuron firing – the kind that paves the way for creative thinking. However, in the Dutch study it was found that it happens to a certain limit. After that, it starts to have to total opposite effect.
The two dosages that were tested were 5.5 mg of THC and 22 mg. The lower dose showed a slight increase in divergent thinking, while at 22 mg the creativity of the subjects dropped to lower than sober.
That means that after a certain point, cannabis might actually become detrimental to the creative flow. It was found that subjects lost traits such as originality and flexibility after the threshold.
So why is it important that all the subjects were frequenters of marijuana?
Well, it has been observed that regular marijuana users experience lower dopamine levels in general than non-smokers. And we know that dopamine levels in the brain have an effect on creativity. It is probable that this group of users is affected differently than those who don’t smoke weed so often.
Having said all of this, it’s possible that infrequent users might not have this “threshold”, for the mere fact that their dopamine levels are more stable. This perhaps explains the difference in results between the British study and the Dutch study. This difference could also have something to do with the difference in strength between British weed and Dutch weed!
The best strains for creativity
So maybe you want to get your hands on whatever it was the Beatles smoked before composing some of their best songs. Well, unfortunately we don’t really know. But we can recommend a couple of different strains to boost your creativity.
- AK-48: One hit is enough to get the creative juices flowing with the AK-48. It is uplifting, giving you the urge to create.
- Sour Diesel: This strain is almost 90% sativa, making it the kind of strain that fills you with energy and enthusiasm. A great strain before knuckling down on creative endeavours.
- Jack Herer: The effects of Jack Herer are long lasting, giving you long sessions of that inward concentration that is the birthplace of all creativity.
- Durban Poison: Durban Poison has very mild THC content, but is a pure sativa. It’s great for a kick of energy without being overpowering, and keeps you creative for the long haul!
A human tendency with psychedelics
All scientific research aside, humans have been using psychedelic substances as inspiration for art for a very long time. The ancient Egyptians were indulging in the Blue Water Lily and telling mythological stories on the walls of the pyramids. The American Indians are still taking peyote and making paintings and until this day, art is a hug part of shamanic tradition.
To get more with the times, we only need to think about the Beatles, who literally wrote a song about LSD (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds). In the psychedelic community, there is an enormous emphasis on creativity, whether it is music or visual artwork.
Let us call it something like a tendency that humans have when they use psychedelic substances – and marijuana is not an exception.
The anecdotal evidence suggests that humans quite like to use psychedelics and then get creative. And for all intents and purposes, this has also been extensively studied. The first study took place in the 60s, seeking to measure the problems solving skills of engineers under the effects of LSD.
There has always been a sneaking suspicion that we are better at certain things when we are high. And that might be why a lot of artists have a habit of smoking the herb, drinking, or enjoying a psilocybin trip from time to time. It’s possible that it’s the state of “feel good” that encourages the creative juices to flow, or perhaps it really does have something to do with brain chemistry!