Does Weed Make You More Creative?
Why do some of the world’s most creative geniuses credit their creativity to the world’s magical herb? Is it possible that weed actually makes you more creative? It is surely not just a coincidence that society’s best innovators, writers, singers and even entrepreneurs are using marijuana. They are onto something, right?
Actually, once we bring scientific research into this one, the jury is out. While many college students swear that their best thesis topics were born under the influence, scientists are saying that smoking weed can even have the opposite effect. Does marijuana actually give the creative edge or are scientists just coming along to be the fun police?
None of this means that Bob Marley wouldn’t have been Bob Marley without weed – although, of course, most of his poetic license is gifted by yours truly. Let’s take Steve Jobs, for example. He was a self proclaimed marijuana enthusiast, but it’s not to say that Apple is a direct result of marijuana use. At the very least, Steve Jobs said that weed made him relaxed enough to create.
We think there’s a connection – a very strong one – between marijuana and creativity. Our ancestral tendencies also suggest the same. But what is the science, what is the neuroscience, and is there any real evidence to say that marijuana is the spark for the creative flare?
If we want to understand the scientific approach to this issue, we have to understand how scientists define creativity. The key here is something called divergent thinking. This is the kind of mental process that helps you see something from more than one point of view. It’s what differentiates an artist from the person who is saying, “I never would have looked at it that way!” It is essentially what enables someone creative to look at one thing and see something else, and so the creative process begins.
Sometimes divergent thinking is referred to as schizotypal thinking, and a study was conducted in 2010 about the effects of cannabis on this kind of thinking. The study conducted by Morgan, Rothwell et al. consisted of thirty-six subjects. The “creative abilities”, or levels of divergent thinking did not differ between them. Their divergent thinking was tested before and after smoking.
The researchers of this study found that between being stoned and not stoned, the subjects displayed increased divergent or schizotypal thinking after smoking weed. Well, no stoner who is reading this right now is surprised by that result. Of course marijuana gives you the power to make instantaneous connections between Tyrion Lannister and the rate of growth of a cactus. This is exactly the kind of power of connection that the researchers of this study say occurs when someone smokes marijuana.
A British study was conducted in 2012 using the same principles of divergent thinking. Only this time they separated the subjects into two groups – those they defined as creative and those that were … lacking in that field. Some regular marijuana users were also included as subjects in this study – those who smoked at least 15 times a month. They used more or less the same techniques of measuring divergent thinking, both before using marijuana and after using.
The results of this study are a bit more interesting – especially because they’ve spiced things up by adding in the “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” bunch. These researchers found that the spike in divergent thinking was significant in the non-creative group, but nothing worth noticing in those that were already considered to be creative.
So where have we found ourselves? It might be that if you are already a self proclaimed artist, weed might not actually help you be more creative. It might make you more relaxed, which paves the way for creation. But it doesn’t actually add anything to the pot of gold in your brain. On the other hand, if you consider yourself tone deaf, smoking a joint or two might actually offer you a creative brain cell or two for writing that article about marijuana.
It’s all in the state of mind
Another study was conducted in 2015 by some Dutch researchers at Leiden University that adds some more spice to this topic. It’s more or less the same study as the British study, but this time they tested their subjects at different dosages of marijuana. The first test took place sober, the second test took place at 5.5 mg of THC and the third test took place at 22 mg of THC. Finally, everybody in this group was considered to be a regular user of marijuana.
The Dutch saw a very slight increase in the divergent thinking at the lower dose of THC, but at the higher dose, everything seemed to take a turn for the worse. In fact, things such as fluidity and focus seemed to get lost at the higher dose of THC, making the subjects less creative than when they were sober. Uh, oh – too much weed can make you a creative flop, according to the Dutch. Let’s also keep in mind that they were smoking Dutch weed – probably some of the strongest on the planet.
This is all very interesting because it shows how much the mindset is more important in creativity than skill. Firstly, all the subjects were regular users, meaning that there was nothing really “new” happening for them when they smoked weed. Creativity is kind of an altered state of mind, different to what we would consider normal. But for regular smokers, smoking weed is something pretty normal, where divergent thinking is happening more or less all the time. So why would adding weed to the alchemical equation make them more creative?
Secondly, when they smoked too much, it was found that they were less creative than when they were sober and on the lower dose. So too much weed is apparently a no-no when it comes to creativity. It seems that weed, according to this research, can make you more creative up to a certain point. After that, you’re only pushing your creative project uphill.
The most important thing for boosting creativity is the mindset. When the mind is in the right place, the muse can be found. And there are many factors at play here – do you smoke a lot of weed? Do you consider yourself creative? Did you hit the bong just one too many times? Science doesn’t give a very clear answer on exactly how this works, and it’s probably because everybody is coming to the table with a different disposition. Surely Steve Jobs and Bob Marley are onto something – but is that something for everybody? Not sure. Perhaps they weren’t very creative until they found the herb, and that’s why they testify so strongly!