The topic of marijuana use and its effects (whether positive or negative) has and continues to engage heated debates between its proponents and those who oppose them.
Highly creative and talented individuals (Carl Sagan, Salvador Dali, William Shakespeare, or Maya Angelou) have used marijuana and some spoke of it as a miracle tool that helps them not only be more creative, but also remove long term creative blocks, and improve their creative work in general.
Denver, Colorado a place where marijuana is legal, brims with basic educational street banners and in the virtual world pot shops tout in their blogs the benefits of this plant supported by anecdotal evidence and sometimes research. Is that enough to make an informed decision?
Even though the idea of legalization across the US has become more popular there is still relatively little research or accurate information about the long term effects of marijuana on the human body and mind and even some of the back-processes involved.
So, how about creativity then? Were people like Steve Jobs or Bill Hicks,right in their claims and is there any real data to prove them? Could it be that a combination of how our emotions are impacted by marijuana and the often skewed perspective resulting from its use, is how creativity gets stimulated?
What we know
Research seems to be inconsistent in its findings. For instance a 2011 study done by Schafer and colleagues found that cannabis affects positively divergent thinking which is a component of creativity as well as areas within the frontal cortex. By increasing divergent thinking, people are more likely to stray away from the conventional and are able to make associations that have the potential to generate more novel ideas. Also, this study found higher levels of dopamine levels being released as a result of using marijuana.
Another study in Netherlands from 2014 has found that smoking marijuana to improve creativity is not only a myth but actually counterproductive to any creative activity. The researchers of this study found that in terms of creativity, it is only the smoker’s perception that changes (people feel like they are more creative after smoking); what we perceive is not always what is.
Another study done at John Hopkins University in collaboration with Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente, Mexico found that due to the fact that marijuana increases front lobe activity it may in effect also positively affect creativity.
Finally an older study (2001) found marijuana users to be less creative than a control group who did not consume it and that both of these groups were less creative than a third group who thought they were using marijuana but were in fact given a placebo.
Can marijuana boost your creativity?
We still don’t know. Some creative people swear by it and others just as creative and talented choose not to use it; research is inconsistent and scarce and as legalization starts spreading across the US you are ultimately the one to decide what works best for you or not (within the limits of the law of where you live).
How about you? What are your thoughts or experiences about marijuana and creativity? If you are willing to share your experience, comment below.
Schafer, G., Feilding, A., Morgan, C.J. A., Agathangelou, M., Freeman, T., & Curran, H. V. (2012). Investigating the interaction between schizotypy, divergent thinking and cannabis use. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 292-298.
Hazekamp A, Kowal M, Colzato L (2014). Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users. Psychopharmacology.
Maurice Bourassa & Pierre Vaugeois (2001). Effects of Marijuana use on divergent thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 13, 3-4, 411-416.