Do you like to use cannabis before or while you make art, compose music, write or do crafts? Plenty of people believe that using cannabis unlocks a deeper level of creativity for artists, writers and musicians. In fact, according to one study published in Drug and Alcohol Review, as many as 50 percent of cannabis users self-report feeling more creative after using marijuana.
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But does cannabis really make you more creative or does it just make you think that you’re more creative? Maybe it is just that the people who prefer marijuana tend to also be more creative, implying that the relationship between cannabis and creativity is more one of correlation than causation? Various studies suggest that, while low doses of cannabis may enhance creativity, some of the creativity boost attributed to cannabis may instead be a reflection of the users’ core personality traits.
What is creativity?
When researchers look at how cannabis affects creativity, they’re primarily looking at how its use affects the two different kinds of creative thinking: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the same kind of process that is used during brainstorming; it involves coming up with many possible solutions to a problem or generating many new ideas. Divergent thinking peaks when dopamine levels are higher.
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, involves choosing the best solution or idea from a group. For example, when you take a multiple-choice test, you’re using convergent thinking to choose the best answer; when you finish a brainstorming session and settle on an idea to put into practice, you’re also using convergent thinking. Convergent thinking peaks when dopamine levels are lower. Because cannabis use boosts dopamine levels, users are more likely to experience increases in divergent thinking while under the influence.
Low doses of cannabis may boost creativity
So, does using cannabis boost either of these types of creative thinking? The question of whether cannabis can really make you more creative is perhaps second only to ‘how long does marijuana stay in your system‘ in cannabis-related Google searches. According to one study that was performed at Leiden University in the Netherlands and published in the journal Psychopharmacology, low doses of THC can boost divergent thinking.
Researchers assigned the participants of the study to one of three groups for the experiment: low-dose THC, high-dose THC and placebo. The participants were all regular users, defined as having used cannabis at least four times a week for the previous two years. The low-dose users were asked to take 5.5 mg of 19 percent THC during the experiment period, while the high-dose users were asked to consume 22 mg of 19 percent THC during the same period.
The results suggested that users in the low-dose group did experience some increased divergent thinking levels, including originality, fluency and flexibility. However, the high-dose users not only didn’t experience a creative benefit but actually experienced lower levels of divergent thinking than even the control group.
However, another study from University College London found that individuals who scored lower on creativity assessments when sober demonstrated much greater increases in creativity after cannabis use; in fact, the researchers found the cannabis served as a creativity equaliser, bringing those with naturally low creativity up to the same level as those who score well on creativity assessments when sober.
So, if you’re someone who’s not normally very creative, or if you’re facing a creative block, using some cannabis may improve your creativity substantially, but if you’re already very creative, you’ll get much less of a boost.
Creative people may be more likely to use cannabis
That being said, perhaps all these great artists, musicians, writers, scientists and thinkers use cannabis don’t use cannabis because it makes them more creative — perhaps creative people are just more drawn to cannabis. A Washington State University study involving 412 cannabis users and 309 non-users found that cannabis users identified themselves as being more creative, although they notably did not have significantly more recognised creative achievements under their belts when compared to non-users.
Researchers used a battery of psychological tests to determine whether cannabis users were more creative than non-users, and whether that difference could be attributed to the cannabis use itself. The study found that cannabis users had better convergent thinking, or problem-solving, skills than non-users, although it’s important to note that the participants weren’t high when they were assessed.
However, the study author Emily LaFrance believes that it’s not cannabis use itself that makes cannabis users more creative but that the same personality traits that lead them to use cannabis also contribute to higher levels of creativity. Specifically, LaFrance believes that most cannabis users’ openness to new experiences and extroversion contributes to their heightened creativity when compared to non-cannabis users.
So, if you’re looking for a way to unlock your creative potential, using a little marijuana certainly can’t hurt, especially if you’re not usually very creative or if you’re struggling with a creative block. But, while cannabis may inspire many creatives, it’s certainly not the only path to originality — and it might be a better tool for brainstorming than for polishing a finished piece.