Have you ever been inspired with a bout of novel creativity while high? Did these thoughts turn into tangible action during your high experience? These are essential questions to consider as we explore whether cannabis improves creativity or not. By the end of this article, you’ll discover some tips on how to maximize what cannabis has to offer and avoid potential pitfalls on the path to inspiration.
Creativity, Cannabis, and Human Evolution
Creativity can be expressed in unlimited ways to produce the entire spectrum of life all around us. Everything we humans have created and built started with some creativity – we certainly didn’t develop tools or learn to use fire without creativity.
We used this fire and our growing knowledge of agriculture to create our modern connection with the cannabis plant. Thank goodness we did! Whoever was creative enough to figure out what cannabis can do when smoked is worth thanking. Since we first expanded our minds with the psychoactive properties of cannabis, how has it impacted our creativity?
There are some who claim that cannabis was essential in our evolution. Humans took advantage of mutualistic coevolution to cover the globe. For example, think of dogs and agriculture. These pets and plants evolved into their modern forms alongside human evolution. Wolfs became guard-dogs (and our best friends) while plants evolved to taste even better to us humans. In return, we took these dogs and plants with us all over the world. This is co-evolution (Burns, 2020).
Modern cannabis has co-evolved with us humans. We spread cannabis seeds all over the world and bred strains to better meet our needs. While the modern cannabis plant is a result of this evolution, did we also evolve as a result? Many experts out there feel that cannabis and humans did co-evolve and mutually beneficial ways (Burns, 2020).
What benefit did cannabis provide to us? Creativity is one answer to this big question. Getting us to think in exciting and novel ways. Religion was interpreted and expressed through people who were high. Some go as far as to say that this new way of thinking was essential in our development into modern humans with big and powerful brains capable of critical thinking. It is similar to how more nutrient-dense and cooked foods helped our brains grow into their current size (Burns, 2020).
With this history in mind, what about our current connection with cannabis? Can it be used to inspire new works of art? Let’s see what the research has to say and what limitations underlie these studies.
The State of the Evidence: Creativity and Cannabis
Research on cannabis improving creativity has been inconclusive so far, even finding opposing results. Sadly, there are far too few studies on this fascinating topic. Moreover, there are too few studies that use methods that capture the real-world experiences of cannabis consumers.
Creativity is not a simple topic to study. We’ll explore some studies that get participants high and then use tasks to assess creativity. But first, let’s see what these participants think more generally while sober. This study by LaFrance and Cuttler (2017) found that sober cannabis consumers self-reported enhanced creativity. This self-reported boost was supported by the evidence they found. These sober cannabis consumers were found to demonstrate improved convergent thinking (LaFrance & Cuttler, 2017).
You can think of convergent thinking as deducing solutions to problems or using logical reasoning to perform a task. Convergent thinking is contrasted by divergent thinking, which will come up later in this article.
Another study found an increase in what they called ‘rare-creative’ responses. Think of these as more special epiphanies or inspirational moments. While high, you may gain some new insight or create an idea you may not have otherwise. The idea may be unique, but often it takes a sober second look. Other studies have demonstrated a certain lack of feasibility of ideas produced while high. Keep this in mind, your big high insight may be very creative, but that doesn’t guarantee that it is practical or realistic (Jones, Blagrove & Parrott, 2014).
Yet another study found results that present an interesting limitation that is worth considering. They concluded that cannabis could boost creativity for those who are low on it. But, people who were generally highly creative did not experience a boost using cannabis. They suggested a ceiling effect with cannabis as it relates to creativity (Minor, 2014).
With this in mind, let’s now consider the limitations of this research. What is creativity? How do you measure or assess whether it is enhanced or reduced? These are difficult questions to answer, and the studies we explore today use certain tests or tasks to assess creativity in objective ways. Whether these tasks reflect reality is worth considering.
The Contrast Between Research and Real Life
One study performed by Kowal and colleagues (2014) concluded that low potency cannabis has no effect on creativity. Furthermore, they found that high potency cannabis impaired divergent thinking.
But, let’s look a little bit more closely. What is divergent thinking, and how did they assess this? The first point worth noting is considering the research setting itself. How creative would you feel while getting high and being tested while having people watching you? While this may be a subjective point, most cannabis consumers and patients know what we mean.
Kowal and his team measured what is coined divergent thinking. In other words, how well we can generate ideas beyond the standard expectations and basic memorization. Divergent thinking was assessed in this study using an ‘Alternative Uses Task.’
What does this test involve? Pretend I give you a piece of paper with a common household item printed on it. The alternative uses task would require you to describe as many uses of that item as you can imagine in one minute. So, it could involve you considering how else a screwdriver could be used (it could be a stirring stick!).
Feel free to try this out while high to get an idea of what it is like. After you finish it, ask yourself if you would do better or worse while being monitored by actual researchers in a laboratory.
How can You use Cannabis to inspire Creativity?
There are several ways you can support and enhance your creative abilities while high.
- You could go for a walk while high and let your mind wander. These inspirational walks are fantastic opportunities for letting our brains do the heavy lifting. Walking around helps stimulate blood flow and provides us space to think.
- Pay close attention to your environment. If you are going to get high, put your drawing notebook on the table with a drink all ready to go. Don’t fall prey to hours of binge-watching media. When we do, our brains are passive and do little creative thinking. Now, there is nothing wrong with good TV shows and movies, but we’re talking about creativity here.
- Instead, put on some good music and turn off your devices. Ensure your environment is ready to support the task at hand. This is one of the reasons why walking is so good for creative thinking.
- If you’re going for some creative activities like painting, writing, or drawing – make those tasks as easy to start as possible. Try to remove any barriers to starting your creative task once you get high because it can be easy to find excuses to get out of it.
- You may not be comfortable with performing these tasks while high at first. And that’s ok! You may find that certain activities are better left for sober thinking. On the other hand, you may find that other creative outlets are enhanced by cannabis in exciting ways. You may also come up with a good idea while high. The actual ‘doing’ can occur later when you’re less high.
Find out what works for you by trying it out. Keep the pressure low, and try to have fun with it. If you experience discomfort, try to push through it. Once you do, you may find certain creative activities that you love doing while high. It is in these situations where cannabis can be a powerful creative stimulant. While your mindset and setting are significant, we cannot ignore the topic of dosage.
Dosage is Critical
One essential fact to consider is tolerance and dosing. You may find that a small dose helps you paint, while a large dose is better for creative walks. Everyone has different tolerance levels and reacts uniquely to being high. In general, a lower dose is more likely to stimulate your creative activity. Larger doses have been known to lead to ditching your creative task and instead watching some TV. Start low and go slow, using experimentation to determine your ideal creativity-enhancing dosage.
Well, there you have it. You now have a solid grasp of the current opinions around cannabis and creativity. While researchers are skeptical and results have been inconclusive, there are reasons to hope. More importantly, how to set yourself up for success will have an impact on what cannabis can inspire. Use the tips provided here today to give yourself the best chance for inspiration, for that burst of creativity that takes us beyond old ways of thinking and looking at things.
Whether cannabis is a reason why humans evolved toward having such enormous creativity abilities or not is less important than what you do today and tomorrow. Start low and go slow – creativity often just requires a little bit of weed.
Kowal, M., Hazekamp, A., Colzato, L. et al. Cannabis and creativity: Highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users. Psychopharmacology 232, 1123–1134 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3749-1.
Burns, J. (2020). How cannabis coevolved with humanity, and could save it now. Forbes, Editors pick. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2020/05/21/how-cannabis-coevolved-with-humans-and-could-save-us-covid19-economy/
Jones, K., Blagrove, M., & Parrott, A. (2014). Cannabis and ecstasy/MDMA: Empirical measures of creativity in recreational users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 41, 4. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.2009.10399769.
LaFrance E. & Cuttler, C. (2017). Inspired by Mary Jane? Mechanisms underlying enhanced creativity in cannabis users. Consciousness and Cognition, 56, pp.68-76. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053810017303744.
Minor, K., Firmin, R., Bonfils, K. et al. (2014). Predicting creativity: The role of psychometric schizotypy and cannabis use in divergent thinking. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178114007410.