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Cannabis and Creativity: Does medicinal cannabis help or hurt creative thinking?

by | Jul 15, 2021

What if there was a way to unlock and access the magic of your inner creativity?

It’s the question at the centre of countless self-help books, university courses, and science-fiction movies.

Because increased creativity is good, right? It’s strongly linked to success, progress, and happiness.

It’s the driving force behind many of humanity’s greatest inventions and achievements – from Thomas Edison’s light bulb to The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

It’s the source of all of history’s best art, music, literature, and cinema.

And it’s helping to find solutions to humanity’s most challenging problems around climate change, inequality, food production, healthcare, and technology.

But for most of us, creativity simply contributes to an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

It enables us to express ourselves, overcome problems, explore our curiosities and do meaningful work.

Which brings us back to the question: How do we get more of it?

Throughout history, people have experimented with all sorts of substances and techniques to access their inner creativity.

More recently, researchers have been looking at the potential of cannabis to facilitate creative thinking and expression.

While the science on this topic is new, it suggests that cannabis can influence creativity — usually for the better.

 

Will medicinal cannabis affect my creativity?

Cannabis and Creativity

This guide is written for anyone who’s using or thinking of using medicinal cannabis prescribed by a doctor.

Therefore, it’s not promoting cannabis as a creativity enhancer or nootropic in and of itself.

The purpose of this article is to explore how using medicinal cannabis may affect creativity as a treatment side effect.

This is an important consideration if creativity is central to your quality of life.

Whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, entrepreneur, engineer, builder, or something else, you probably rely on creativity at work.

It’s also likely that you have hobbies and interests that utilise creativity.

Given some of the stereotypes around cannabis users being lazy, unmotivated “couch potatoes” you may have concerns about medicinal cannabis inhibiting your creativity.

As you’ll learn in this article, it’s unlikely medicinal cannabis will blunt creativity.

In some cases, it may actually augment it.

If maintaining your creative edge is important to you, make sure to talk to your doctor about this when you’re getting a prescription.

 

Medical cannabis and creativity: What does science say?

Cannabis and Creativity

Scientists don’t entirely understand what creativity is or where it comes from.

It’s defined as the tendency to generate or recognise ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating and entertaining.

Creativity is like a piece of software in a brain that’s responsible for imagination, ideation and creation.

Research into cannabis and creativity has found that cannabis can increase divergent thinking, business ideation and originality.

But at higher doses, cannabis may inhibit creativity.

 

Cannabis and entrepreneurial creativity

One of history’s most successful entrepreneurs, Apple founder Steve Jobs, reportedly said cannabis made him feel “relaxed and creative”.

So is it possible that we wouldn’t have the iPhone without cannabis?

That’s probably a stretch. But a study, published in March 2021 looked at how cannabis affects entrepreneurial creativity.

It compared cannabis users’ ability to come up with creative new business ideas compared with non-users.

The 254 entrepreneurs who participated in the study completed a new venture ideation task, generating as many ideas for a new business as possible based on virtual reality technology.

They also answered questions about the extent of their business experience, passion for entrepreneurship and cannabis use.

A panel of experts then rated the originality and feasibility of the idea each entrepreneur identified as their best.

The study found that cannabis users generate new venture ideas that are more original, but less feasible.

However, the originality was also attributed to higher levels of business experience and passion for entrepreneurship.

The study is limited and the results are inconclusive, but they suggest that cannabis may enhance creative/original thinking in entrepreneurs.

 

Cannabis enhances divergent thinking

Divergent thinking (or lateral thinking) is the process of coming up with multiple creative ideas for solving a given problem.

It’s a common measure of creativity.

A study published in 2012 examined the effects of cannabis use on states of schizotypy and creativity.

Schizotypy refers to traits such as unusual and disorganized patterns of thinking, together with interpersonal difficulties, that may raise vulnerability to schizophrenia.

The study compared 160 cannabis users who were tested as having either high or low levels of creativity.

On day one, participants smoked their own cannabis before completing three tests designed to assess their psychomimetic symptoms, verbal fluency, and convergent and divergent thinking.

A week later, they completed the same tests (and a few additional ones) while sober, having not used cannabis for at least 24 hours.

The main finding of this study was that divergent thinking, as measured by the verbal fluency task, was enhanced acutely by cannabis in participants who were low in trait creativity.

Their performance after smoking cannabis improved to the same level as the high creativity group.

“The increase in verbal fluency for those low in trait creativity on the intoxicated day supports the notion that cannabis can enhance aspects of creativity,” the authors said.

 

High-dose cannabis impairs divergent thinking

A similar study from 2015 found that highly potent cannabis had a negative influence on creativity.

The 59 participants were regular cannabis users. For the study, they were randomly assigned either low dose THC, high dose THC or placebo.

They then completed several creativity tasks to measure fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.

The study found that the low dose THC and placebo groups produced similar results, although the low dose group had higher originality.

The most interesting finding was that the group that used high dose THC had impaired creativity across all measures except for elaboration (see graph below).

THC is the most well-known psychoactive compound in cannabis. Taking high dose THC can result in feeling “high” or “stoned”, which may have contributed to the creativity dip.

Cannabis and Creativity

These findings suggest that medicines with low levels of THC shouldn’t hurt creativity. But it may be best to avoid products with high levels of THC.

 

Stress, anxiety and creativity

The current research into cannabis and creativity hasn’t considered the effect of stress and anxiety on creative thinking.

While a lot of the best art seems to come from pain and heartbreak, the scientific consensus is that stress and anxiety kill creativity.

There’s strong evidence that suggests cannabis, particularly CBD, can help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Therefore, cannabis may indirectly increase creativity by acting on serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.

 

Keeping your creativity intact

Many great artists, musicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs have allegedly used cannabis as a creative aid over the years.

But there’s currently a lack of scientific evidence to suggest cannabis is a creativity-enhancing drug.

It may increase originality and divergent thinking in some people, but it also has the potential to impair creativity.

If you’re thinking of using medicinal cannabis, the science suggests it’s unlikely to negatively affect your creativity.

Your mind should be able to operate at its creative best.

However, you should be wary of using high dose THC if you want to keep your creativity intact.

Using CBD for stress and anxiety may have the added benefit of restoring your natural creativity.

In summary, cannabis has the potential to both help and hurt creativity, but in most cases, it seems to not have a strong effect either way.

As always, make sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have before getting a prescription.

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