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Does Cannabis Help or Hinder Creativity?

November 26, 2014

For many of us, creativity and cannabis walk hand-in-hand. A nice, uplifting sativa may be all you need to clear the mental logjam of writer’s block or to bring a fresh pair of eyes to your art. Abstractly, marijuana seems to give rise to new avenues of thought and insight, and this phenomenon has been recognized by revered, brilliant minds like that of Carl Sagan and Steve Jobs.

However, a study published in Psychopharmacology will tell you that the creative burst you’re feeling is just an illusion. Allow us to explain.

Researchers in the Netherlands administered vaporized cannabis in three different amounts to 53 participants who were self-reported regular consumers. One group received a low dose of THC (5 mg), another was administered a higher dose (22 mg), and the last group was given a placebo. The subjects’ cognitive performances were then measured using two different exams: one that measured creative, divergent thinking while the other measured convergent thinking, or one’s ability to arrive at a single solution for a well-defined problem. Interestingly, there was little difference in scores among each group for the convergent thinking test.

The divergent test consisted of inventing various uses for common household items, supposedly demonstrating different cognitive skills associated with creativity. A point-based system was used to score three performance markers: fluency, or the number of responses provided; flexibility, or the variation in answers; originality, or the response’s uniqueness compared to those of other participants; and elaboration, or the amount of detail provided in explaining a response.

As shown by the chart below, larger doses of THC correlated with worse performance on this creative task, while researchers noted that small doses and placebo were comparable. Interestingly, there seems to be no mention of how subjects would perform had they been knowingly sober for the exam. Furthermore, how did each individual’s sober performance compare to his or her stoned performance? This chart shows average results for each category, but did individual variation skew the results?

While this study is thorough in its consideration of participants’ moods and anxiety levels, it seems to neglect a myriad of head-spinning complexities. The definition of creativity here is restricted to a single cognitive task which took place in an unnatural environment under unnatural conditions. But what if you were in the comfort of your home exercising creativity in the ways most conducive to enjoyment and emotional expression? What if you instead vaporized a stimulating sativa like Island Sweet Skunk, and how would that differ from a sleepy indica like Romulan? And how does tolerance, anxiety, and other aspects of brain chemistry affect our creative output under the influence of cannabis?

It seems this study raises more questions than it answers, but perhaps this framework will give rise to more refined explorations of cannabis and creativity. In the end, we have to wonder if creativity will ever be something we can measure empirically, or if it is indeed a personal matter rooted in a tangle of biopsychological nuances. For now, we’ll leave it up to you.

Chart retrieved from Springer.com

  • Joeys48

    I can’t get high and play the Saxophone. Music improvisation requires quick thinking and rapid decision making.
    The other night while high, I was struggling to find the tonal center and the relative notes. Sober, I have no problem doing this.

    • Gbop

      Well complete opposite for me i play trumpet and compose beats i dont know what you smoking but it must not be as good as gets. Or your not using the right strain or type for that matter try A Sativa not a indica but it realy depends on what your going what you are creating know if your improving freestyling dont go indica thats more mood mellowing a now if you making or playing mellowish tones relaxing go for a Indfic Hybrid you might not want delve right into a heavy Indica unless your endocannabnoid system is advanced like mine. Not if you want to go Hard get a lil abstract with your tones like the Great Trumpeter Miles Davis than go get you Sum Durban Poison on even GirlScout but really its all on you . Although Cannabis us so Vibrant and Variant these days choose wisely young Grasshopper. And take (Past ) Jimi Hendrix and (Presently Berner for example is very creative with the way he writes and formats his music also his whole team are avid cannabis enthusiats so its not a Hinder to Bern or Wiz for that matter and definitely wasn’t a Hindrance to G.O.A.T. Mr. James” Jimi “Hendrix

      • LanceJZ

        There is also the issue that pot affects people differently, as well as it matters what strain he smoked. He should try Harlequin or some other Cbd strain like that.
        I also played the trumpet.

        • Gbop

          Yes

    • Mike Stein

      This is the same for me. I play the drums like a dummy when Im high, Ive tried a few different strains recommended for creativity same results. Came to a conclusion smoking should just be used for eating or elsewhere blah, blah. Its a personal brain thing I think. Goes both ways.

    • T-rex

      its the opposite for me. My rapping skills are way more advanced when high than sober. ive recorded, asked feedback and confirmed it in every way possible. I can just feel the beat through me and get a rapid burst of creative ideas. It is also one of those times I dont find it hard freestyling (super hard for the sober me). Maybe you should switch your bud and see what works coz it plays a significant role.

  • Gbop

    But really you should be smoking CBd Strains for more Focus Folks try AcDc or the Popular Harlequin or Hurkle for nice Thc Cbd ratio that’s my fav Cbd strain although the first Cbd Strain that I knowingly tried was Remedy great strain as well.

    • LanceJZ

      Yes, Harlequin. That works great.

  • LanceJZ

    This study is flawed, there is no baseline. Not to mention they should have been using a Cbd strain as well. Not to mention that pot affects people differently too. It wont work for everyone the same, and only some will it work as expected. I use Harlequin when I get writers block. I write Sci Fi and I make video games.

  • moo m,oo

    back in 2000 I had some one hit sativa from CO. I would smoke one hit and all these horses would show up on the paper. All I had to do was trace them, but it was hard to catch just one. I haven’t had anything like that since, and I miss it. No clue what kind it was but the bud was HUGE! Whats the best sativa for art? Are there any pure sativa strains or are they all hybrids now? Ive tried blue Dream and got nothing, so is it just me?

    • KillerofApes

      You might have had some Durban Poison…some actual Durban Poison from South Africa. It’s one of the only known full sativas still in existence. I’ve heard the kind that is actually grown in South Africa is legendary.

  • KillerofApes

    For me it seems to be dependent on mood. If I’m really tired and sleepy, even the stronger sativas just tend to go with me and will sometimes aid me to sleep. And if I’m energetic and in a creative mood, then even indicas don’t make me drowsy, just more relaxed and creative.

  • jurassicbond

    This article certainly brings up some relatable points. When I’m home, I find myself at my most creative and that is also when I happen to smoke. Idealy my brain tells me that I will focus, but most of the time I end up staying awake but and not move. haha

  • Jimi Wu

    I’m fairly new at all of this, but it seems to me, the reporter nailed it when Bailey asked if it would work better in a comfy environment. Even when I’m not painting or drawing, I find myself creating odd little things around my room when I’m stoned. After sobriety kicks in, I analyze the things that Ive played around with, and decide whether or not to continue the project. generally I tend to forget some of the ideas, but as a rule I come around when I refocus and decide what is worthy of me.

  • Phil Bourgeois

    I find that when I smoke an indica dominant strain it relaxes me and removes the blocks of everyday life. I can listen to music and close my eyes and I can ‘understand’ what the songwriter/artist was trying to convey or what he/she was feeling when they wrote the song. As an amatuer musician I find that a sativa dominant blend lets me see connections between passages or chords or scales that I would not ordinarily see. Is this the herb…or is it that I become relaxed enough to not feel the worries and stresses of everyday life and the finer things come through more clearly? I don’t know. Even if it is an illusion….I enjoy music, one of my passions, much more deeply with weed use.

    Mind you…I am not a heavy user and even when I do partake I tend to use a moderate amount as too much just makes me want to sleep or vegetate.

  • Josh Bernard

    getting stoned and put under pressure… not a good environment for creativity to flourish.