Some of our most celebrated creatives—artists, musicians, writers, and even scientists—swear by cannabis as a tool for driving creative breakthrough and inspiration.
Salvador Dali. Bob Marley. Shakespeare. Carl Sagan.
In one interview, megastar singer Lady Gaga revealed, “I smoke a lot of pot when I write music.”
These icons are far from exceptions. The prevalence of cannabis use in creative disciplines is widespread, to say the least. With the level of success these people have achieved, we cannot reasonably dismiss their claims of cannabis’ inspiring powers.
So what’s going on here? How can a plant increase such an abstract and high-level function like creativity?
What Is Creativity, Anyway?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back and think about what creativity really is. A generally accepted definition is the “ability to see or create novel connections between disparate ideas and categories.”
When it’s put in scientific language, the meaning can sometimes feel a little abstract, so to bring the feeling home, self-described performance philosopher Jason Silva describes it like this:
“Marijuana enhances our ability to marvel: In some mysterious and uncannily recurring way, marijuana can induce an almost ‘synesthetic ecstasy,’ whereby a loosening of the usually firm borders that separate our five senses allows for a broader, deeper, more profound, and often time-dilated “interpretation” and “internalization” of moment-to-moment experience.”
The Science of Creativity
The science of creativity is a pretty nebulous endeavor. It’s hard to truly pin down something so ephemeral and subjective, but that certainly doesn’t stop anyone from trying.
So how do you quantify creativity?
Studies investigating this field look at a number of different ways to measure it. Some look at “divergent thinking,” atypical answers to problems. Some look at the number of creative associations a person can create to different prompts, like “How many words can you name starting with the letter ‘p’?” or “How many plants can you name?”
Studies show that cannabis increases this number.
It’s a good start, but it’s still a challenge. Verbal measures are not the ultimate measure of creativity (unless you’re a rapper). There is plenty of creative thought independent of verbal skills but measuring it is a major challenge.
Cannabis and Creativity and the Brain
Amongst cannabis’ many biological effects are its ability to reduce what is called “latent inhibition,” mediated by a neurotransmitter called GABA.
We naturally filter out a lot of the sensory data coming at us all the time. It would be a little overwhelming otherwise. Cannabis reduces this filtering effect, shows us more of the world, so to speak, more connections, more patterns that we may have otherwise filtered out. It also increases cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex a brain region associated with pattern recognition, novelty seeking, and… yep, creativity.
How to Use Cannabis For Creativity
To be clear, cannabis isn’t just some all-access pass to unbridled creativity. It has its downside: tolerance.
The more you use cannabis, the less effective it becomes and the less creative you may be in life.
The best use of cannabis for creativity, like many things, is moderation. It can be rocket fuel for creative leaps and making new novel connections, but if you become dependent, it can rob you of your spark.
Use it wisely!