Marijuana and the Creative Process

Sep 6, 2021
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If we look beyond scientific literature, research processes, and first-hand accounts, we’ll see that many artists claim to have experiences with the wonders of marijuana, particularly their key role in respective creative processes. The songwriter and singer Alanis Morisette shares that smoking pot was the best way to get that “clarity”, giving fresh perspectives as far as songwriting goes. Comedian George Carlin sees weed as “value-changing”, a kind of drug that opens up doors of perception. There’s also Steve Jobs, who once shared that smoking marijuana has helped make him feel creative and relaxed.  Alexa Gotthardt, a writer for a publication called Artsy, recalls a feature she made with artist Gina Beavers. Beavers shares that something that may be a key component to the ongoing debate about marijuana and creativity: getting high is good for the idea generation during the creative process, but not necessarily the execution part. 

How does the marijuana affect these creative individuals, you may ask? One shares that she experiences mild hallucinatory effects, and as she drifts off to sleep, she gathers creative ideas. At other times, after mulling over solutions to an issue she can’t quite figure out, smoking marijuana helps her think of more ideas – she gathers them up and evaluates each in the light of day. Considering the plethora of substances causing mind alteration readily available in the world, should there be an idea existing that marijuana plays a special role in creativity? Couldn’t alcohol bring forth the same magic? The answer is quite straightforward – possibly, as one hypothesis shows that they help silence the self-editor existing in ourselves, simply because drugs lower our inhibitions. When we create, we harshly criticize ourselves, which makes the creative process hard. Through drugs, and in this case marijuana, we are allowed to overcome the fear of creation.

A Nashville-based singer-wongwriter, Jason White, shares his experience with the marijuana plant and drinking bourbon: If he smokes and drinks, the noise in his head calms down. This, in turn, helps him express what he’s feeling “in his heart”. His biggest success in songwriting was influenced by marijuana, despite being more of a heavy drinker. In just over forty minutes after smoking pot, he wrote a song called Red Ragtop, a huge hit song for Tim McGraw.

However, it’s integral to point out that there’s no universal definition of creativity, at least one that is agreed-upon. This makes studies hard to effectively measure it with regards to marijuana, despite all the testaments from artists around the world. Rather than defining creativity as merely a product of a personality type or creative activities, Leiden University conducted a study in 2015 on participants in Netherlands. Here, they tested each on the two classic creative processes: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Here, divergent thinking is defined as the process by which you come up with multiple solutions to a loosely defined problem, which is also known as brainstorming. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, allows you to look for the best solution to a well-defined problem. Both of these brain processes are integral to creative thinking – one helps you come up with plenty of ideas, the other aids you in choosing the best one. Now, upon the influence of marijuana, the study found out that a little bit of marijuana dose has increased both processes, but an otherwise high dosage has decreased both to below sober levels.

The University of College in London conducted another study, which focused on the difference in divergent thinking between two groups – the groups were defined as “high” in creativity or “low” in creativity, based on a scale of creative traits. In those groups are people who used marijuana regularly, but the researched also asked the other participants to smoke marijuana on their own before performing the cognitive thinking assessment. They were also tested sober. Here, the study found that smoking marijuana increased divergent thinking in the low creative group, but much less so compared to the high creativity group. Under the influence of the marijuana, the low creativity group was “as creative” as the high group. In layman terms, the study poses that if you’re not creative (or perhaps find yourself in a creative rut), marijuana can help. If you’re already creative, however, marijuana won’t be much of a help.

While the studies and testaments above suggests that marijuana does have a positive impact on the creative process, further research is needed to fully understand the extent of its effects.

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