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Marijuana and the Creative Process
Some marijuana users claim that consuming the substance improves their creativity. Popular figures, such as Steve Jobs and Alanis Morisette, are outspoken about their marijuana use and add to the claims of its positive effects on creativity. This anecdotal evidence, plus the correlation between substance use and abstract aesthetics, solidifies the belief that marijuana can boost creativity. However, scientific studies suggest the contrary. Various scientific studies show that marijuana does not directly affect the creative process. Taking into account the anecdotal evidence and scientific studies, marijuana’s relationship with creativity is not causal but an association.
Creativity is an abstract concept that makes it difficult to define and study. One definition suggests that creativity is the ability to create something new. This creation can be an object, concept, process, or solution (Kerr, 2021). From this definition, creativity is an action that provides unique results. The results may be something that has never existed or an idea that no one has ever thought of. This definition fits the fields of art where individuals create original pieces and attempt to provide a new perspective.
Another way to define creativity is through the individuals who possess it. There are many figures that the public perceive collectively as creatives. These individuals tend to possess autonomy, unconventionality of thought, and a combination of curiosity and problem-seeking (Kerr, 2021). There are other characteristics, however, these three are the most common among creative individuals. Autonomy, the unconventionality of thought, and the combination of curiosity and problem-seeking allow an individual to look at problems from a different perspective, leading to the creation of new ideas or solutions.
Additionally, these characteristics may also promote divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking and convergent thinking are essential in the creative process since they allow an individual to think of original thoughts and utilize analytic reasoning (Kerr, 2021; Kowal et al., 2015). The importance of divergent and convergent thinking in the creative process has made it a common factor that studies use to assess an individual’s creativity.
Scientific Studies on Marijuana and Creativity
As mentioned earlier, most scientific studies on marijuana and creativity show no relationship between the two. One study shows that low doses of marijuana do not affect creativity, however, high doses can adversely affect divergent thinking (Kowal et al., 2015). This indicates that marijuana use has either no effect or a detrimental one. Divergent thinking is integral in the generation of original thoughts and the process of brainstorming (Kowal et al., 2015). Impairment in this aspect will limit an individual’s ability to come up with new solutions or ideas, leading to poor creativity. From this, marijuana can negatively affect creativity and prevent an individual from producing desirable results.
While marijuana use may adversely affect divergent thinking, it may boost an individual’s convergent thinking. According to LaFrance & Cuttler (2017), sober marijuana users are more open to experiences, have superior convergent thinking ability than non-users, and are more likely to report that they have enhanced creativity. However, it is important to note that in this study, the participants were not under the influence of marijuana but are marijuana users. The study’s results only imply that marijuana use boosts the convergent thinking abilities of sober individuals. Being under the influence of the substance may have other effects which may neutralize the enhanced convergent thinking while sober.
A different study revealed that marijuana use causes visual impairment. Marijuana users can experience impaired contrast sensitivity, visual acuity, and nighttime-related visual parameters (Ortiz-Peregrina et al., 2021). Since visual functions are essential for many creative processes, visual impairment can negatively affect creativity. Artists may not perceive objects clearly, which can cause them to create mistakes. However, one can argue that the temporary visual impairment that marijuana causes can be a tool to create something new. Impaired visual functions may lead an artist to create odd and abstract pieces that fit the definition of creativity.
Lastly, some studies report that marijuana users tend to come from a similar demographic. Griffiths (2017) conducted a study review that suggested that individuals with higher creativity have higher rates of substance use. Since creative individuals have heightened curiosity and unconventionality of thoughts, they are likely to experiment with substances, such as marijuana. These individuals may report enhanced creativity since their work depends on the creative process. Alternatively; an individual from a different field, such as accounting, is unlikely to report a boost in creativity since they do not exercise it in their work. This suggests that the relationship between marijuana and creativity is related to a common demographic.
Anecdotal Evidence Regarding Marijuana and Creativity
While most scientific studies suggest that marijuana does not boost creativity, anecdotal evidence argues the contrary. Steve Jobs, one of Apple’s founders, claimed that marijuana helped him become more relaxed and creative (cited in Johnson, 2017). Since Steve Jobs is one of the most influential figures in the field of technology, one cannot simply disregard his claims. This is especially true regarding creativity and the creative process. Alanis Morisette, a famous singer-songwriter, claimed that marijuana allowed her to gain a new perspective when writing songs (cited in Johnson, 2017). Similar to Steve Jobs, Morisette’s claim is difficult to set aside because of her role in the music industry.
Aside from the anecdotal claims that marijuana boosts creativity, there is one that suggests a different perspective. Gina Beavers, a visual artist, stated that marijuana can help with the idea-generation process but not in the execution of art (cited in Johnson, 2017). The statement implies that marijuana use can help individuals get inspiration, especially from its effects on aesthetic visualization. An artist, especially one that specializes in visual arts, may benefit from the visual impairment and hallucinations from marijuana use. However, when working on the actual art piece, marijuana use may have no effect or be detrimental. The visual impairment and other negative effects of marijuana can be counterproductive.
There is a significant contrast in the conclusions of scientific studies and anecdotal evidence in regards to the relationship between marijuana and the creative process. Scientific studies argue that marijuana does not affect creativity while anecdotal evidence claims that the substance boosts creative thinking. However, since most marijuana users tend to be from the creative population, the relationship between marijuana and creativity is likely linked to demographic. Most anecdotal evidence comes from individuals in the art industry and some studies have also shown that marijuana use is higher in the creative population. This strongly suggests that the prevalence of marijuana use in the highly creative population created the notion that marijuana boosts creativity.
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Griffiths, M. (2017). Drug Use and Creativity. Psychology Today. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-excess/201702/drug-use-and-creativity . Accessed July 24, 2022.
Iszaj, F., Ehmann, B., Griffiths, M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2017). A Qualitative Study on the Effects of Psychoactive Substance Use Upon Artistic Creativity. Substance Use & Misuse, vol. 53(8). Available at https://doi.org/10.1080/10826084.2017.1404103. Accessed July 24, 2022.
Johnson, S. (2017). Does Smoking Weed Make People Creative, or Do Creative People Smoke Weed? Big Think. Available at https://bigthink.com/health/does-smoking-weed-make-people-creative-or-do-creative-people-smoke-weed/. Accessed July 24, 2022.
Kerr, B. (2021). Creativity. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/creativity . Accessed July 24, 2022.
Kowal, M., Hazekamp, A., Colzato, L., van Steenbergen, H., van der Wee, N., Durieux, J., Manai, M. & Hommel, B. (2015). Cannabis and Creativity: Highly Potent Cannabis Impairs Divergent Thinking in Regular Cannabis Users. Psychopharmacology, vol. 232(6). Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3749-1. Accessed July 24, 2022.
LaFrance, E. & Cuttler, C. (2017). Inspired by Mary Jane? Mechanisms Underlying Enhanced Creativity in Cannabis Users. Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 56. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053810017303744. July 24, 2022.
Ortiz-Peregrina, S., Ortiz, C., Casares-López, M., Jiménez, J., & Anera, R. (2021). Effects of Cannabis on Visual Function and Self-Perceived Visual Quality. Scientific Reports, vol. 11(1655). Available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81070-5. Accessed July 24, 2022.