Creativity is not necessarily about artistic talent. You don’t have to paint or write music to be a creative person. Creativity is a mindset. Creativity is the ability to look at the ordinary and change it into the extraordinary. Some people are under the impression that creativity is inherent; some people are born with it, and some people just don’t have the capacity. However, this is not true. Anyone can create, whether from their past experiences or imagination. But is there any way to enhance creative thought in your brain? There is some research to suggest that cannabis may, in fact, make you more creative.
Since the 1970s, scientists have been studying the impact of marijuana on creative thinking, and much of the research supports the idea that consuming it encourages original thought. Recent studies report that about half of cannabis users believe that getting high enhances their creativity. However, two newer studies are shedding light on this subject, and it may be that the effect of cannabis on your creativity is dependent on several factors.
In 2012 and 2015 respectively, two studies came out that looked into cannabis’s effects on creativity while taking other factors into consideration, including frequency of marijuana use, the strength of the specific strain, as well as the baseline personality of each participant. The results of both these studies concluded that regular marijuana consumers did not benefit from increased creativity, but this was dependent on personality.
Creativity is difficult to measure because there is no one universally accepted definition. The 2015 study referenced above came from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and in order to measure creativity, they tracked two creative processes: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is when you find several solutions to one loosely-defined problem (essentially brainstorming), while convergent thinking is when you think of the best solution to a defined problem. These two processes are imperative to creativity: divergent thinking helps you produce new ideas, while convergent thinking helps you determine the best one.
Low Doses v. High Doses
It appears that the dose of cannabis impacts how much it increases creativity. It stands to reason that consuming marijuana would increase divergent thinking because it has been correlated with increased levels of dopamine which THC supplies. In contrast, convergent thinking has been associated with lower levels of dopamine, which would make it reasonable to assume that marijuana decreases convergent thinking.
In reality, the Leiden study found that cannabis use was correlated with increased divergent thinking, but only to a degree. A low dose (5.5 mg of 19% THC) provided an increase in divergent thinking (as exemplified by traits like flexibility, originality, and fluency), while the higher dose (22 mg THC) had the opposite effect. While a small amount of cannabis increased creative thinking, a high dose decreased it significantly below the control group.
It is noteworthy that this study focused on frequent cannabis users (more than four times a week over the last two years), who are known to have lower dopamine levels. This means that the impact on infrequent marijuana users could be very different. While these studies give a good idea about the long-term impact of marijuana, most research needs to be done on occasional marijuana users to fully understand.
The results of this study could indicate the cannabis actually hinders, not helps, creative thought. It is clear that dose has a large impact on its efficacy in enhancing creativity. However, small amounts of cannabis due seem effective to make people think more creatively, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this. For example, astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was a secret cannabis advocate, wrote that he found “that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for.” There are many scientists and artists alike who describe marijuana inspiring them. Based on the research and individual anecdotes, it seems that the key is using the right amount of cannabis. There also seems to be a relationship between how naturally creative you are as well.
In a different study from University College in London, researchers examined divergent thinking in two groups of regular marijuana users, one that was composed of people who scored high for creative traits and one that was composed of those who scored low. Participants smoked marijuana in their homes then performed cognitive thinking tests, high and sober. The study showed that smoking marijuana increased divergent thinking in the low creative group, but not as significantly in the high creativity group. This suggests that if you are a more creative person, marijuana will not enhance your creativity significantly, but you are not super creative (or are in a rut with your creativity), marijuana may help.
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