Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/8/2018 – that’s before recreational cannabis was legal in Canada, so language and information in the article may be dated.
Dear Herb: I find that when I smoke weed, I feel a heightened sense of creativity and I can really let my music flow. I wonder why that is.
I don't know if it has been studied, or if creativity can be measured, but does weed increase creativity? I know that historically drugs and art have been intertwined, but is that a relationship of causation or correlation? Do I actually create better, or am I just stoned and think that I do?
— Maestro (or just munchie bro?)
Dear Maestro: Thanks for writing in. You're correct that psychoactive substances, including cannabis, have long been associated with creativity and art.
You're also right about how tough it is to objectively measure creativity, which makes this a tricky question to answer. That hasn't stopped researchers from trying, though, and their findings have often been contradictory.
For example, one relatively recent Dutch study split its participants into three groups, then dosed them with either a high amount of THC, a low amount, or none at all for the unlucky placebo group. Then they ran the participants through two standardized creativity tasks designed to measure divergent thinking, a psychological conception of one's ability to conjure up multiple solutions to a given problem.
That study found that a high dose of THC reduced performance on the divergent thinking tests, compared to users who received a low dose.Advertisement
On the other hand, another recent study with a more qualitative approach interviewed 72 Hungarian artists about how cannabis and/or alcohol figured into their creative processes. A number of the cannabis-using artists said they used cannabis to gain inspiration, then turned that inspiration into reality while sober.
"Thoughts come earlier, the thinking process is faster but implementation is slower," reported one cannabis-using artist in that study.
On the other hand, other artists in that study reported that cannabis use might cause a loss of motivation or/and inspiration. The authors concluded artists "might use psychoactive substances in order to balance their creative activity and emotional states," instead of simply for creative inspiration.
Yet another study concluded "the link between cannabis and creativity is largely a spurious correlation driven by differences in personality (i.e., openness to experience) that are related to both cannabis use and augmented creativity." In other words, the authors believe the same personality traits linked with cannabis use could explain why cannabis users tend to report enhanced creativity, even when they're sober.
I could keep highlighting scientific studies on this topic, but there's a lot of them — and like I said earlier, their findings don't all align in one direction or the other. Personally, I suspect the creativity-enhancing nature of cannabis depends on a variety of factors: the individual user's unique psychology and level of experience with cannabis, the type and dose of cannabis being used, and whatever other cosmic vibrations shape the human creative process.
At the end of the day, Maestro, you're the best person to gauge whether or not cannabis truly serves as artistic inspiration for you.
Maybe you could devise your own personal experiment: during your next series of studio sessions, you could try using a predetermined amount of cannabis for some of them and remain sober for others. Log your experiences, record your output, and listen back later to see how your compositions sound.
Maybe you'll notice some patterns to help you figure out whether cannabis is truly helping you innovate, or whether you're just feeling groovy.
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