It has been the mantra of the artistic/tech class that marijuana helps the creative juices flow. From Paris in the 1920s to Silicon Valley in the 2000s, cannabis has had a special place. Stephen Jay Gould was a fan and Louis Armstrong called marijuana “an assistant and friend.”
It begs the questions, is there something special about the most popular illicit substance in the world that makes it more conducive to creativity? Well, now there is a study out that throws could water on this premise.
“Almost everyone thinks that cannabis makes them more creative. And it seems like that assumption is not supported by the data,” said Christopher Barnes, professor of organizational behavior at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and an author of a recent study.
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The researchers originally hypothesized cannabis indirectly increases creativity by making users feel more jovial. Cannabis tends to lift moods, which in turn could produce the change in mind-set fueling creativity.
At the conclusion, the study had third party creativity assessments who were unaware of who had consumed. They rated the responses on novelty and usefulness, but did not see a difference in creativity among both the users and non-users.
To test this idea, researchers designed a randomized controlled trial comparing the creative outputs of light cannabis users who had just imbibed vs. those who had not. The researchers did a second experiment showed similar results in a work-related creativity task.
Another take is from a 2017 study previously published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition came closer to that conclusion using cannabis smokers who creatively outperformed non-smokers over the course of two tests. The researchers used the Big 5 model of personality to primarily assess 979 undergraduate student participants. They then asked the group to rate their own levels of creativity and followed that up by objectively measuring creativity among the students one test for divergent thinking and a separate test for convergent thinking.
The results indicate that, while there was no significant difference between the two groups on the divergent thinking test, cannabis users outperformed non-users on the test that measured convergent thinking.
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According to the study, cannabis users may be more creative than non-users, but cannabis is not a creativity booster. The psychoactive compounds in the cannabis plant are stimulating and thus boost output of all kinds. Ultimately, the results suggest that marijuana use has no effect on creativity but on the perception of one’s own creativity.
A take away from these studies is cannabis users tend to have different personality traits — for instance, being more open to experience than non-users — something associated with both cannabis use, and heightened creativity.
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Many creative people claim cannabis plays a key role in their creative process, but whether it boosts creativity probably depends on the personality of the creative person. Your tolerance, amount and how you are going through the process will affect the outcomes. WIth the focus on AI and other tech, there is likely to be more research in order to create even more artistic and tech breakthroughs.