Does Weed Make You More Creative?

Weed is often thought of as a 'relaxing' drug. Although it's a great way to unwind, can it also be used to stimulate creativity?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Think of a classic 'stoner'. You probably have a pretty clear image, and it's most likely been influenced and shaped by popular media depictions. Characters such as Cheech and Chong and 'The Dude' and films like Pineapple Express have often portrayed stoners as deadbeats who struggle to get off of their couch and out of their comfiest pyjamas.

While the stuck-to-the-couch vibe isn't unrealistic, it certainly doesn't cover the spectrum of cannabis effects or experiences. 

Many people find themselves feeling more creative when they're high. Some musicians, such as Bob Marley, have become synonymous with smoking weed. Marley was a great advocate of using weed. He supported its meditational, spiritual and healing abilities, and he was strongly against political powers who attempted to use marijuana as a vehicle for oppression. Marley's daughter Cedella once said that "every time he smoked, he was inspired and an open mind was the open door for his creative inspiration. He thought the herb was actually a gift." Marley is now the face of and inspiration behind cannabis company Marley Natural.

Stephen King is one of the finest (and most prolific) horror authors of our time, and he was known to be a user of Mary Jane in his down time. He even argued for legalisation in his home state of Maine back in the 80s!

Like many things, people have different experiences when high. Strain choice, dosage level, environment – these factors can all influence the drug's effect on your system. But does smoking weed make you more creative?

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Lowering inhibitions

One of the keys ways drugs can make you feel more creative is by lowering your inhibitions. Without the anxiety surrounding doing something different and looking silly, your mind is open to more explanations and more connections between elements, and you are more likely to take risks in your work.

A 2010 study showed that cannabis can increase hyper-priming – the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Marijuana is also known to increase the brain's release of dopamine, providing a euphoric, relaxed state. Smoking weed can also blur the lines of your key senses – allowing you to feel music more physically, or see colours in visual art more deeply. This can also work in reverse – allowing a creation of art which explores more than one sense.

For a musician, this might look like lyrics simply falling into place, or a bass line that falls from your fingers. If you're mixing a track, smoking weed and having another listen might allow you to hear instruments differently and provide a new perspective.

A visual artist may have a pull to experiment with a new colour combination, or a medium they haven't used before. Perhaps a new combination of light, material and colour comes forward in a drug-affected state.

Dr Alain Dagher is a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and acknowledges the link between drugs and creativity. "There's a long history of people using drugs for creativity. The most obvious example of the way a drug can help creativity is that most of us are, for the most part, inhibited in many ways." 

A prerequisite to exist in modern society is to function the way you're expected. This behaviour is taught through families, school and work, and is the inhibiting cage which stifles creation. "Many drugs, especially in small doses, can relieve that inhibition. Low doses of certain drugs like alcohol can cause just enough disinhibition that you can become, in a way, more creative."

There is, of course, a chance that a weed-influenced creative session could feel fantastic at the time, and might seem ridiculous when addressing it sober. Using cannabis as a creative tool may increase your Dunning-Kruger effect, meaning you may be far more confident in your skills that you should be.

Creativity and insanity

Although formal research studying the links between weed and creativity is limited, a 2011 study found that cannabis produces psychotomimetic symptoms in the user. Psychotomimetic symptoms are effects brought on by drugs which are similar to symptoms in psychosis. These include hallucinations, disturbances of thought and mood shifts. These effects disappear as the drug wears off, but psychotomimetic symptoms may allow the drug-affected person to link seemingly unrelated concepts.

This ability to forge new connections is considered primary to creative thinking. It's about unlearning the 'normal' way of thinking and being open to different connections between objects, and understanding things in a new, perhaps bizarre, way. 

Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, there are strong links between artistic people and mental illness. Researchers in Sweden found that bipolar disorder was over-represented among people in artistic and scientific occupations, and that "the likelihood of being an author doubles if you are a relative of someone with bipolar disease or schizophrenia."

In many ways, creative genius is not dissimilar to insanity. Selcuk Acar, from the International Center for Studies of Creativity in Buffalo notes that "there is a continuum for every mental illness. You can have a little ADHD, a little depression, or be a little bipolar." These manageable levels of mental illness have strong connections with creative thinking.

Charles Dickens was said to hear voices, and he once wrote a letter to a friend suggesting he hallucinated visions: "When I sit down to my book, come beneficent power shows it all to me and tempts me to be interested, and I don't invent it – really do not – but see it, and write it down." Bible stories depend on people hearing divine voices, and modern-day leaders Martin Luther King Jr. often reported hearing the voice of Jesus.

Using weed and accessing psychotomimetic symptoms can be a way of opening your mind to a more creative way of thinking. That's not to say that if you will smoke once, you'll become a creative mastermind, but that you may find a shift in perspective, particularly if you are already a creative person in one way or another.

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What about other drugs?

While weed is starting to shake its bad rap as more and more U.S states legalise recreational usage, there are plenty of widely known illegal substances that have also been linked to creativity.

Perhaps the most iconic and dangerous of the lot is heroin. A number of years ago, Brit singer Damon Albarn caused a scene when he stated that his experience with heroin was "incredibly creative" and "very agreeable". This is a stark difference to the media's portrayal of heroin users, and seems far too positive a message about one of the most dangerous drugs of modern times. 

Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed and Jackson Pollock were all known users of heroin, and are all highly influential in their creative fields, but Dr Alain Dagher notes that "drugs – especially heroin – are pretty dangerous. And you would not recommend anyone take a drug like heroin in order to become an artist. Especially heroin, it's probably one of the worst. It's extremely dangerous. A single dose can kill you. And it's easy to overdose."

DIfferent drugs can have varying effects on the user, too. Visual artist Brian Pollett took 20 different drugs and created 20 art pieces to show how they each influenced his work.

In recent years, hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin have been trialled as possible treatments for PTSD and depression. In 2018, a London psilocybin microdosing study found that taking regular doses of the hallucinogen increased openness, cognitive flexibility, and creative thinking.

Cannabis use can help you open up to new ideas and create beautiful things. If you're willing to give creative cannabis a go, you may need to trial a few strains and a few environments before you hit a sweet spot. Perhaps microdosing will be the way to go, or using concentrates to dab. If you're new to consuming cannabis, check out the many different ways you can get high.

A huge part of creativity is the ability to take risks and try something new. Weed could be a great starting point for you to see the world around you in a different light, and can free up your inhibitions so you can enjoy creating something completely original.

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Laura Desmond
Laura Desmond

Laura Desmond is an Adelaide-based writer with a keen interest in the arts, gender politics and social change. She is currently working to obtain a Master in Writing through Swinburne University.

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