Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll. There’s a reason this iconic trio goes together. It’s no secret that artists have been using drugs and other means to chase creativity and otherworldly experiences. As far back as 1400 BC, the Oracles of Delphi were getting high on naturally occurring methane gas and supposedly predicting the future.
While artists today don’t have to go to such extremes, many still drink or smoke to get the creative juices flowing. Turn-of-the-century writer, Ernest Hemingway was so partial to booze that there’s a daiquiri variation named after him, according to Liquor.com. Many creatives partook in pot before it started gaining recognition and, now that recreational use is legal in more states, it seems likely that many more are lighting up.
A recent study in the journal of Consciousness and Cognition examined how cannabis may lead to divergent thinking – the ability to link unrelated concepts and produce novel ideas. In the study, participants were sorted into two groups, a “high creative” and “low creative group,” then given three tests to measure creativity when they were high and when they were sober.
The results show that verbal fluency scores for the low creativity group increased when they were high but the high creative group did not show a similar score increase. The authors suggest that the high creative group may already have enhanced functioning of their temporal cortex, an area possibly not influenced by cannabis use. Basically, the group is already adept at verbal challenges and smoking pot didn’t show a noticeable improvement in their skills.
The authors suggest that getting high produces psychotomimetic symptoms which may help users breakdown conventional ways of thinking. Still, they caution that the mechanics of creativity are not well understood and need to be studied further.
But these small boosts in divergent or creative thinking may be all in your head. A 2014 study examining the effects of cannabis on creativity suggests that too much cannabis impairs creative thinking. And, for that matter, critical thinking in general (i.e, the times when you’re so baked you can’t remember how to use the microwave).
The study, published in the journal of Psychopharmacology, focused on measuring participants’ divergent and convergent thinking (the type of “conventional” thinking used on standardized multiple choice tests). The authors again note that there are no concrete ways to measure creativity but that divergent thinking seems to be the most appropriate skill to test. Participants were given either a 5.5mg does or a 22mg dose of THC of “vaporized cannabis,” presumably without CBD.
The authors concluded that “cannabis with low potency does not have any impact on creativity, while highly potent cannabis actually impairs divergent thinking.” The low-dose group did not score higher on divergent thinking assessments than the placebo group. And, the group who took the highest dose of cannabis scored lowest on all convergent and divergent tests.
Although the study details the participants’ test scores and compares them to a control group, who took no cannabis, the jump between 5.5mg and 22mg of THC seems a bit extreme. For example, most recreational cannabis edibles products hover around 10mg, a dosage which was not accounted for in the study. In addition, the way users get cannabis into their system (smoking, ingesting) and the amount of time between getting high and taking the tests, may have an effect on their assessment performance.
Creativity seems to be difficult to measure and highly individual and more research needs to be done on the mechanics of creativity and the effects of cannabis. As an article in Psychology Today suggests there may be a future where “all we would need to do is take a pill and become instantly creative, that day seems a long way off.