Over the past 60 years or so, marijuana has been associated with creativity. Writers, artists, comedians, and musicians have been known to use it regularly. Marijuana is especially associated with the counterculture of the 1960s and all the new art, ideas, and music that emerged from it. Many people feel like marijuana is essential to their creative process. This can be a major barrier to recovery from addiction. For most creative people, their creative work is the focus of their lives. Even if they don’t make a living by it, creative people have to create. It’s what makes life livable. Anyone who believes she has to sacrifice her art to stay sober is going to have a hard time staying sober. That’s even more true for creative professionals who have to come up with new ideas under pressure. The good news is that it appears increasingly likely that marijuana doesn’t make you more creative. In fact, it may do the opposite.
What the science says
Creativity is a difficult subject to study scientifically. The best scientific studies are quantifiable and controlled, while creativity is expansive and unpredictable. Nevertheless, some researchers have begun to try, and so far they’ve found that the feeling of being more creative while using marijuana is an illusion. Researchers studying creativity typically rely on two kinds of tests, one that measures divergent thinking and one that measures convergent thinking. A test of divergent thinking is typically done by asking the participant to think of as many uses as she can for an ordinary object, say, a toaster. The results are scored based on how original your answers are, how many you come up with, how different they are from each other, and how detailed your answers are. Convergent tests, on the other hand typically give the participant three words and ask them to find the word that connects them. For example, the researcher might say “cottage, swiss, and cake” and the participant would be expected to come up with “cheese.” There are other tests too, such as having someone draw a picture or write a poem, then having it scored, but those have other problems such as subjective tastes and discerning creativity from skill. One study set out to test the effect of marijuana on creativity by giving participants varying doses of THC, then administering tests of divergent and convergent thinking. Participants were either given a high dose of THC, a low dose, or a placebo that smelled like marijuana but had no psychoactive effect. They then administered the creativity tests and found that on the divergent thinking test, the placebo group performed the best in fluency, originality, and flexibility, while the group that received the high dose of THC did the worst. The low-dose THC group was somewhere in the middle, but did slightly better than the others in elaborating their ideas. The placebo group was clearly the most creative, but both the low and high-dose THC groups believed they were more creative.
Correlation is not causation
The belief that marijuana makes you more creative is down to two facts: People feel like they’re more creative when they use marijuana and many creative people use marijuana. From the latter, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that if professional artists, musicians, and writers, including many of the greats, use marijuana as part of their creative process, then marijuana must be good for creativity. However, the opposite could just as easily be true. Creative people may be more prone to using marijuana. Artists, musicians, and writers are often outsiders, who enjoy thinking independently and rejecting social norms. Therefore, it’s possible they are just less constrained by the stigma against using marijuana, and perhaps more curious about its effects. In fact, at least one study supports the idea that more creative people are more likely to use marijuana rather than marijuana making people more creative. The study examined marijuana users and non-users. Participants were given a personality test, measuring the Big Five personality traits, which include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They were then given the creativity tests measuring convergent and divergent thinking. The catch was that this time the tests were done without using marijuana. Both the using and non-using groups scored about the same on the divergent thinking test, but the using group scored significantly higher on the convergent thinking test. The researchers believe the reason for this is that the marijuana users scored higher on the personality trait, “openness to experience,” which includes qualities like preference for variety, imagination, sensitivity to to inner feelings, and intellectual curiosity. In short, these are people who are interested in art, music, ideas, and new experiences, including, perhaps, using marijuana. This lends credibility to the idea that marijuana is more or less incidental to the creative process. Although for the most part, marijuana may be incidental or even harmful to creativity, it may help some people in some situations. For example, if someone suffers from anxiety, it may be much harder to think creatively. The field of possibilities narrows the more anxious you get. Others may have unreasonably high standards, which causes them to procrastinate. For them, marijuana may help them get past that initial resistance. However, both these problems are better addressed in other ways. Anxiety and perfectionism can have a negative impact on every area of your life, not just in your creative pursuits. Resolving those issues with the help of a good therapist will improve both your art and your life.
If you or someone you love is struggling with marijuana addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.