Have you heard that cannabis may encourage creativity? Do you want to learn more about the research behind weed and creative work? If so, you have come to the right place; here is an overview of the effects of smoking cannabis on creativity.
The Many Benefits of Cannabis
There are many reasons people smoke marijuana, from medicinal purposes like pain relief to a desire to escape a stressful day or elevate one's mood. Weed can stimulate hunger in chemo patients and reduce intraocular eye pressure. A common perception of cannabis is also that it can excite an individual's creative drive. Here is what the research says about whether this assumption is true or not.
Cannabis and Creativity Research - Frontal Lobe Activity
Several studies have focused on what happens to the mind when a person is in a highly creative state. One thing neurological researchers have found is that the frontal lobe becomes more active while doing creative activities. The reason why frontal lobe activity leads to creative output is two-fold. Firstly, the deep stimulation near the nucleus accumbens links to a rise in creativity. The nucleus accumbens' output neurons reach out to front lobe's prefrontal cortex, which creates a connection between the two areas of the brain. Secondly, the front lobe is the base for creative, divergent thinking or thinking of multiple solutions to open-ended questions, also known as "thinking outside of the box". Given this information, cannabis may stimulate creativity because it escalates frontal lobe activity by raising the blood flow in the brain to this region.
Cerebral Blood Flow
Researchers have discovered that high human creative performance had more cerebral blood flow (CBF) in parts of the brain associated with the frontal lobe, which means higher activity in these regions. When smoking cannabis, the CBF, on average, reached its maximum effect after 30 minutes, as per Mathew and Wilson (1993).
Since then, researchers such as O'Leary et al. confirmed that weed increases normal CBF levels in areas of the frontal lobe. When putting this study alongside earlier research on frontal lobe activity, it becomes clear that there is a correlation between stimulating the creative drive and divergent thinking, both part of the creative process, with marijuana intake.
Neurotransmitters (Specifically Dopamine)
As well as altering CBF in the brain, marijuana also ups the levels of specific neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, when consumed. When using weed and feeling euphoric, for example, it is mainly because of the increased amount of dopamine being released in the brain. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive element of the cannabis plant, increases the firing rate of dopamine neurons in the brain, and some research has found dopamine release in the striatum increases when smoking marijuana.
Research has shown that dopamine has a pivotal role in encouraging creativity by lowering latent inhibition and encouraging novelty-seeking behaviors. Latent inhibition refers to ignoring stimuli not considered important at the moment, such as not paying attention to the fact your hands are on your desk as you read this article.
Dopamine enables a heightened perceptual experience because it invigorates a person's feelings about their surroundings. The reduction in inhibitory control in response to stimulation by THC has been proven by McDonald et al. (2003). In other words, cannabis consumption may increase impulsive behavior.
Dopamine also encourages creativity by increasing the desire within a person to seek out new ways to look at the world. As a result, the person experiences a heightened drive to be more creative. By stimulating novelty-seeking, dopamine helps a person to finish activities that they want to finish. Relationships between novelty-seeking and dopamine have been found in numerous studies, including research published in the 2008 Journal of Neuroscience and by Block et al. (1992).
In the Block et al. study, the research team found that fluency is increased with cannabis consumption. The amount of original responses given on a test of associative processes was higher in participants who smoked weed with 19mg THC levels than the placebo group.
To further reinforce this point, Dr. Kenneth Heilman in his book Creativity and the Brain explains that students who use weed are more likely to use novelty-seeking behavior and be more creative than students who do not use weed. However, while it is possible that cannabis stimulates creativity by increasing dopamine levels, further research is necessary to draw more conclusions to support the relationship.
Can Cannabis Hinder Creativity?
Given the cannabis and creativity research, it may appear that many creatives are right in smoking weed when pursuing artistic goals, such as Lady Gaga when she writes music. After all, she has won numerous Grammies for her songs. But, on the other hand, there are researchers who are adamant that creativity can be hampered by smoking marijuana, rather than helped by it. Some studies have shown that cannabis consumption can decrease creative performance. One example was a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology in March 2015.
In this particular study, the research team examined the effects of cannabis with low THC levels (5.5mg) and high doses (22mg) on participants. The findings suggested that the less potent weed does not affect creativity, while the higher does hamper divergent thinking, rather than helping it.
Furthermore, other studies have noted that cannabis can hurt the firing rate of neurons and hinder the release of neurotransmitters by closing the calcium channels that manage their release. Cannabinoids may also affect communication between nerve cells. If coordination between these nerve cells is key to the creative process, then marijuana may damage the creative process rather than help it.
Evaluating the Research
If you look strictly at the studies on creativity and cannabis, the research is not conclusive. Yes, there are researchers who put forth the notion that cannabis has a positive effect on creativity via its effects on the frontal lobe and dopamine. On the other side of the coin are the researchers who say there is no link between marijuana and the making of creative works.
But, even if you just look at the physiological level, it is clear that marijuana stimulates creativity, and the human mind craves the novelty that goes along with a creative mood. Thus, weed may not necessarily have the power to give birth to something new in the mind but instead to mentally stimulate and encourage what is already present.