Carl Sagan. Frida Kahlo. Bob Marley. Pretty much every hip-hop artist ever. Maybe they’re born with it? Maybe they’re just really high.
It’s no secret that some of the most influential artists and brightest thinkers of our time have cited cannabis as a major creative influence. From Silicon Valley to art hubs around the world, cannabis has famously induced out-of-the-box thinking that’s led to many of the technological advancements that make our lives more streamlined and art that makes our lives more exquisite. Kahlo and Diego Rivera are just two of countless artists who painted their canvases with the help of cannabis and Steve Jobs and Sagan both praised the plant’s visionary prowess before they passed away.
Moreover, many cannabis consumers say that getting high elevates both their mood and their creativity — and it’s not just a herbin’ myth. Research is scant and inconclusive, but it’s beginning to catch up to what the wakers-and-bakers, starry-eyed stoners and midnight tokers have always known: Cannabis can make you more creative.
A 2017 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that sparking up some hippie happiness may lead to connecting seemingly unrelated concepts. It’s the sort of thing stoner movies make fun of, but this kind of “divergent thinking” — wherein the brain unleashes a torrent of original ideas — is actually an essential precursor to creativity. The study further suggests that cannabis may assist in breaking free of ordinary thoughts and associations, leading to the kind of ingenuity that generates novel ideas. But just how this works isn’t as straightforward as one might think.
There are two main factors that determine to what degree cannabis can affect creativity levels: the amount of cannabis consumed and how creative you are naturally. A 2012 study by researchers at the University of London suggests, perhaps counterintuitively, that if you’re already naturally creative, cannabis may not increase original output by much. But for those who are not normally very imaginative, it could boost creativity substantially. Cannabis may also lift the fog of writer’s block for anyone not feeling inspired, regardless of their natural inclination toward creative thinking.
Moderation also seems to be a key factor in enhancing creativity. Cannabis can be a magical muse that extracts inspiration from the farthest reaches of the mind, if consumed in small doses. On the other hand, taking more than a hit or two might catapult you beyond the brilliance directly to just being stoned, which can actually make you even less creative than when you’re sober. So, if you’re going for that “stable genius” glow, this is one case where you really don’t want to keep it lit.
And although most studies haven’t addressed this factor of specificity directly, strain choice likely also has an impact. For example, CBD does not produce the psychotomimetic symptoms (meaning symptoms that induce altered states of mind) that lead to creativity the way THC does. Uplifting strains can also induce “convergent thinking,” a skill that helps you connect disparate ideas, making strains with the terpene limonene a great choice for brainstorming and tackling challenging problems.
Intriguingly, it seems cannabis also has the curious trait of allowing you to create as your truest self. Because the plant tends to lower inhibitions, you can let your imagination run wild without interference from your inner critic. This might explain cannabis enthusiast Lady Gaga’s fantastical wardrobe choices. It also lends credence to the maxim that some cannabis creatives swear
Whether as a muse to inspire creativity or a catalyst to clear creative blocks, cannabis is the magic wand that artists and non-creatives alike could benefit from having in their stash box. But a certain measure of experimentation is required to find which strains and what doses make the inspiration flow. Start slowly, with a minimal hit of an uplifting strain, and then wait 30 minutes before taking another toke on your journey to find that creative sweet spot.
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Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE.