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The Cannabis and Creativity Connection

A moody painting of a man lighting a joint was made during a "Puff, Pass, Paint" class.
Art by Anita Toke

Joint Opinions

The Cannabis and Creativity Connection

It’s no secret that many of the world’s greatest thinkers, creators and artists throughout history have indulged in mind or mood-altering substances from time to time. It was in those precious moments of utter relaxation and unparalleled lucidity that many new ideas, visions and innovations bubbled up the surface of their consciousness.

Denver-based painter Heidi Keyes has personal experience with the creative benefits of smoking pot. As an artist and creative type, she’s been hip to the benefits of smoking for some time now.

“It’s not the source of my creativity,” she says when asked how smoking affects her art, “but it definitely helps.”

She’s been smoking since high school, but it wasn’t until recently that her personal interest took a turn that would help her out professionally in the blossoming cannabis industry in Colorado.

Keyes opened her business Puff, Pass & Paint at the beginning of 2014 after a light-hearted comment from one of her friends who suggested that she start her own operation similar to Canvas and Cocktails events.

“I thought it was a crazy idea!” she says. “I definitely talked to a lawyer first.”

After squaring away the legal aspects of the the business, Keyes was able to move forward with her operation. She began booking classes in January by referral at first. Friends and friends of friends were her first patrons, but as news spread by word of mouth, things began to take off and classes begin to fill up.

Classes usually take place in the evening and last for about two hours. Patrons are allowed to bring their own wine or beer but are, of course, heavily encouraged to bring some bud to smoke alone or share. Although Keyes cannot legally provide cannabis to patrons of her painting sessions, she can provide complimentary samples and often has a bowl packed for the attendees before they arrive.

“People are usually a little late,” she says, laughing, “but I’ve gotten used to that from this sort of crowd. I don’t mind.”

Once inside and settled, Keyes uses a reference painting to instruct the class on how to paint their own masterpiece, but they don’t have to follow her if they’re inspired otherwise. One time, a woman came with a picture of her cat to paint and was allowed to do her own thing. For Keyes, there’s no need to be rigid. She’s more interested in helping people enjoy themselves while expressing their creative side — and taking in the beautiful results.

“At the end of every single class, I walk around and am amazed. Every single time,” she says.

Casually enjoying a toke with friendly strangers and a cool art instructor are sure to allow for some interesting things to happen. Keyes tells an anecdote about a class session where someone mentioned Seinfeld quote that had the whole class laughing and trying to guess which episode it came from for nearly the entire session.

Another time, a woman in her late 20’s from Wisconsin brought her 80-year-old grandparents who hadn’t smoked in over 40 years. Keyes says the pair was jovial and laughed and talked with the other participants in the class who didn’t hesitate to include the couple in their conversations. Where else would you see grandmas and grandpas smoking with folks decades younger than them?

“I’m creating an atmosphere that is accepting of all types of people and their different types creativity,” Keyes says.

Textbook definitions of creativity mention key words like imagination and originality, characteristics that are the foundation of inspired inventiveness. Yet, there’s another aspect of creativity that marijuana has been shown to boost that may have a significant impact on how those revelations and sparks of insight come about.

Cannabis and creativity have both been explored by neuroscientists who successfully proven there is a positive link between the two. In a study conducted by the University of London, marijuana was shown to promote something call hyper-priming or semantic priming. This function of the brain uses the psychoactive ingredients of cannabis to help it connect seemingly unrelated topics to one another.

It’s similar to those moments in cartoons where a light bulb luminously appears over the head of a character the second their brilliant idea pops into their head. It’s the “a-ha” moment Oprah used to talk about — a moment in time where one experiences the type of clarity that actually allows for true thought, not just incessant brain chattering.

While in this mental space, artists of all stripes boost their ability to connect, conceptualize and create ideas that might help them improve their craft. Cannabis can even be helpful to people who aren’t artists, as well. Professionals in all fields could benefit from having access to a broader sense of thinking. Disrupting patternistic thinking leads to new innovations, genius deviations from the status quo and significant shifts in society and culture that many people could benefit from.

Until this news hits more people beyond the art galleries, music venues and poetry readings, artists and other creative types might have the upper hand when it comes tapping into their source of creativity. If nothing else, there’s someone in the world rooting for them.

“I think the kind of people who love to make art and smoke weed are the best people,” Keyes says.

Of course there are people who don’t agree with that sentiment. Recently, Keyes’ partnered up with the MaryJane Group to create an event at the Bud and Breakfast at The Adagio in Colorado where patrons could puff, paint and enjoy catered food and wine. Although it was scheduled and widely-publicized ahead of time, the Denver Police Department stepped in and requested that the event be cancelled due to failure to follow proper protocol.

Luckily, Keyes will still be able to to hold her classes — just not in public, for now.

Does cannabis boost your creativity? Tell us about it in the comments.

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