It seems like almost every famous musician, artist, or creative genius you've heard of smokes weed. There are countless of celebrities that swear on the plant's magical creative powers. Lady Gaga, Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs: the list goes on and on. With so many celebrity endorsements, pot might have the most star-studded endorsement campaign out of any product in the world.
Getting high and finding the inner meaning of the existence of life has become the modern stoner stereotype. Watching movies, listening to music, and viewing art are all better high because users feel like it taps into their "creative powers" (whatever that means). In order to discover if weed has any real effect on creativity, we have to define what creativity is in the first place.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is often defined as the ability of an individual to create innovative and practical ideas. It's the combination between innovation and practicality that makes creativity so important to our everyday lives. According to Mihaly Csikszemihalyi, one of the world's leading psychologists on the subject, "Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals."
Localizing creativity to biological processes is harder than it seems, though. Creativity is the result of many neurological processes that work together to create the what we know it to be.
What we do know is that a large part of creativity is centered in the brain, specifically in the frontal lobe. A 2011 study by UC Berkeley's Medical School found that individuals that were deemed as more creative had more frontal lobe activity. We know that the frontal lobe is responsible for creative drive and is the headquarters of divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a key player in the creativity puzzle: it allows for individuals to think in ways different from the norm or what's expected.
How Does Weed Effect Creativity?
All of marijuana's effects can be linked to cannabinoids, the chemical compounds responsible for the plant's crazy complicated effects. Marijuana's many cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout the brain, replacing the our usual neural connections. Cannabinoids have been found to have profound impact on our brains and the way we think, feel, and behave.
For starters, we know that cannabinoids increase brain activity in specific parts of the brain. One of those parts just so happens to be the frontal lobe. UC Berkley's 2011 study found that smoking marijuana increases the central blood flow (CBF) to the frontal lobe, where it peaks 30 minutes after smoking. This increase in CBF to the frontal lobe is the reason why marijuana users often experience feelings of epiphany or "Aha!" moments when high. These findings have lead many scientists to come to the conclusion that marijuana does indeed have a positive relationship with creative output.
Some scientists have looked outside the frontal lobe to explain weed's creative powers, too. A 2010 study by Morgan, Rothwell, et al showed that weed increased the brain's hyper-priming. Hyper-priming is another way of describing the brain's ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Smoking weed also increases the brains levels of dopamine, which relaxes most individuals can limit-self scrutiny in some. Additionally, marijuana blurs the lines between our five sense, making new ideas and connections all the more possible.
But Does it Really Help?
Like most things related to marijuana's effects on the brain, there isn't much consensus on the topic. Some research has actually been shown to disprove the claim that marijuana has a positive effect on creative thinking. A 2010 study by Bourassa & Vaugeois showed no positive correlation between weed and divergent thinking. Another study in 2014 in the Netherlands suggested that high doses of marijuana actually hinders creative performance. They found no correlation, let alone a positive one, between low dose use and creative output, too.
Marijuana's effects on the brain seem more complex by each passing day. Not only that but creativity is an amazingly complex concept and nearly impossible to localize. With all the conflicting findings, its hard to come to a conclusion on whether weed stimulates creativity or not.
What we do know is that weed has the endorsement of countless creative individuals. Whether it be good old Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, of Morgan Freeman, marijuana has support from creative thinkers around the world. I guess we just have to take their word on it.
Now read about why music sounds better when you're high!