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Can weed enhance creativity?


Cannabis flower wearing a white coat and black beret painting a colorful picture

It’s a truism of weed - getting high boosts your creativity and sets your mind free of the chores and adulting that get in the way of your art. Or, it makes you absolutely certain that you’ve just imagined the most brilliant idea for a TV show - only to realize the next morning that it was just the plotline of Sex and the City but with more diversity. 

Regardless, weed has long had a well-deserved status as a driver of artistic vision and vibrancy, and has helped countless people laugh, smile, and eat their way through all types of self-exploration and creativity. 

But why? What makes weed able to inspire flights of fancy, no matter how brilliant they may or may not be?

Weed can be a stimulant

Pink and blue abstract art by Paweł Czerwiński

You may not always think of weed when you think of stimulants, but cannabis can increase alertness and energy, and as you surely know, elevate your mood. 

This stimulating aspect of weed can really get the creative juices going, even when you’re finding it hard to get off the couch or finally start writing that first paragraph of the Great American Novel. 

The energizing, euphoric feelings that some marijuana strains cause can inspire great bursts of creativity and insight, or at the very least, make those mundane thoughts seem brilliant and force you to put them down on paper. 

On the other hand, more energizing strains that get the mind racing can also spark anxiety at times. And while anxiety and artists tend to go hand in hand, at times these feelings can spark self doubt and diminish the desire to follow the whims of your imagination. 

Weed can be relaxing, helping clear away the art-destroying stress of daily life 

Pink, purple, blue and turquoise acrylic abstract art

While it’s true that many cannabis strains can cause anxiety for some users, weed is also prized for the relaxing, tranquil feeling it produces. 

For all types of creators, the stress and never-ending chores of daily life can be all-encompassing, leaving little mental or emotional bandwidth left for creativity. Cannabis can help you take a step back, sidestep this stress, and listen to yourself and your imagination and not the cacophony of the outside world. 

Scientists concur - weed can help creativity, but not always 

In labs across the world, there are actual scientists who are getting paid to settle these smoked-out high school discussions about weed and creativity. 

These studies largely revolve impulsive behaviors and the concept of “divergent thinking,” a form of thinking that runs off in various conventional and unconventional directions. Divergent thinking is conducive to creative thinking, in that it’s free flowing and non-linear.  

One study carried out in 2003 found that THC can actually boost some forms of impulsivity in people, perhaps indicating that cannabis can help you cut loose and follow your imagination. 

In 2014 though, researchers in a clinical trial took it to another level. They gave 18 subjects a high dose of THC (22mg) and 18 subjects a low dose (5.5mg). Sadly, 18 unlucky subjects were given a placebo. They found that the high dose group “displayed significantly worse performance on the divergent thinking task,” leading them to conclude that while low potency cannabis does not have any impact on creativity, “highly potent cannabis actually impairs divergent thinking.”

Meanwhile, a 2017 study concluded that it may not be that cannabis itself makes people more open to creativity and trying new things, rather, that cannabis users are in general more likely to be open to trying new experiences.  

So if you’re keeping score at home - weed can make you more creative, unless you get too high, and regardless, people who get high are probably more open to trying new things anyway. 

Forget scientists - listen to Rihanna

Rihanna wearing a grey outfit and a sports bra smoking a joing next to a fireplace

Sure, she hasn’t released an album since 2016, but since then she’s launched her own fashion house/cosmetics company and has supplied us with no shortage of creative and brilliant comic moments. She has also been very (very) open about her love of weed, and has the instagram posts to prove it. 

She’s certainly not alone among female pop stars/demigods. If you’re a weed smoker whose parents were hippies, chances are you were born that way. Speaking of which, Lady Gaga in 2013 said that she fell in love with weed because “I completely forget that I'm famous. I totally forget about it all. I took a puff and I'm me when I was 17 again in my white go-go boots looking for a job and there's something quite creative and liberating about that."

And while the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan had zero top 40 hits, he did win two Emmys for his 13-part television series “Cosmos.” More importantly, in 1971 he wrote at length about the wonders of weed and the inspiration he gets while stoned in the shower. And judging by the titles of some of the chapters in “Cosmos” (“The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean” and “Harmony of the Worlds”) some people actually were getting great weed in the 70s. 

The best weed for creativity 

The terpene and cannabinoid profile of weed strains are crucial to how they’ll make you feel, and whether or not they’ll have you sinking into the couch cushions in a Cheetos-coma or deciding that 3am on a Tuesday night is the perfect time to write a musical alt-history of Wynona Ryder’s shoplifting arrest. 

Typically, it’s the more energetic, upbeat and euphoric strains that are best suited to sparking creativity. 

Classic strains like Jack Herer or Chemdog are known for creating a euphoric, upbeat high that can really get the mind working overtime (but in a good way), while the classic landrace strain Durban Poison is synonymous with energetic weed. 

But the name of a given strain isn’t really what predicts effects - it’s actually the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as how they interact with your unique biology. High-THC strains will typically be more likely to cause these soaring feelings of bliss and euphoria, while strains that are high in citrus terpenes like limonene, or the pine-scented terpene pinene can make you more alert and energetic. 

Ultimately though, these effects are not universal. Each person has their own unique body chemistry and what sparks creativity in one person may just lead to an early bedtime in someone else.

The best bet is to use some trial and error with intake methods (Do edibles work better for you? What about vaping?) and types of cannabis until you find the right formula that really jumpstarts your creativity, and keep some on deck for when you need that extra boost of inspiration