Marijuana is often credited as aiding the creative process. Singers from Louis Armstrong to Lady Gaga have spoken about their penchant for weed and a large number of songs – such as The Beatles’ “Got to get you into my life” and Afroman’s “Because I got high” – were written in tribute to the drug. According to previous studies, more than 70 percent of cannabis users take the drug to be more creative and most of them say it works.
But weed’s creative reputation is now in question, however, after a new study published in the journal Applied Psychology determined that marijuana doesn’t get the creative juices flowing after all. The paper did show that cannabis does induce a feeling of joviality, which consequently makes people think that their ideas and actions are more creative.
“Our findings suggest that cannabis use may positively bias evaluations of creativity but have no impact on creativity,” conclude the study’s authors from the University of Virginia, University of Washington and the National University of Singapore.
Creatives and Cannabis
The scientists became interested in studying cannabis – beyond its health implications – following its legalization in several jurisdictions across the United States. Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012 and 19 other states have since followed suit. Today, 15 states permit marijuana use for medical purposes.
It’s thought that this process of decriminalization has led to increased use of the drug. A 2022 study found that people who live in states where cannabis has been legalized, use it 20 percent more frequently that those who live in states where it is still criminalized. So then if there’s an increase in use, what is the impact to its users?
The authors of the study recruited 191 cannabis users from Washington State. The participants were split into two groups. The first group had not used cannabis in the previous 12 hours, whereas the second group had used cannabis in the last 15 minutes. All participants were first asked if they were “happy” and joyful and then both groups were tasked with coming up with as many creative uses as they could for a brick in four minutes. After completing the task, they were then asked to assess how creative they had been.
Those who had used cannabis recently were more likely to be happy and joyful than those who hadn’t. Thanks to this jovial mood, they also rated their own ideas as more creative than the control group. After crunching the numbers, however, the researchers found that recently using cannabis didn’t increase creativity; there was no significant difference between the two groups.
Clear Mind for Creativity
These findings build on previous work. Back in 2015, scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands, administered a low dose of tetrahydrocannabinol – which is the active ingredient in cannabis – to 18 participants and a high dose to 18 participants. They also gave 18 other people a placebo.
They then asked both groups to do a creative thinking task; the results showed that the high dose participants performed significantly worse than the low dose and placebo participants. The scientists concluded that low potency cannabis has no effect on creativity and highly potent cannabis degrades creativity.
When it comes down to it; a clear mind prevails in creativity.