Using marijuana will almost certainly give you the munchies, but it will likely not give your brain a creative boost. So say researchers in an article in the journal Psychopharmacology as reported by Men’s Fitness. I’m not surprised by this. Creative types for millennia have claimed mind-altering substances from cocaine to alcohol served them as muses; more commonly they were simply self-medicating their often-troubled creative brains while remaining creative despite their substance abuse.
Research demonstrates creative thinking is usually akin to divergent thinking; thought processes that follow unpredictable paths to reach a new insight or inspiration. Note this from Men’s Fitness:
Based on the cognitive tasks that the participants were required to complete – coming up with ideas by exploring many solutions (divergent thinking) and finding the only correct answer to a question (convergent thinking) – researchers found that the cannabis with a high-dose THC significantly impaired divergent thinking among the test subjects.
I indulge in the occasional martini (the opposite of 007, gin and stirred) and lately have been overly tempted by Belgian Trappist beers. I also monitor my mental health and my creative thinking enough to know that both are retarded by alcohol intake. Yes, Papa Hemingway drank himself to sleep every night and wrote magnificent prose during the day. The lesson I draw from that is that he could have produced even more magnificent prose had he found his way to a more scientific and regulated treatment for his demons.
I do not indulge in marijuana, but many who do believe it makes them more creative. I have been sober around enough individuals high on pot to know they clearly think they are having intense, profound, and yes, creative thoughts; more often than not they are actually sounding a bit silly, like this “mind-blowing” moment from Animal House.
Note this observation by researcher Lorenza Colzato of the Cognitive Psychology Unit at the Institute of Psychology at Leiden University and the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition:
The improved creativity that [cannabis users] believe they experience is an illusion. If you want to overcome writer’s block or any other creative gap, lighting up a joint isn’t the best solution. Smoking several joints one after the other can even be counterproductive to creative thinking.
Here in the United States, momentum is growing to legalize marijuana use. My main concern with this trend is research demonstrating the harm it can have on brain development, a particular problem for teenagers and young adults whose brains are continuing to grow and evolve. It shouldn’t be surprising that a drug that can reduce a teenager’s IQ by eight points would not simultaneously stimulate greater creative thinking. But I welcome scientists seeking to confirm this hypothesis based on interpreting data through both convergent and divergent thinking.
UPDATE: A hot-button topic like this is likely to lead to some very interesting conversations, not all of them related to creativity (although perhaps everything is). I was thinking today about how many comedians I admire who proactively proclaim their use of marijuana as a part of their personal. Here’s a Twitter exchange I had with one comedian who I find quite funny: