Does Cannabis Boost Creativity?

Santa Cruz student explores her imagination and cultivates creative thought with the help of her favorite herb. Credit: David Jay Brown.

Does Cannabis Boost Creativity?

New scientific studies suggest that getting high on marijuana can genuinely make you more creative.

Curran and Morgan are currently testing the effects of cannabis use on creativity in 400 subjects, and are then using neuroimaging technology to observe the neurobiological changes in the participants that are associated with creativity, while they are under the influence of cannabis.

Although this study is still in progress, according to Beckley Foundation founder Amanda Feilding, the results so far indicate that cannabis is having a positive influence on the subject’s creative performance.

This new research builds upon a previous study by Celia Morgan, and her colleagues at University College London, that looked at how cannabis intoxication enhanced the effects of “semantic priming,” in which the activation of one word allows people to react more quickly to related words.

One way that creativity can be described is the ability to find novel connections between different concepts. In psychological terms, the ability to see connections between words is called “semantic priming.” This 2010 study found that subjects linked distantly-related words and concepts significantly quicker when they were high than when they weren’t.

This “hyper-priming,” as the researchers called it, is evidence that the flow of loose associations that cannabis users report is indeed real, and not an illusion, as some skeptics have claimed.

Additionally, research by Xia Zhang and colleagues at Saskatchewan University has demonstrated that THC — the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant—can spur neurogenesis, or new brain cell formation. We now know that the brain is continually rewiring itself, and that it’s always possible to grow new brain cells and learn new skills, which may play a role in creative thinking.

Cannabis has the effect of slightly increasing alpha-wave activity in the brain, and increasing blood flow into the right hemisphere, which is associated with holistic, nonlinear thought. Alpha waves, and right-brain thinking, are generally associated with meditative and relaxed states of consciousness, which are, in turn, often associated with creativity.

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