Although marijuana users often say the drug enhances their creativity, new research has found just the opposite. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana decreases creativity.
Marijuana/cannabis is known for its ability to significantly alter the mental processes of its users. Anecdotal accounts sometimes cite this mental alteration as a beneficial effect of cannabis use and point toward an increase in creativity as evidence of such an effect. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Psychopharmacology, a team of researchers from the Netherlands looked for signs of increased creativity in people who consume low doses and high doses of the main marijuana/cannabis ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). These researchers concluded that, depending on the amount of THC consumed, cannabis intake either does not alter users’ creativity levels or actively reduces creativity.
Cannabis and THC
All three forms of cannabis — marijuana, hashish and hashish oil — contain THC as their main, mind-altering chemical constituent. As a rule, marijuana has the lowest THC content of all cannabis products, while hashish oil has the highest THC content. Keeping this fact in mind, evidence compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that the THC potency of the typical batch of marijuana has risen sharply in America over the last several decades. In fact, much of the marijuana available today has a THC content once only associated with hashish, a concentrated cannabis product.
THC belongs to a group of substances called cannabinoids. Marijuana contains roughly 100 cannabinoids, all of which access the brain through sites on nerve cells called cannabinoid receptors. Inside the brain, THC activates a region known as the pleasure center, triggers an alteration of thought processes, distorts sensory perception, distorts time perception and reduces the human ability to make or access memories and focus attention. The chemical also substantially alters mood, although the specific manifestations of mood-related change vary from person to person. THC’s impact on the pleasure center largely accounts for the ability of marijuana/cannabis to trigger the persistent brain changes that mark the onset of cannabis dependence and cannabis addiction. Roughly 17 percent of all marijuana consumers in America meet the criteria doctors use to diagnose such an addiction.
Cannabis and Creativity
Some people believe that marijuana use increases the brain’s ability to make new connections between seemingly unrelated topics or trains of thought. Broadly speaking, the ability to make such connections is considered a critical feature of creativity. In addition, some people believe that marijuana use increases creativity by forcing the brain to adapt to the characteristic changes in sensory perception associated with the drug. There is some research that loosely supports the connection between marijuana/cannabis use and creativity; however, no reputable researchers prioritize the potential creativity-related benefits of the drug over the known harms that marijuana/cannabis can inflict on a person’s mental and physical well-being.
Is Cannabis Creativity a Myth?
In the study published in Psychopharmacology, researchers from Leiden University and two other Dutch institutions used a small-scale project to explore the impact that marijuana/cannabis use has on creativity. A total of 54 people took part in this project. Eighteen of the participants received a dose of low-THC cannabis, while another 18 received a dose of high-THC cannabis; the remaining participants acted as a comparison group and received an inactive placebo designed to mimic cannabis. The participants in all three groups reported using marijuana/cannabis regularly in their personal lives. After consuming cannabis or a cannabis placebo, each study participant took tests designed to assess key aspects of creative thinking. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew in advance which individuals received low-THC cannabis, high-THC cannabis or a placebo.
After reviewing the results of the creativity tests, the researchers concluded that the participants who received a dose of low-THC cannabis did not have significantly higher test scores than the comparison group that received a placebo. In addition, when they compared the high-THC group to the comparison group, they concluded that the high-THC group actually experienced a decline in their creativity levels. Specifically, the high-THC group registered a reduced ability to rapidly produce multiple ideas related to a single topic; psychologists commonly refer to this ability as divergent creativity.
The study’s authors note that both high-THC and low-THC cannabis consumption apparently have no effect on convergent creativity, a form of creativity that allows human beings to find the one correct answer to a puzzle or other mentally challenging situation. Overall, they believe their findings go a long way toward disproving the notion of cannabis-inspired creativity.