Beyond the occasional boosted appetite or case of the funnies, there’s seems to be one domain that improves with the addition of a little dank bud: art. The cannabis plant is most well-known for its ability to heighten common sensory experiences such as film, music, performance, and other facets of human expression, so there’s no question as to why the two interests have been long correlated. And if you’re a cannabis lover, you can probably recall your first time listening to a song or viewing a film after enjoying (mainly due to tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) a smoke being one for the books.
When considering cannabis’ effect on creativity, though, a few questions may come to mind: can the plant evoke a response great enough to fuel your creative bits following a smoke? And will it turn you into a sort of prodigy enlightened beyond your years, or is it all a part of your greater imagination? In this article, we will dive deep to answer all of your burning questions.
Cannabis: A Source of Inspiration?
Historically, cannabis has been used to complement inspiration in all forms of art, but before we get down to the nitty-gritty of this topic, what exactly is creativity?
Basically, you could define creativity as the ability to transform something ordinary into something extraordinary. Due to their use of divergent thinking (one of many keys to creativity and what makes creative people...well, creative), highly creative types seemingly have this ability, which in turn, often allows them to reach some pretty heightened levels of imagination and ingenuity.
Now, if we consider that cannabis alters our perceptions and thought processes, cannabis is more than likely to influence your perceived reality and, therefore, your creative process. Cannabis, though, need not be seen as the main source of inspiration -- art comes from the person, not from the ingestion of any substance. In other words, cannabis does not function as a direct source of inspiration or creativity; rather, it influences the mental processes that lead us to produce art. Despite the abundance of experiential evidence, there is actually some scientific backing on the influence of the cannabis plant on art. In fact, cannabis has an inherent neurological relationship with both art and creativity.
Behind the Science of Things
Though research regarding cannabis’ relationship to creativity is scant, there have been several studies that have investigated if and how cannabis might affect creativity. One study claims that high-potency cannabis impairs divergent thinking - an epiphany in the art world.  Another study reports that acute cannabis use increases divergent thinking through augmented “verbal fluency in low creatives.”  In other words, after smoking cannabis, those labeled as having low trait creativity were brought to the same level as those participants exhibiting high creativity through their ability to generate words. So, research results, are, well, divergent.
THC may produce an effect on the brain that can help stimulate creativity. Terpenes may be involved in aiding creativity as well, since they can help drive one’s experience. Usually, your brain experiences pause (or breaks) between neural transmission to not overwhelm the mind. However, THC has been shown to interrupt these breaks, thus, keeping neural transmissions flowing via the inhibition of GABA. [3} This action essentially increases glutamate production, which amplifies the “go” signal for neural transmission.
The collection of glutamate causes an increased release of neurochemical called dopamine, which typically gives feelings of blissful euphoria and calmness.  It also helps reduce your inhibitions and this turns off your “inner-editor”, so to speak while doing anything creative. Cannabis consumers have described themselves feeling happier and being able to move and think more creatively, almost as if peaceful gusts of wind were flowing right through them.
History’s Most Creative Cannabis Advocates
From musicians to painters, actors, and philosophers, cannabis has been involved in the creative process of countless artists and thinkers. Its influence is evident in ancient and modern culture. Until recently, many artists of all creative backgrounds have kept their cannabis use under wraps. But with the expansion of public acceptance and legalization, more and more artists are publicly embracing their cannabis usage. Aside from the greats like Bob Marley and Hunter S. Thompson, here are a few artists and creators that are no strangers to cannabis and admit, or have admitted, to use cannabis in their creative processes and who publicly defend its consumption.
As stated in his autobiography, pot is “a thousand times better than whiskey…it’s an assistant — a friend”.
“I smoke a lot of pot when I write music.”
“The best way I would describe the effect of the [cannabis] and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative.”
“As an artist, there’s a sweet jump-starting quality to [cannabis] for me. I’ve often felt telepathic and receptive to inexplicable messages my whole life. I can stave those off when I’m not high. When I’m high… well, they come in and there’s less of a veil, so to speak. So, if ever I need some clarity… or a quantum leap in terms of writing something, it’s a quick way for me to get to it.”
"I think people need to be educated to the fact that [cannabis] is not a drug. [Cannabis] is an herb and a flower. God put it here."
“I went to Vietnam, and I was there for a long time. [Using cannabis] made the difference between staying human or, as Michael Douglas said, becoming a beast.”
Brian Wilson (of Beach Boys)
“[Cannabis] helped me write Pet Sounds.” (which is #2 best album of all times on the list of Rolling Stone magazine)
While cannabis has helped many expand their creativity, only time will tell how its relationship with art will progress. Maybe creativity is harder to define or more complicated than we think. The big idea is, cannabis affects everyone differently. Data doesn’t necessarily suggest you can smoke your way into a massive breakthrough. However, if you’re looking to consume a substance as a creative outlet, you may find a little bud helpful for kickstarting your right-brain and getting those creative juices flowing.
Written by Mell Green, Staff Writer for Terpenes & Testing Magazine
- Kowal, M. et al. “Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users,” Psychopharmacology, vol. 232, 2015, pp. 1123-1134. [journal impact factor = 3.875; cited by 19]
- Schafer, G. et al. “Investigating the interaction between schizotypy, divergent thinking and cannabis use,”, Consciousness and Cognition, vol.21, 2012, pp. 292-298. [journal impact factor = 1.855; cited by 32]
- Hoffman, A. and Lupica, C. “Synaptic targets of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the central nervous system.” Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine vol. 3, 2013, pp. a012237. [journal impact factor = 3.979; cited by 21]
- Bloomfield, M. et al. “The effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on the dopamine system,” Nature, vol. 539(7629), 2016, pp. 369–377. [journal impact factor = 43.070; cited by 61]