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The Connection between Cannabis and Creativity

For many decades, people all over the world have sworn by the positive influence that the use of cannabis has over their creative faculties. As a matter of fact, as revealed by Rolling Stone, there is no dearth of famous individuals who are also well-known for their love of marijuana. These include people from the different fields of the arts and sciences, like astrophysicist and science communicator Carl Sagan, Microsoft co-founder and business magnate Bill Gates, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, and the members of the English rock band The Beatles.

Such people are celebrated for a lot of things, be it their intellectual prowess, their business acumen, or their artistic flair. They are, indeed, divergent paradigms of the creative mind, and naturally, cannabis enthusiasts are quick to attribute these individuals’ genius to their love of the herb. But is there actual science to back this theory up? What exactly is it about marijuana that seems to make it the drug of choice of some of the most creative among us?

The Wonders of Cannabinoids

Cannabis is consumed in different ways. Some people smoke marijuana blunts or eat cannabis-infused edibles, while other people prefer to vape cannabis oil using a vaporizer. Cannabis oil can also be infused into other marijuana edibles like lozenges, tinctures, sprays, and so on.

While varying in methods of administration, all of these different types of cannabis contain a class of more than 100 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. The most well-known of these cannabinoid compounds is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is likewise the most notable psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis. THC is also available as a pharmaceutical formulation in several countries under the nonproprietary name dronabinol.

What Cannabis Does to the Brain

The mechanism by which THC and other cannabinoids affect the brain can be complicated. To better understand, one must look at things on a cellular level.

Now, as you may already know, neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that allow brain cells to communicate with one another. These brain cells, known as neurons, have gaps between them that are bridged by these neurotransmitters, which transmit signals from one neuron to the next. This firing of neurotransmitters from brain cell to brain cell is a process that is repeated across the wide network of neurons in the brain, allowing a person to process all the information being received by that individual’s brain. Whenever you think, move, or feel something around your environment, you can be certain your neurons are hard at work.

The interesting thing about THC and many other cannabinoids is that they interfere with the way neurotransmitters work in the brain. THC in particular, mimics the way the natural neurotransmitter anandamide works. Often called the “bliss molecule” or “joy molecule,” anandamide is also a cannabinoid but one that is made by the human body. It plays a big role in the neural generation of feelings of pleasure and motivation. These effects are primarily mediated by cannabinoid receptors, to which anandamide binds. And because THC mirrors the way anandamide works, it also responds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.

Normally, the functions of neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors are well regulated. However, when THC is introduced into the brain, the cannabinoid receptors go into overdrive, and the neurons that are supposed to be temporarily at ease from time to time fire continuously instead. As a result, a person’s thoughts, feelings, and imagination are heightened significantly. This altered state of mind is what many researchers believe is responsible for the magnified creativity that many cannabis enthusiasts report having. 

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Divergent Thinking and Creative Thinking

Indeed, a few studies that have been conducted in the past have revealed a connection between the use of cannabis and increased creativity. In 2011, for example, researcher Schafer and colleagues at the University College London investigated the effects of smoked cannabis on schizotypy and divergent thinking.

Schizotypy is a kind of a weak form of schizophrenia which consists of a continuum of personality traits. It is observable in many people, but it is particularly seen in creative individuals. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to open one’s mind “in all directions,” which allows a person to create associations among seemingly non-related ideas. This trait of divergent thinking is said to be an important facet of creative thinking.

In the UCL study, 166 cannabis users participated. It was discovered that cannabis increased the verbal fluency of low-creativity users to the same level as that of high-creativity users. Cannabis also increased state psychosis-like symptoms in both groups, but the high-creativity group exhibited higher levels of schizotypy. Finally, it was also discovered that divergent thinking, as indexed by verbal fluency, also increased by acute cannabis use among the participants.

The researchers believed that the increase in the level of verbal fluency and divergent thinking among the participants had to do with cannabis stimulating dopamine release in certain areas of the brain. As you may already know, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is also associated with the regulation of creativity.

Certainly, more studies have to be conducted for us to fully understand the mechanisms involved in how cannabis affects the brain and creative thought, especially with other researchers pointing to the possibility that high-dosage marijuana use might actually impair divergent thinking instead of enhancing it. Until then, go ahead and light a blunt or cook with your cannabis oil to your heart’s content. 

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