Cannabis & Creativity

Posted on in Healthy Living by Merlyn J. Travis

What Do We Know?

Do you smoke cannabis regularly? The latest in a trickle of academic studies suggests that you’re probably more creative than people who don’t. However, the root of your creativity, according to the 2017 study published in Consciousness and Cognition, is not your consumption but your inherent open-mindedness—the natural predisposition that originally led you to become a ganja smoker.

This unprecedented study looked at cannabis’s effect on creativity by examining the influencing role of personality types. The results? Users, even though they were sober during the tests, tended toward “extraversion” and being “open to new experiences.” Openness is a known predictor of creativity. The research suggests that the kids who first ventured a toke in high school, and then pursued new adventures as adults, will score higher on creativity tests.

Think Tigger and Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Bold Tigger is predisposed to imaginative leaps. Piglet, his introverted and trepid pal—not so much. But what do we know about enhancing creativity with cannabis? Will Tigger push through creative blocks with the help of cannabis? What about Piglet? Most current research attempts to answer the question by measuring divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinkers tend to explore uncommon solutions—the multiplicity of possible answers. Convergent thinkers focus on finding the right answers. The research indicates that cannabis use generates a temporary increase in divergent vs. convergent thinking.

Picture Piglet narrowing the choices on his multiple-choice test while Tigger, who after taking a few tokes, is multiplying them. But careful, Tigger! Don’t take extra hits! While recent research suggests that cannabis may amplify Tigger’s already divergent thinking, it also concludes that getting too high will lose you those same effects.

Managing the art of the high is important for artists lest they come to personify Afroman’s hit song “Because I Got High.” I messed up my entire life because I got high. I lost my kids and wife because I got high. Now I’m sleeping on the sidewalk and I know why …’cause I got high.

And who might epitomize the opposite—the successfully buzzed creative archetype? How about Paul McCartney? Paul’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” masqueraded as a love song, he said, but was actually “an ode to pot.” I was alone, I took a ride. I didn’t know what I would find there….Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there.

Marijuana thinking and cannabis creativity or consumer symbol as a light bulb shape made of weed leaves as a pot or herbal medicine patient and effects on psychology or drug dealer concept with 3D illustration elements.
Marijuana thinking and cannabis creativity or consumer symbol as a light bulb shape made of weed leaves as a pot or herbal medicine patient and effects on psychology or drug dealer concept with 3D illustration elements.

Sir Paul, who began smoking in his early twenties, explained, “I’d been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting… literally mind-expanding.”

Unlike Paul, Steve Kotler had early experiences with cannabis that needed to be overwritten. The bestselling author on peak performance is co-founder of the Flow Genome Institute. At one stage of his life, to get past Lyme disease and re-launch his writing career, his friend Rick Doblin, the founder of MAPS, recommended cannabis. At first Kotler laughed. “My biggest problem was that I couldn’t focus—at all!” he says. “Maybe two hours of work a day was all I could do.” Rick explained to Steve that he’d been doing it wrong—that his adolescent relationship with the herb created “state-dependent learning”—an expectation of spacey-headed laziness while high. Steve needed to relearn what was possible.

Kotler teaches consciousness hacking as a way to enter flow states—by attempting to quiet the prefrontal cortex and with it the voice of the inner critic. Explaining the transformation of his dysfunctional relationship with cannabis to a productive one, he says: “When most people are exposed to marijuana for the first time, they are in high school. They sit on the couch with their friends, laugh, watch movies, and eat Cheetos…They are nothing if not lazy… training the brain to be lazy while stoned.” To transform his own relationship with cannabis, for more than six months Kotler limited himself to smoking only before sitting down to write.

As a mechanism for getting into a flow state, Kotler extols the Hippie Speedball—“20-minute run, cup of coffee, marijuana—that order.” He specifies “very small doses of Sativa…for a dopamine boost on the front end. Not only increases focus, but there’s energy there. It really works. Helped me get my career back.” He goes on, “What you’re aiming for is that state where your brain is fired up, where it’s going from idea to idea, where the anandamide has expanded lateral thinking and you’re in that zone. But he too cautions: “You don’t want to knock yourself too far. You still want use of your conscious faculties.”

Will cannabis make you as creative as Paul McCartney or Steve Kotler? No. Will Tigger forever outpace Piglet on creativity tests? Probably. Can creative types enhance creativity with cannabis? Possibly, with a skillful approach—and if they don’t overdo it.

This short article raises more questions than it answers. Cannabis and creativity is a vast and largely unexplored subject. Here the focus is limited to a type of intellectual creativity—that of divergent thinking. Not freestyle rhyming, or more embodied arts such as impressionistic painting or pole-dancing; landscaping or love-making. Laboratory experiments to measure creativity need to explore non-intellectual modes as well.

Now that the cannabis muse is legal let’s get imaginative to learn how she sparks. We might find another kind of mind there.

Merlyn J. Travis, Ph.D. is founding director at SativaLife: Centre for Conscious Cannabis. A former rabbi and professor of mysticism, he offers mentoring, retreats, and a guide school based on a method called the Five Portals of Conscious Cannabis.

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