"The best way I would describe the effect of marijuana and hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative." --Steve Jobs
From Steve Jobs to Lady Gaga, some of our most creative-minded individuals have used cannabis to relax and stoke their imaginations. This simple plant has been enjoyed by artists in various professions—from singers to actors to writers—for its ability to help loosen us up and open our minds to creation. What's the history of weed use for creativity? How does it actually interact with our brains, and what research has been done? And how can you use cannabis to stoke your imagination?
Cannabis & Culture & Creativity
Throughout history, cannabis has been used by many different cultures to impact mood and open up the mind and senses:
India. The sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas, listed marijuana as one of the five sacred plants as early as 2000 to 1400 BC. Among its many uses, marijuana was celebrated for its ability to increase joy and happiness and minimize fear—a recipe for relaxed imaginative thinking.
China. Cannabis was used in the ancient Taoism religion for purposes of divination, as a way of opening up the spirit to communication with spirits.
Tibet. Ancient Buddhism rituals utilized cannabis to help increase their sensitivity and awareness during meditation.
What do these cultural practices have in common? In all of them, cannabis is used as an aid to help people detach from their day-to-day mindset—to transcend to a different way of perceiving and experiencing the world. Cannabis has been used since antiquity to free people's minds —but what does modern science have to say about its use?
The Endocannabinoid System & The Brain
Let's get technical for a moment.
Cannabis is totally unique in the way it interacts with the human brain. Our bodies contain an endocannabinoid system with receptors that specifically respond to the molecules in this plant. These molecules, like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) bind to different receptors within that endocannabinoid system, which impacts our physical and mental state. Basically, our body is hardwired to impact specifically with different components in weed.
How does this actually play out in the way we feel? Well, the interaction between molecules like THC and CBD and the endocannabinoid system can impact neurotransmitters in the brain. In turn, neurotransmitters affect aspects of our state of being such as relaxation, euphoria, and heightened perceptions. For example, THC interacts directly with the neurotransmitter anandamide, which helps regulate emotions and cognitive function. By interacting with neurotransmitters, cannabis can help put is in a state of mind where we're more relaxed and able to engage with our creative side.
Studies on Cannabis and Creativity
Though there's definitely need for more scientific research on cannabis and the imagination, we unearthed a few fascinating studies:
Cannabis and Divergent Thinking
What exactly is divergent thinking? It's a method of creative thought that makes use of brainstorming techniques to come up with novel approaches or solutions to a problem. This is the type of thinking that generates ideas out of nowhere; a type of thinking that's not found as frequently in low-creative people. An interesting 2012 study found that, in non-creative individuals, cannabis use can increase divergent thinking.
This particular study set out to discover whether marijuana users are actually more creative than non-users, and why. Although they couldn't narrow down the scientific cause, they did find that those participants who used cannabis were more creative than non-user counterparts, even when sober. The study found that people who use cannabis are more extraverted and demonstrated "superior convergent thinking." (Convergent thinking applies to the deliberate and focused aspect of creative decision-making.)
Marijuana and your (State of) Mind
Marijuana has also been shown to interact with the brain's frontal lobe, which is associated with creative activity. It's been proposed that by stimulating the frontal lobe, cannabis can help us settle into imaginative thinking.
It's hard to tap into your creativity and imagination when you're feeling tightly wound or upset. Studies have shown that cannabis can help improve the user's state of mind, with some studies even showing that it can help fight against depression,PTSD, and anxiety. Can relaxing the mind and minimizing anxiety help us to tap into our more imaginative side—to let go of some of our fearful thoughts and engage with our creativity?
How to Harness Cannabis in Your Life
"The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world." —Carl Sagan
Though scientific studies need to catch up with anecdotal experience, creative individuals throughout history have used weed to increase their cognitive function and open themselves up to creativity. Here's how to harness this in your own life:
- Set yourself up in a creative space while using cannabis. If you're an artist, keep your paints and canvas nearby. If you're a writer, have your word processor open to a blank page that's waiting for you. And if you're a musician, keep your guitar or keyboard on hand for inspiration. Don't stress the process (stress is not conducive to creativity) but let yourself relax into the flow of the moment.
- Pick a strain of weed that's known to increase creativity levels. Strains like Red-headed Stranger or Kali Mist are celebrated for their interaction with focus. Don't be afraid to experiment with different strains and see which ones trigger more creativity or inspiration.
One of the most amazing things about cannabis is how it can impact each and every one of us in a unique way. Some of us get relaxed enough to nap while others of us are immediately inspired to fill a canvas with art. How do you react to cannabis —do you find, like Carl Sagan and Bob Marley, that it makes you more creative and open? If so, what's your favorite strain? Let us know in the comments below!