Cannabis as a Creative Muse? Don’t Count on It
For whatever reason, people have a tendency to project their wishes - or fears - onto marijuana. This is highly unfortunate, because with legalization becoming a fact of life, accurate information about the effects of cannabis is badly needed. Consequently, unbiased research without any concern for anyone’s version of political correctness should be welcomed by all so that the drug’s real effects can finally be separated from its imaginary ones.
On the advocates’ side, one commonly reported “fact” about marijuana is the assertion that it helps boost creative inspiration and output. Cannabis can act as a sort of muse, supporters say, and they back this contention up with testimony from the many musicians, artists, writers and imaginative folks in general who have chosen to integrate marijuana into their creative routines. Of course, enemies of marijuana legalization have disputed the accuracy of this hypothesis, rightly pointing out that anecdotal evidence collected from the perpetually stoned shouldn’t be confused with scientific evidence.
The Evidence Is In: Marijuana Does Not Boost Creativity
In order to investigate the hypothesis that cannabis can improve creativity, a team of researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands developed a research protocol they believed would provide definitive answers. A total of 59 regular marijuana users were recruited to participate in this study, which was designed to test their ability to solve intellectual problems while under the influence of THC, the active intoxicating ingredient in all cannabis products.
Study participants were provided with marijuana that supposedly contained a uniform amount of THC. However, what they actually consumed varied based on groupings: some were given high-THC pot; others smoked marijuana with much lower levels of this chemical; and the members of a third group were given a placebo that had no intoxicating capacity.
After finishing their consumption of the substances, each study subject was asked a series of questions that required either divergent or convergent thinking to arrive at a satisfactory answer. Divergent thinking measures a person’s ability to suggest multiple solutions to a problem, while convergent thinking involves the selection of one best answer from among a variety of possible alternatives.
When the final results were analyzed, the Dutch researchers found no difference in performance among the three groups in the convergent thinking category. But with divergent thinking, which is a form of brainstorming that requires some solid in-the-moment creative processing, the outcome was startling and highly noteworthy. The members of the high-THC group struggled mightily to come up with a broad range of sensible solutions to the conundrums they were presented with, in contrast to the more successful placebo group members who had no THC in their bloodstreams. At the same time, there was no statistically significant difference between the low-THC and placebo groups in their performance on the divergent thinking questions, and that finding in itself was enough to contradict the idea that marijuana might somehow sharpen creative performance.
But the most interesting discovery here was that THC showed a clear capacity to inhibit creative intellectual functioning. This suggests that all of those musicians, artists, writers and freelance creators who allegedly swear by pot might have been even more productive had they eliminated marijuana from their lives.
Marijuana-Creativity Connection: Old Ideas Die Hard
Marijuana apologists will be reluctant to accept the findings of this study. Certainly it must be replicated in a variety of formats, since the concept of “creative thinking” is broad and vast and could never be encompassed in any one research project.
But even so, the results obtained by the Leiden University research team clearly do not support the notion that THC boosts creative performance, and this is precisely what must be demonstrated at some point if the concept is to be taken seriously. In this instance, the onus to provide proof is on the side of those responsible for launching the pro-marijuana propaganda campaign, and as of now they have yet to offer any.