Cannabis use: doorway to creativity or to delusions?
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world and it has been used for centuries. Many acclaimed artists from a variety of disciplines, maintain its usefulness in the enhancement of creativity. However, is there any truth in their claims?
The American writer and journalist Norman Mailer stated that "marijuana has this rather lovely quality of removing one’s stale habits temporarily, one’s stale habits of mind, so it perceives a little better, one hears a little better".
For many years artists of all kinds, such as writers, musicians, and painters, have claimed that the use of cannabis enhances the creative process necessary to produce beautiful art. But do people actually become more creative when intoxicated by the drug, or are their creations exposed as drivel when seen by the sober mind? Furthermore, what exactly is creativity, and how can cannabis exert its influence over this complex cognitive function?
One way of defining creativity is as the ability to see connections between distant concepts and reveal something new. As in a brainstorming session, you have to explore many different solutions to solve a problem. This is called divergent thinking. The opposite of divergent thinking is convergent thinking: the ability to stay focused and on target until the right solution is found. This cognitive process is employed during for example, analytical thinking or deductive reasoning.
Cannabis intoxication does seem to promote divergent thinking but slows down convergent thinking. This could result in connections being made between seemingly unrelated concepts or ideas, which are then knotted together and elaborated upon, a characteristic of both creativity and the development of a delusional system.
In order to investigate the link between schizotypy, creativity, and cannabis use, a 2012 study looked at the effects of acute cannabis administration on both creativity and schizotypy. Schizotypy includes symptoms ranging from a mild dissociative state to more extreme states such as psychosis or schizophrenia.
The results indicated that cannabis administration could be beneficial for individuals who aren’t very creative to start with. THC intoxication improved divergent thinking performance of those low in creativity up to the level of those high in creativity. The study also showed that cannabis intoxication increased psychosis-like symptoms. Furthermore, individuals who are high in creativity scored significantly higher on schizotypy.
Could this mean there is some link between creativity and psychosis? These results seem to suggest that cannabis could be beneficial to those who need to expand their minds and learn how to think outside the box. However, how far outside that box do you need to go? Should sanity be sacrificed for the sake of creativity?
Research has indeed shown that artists tend to score higher on schizotypal symptoms, especially on the “positive” symptoms such as unusual perceptual experiences and magical beliefs. So, maybe “being creative” means we use some sort of mechanism that is shared with psychosis, and we all suffer from psychosis in varying degrees. Cannabis could be the herbal accelerator that speeds up the creative process for those who do not “suffer” from creativity naturally. However, if your mind is already overflowing with creativity, be careful, because this accelerator might push you over the edge.