Marijuana and Creativity, Part I – A Love Story

In a good relationship, a loving partner can inspire you in many ways. She (or he) may simple inspire you day by day with a beautiful smile, encourage you to write your first music piece, or help you to relax and refresh you energy. She could also help you to discipline yourself, to keep focused on writing a book, drag you to a movie she finds interesting for you to help collecting ideas for a movie project, or she could ask you questions and give you valuable feedback during the creation process of your new advertising campaign. There are many ways a lover can help your creative output.


In a good relationship, a loving partner can inspire you in many ways. She (or he) may simple inspire you day by day with a beautiful smile, encourage you to write your first music piece, or help you to relax and refresh you energy. She could also help you to discipline yourself, to keep focused on writing a book, drag you to a movie she finds interesting for you to help collecting ideas for a movie project, or she could ask you questions and give you valuable feedback during the creation process of your new advertising campaign. There are many ways a lover can help your creative output. Naturally, things can also go wrong. Your partner may negatively influence or completely block your creative output in just as many ways. Your partner can distract your attention away from your project, undermine your self-esteem, or simply keep you busy with irrelevant problems.

Marijuana can be like a loving partner to your creativity; a muse and inspiration and a help in many ways; but like a partner, it can also interfere negatively with your creativity in various ways when things go wrong in your relationship.

Does marijuana “enhance creativity”? The short answer is that marijuana certainly has a magnificent potential to do so. However, that does not mean that marijuana automatically pushes a “creative boost button” – for a simple reason: there is no such button. Creativity is not like electricity or a mysterious energy. Creativity is the product of a concentration of various highly complex cognitive skills – often crucially involving some physical skills. This basic fact is often overseen in discussions when it comes to marijuana and creativity – not only by laymen, but also by scientists. The marijuana high affects various cognitive processes which are part of the creative process. If we want to know how marijuana can effect creativity, we have to look at a variety of cognitive alterations during a marijuana high and analyze how these can be helpful or, otherwise, deleterious for a creative process.

A Variety of Creative Processes, Phases, and Cannabis Strains

The story gets even more interesting, though, when we look at a variety of creative processes. Playing a new drum solo in a band during a live performance demands the coordination of various cognitive abilities and, simultaneously, flawless hand-eye coordination.

The legendary jazz drummer and marijuana user Gene Krupa, 1909-1973

These abilities are very different from those a poet needs when he silently sits down trying to write a poem about the sound of wind going through a field of rye. For the creative spontaneous exploration of dance, a solo dancer needs a perfect functioning motor control of his whole body, timing, and an ongoing stream of ideas in order to transpose music into motion.

Marijuana can help artists, musicians and others by a multitude of cognitive alterations which enhance a whole variety of cognitive processes. We shouldn’t expect this to be a simple relationship. The many alterations of cognitive processes during a marijuana high have a different impact on various creative processes.

Also, there are not only vastly different creative processes, but also, creative processes come in different phases. In his book High. Marijuana in the Lives of Americans, William Novak quotes an essayist stating:

I just can’t write well on grass. My grammar and syntax get screwed up, and I can get caught in the details. I do some of my thinking stoned, and the more linear work is done straight.”

(Novak, William (1980). High Culture: Marijuana in the Lives of Americans. Massachusetts: The Cannabis Institute of America, Inc, p. 138.)

If you want to use marijuana for creative purposes you will have to find out whether marijuana can help you for a certain creative process in a certain phase. As more advanced marijuana users know, this will also depend on the type and strain of cannabis you are using. Often, we forget another crucial aspect at this point: whether marijuana can help you for a certain creative process also crucially depends on your own psychological profile. While a person with obsessive compulsive disorder may appreciate that cannabis helps him loosen up a bit and to break with routines, someone with a tendency for ADHS (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome) might appreciate the fact that certain strains can calm him down and focus his attention better. Others may find this relaxation effects counterproductive for their work. In an interview with HIGH TIMES Magazine essayist Susan Sontag once said that for writing, marijuana would relax her too much – she preferred a little speed once in a while. (Interview with Susan Sontag in the HIGH TIMES, March 1978, #31.) Other writers feel they can write perfectly during a high because they feel more concentrated and have a better flow in writing.

Marijuana and Creativity, Part I - A Love Story
The writer and essayist Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

In the following, I will name a few effects of marijuana and how they might impact creativity; the list is not supposed to be complete. My intention is to broaden the perspective of many researchers in the field who have tried to reduce the “creativity-boosting” power of marijuana to one or two effects that have been confirmed in psychological studies (like “hyper-priming”).

The High: A Variety of Cognitive and Perceptual Alterations

The taste of marijuana has often been underestimated because it is considered a “weed” and a “drug”, and because it is often used in the wrong way mixed with bad tobacco. Use a well grown, great tasting strain in a vaporizer and you will experience the obvious: marijuana has a complex, herbal, nutty, fruity, earthy delicate taste. Similarly, the effects of marijuana are usually underestimated as just bringing a euphoric “high”, relaxation, and something like a better associative flow in thinking. The story, however, just like with taste, is much more complex – and much more interesting.

Based on the analysis of hundreds of reports of marijuana users and studies thereof I have described several cognitive and perceptual alterations during a high leading to various enhancements in my study “High. Insights on Marijuana.” (Sebastian Marincolo, High. Insights on Marijuana. Dogear Publishing, Indianapolis, USA 2010.) The study aims to explain how these alterations can lead to creative insights. During a high, users experience a hyper focused attention. Sensations of all kinds coming into that focus are not only experienced as more intense, but are also perceived with more detail. The seemingly simple taste of fresh water turns into a highly complex taste experience, with salty, fruity, and herbal associations freely floating together in a symphony of delight. During a high, their capacity to imagine situations is enhanced and they can vividly remember episodes of their lives, sometimes reviving long forgotten memories in astonishing detail. Marijuana users often describe how their mind races quickly through memories, ideas, or associations. They report the enhancement for pattern recognition of various kinds during a high; seeing new patterns in an artistic painting style, in the playing style of a jazz musician, or in the behavior of friends. Many have used the high for better introspection and have found out important aspects about themselves. Many others have reported an enhanced emphatic understanding of others, feeling that they can more easily put themselves “into their moccasins”. Many others report about spontaneous insights during a marijuana high.

Briefly, then, the marijuana high brings a variety of mind-alterations which can be positively used – but the successful use of a high for a creative process crucially depends on the knowledge and the ability of a user to choose the right strain under the right circumstances for the a certain phase of a certain creative process. In my next essay, I will take a closer look at some crucial alterations of a marijuana high and how they can be used – and have been used – for creative purposes.

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