A surprising correlation between smoking cannabis and creativity levels has been found by new research, indicating that the drug has no effect on creative thought – but does impact how creative the user sees themselves and others.
A team of researchers carried out a number of experiments into how moderate everyday cannabis use can affect users' ability to think creatively and judge the creativity levels of others.
Inspired by the common perception that cannabis has certain creativity-enhancing properties, study author Christopher Barnes, a Michael G. Foster Endowed Professor at the University of Washington, states the need to investigate the cognitive effects of the drug since it was legalized in multiple US states.
“We thought there might be some more nuance to the topic, and that the research literature should be expanded accordingly. A natural first step was to examine cannabis and creativity, given the common belief that they are linked.” Barnes told Psypost.
The team recruited 191 participants from Washington state to take part in the first of two methods of investigation. The task required the group to generate as many creative uses as they could for a brick, either within 15 minutes of smoking cannabis or after 12 hours of abstaining. Participants were asked to perform the tasks required of the study in their own time and submit their results remotely.
Creativity levels were rated by an independent evaluation team and given a creativity score based on the usefulness of the idea as well as how unique they were. Method one found that while stoned participants reported increased joviality, their cannabis use had no significant effect on their creativity levels.
For the second method, the team gathered a different group of 140 participants from the same state. This group was asked to imagine they were working for a consulting firm and had to help generate ideas for increasing the revenue of a local band named File Drawers. The group then had to judge the creativity levels of other people’s ideas, which were produced by a completely different creativity task.
This method found the same results of increased joviality, with no effect on creativity levels. However, this method found a significant increase in creativity self-evaluation and other-evaluation after cannabis use.
While the conclusions of these studies indicate an effect on cognitive function as a result of cannabis use, there are a number of variables that could be impacting their findings.
The paper reported a large variation in what would be considered "moderate" cannabis use between participants, indicating that some were taking in considerably more than others. The cannabis used throughout was also sourced by the participants themselves and was not provided by the research team, meaning there may have been variables associated with the potency and strains used.
Despite the minor limitations of the studies, research like this into the effects of cannabis on cognitive function is of growing importance as the number of users across US states increases with legislation changes.
The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.