By Maia Leggott
Every single person who smokes weed believes it makes them better at something.
Solving the quadratic equation.
For me, it’s writing. There’s something about the laser focus and naked honesty that puts me in the zone. Ideas that were sitting, stagnant, are stirred to life and suddenly get the boost they need to come to fruition. Hesitant hands start flying across the page or the keyboard, unable to keep up with the flow of ideas.
I’ve been using cannabis for a long time – almost half of my life. The frequency varied, peaking in my early twenties and seeing me through some difficult shit. I always loved the way it helped me to relax, encouraged me to putter with painting, crafting, writing and making.
There was nothing better than sharing a joint with pals and waiting for the stories to start flowing: hilarious commentary on the uncanny ability of The Simpsons to accurately predict the future; contemplations on the universe and how humans fit into the chain of being; tales of appreciating the simple beauty of a walk on the beach that cleanses an aching soul.
It always seemed like cannabis elicited creativity in everyone who used it. Musician friends would jam for hours on a wave of inspiration, artists create a stunning canvas, writers fill a notebook with inspiring prose, and anyone could decide it was time to rearrange the living room on a whim.
Think about all of the famous pot-loving creatives out there — Bob Dylan, Carl Sagan, Lady Gaga (“I have to be high to be creative.”), Bob Marley (“Herb is a plant, herb is good for everything.”), Willie Nelson, The Beatles … the list goes on and on. Would “Rubber Soul” even exist without the inspiration-boosting green herb? I shudder to think.
A 2011 study actually suggested that the psychoactive effects of cannabis could “lead to connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, an aspect of divergent thinking considered primary to creative thinking.” This ability to associate in different ways is more likely to generate unique ideas by breaking free from familiar thinking. Morgan, Rothwell, et al. called this ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts “hyper-priming” in their 2010 study.
Dr. Alice Weaver Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. Deep brain stimulation is her game, and she is interested in the mechanisms of creativity in the brain. She believes the answer to the cannabis and creativity question may be in the frontal lobe. Highly creative people show more frontal lobe activity than those with less, and cannabis use can stimulate this area. Her most recent research is focusing on how creative types “get in the zone,” she says. And a lot of it has to do with tolerance and dosage: “Somebody who’s trying to boost their motivation to be creative [can go] too far so they can’t concentrate,” she says. “A very anxious creative person may get some benefit from cannabis. In calming them down, it could help their creativity.”
I can definitely vouch for that. It’s not always a matter of being ‘stoned.’ I’m prone to crippling anxiety, about everything I do, and it sends me into unproductive spirals where I end up calling my dad in tears without being able to pinpoint one concrete reason for my distress. Taking CBD oil regulates my anxiety and helps me focus that would-be-nervous energy into something productive. Like overhauling my final project of the semester two nights before its due. Like overcoming the writer’s block that’s been crushing me. Like creating meaningful art.
Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once wrote, “the cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before.” I mean, that seems like proof of concept to me.
It’s not just scientists who are trying to understand the phenomenon of cannabis and creativity. A search on Leafly’s website reveals the best user-rated strains for sparking creativity–classics Jack Herer, Purple Haze and Lemon Diesel made the list, among many others.
Kevin Smith (the genius screenwriter/director behind Mallrats and Clerks) credits cannabis for getting him out of a creative rut. Alanis Morisette apparently smokes weed to get into the groove of song writing. Bob Dylan growled, “Everybody must get stoned,” and is credited for turning The Fab Four onto the creative benefits of cannabis . In 1988, Steve Jobs declared “The best way I would describe the effect of the marijuana and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative.”
I’ve known many creative types in my life, and a large majority of them turn to cannabis to get the creative juices flowing. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and when I’m writing I often get caught up in the fears and expectations of sharing thoughts so openly. Taking a break to have a puff or a vape allows me to approach a difficult project with a fresh perspective and get out of my head.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times I smoke a bowl, sit down in front of my laptop flexing my fingers in anticipation, only to stare at the blinking cursor for 15 (or 45) minutes. But the times I wake up in the morning, have a sesh, a stretch and a (meditative) sit and write nine pages in a notebook without even batting an eye, make up for those moments.
Do you use cannabis for creativity? What else drags you out of productive limbo and encourages you to create?