Cannabis or Creativity: Which Comes First?

By David Jenison on January 9, 2018

Does cannabis trigger creativity, or are cannabis enthusiasts just naturally more creative? That's the question Washington state researchers attempted to answer in a new study published in Consciousness and Cognition

"Mechanisms underlying enhanced creativity in cannabis users" included data on 412 sober cannabis users and 309 non-users who completed assessments detailing their cannabis consumption, personality traits and objective creativity. The initial data found that cannabis enthusiasts appear to be more creative. 

"Relative to non-users, sober cannabis users self reported higher creativity, and performed significantly better on a measure of convergent thinking," the study noted. 

The sober cannabis users also appeared to be more extraverted and open to experience, but when the researchers controlled for openness, the differences between users and non-users seemed to disappear. 

"While cannabis users appear to demonstrate enhanced creativity," the study concluded, "these effects are an artifact of their heightened levels of openness to experience." In other words, cannabis enthusiasts tend to be more creative, but their creative minds might've made them more open to cannabis in the first place. 

One of the researchers, graduate student Emily LaFrance, explained the results to PsyPost: "The average person should understand that... cannabis users may be more creative than non-users, but this is not because using cannabis has increased their creativity. Instead, cannabis users tend to have different personality traits (they are more open to experience) than non-users, and this openness to experience is associated with both cannabis use, and heightened creativity…. So, cannabis use does not increase creativity, but certain personality traits tend to increase the likelihood that one will use cannabis, and that they will also be more creative."

This doesn't mean that cannabis highs are not a trigger for creative expression and divergent thinking. LeFrance noted that other studies examined this, and "some studies have found certain types of creativity are enhanced."

Per the study, the same openness to cannabis also increases personal creativity, but the researchers did not address another consideration, i.e., that cannabis helps open minds. Most cannabis enthusiasts would say it does, and if that is the case, one might argue that a cycle exists in which cannabis, openness and creativity all mutually support each other. 

Photo credit: Flickr/Hernán Piñera.

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