Marijuana Users are More Creative (but it’s not the Marijuana)

Popular culture and the media continually make reference to the association between cannabis use and enhanced creativity. Iconic figures such as Bob Marley, Louie Armstrong, and even Steve Jobs have reinforced this connection. As such cannabis has long been associated with musicians, artists and the ‘creative types.’  However, there has been little academic attention to this topic and the studies that do exist often show conflicting results.

In a study just published in Consciousness and Cognition, Emily LaFrance and Carrie Cutler, set out to more thoroughly examine the purported relationship between marijuana and creativity.

As lead Author LaFrance explains “I became interested in this topic upon realization that a number of my favorite musicians and artists were well known for their cannabis use, and that this cannabis use was commonly thought to have been a cause of the creative success of many artists. I began to wonder about this commonly held idea – are cannabis users really more creative than non-users? and if so, is this because cannabis use makes them more creative, or is something else causing differences in creativity between users and non-users?”

So what is creativity? Creativity is the ability to come up with novel solutions and is split into two categories: 1) Divergent thinking is coming up with a bunch of unique solutions, while 2) convergent thinking is a more rigid and singular solution.

Previous studies have generally found a connection between cannabis and creativity but the authors wanted to test whether this was actually driven by a the third variable, in this case personality. In other words, was it simply the type of person who decided to use marijuana and not the marijuana itself that was leading to this relationship?

To carry out the study LaFrance and Cutler measured self-reported cannabis use history to separate participants into two groups, a group of cannabis users, and a group of non-users. As they stated, “We also administered measures of personality, as well as self-reported and objective creativity to determine if A) cannabis users were more creative than non-users, and B) whether differences in personality might underlie these effects.”

The results demonstrated that “cannabis users both self-reported higher creativity (i.e. they believed they were more creative) than non-users, and also performed better than non-users on one objective creativity test. We also found that users tended to be more open to experience, a personality trait which has been linked to heightened creativity in past literature” LaFrance told LRN Media. “Statistically controlling for differences in openness to experience between users and non-users abolished any differences in creativity between the two groups. This suggests that cannabis users are indeed more creative than non-users, but not because of their cannabis use. Rather, higher levels of personality trait openness to experience are underlying this effect.”

As the authors note, “given that personality is established early in life, these results indicate that pre-existing differences in openness to experience may be increasing both creativity and the propensity to use cannabis, rather than cannabis directly affecting creativity.”

With the continued growth and legalization of cannabis across the United States, the importance of clearly understand the effects from a scientific perspective is critical. While pop culture and the mainstream media have propagated this relationship the study demonstrated it is likely a spurious connection, driven by personality differences.

“I believe this research is important because there are so many commonly held misconceptions about cannabis that are perpetuated in popular culture today. Studies such as this one can help to clear up these kinds of false beliefs and lead us to a better understanding of cannabis and its actual effects” LaFrance told LRN Media.

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