Debunking a Curious Myth About Marijuana

The University of Washington conducted a study to find out if cannabis use enhances creativity. The investigation yielded some interesting results.
Debunking a Curious Myth About Marijuana
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 14 March, 2023

There’s a widespread idea that smoking marijuana increases creativity. Perhaps this myth originates from the fact that many people in the art world have been or continue to be consumers. Charles Baudelaire himself used to say that the simplest words and the most trivial ideas take on a strange and new meaning after consuming hashish.

Many famous people such as John Lennon, Bob Marley, and even scientists like Carl Sagan were cannabis users. However, there doesn’t seem to be much foundation for the myth that smoking marijuana increases creativity. This is corroborated by a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Although the researchers confirm that the subject requires further research, in reality, the available evidence indicates that smoking marijuana has a minimal impact on creativity. Moreover, it only applies to some people.

creative brain
“Cannabis probably doesn’t make you as creative as you think”. (Christopher Barnes).

A study on marijuana and creativity

The above-mentioned research was led by Christopher Barnes, a psychologist at the University of Washington (USA). His goal was to find out if smoking marijuana makes us more creative. To verify this, he used 191 volunteers who were occasional cannabis users.

All the participants were given a creativity test, either 15 minutes after taking cannabis or 12 hours after abstaining.  Afterward, a panel of judges scored the evidence and the ideas that emerged. To avoid any bias, none of them knew which volunteer they were evaluating.

Research results

The results showed that there was no difference between the participants who responded to the test under the influence of cannabis with those who were sober at the time of the test. Therefore, it was concluded that smoking marijuana doesn’t influence creativity.

However, the researchers did find that those who were under the influence of the drug tended to overestimate their own ideas, as well as those of other participants. In other words, they felt that they and the others were more creative, even though they weren’t.

This gives clues to understanding why so many people engage in creative activities and attribute their skills to marijuana use. In fact, scientists think that the positive mood that cannabis promotes in most people is an important starting point for being more creative anyway. Therefore, consumption doesn’t foster creativity but promotes a positive disposition to create.

colored light bulb
Marijuana doesn’t make users more creative, but they’re more likely to overestimate their ideas and think them to be creative, even if they’re not.

Other investigations

Christopher Barnes’ conclusions are consistent with other studies that have analyzed the relationship between marijuana and creativity, albeit with certain nuances.

For instance, research conducted in 2012 found that cannabis use slightly stimulated divergent thinking, which is typical of creative thinking. That said, this effect was only apparent in individuals who normally experienced difficulties with being innovative. Moreover, the effect wasn’t particularly significant.

Other research tested the effects of cannabis in three groups. Researchers gave one group a high dose of TCH (the active ingredient in marijuana), another a low amount, and another a placebo. None of the participants knew which group they were in.

A series of tests were then carried out to measure their creativity levels. The results indicated that those who consumed the low amounts of TCH or the placebo were more creative than those who received the higher dosage. In fact, in the latter case, there was a noticeable reduction in their creative capacities. Therefore, we can confidently state that, to date, no evidence exists that marijuana use makes us more creative. In fact, the available results tend to suggest the opposite.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Heng, Y. T., Barnes, C. M., & Yam, K. C. (2022). Cannabis use does not increase actual creativity but biases evaluations of creativity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.
  • Schafer, G., Feilding, A., Morgan, C. J., Agathangelou, M., Freeman, T. P., & Curran, H. V. (2012). Investigating the interaction between schizotypy, divergent thinking and cannabis use. Consciousness and cognition, 21(1), 292-298.
  • Kowal, M. A., Hazekamp, A., Colzato, L. S., van Steenbergen, H., van der Wee, N. J., Durieux, J., … & Hommel, B. (2015). Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users. Psychopharmacology, 232(6), 1123-1134.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.