Does Marijuana Make You More Creative?

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Teen boy mixing paints on a palette.

Not many people would say with a straight face that drugs like heroin or methamphetamine are good for you. And who would claim that those drugs could help you be more successful in life? 

But there are lots of people who think marijuana is different from other drugs. For example, we’ve already talked in this blog about the idea that it may have medical uses. (The jury is still out on that one.)

Some users even say marijuana’s mind-altering effect—the “high”—is also beneficial. They claim using the drug chills them out, expands their mind, and makes them more creative. Since the 1960s, marijuana has had this mystique as an aid to the artistic life.

What does science say about that?

Getting Creative with the Facts

Many studies over the years have found that marijuana indeed makes users perceive themselves as having more creative thoughts and ideas—which would help explain why so many artists and musicians tout its benefits.

But perception isn’t always the same as reality—and we know that marijuana alters perceptions! In fact, the research on cannabis and creativity suggests that even if users feel more creative, it’s actually an illusion. People may even be less creative after using it.

For example, a new study of almost 60 cannabis users in The Netherlands looked at the effects of the drug on a measure of creativity called divergent thinking—which means the ability to brainstorm, think flexibly, and come up with original solutions to problems. After inhaling a high or low dose of vaporized cannabis, or a vapor with the same odor and taste but no THC (the chemical that causes the high), the participants took a test that asked them to come up with as many creative uses for two common items (like a pen or a shoe) as they could.

The results surprised even the researchers: low doses of cannabis did not have any effect on the participants’ ability to think creatively, compared to not taking cannabis. And high doses actually lowered their creativity—by a lot.

It seems that feeling creative and being creative really aren’t the same thing.

Yet it's also true that your expectations about a drug do matter. Different studies have shown that people who are unknowingly given a placebo (something with no drug in it) instead of a drug (or alcohol) will act or perform in ways that correspond to how they expect the drug to affect them.

Marijuana on Your Mind

One study, for example, found that regular marijuana users who ate biscuits containing marijuana were less creative than a control group who didn’t eat any biscuits, and that both of those groups were less creative than a group who ate biscuits they thought contained marijuana but were actually a placebo.

It goes to show that your mind, including your beliefs about drugs, have a lot more power than you think. You don’t have to take the drug to get the effect you expect—in fact, it works best if you don’t!

What do you think? Do you know people who take marijuana (or other drugs) to help them be more creative? Do you think it helps or hurts them? Let us know in comments.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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