As an ally for artists, musicians and writers, cannabis has a relationship with creativity backed up by extensive legend and lore. Going back in history to Paris in the mid-1800s, the “Club des Hashischins” gathered to converse about the issues of the day while imbibing coffee mixed with hash. Members included literary heavyweights Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, and Honoré de Balzac, who used the psychedelic explorations as fuel for their experimental writing styles.
In the jazz era, cannabis influenced such notables as Louie Armstrong, who reportedly smoked “gage” everyday starting in the 1920s until his death in 1971. With songs like “Muggles” inspired by the plant, Armstrong considered cannabis to be medicine, writing in his biography, “It makes you feel wanted, and when you are with another tea smoker it makes you feel a special sense of kinship.”
Other tea smokers of the era included Thelonius Monk, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday, with so many jazz musicians using cannabis, the musical form was influenced by the “improvisation, creativity, and the chemistry between musicians” that defined the genre. Cannabis increases divergent thinking, and can help artists get into a “flow state,” where they are no longer thinking about the music, but feeling it in the moment.
Beyond the examples of French poets and American jazzmen, there’s many other notable artists who’ve made cannabis a part of their lifestyle, but does using herb really make you more creative? Or do creative people just like using cannabis?
Most of the available science suggests a bit of both. When preparing to get into a creative state, using a small amount of cannabis can help. Set your intentions before you smoke or vape, and think about the project or problem you’re working on. Allow yourself the space to brainstorm while high, taking notes on the different ideas that might pop into your head. After the buzz has worn off, reconsider these “highdeas” and see what might actually work best. Carry out your plans and realize these ideas while sober, then look at your finished drafts while buzzed to see if you get any new perspectives on the manner of execution.
A 2011 study reviewed in Psychology Today suggested that “cannabis produces psychotomimetic symptoms, which in turn might lead to connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, an aspect of divergent thinking considered primary to creative thinking.” Many artists have noted this effect, whereby the influence of cannabis leads to novel ideas and a beneficial change in perspective when trying to solve a particularly vexing problem. While being high may lead to new ideas, many artists think it’s best to execute these ideas while sober.
Cannabis stimulates the frontal lobes of the brain, an area associated with higher creative thought, so there is a direct connection that needs to be researched further. Speaking to Artsy on the amount of cannabis needed to stimulate the brain and get into a flow state, Dr. Alice Weaver Flaherty, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, says that “Like pretty much everything, there can be too much or too little,” she says. “So somebody who’s trying to boost their motivation to be creative very often goes too far and gets themselves totally wired so they can’t concentrate.”
With many new cannabis products on the market aimed at delivering specific effects, those interested in enhancing creativity should start with just a low dose, and not expect miracles—cannabis can help you make new connections and inspire innovations while reducing anxiety, internal self-censorship and doubt, but it’s still no substitute for talent, discipline and hard work.