It’s often said that smoking cannabis is a good way to get more creative. It seems to make sense as well as you see things pretty differently when you’re high (so I’ve heard). Steve Jobs famously said “The best way I could describe the effect of the marijuana and hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative,” and the likes of Lady Gaga have also praised marijuana’s creativity inducing ability. No doubt, the idea that cannabis makes you more creative has already become common knowledge.
But this bit of common knowledge may be completely wrong.
Weeding out misconceptions
We’re still behind on cannabis research as the complete prohibition has also prevented academics from studying the effects it has on the human body. But in recent years, several states and countries have relaxed their position on cannabis, legalizing it for recreational purposes or at least allowing researchers to study it.
So researchers got thinking: are the myths around marijuana consumption true? Christopher M. Barnes, Yu Tse Heng, and Kai Chi (Sam) Yam from the University of Washington and the National University of Singapore wanted to put that to the test.
“As academic researchers focused on workplace behaviors and performance, we have conducted numerous studies related to different factors that can influence employees. But research on the impact of cannabis in the workplace is still fairly limited, and so we were curious to explore how using weed at work might be affecting employees and organizations,” the researchers explain in an article that accompanied their research.
They recruited over 300 regular consumers of cannabis from Washington State, where recreational cannabis is allowed. Due to ethical reasons, the researchers couldn’t really get random people and ask them to consume cannabis, so they had to recruit people who were already consuming it regularly. The scientists then carried out two studies.
Creativity and cannabis
The participants were split into two groups. The first group was asked to do a task within 15 minutes of smoking a joint or vaping, and the other was asked to do the same task having not smoked in the past 12 hours. In the first study, participants were asked to give as many creative uses for a brick as possible (a task that is often used in creativity research). In the second study, participants imagined they worked for a consulting firm that had been hired to help a local music band increase revenue, and again were asked to generate as many creative ideas as possible.
Then, both the participants and an external panel of research assistants and experts judged how creative the ideas were. In all studies, participants also put down how they felt and how good they thought their ideas were.
The high participants felt happier and cheerful. They were, on average, in a way better mood. This led them to evaluate reponses, both their own and those of others, as more creative. In other words, when people got high, they felt they were more creative — as were the ones around them. But the experts found no difference in creativity for high and non-high participants.
Researchers say that the results should be evaluated with nuance. The findings show that cannabis didn’t make people any less creative either — so if people’s jobs depend on generating creative ideas, then blanked bans on cannabis may not do much good. But if people’s jobs involve evaluating creative ideas, then smoking pot is probably not a good idea.
“Of course, these findings are hardly a condemnation of cannabis. Our research suggests that partaking doesn’t help or harm people’s creativity, and so for employees in roles focused on generating creative ideas, occasional pot use may not be problematic. However, the effect of weed on people’s ability to reliably evaluate creative ideas does imply a potential downside to workplace usage: If you are a manager or project leader tasked with evaluating creative ideas (whether your own or those of your colleagues), being high might make you more likely to overestimate an idea’s merit. So for these roles, sobriety may be beneficial,” the researchers conclude.