I use cannabis to jump-start my creativity, have for many years. It helps silence my critical voice. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’m able to connect the dots in a different way – achieve a creative breakthrough or insight.
I’ve been researching the cannabis-creativity connection for some years now, and I’m blown away by the misinformation that’s out there. So with that said, here are 5 myths that The Man and his underlings are trying to perpetuate. Don’t let ‘em!
1. Marijuana can't make an uncreative person creative.
The idea that some people are creative while others are uncreative is both wrong and elitist. Creativity isn't reserved for the so-called creative types, as if they live on a different planet from the rest of us. We are all creative types. We all have the potential to unlock our creativity, to become reacquainted with it if we lost it along the way, and to enhance and maximize our creative output. There is no such thing as an uncreative person; there are just obstacles and inhibitions that sometimes preclude creativity. Most people are actually far more capable of being creative than they think. According to D. N. Perkins' "The Mind's Best Work," creativity arises naturally from our powers of perception, memory, logic, analysis, and comprehension. It's there inside you. You were born creative. But when you entered the school system, that place where creativity goes to die, you began to lose it.
The good news...
The good news is that our creative potential can easily be activated, or reactivated; even something as small as changing our environment can make a big difference in our creative output. Cannabis can help remove obstacles, like fear, that stand in the way of our creative development. For a few blissful moments, a little cannabis can renew and refresh our perspective, and awaken or reawaken the creative potential with which each of us was born.
2. Marijuana kills brain cells and makes you stupid.
Actually, it does the opposite. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that marijuana promotes the growth of new brain cells. A team led by Xia Zhang at the University of Saskatchewan administered a synthetic form of THC to a group of rats. The pot increased, by 40 percent, the rate of brain cell formation in the hippocampus, the brain's creativity and learning center. What's more, the brain naturally makes marijuana-like compounds called Endocannabinoids, which can be unlocked and activated by cannabinoids found only in the cannabis plant.
3. Pot-smokers can’t function and become glued to the couch.
That’s precisely the point—if your goal is creative output, “functioning” is the last thing you want to do. You spend most of your waking hours functioning. According to recent research, too much focusing and functioning can reduce your creativity and cause you to rely disproportionately on the left – and less creative – hemisphere of your brain. Sitting on the couch, zoning, preferably alone, may not be good for your waist line, but it is exactly the atmosphere, or setting, that enables ideas to marinate and fosters creativity.
4. Pot-smokers are lazy, unmotivated, and a burden to society.
This caricature grew out of the counterculture of the 1960s, and was further exploited by President Richard Nixon and his fellow "tough on crime" conservatives. But it even pre-dates that. In the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was convinced that pot smokers, and specifically jazz musicians, were a menace to society. Of course this conceit is very much alive in today's public discourse, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Even the late William F. Buckley, darling of the conservative movement, defended marijuana (then again, he prided himself on being reasonable, rational and civilized, traits many of today's cultural critics don't share.)
Refuting the "pot smokers are lazy losers" myth is like a pleasant walk in the park. Let's start with Carl…no, on second thought, that’s too obvious. Don't need to play the Sagan card, at least not now.
Perhaps Francis Crick will do? The Nobel Prize winner contributed to a "minor" discovery about something called, um, DNA (Had the surreal experience of sharing a cocktail with him some years before his passing.
5. Pot-inspired insights and creative bursts are an illusion, and look ridiculously lame and incomprehensible the next morning.
Time to bring in one of the smart guys, the late Carl Sagan: "I am convinced that this is an error," he wrote under the pseudonym “Mr. X” in a 1971 essay, “and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we're down the next day."
That's not to say that we don't sometimes veer too far to the left or right; when our critical voice is suspended, which tends to happen smoking cannabis, we should expect some ideas to slip into the realm of implausibility. And that’s not a bad thing; in fact, it can be liberating. Paying too much attention to what is plausible is a left-brain preoccupation, and too much of that kind of thinking can hurt your creativity.
If you've ever been part of a formal brainstorm at work, you've heard the leader set the ground rules by saying, "There are no bad ideas, and no one should criticize or judge what others say." It's not about being politically correct or hypersensitive about your co-workers' feelings. Rather, brainstorm leaders understand the importance of managing the critical voice, for it alone has the power to turn off our creativity fountain. Who cares if your ideas are plausible or not. That's so not the point. At least not now, not at the idea-generation phase.
So...imagine you’re the brainstorm leader. Give yourself permission and space to think Big, Crazy, ideas without fear or self-censorship. And if one of your ideas doesn’t survive the light of day – if it’s not a keeper – simply press delete and move on to the next idea, which is waiting to be un-covered.
At the end of the day, creativity is a numbers game. It takes many false starts to find that one idea or insight which, when transformed by your imagination, leads to a creative breakthrough. Failure, if you want to call it that, is okay, even encouraged. But remember, don't listen to the naysayers, who say you're deluding yourself. Like Carl Sagan said, the “devastating insights” that we stumble upon when we’re high are absolutely real. Oftentimes a little massaging and refining the next morning over coffee is all that’s required.