The Effects of Cannabis Use on Creativity

02/09/2010

in Cannabis,Research

Prof. Valerie Curran, University College London
Dr. Celia Morgan, University College London
Amanda Feilding, Beckley Foundation, Oxford

We have begun an exciting new study into the putative connection between cannabis and enhanced creativity. Collaborating with Professor Valerie Curran & Dr. Celia Morgan at University College London, we are now formally testing this association, and are currently analysing the data from the first 400 participants. In this study participants are smoking their own cannabis, from which we obtain data on the ratios of the main psychoactive compound THC to the anxiolytic compound cannabidiol (CBD), which also allowa us to gain valuable information about the chemical composition of ‘street’ cannabis.

Additionally, we are collecting genetic and personality data to enable us to delve deeper into the relationship between cannabis use and the subjective effects experienced by individual participants. We are also administering validated tests of cognition and creativity.

The second stage of this research project will use neuroimaging technology to examine the neurobiological changes associated with creativity whilst under the influence of cannabis containing different ratios of THC to CBD.

This study aims to shed light on some of the reputed beneficial properties of cannabis, and to demonstrate that THC alone is a very unsatisfactory model of naturalistic cannabis use, and that other cannabinoids, such as CBD, which have been hitherto neglected, may have beneficial actions in synergy with THC. It will also focus on how individual differences in biochemistry and personality impact on how cannabis affects different people.

Together these studies may shed light on why so many individuals use cannabis, and investigate the reputed beneficial properties of the drug. We aim to show that THC alone is not a satisfactory model of naturalistic cannabis use, and that other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol, which have been hitherto neglected, may have beneficial actions in synergy with THC.

In a time when the use of ‘cognitive enhancing’ prescription drugs, such as modafinil and Ritalin, is at its greatest levels, the cognitive enhancing properties of recreational drugs like cannabis have been largely overlooked. Musicians and artist’s alike claim that cannabis aids in the creative process and even scientists have remarked on the link between cannabis and creativity. In a naturalistic pilot study, one research team found that cannabis users under the influence of their own cannabis were more likely to see relationships between pairs of words than a non-cannabis using control group. The cannabis-using group also showed tendencies to see more associations when drug-free. As one aspect of creativity is the capacity to see remote associations, our findings may reflect a cannabis-related enhancement of this process.

The cannabis plant itself contains over sixty different chemicals – or cannabinoids – that are unique to it. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most widely known cannabinoid, and the one responsible for the high experienced by cannabis users. However it also increases anxiety in healthy volunteers, and can cause other negative effects such as ‘flight of ideas’, where individuals will experience thoughts and ideas coming to them so thick and fast that they are unable to keep track of them. Conversely, cannabidiol (CBD) has been found to reduce anxiety, cause psychomotor slowing and is thought to be neuroprotective in cannabis users. The ratio of these two compounds varies in different strains of cannabis. Most moderen genetically modified cannabis strains show high THC and low to no CBD. Our research group recently conducted a study that found that users of cannabis who smoked strains that are rich in both CBD and THC experienced fewer negative psychological effects (Morgan & Curran, 2008). Thus far only two laboratory studies have assessed the impact of cannabis on creativity by administering THC alone to volunteers (Tinklenberg et al., 1978; Bourrassa & Vaugeois, 2001). The former study found no impact of THC on creativity, and the latter found that THC actually impaired creativity. However, given that THC is associated with the ‘flight of ideas’ and that naturally-smoked cannabis contains both THC and CBD, these findings are perhaps to be expected. Furthermore, we would argue that it is not possible to draw any conclusions concerning the effects of ‘cannabis’ on creativity from studies using THC alone.

We are collecting genetic and personality data to enable us to delve deeper into the relationship between cannabis use and the subjective effects experienced by individual participants. We are also administering validated tests of cognition and creativity.

By testing the potential connection between cannabis and creativity, this study fits into a wider Beckley Foundation research programme looking into the neural basis of creativity and the processes that contribute to this elusive quality, as well as how these processes might be enhanced through the use of psychoactive substances. Moreover, in helping to develop a clearer picture of the effects of cannabis and why so many people choose to use the drug, this study is well complemented by the other projects in our research programme.

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