Marijuana Promotes Creativity: The Evidence

Posted: October 21st, 2011 | Filed under: drugs, marijuana | 19 Comments »

Marijuana Promotes Creativity

The Artists

The writer, Norman Mailer, said that marijuana is “divine” for providing one with new associations and “extraordinary thoughts.” (6) His 1948 book, The Naked and The Dead, is regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century.

When asked if drugs aided his creativity Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys replied, “Very much so, yeah. Marijuana helped me write Pet Sounds.” (4) Pet Sounds was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the second greatest album of all time. (2)

The author, Tom Robbins, has said:

The plant genies don’t manufacture imagination, nor do they market wonder and beauty – but they force us out of context so dramatically and so meditatively that we gawk in amazement at the ubiquitous everyday wonders that we are culturally disposed to overlook, and they teach us invaluable lessons about fluidity, relativity, flexibility, and paradox. Such an increase in awareness, if skillfully applied, can lift a disciplined, adventurous artist permanently out of reach of the faded jaws of mediocrity. (11)

This is echoed by the musician Richard Ashcroft of The Verve:

Anything that can take you to beyond where you naturally are when you wake up in the morning can have some creative effect, can have some way of spinning the way you look on life …. I smoke the weed every day, and to me, that is the thing I’ve found is best for making music. (3)

Other artists who have attributed creative assistance to marijuana include director Kevin Smith and the musician Alanis Morissette. (10, 8) Their words can be found here and here respectively.

The Scientists

Dr. Andrew Weil wrote that many of the ideas in his best-selling book, The Natural Mind (1972), came to him when he was high on marijuana. (12)

The astronomer and author, Carl Sagan, attributed numerous insights to marijuana and has defended this inspiration from those who call it illusory. (5) To read his entire treatise on the cerebral benefits of marijuana use go to this link.

The psychologist, Susan Blackmore, has written, “I can honestly say that without cannabis, most of my scientific research would never have been done and most of my books on psychology and evolution would not have been written.” (1)

The Science

One way in which creativity can be described is the ability to find new and novel connections between concepts. In scientific terms the ability to find connections between words is called semantic priming. A 2010 study published in Psychiatry Research found that the use of marijuana induces a state of hyper-priming. (9) When presented with an activation word, subjects reacted faster to distantly-related words when high than when sober. (For a neuroscience journalist’s take on this study go here.) The flow of loose associations promoted by marijuana is a real phenomenon.

Credit goes to Jason Silva for introducing me to this study. His article on marijuana’s “butterfly effect” on thought can be found here.

Addendum (June 25, 2012) – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, told government investigators during a background check in 1988, “The best way I would describe the effect of the marijuana and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative.” (13)


1. Susan Blackmore, “I Take Illegal Drugs for Inspiration,” Daily Telegraph, 21 May 2005. LINK
2. Pat Blashill, et al., “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,”, 2003. LINK
3. “Captain Beaky and His Bands,” Q, Feb. 2001, p. 53.
4. Jian Ghomeshi, “Brian Wilson Talks About Drug Use on QTV,” Q with Jian Ghomeshi, 20 May 2011. LINK
5. Lester Grinspoon, Marihuana Reconsidered (1971).
6. Russ Kick, Disinformation Book of Lists (2004), p. 28.
7. Jonah Lehrer, “Marijuana and Divergent Thinking,” The Frontal Cortex, 10 Mar. 2010. LINK
8. John Luersson, “Alanis Morissette Credits Marijuana for Creativity,”, 1 Dec. 2009. LINK
9. C.J. Morgan, et al., “Hyper-Priming in Cannabis Users,” Psychiatry Research, 30 Apr. 2010. LINK
10. “Pot Smoking ‘Saved’ Kevin Smith,”, 5 Oct. 2009. LINK
11. Jacob Sullum, Saying Yes (2003), p. 157.
12. Andrew Weil, The Natural Mind (1998), p. 196.
13. Kim Zetter, “Steve Jobs’ Pentagon File: Blackmail Fears, Youthful Arrest and LSD Cubes,”, 11 June 2012. LINK

19 Comments on “Marijuana Promotes Creativity: The Evidence”

  1. 1 andy said at 10:07 pm on October 23rd, 2011:

    You have an odd definition of “evidence.”

    “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

  2. 2 Narco Polo comic: Marijuana Promotes Creativity | My Blog said at 2:12 am on October 24th, 2011:

    […] Marijuana Promotes Creativity: The Evidence […]

  3. 3 Cannabis: A Hyper Primer at MentalPolyphonics said at 7:56 am on October 24th, 2011:

    […] BB, it turns out that cannabis hyper-primes your brain [Narco Polo, see refs], making it easier to see distant […]

  4. 4 | Breaking News! | Expect So Much | said at 10:41 am on October 24th, 2011:

    […] public health & service announcement comes from Narco Polo, by way of […]

  5. 5 Science Says Cannabis Makes You More Creative | Medical Marijuana State Guidelines Kentucky said at 11:39 am on October 24th, 2011:

    […] general: they make you more creative. Robert Arthur’s Narco Polo blog posted a piece entitled Marijuana Promotes Creativity: The Evidence. Let’s go over his piece, and other like-minded attempts to give cannabis credit for […]

  6. 6 glowinggreenant said at 3:47 am on October 25th, 2011:

    Detailed reports by marijuana users are a good start, but we need more than anecdotes to prove that marijuana can enhance our creativity and lead to insights. Here is a new study which aims to explain the effects of marijuana on higher cognition: “High. Insights on Marijuana” (Dog Ear publishing) by Sebastian Marincolo is an investigation which supports the “insights claim” and explains in depth the different ways in which a marijuana high can also lead to the enhancement of episodic memory, pattern recognition, creativity, introspection, and our ability for empathic understanding.

  7. 7 Administrator said at 7:09 pm on October 26th, 2011:

    Andy, your criticism is valid. In my defense, anecdotal evidence is still evidence … weak as it may be.

    It is difficult to get more data when the US government will only approve marijuana research that explicitly seeks to show how “bad” it is. (The study I did mention was conducted in the UK.)

  8. 8 ?? ??????????? | xu1892 said at 8:54 pm on October 26th, 2011:

    […] ???????????????????????????????????????????——??????????????????·???Robert Arthur????Narco Polo??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Dionysian???????????????????????????????????????????????????? […]

  9. 9 A week in weed — Dope Smoker said at 8:21 am on October 28th, 2011:

    […] Here’s a great little picture of how cannabis can promote creativity. […]

  10. 10 Sanjaya said at 7:07 am on November 13th, 2011:

    I totally agree

  11. 11 Behavioral Crossroads said at 4:46 pm on December 15th, 2011:

    I find this very interesting. The evidences may be weak, but they make a good point. Either way, cannabis can still harm one’s health and way of thinking, so better not abuse it.

  12. 12 The Value of Getting Wasted | extreme opinions blog said at 12:59 am on May 4th, 2013:

    […] […]

  13. 13 The Science Behind Cannabis and Creativity said at 6:20 pm on November 4th, 2013:

    […] • […]

  14. 14 Does marijuana help you write better? The Weed Experiment | Creativindie said at 5:46 pm on August 19th, 2014:

    […] may be very help­ful. In fact the increased flow of loose asso­ci­a­tions is one of the proven effects of […]

  15. 15 David said at 9:25 am on September 10th, 2014:

    I have been in many bands over the years, containing several people who smoked cannabis. These people have been the most consistently ‘non-creative’ people I have worked with. Whatever ‘creative processes’ their minds were capable of mustering was snuffed out by the use of cannabis.

    An alcoholic will always find a way of justifying his/her habit, but rarely forces it upon others. The cannabis smoker makes it a mission in their lives to get everybody else to smoke it. Why?

    Every young person I know here in England who has a cannabis problem has seen their teeth turn black and fall out. They have chosen their drug before their teeth. They are still so zoned out that they don’t regret a single drag.

  16. 16 Pousser ses limites réflectives et créatives : consommation ou méditation? | Média Libre de la Terre said at 7:31 am on November 16th, 2014:

    […] positives Une des caractéristiques du cannabis est qu’il promeut la créativité, et de plus en plus de gens y croient. Ils se fient aux nombreux cas d’artistes, de musiciens […]

  17. 17 said at 3:41 am on May 28th, 2015:

    Marijuana use is legal in many states for medical purposes, most of them dealing with neurological conditions (pain, epilepsy, tremor, multiple sclerosis, and many others).

  18. 18 Pousser ses limites réflectives et créatives : consommation ou méditation? | Conscience HumaniTerre said at 9:58 am on November 17th, 2015:

    […] positives Une des caractéristiques du cannabis est qu’il promeut la créativité, et de plus en plus de gens y croient. Ils se fient aux nombreux cas d’artistes, de musiciens […]

  19. 19 mmjhype said at 3:33 pm on December 3rd, 2015:

    We know one thing… It’s that a natural plant-based medicine is always our best bet. Especially one people have been consuming for thousands of years with no deaths.