Creativity is a funny thing. Like all of life’s greatest wonders it’s intangible, a term that eludes definition. What, exactly, does it mean to be creative? Can creativity be enhanced?
Many scientists have attempted to discover not only the mechanism behind what construes creativity, but have also sought to research the link between creativity and cannabis in earnest. It’s a natural question to ask: after all, people have been using cannabis for thousands of years, going way back as far as 2737 BC when it was first employed by the Chinese for treating rheumatism and gout.
Despite this impressive lifespan, science provides us with little insight as to how cannabis affects the brain with regards to creativity. A few studies form the bulk of the research that’s been conducted on this topic so far. The first is a British study from 2012 that examined the effects of cannabis on divergent thinking, the ability to connect seemingly unrelated concepts. It concluded that cannabis may improve divergent thinking thanks to a disinhibition of frontal cortical functions in the brain. A 2015 study by Leiden University found that cannabis use did, in fact, stimulate increased divergent thinking, but with a caveat. Low doses of cannabis (5.5g under 19% THC) had a stimulating effect, while higher doses (22mg) had the opposite effect.
Finally in 2017 researchers from Washington State University tackled the question head on through a series of tests conducted on sober cannabis users and non-users. It revealed that cannabis can induce heightened creativity in someone based on their personality type. Extroverted personality types—those who were more open to new experiences—were likely to report the greatest benefit from cannabis creatively speaking.
To get to the heart of how cannabis functions as a creative force, I sat down with three ladies that use cannabis to enhance their creativity in their everyday lives. I wanted to get a feel from each as to how cannabis affected their work, and wanted to get their thoughts as to how the two were connected. Their answers surprised me greatly.
1. Madeline Music
Portland based painter & budtender at Jayne
Adorned in endless jewelry and tattoos, Madeline is quiet, soft spoken with curly blonde hair. Part time budtender and part time artist, Madeline creates most of Jayne’s visual design elements. Small stickers at the front desk bear the Jayne name with small illustrations surrounding it. A chalkboard by the entrance is always decorated in flowy handwriting and drawings by Madeline, whose doodles cannot be contained. You’ll see them cropping up everywhere in the store, hidden on inventory lists and hanging in the back office.
Creativity is an essential part of Madeline’s soul. Having attended an art focused school throughout the majority of her life, it comes as easily to her as breathing, a natural extension of herself.
“Art for me is very important—art for me is life,” she says, wrapping her curls around a finger.
Paintings cover every wall in the living room, many of which are her own. A portrait of Frida Kahlo hangs proudly by the window while another one, “Santa Muerte”, depicts a grim reaper done in Art Nouveau style.
Her studio is decked out similarly, with many of the paintings reflecting a space theme, splashes on a canvas that remind us of a starry skyline.
“Cannabis helps clear my mind, it gets my emotions going. I use CBD on a daily basis; it helps me feel less anxious which allows me to feel more open to doing art,” she sayss.
Could this be the inhibitory aspect of creativity the researchers were alluding to—the disinhibition of frontal cortical functions? We talk about the “negative thought trap” that can happen in the mind where you can’t let go of a certain idea, and agree that cannabis, especially CBD, helps dim the more self-judgmental aspects our brains can create.
“I like indica hybrids. I also really like CBD blends like Tangie Cure. Some of the most amazing strains I’ve had recently are Bula Farms’ Rude Girl, White Tahoe Cookies, Dosi Face and the Gummi Bear from Deschutes.”
Are there certain profile types you look for? I ask.
“I like Limonene. It doesn’t feel as racy. You’re still uplifted but not sleepy. I love Irish Cream, Bull Run’s Silvertip. Blue Dream was my favorite strain for years.”
A pattern began to emerge. Limonene is known for its anxi-anxiety and anti-depressant properties. Linalool, one of the main terpenes in Dosi Face, is known for its calming effects. And all cookie strains have Durban Poison, a South African landrace strain widely known for its creative effects, as a grandparent.
“Creative expression is the universe working itself through us when we make art,” she says, exhaling a pillow of smoke. “When we express ourselves, that’s the universe expressing itself through us. It brings us closer to that oneness.”
She puts out the joint and pauses for a moment.
“I don’t want to push my ideas on people with my art,” she continues thoughtfully. “I just want to encourage people to be curious.”
2. Samantha Montanaro
Founder of Prism House, Tokeativity, graphic designer, painter, musician & all around badass
You could think of Sam as one of the godmothers of art and cannabis in Portland. She’s the founder of Prism House, Tokeativity and the Puff, Puff and Paint group, and lives to bring out the creativity in everyone she meets.
“You see some people come to Puff, Puff and Paint that tell me they haven’t even held a paintbrush since they were kids,” she begins, laughing.
Her joviality is contagious; her space, like many artists, is covered in dozens of photos, drawings, doodles, a dream catcher, even.
As is the case with many creatives, Sam can’t confine herself to just painting. She’s a graphic designer and an accomplished musician, a singer that can play guitar and most every instrument she can get her hands on.
“I’ve been an artist my entire life. Creating is what I do.”
Sam’s art is bursting with colors and mixed media everywhere you look. Starry night skies, mountain ranges and flowers draw your eye in instantaneously.
Her space, too, is colorful, a bright ebullient jade green. Music softly blares out speakers while a guitar rests nearby.
“Cannabis and music have a direct correlation for me. The cannabis plant has amazing magical potential to unlock our brain. For people who are already inclined to be creative it helps open the doors a bit further.”
I’m struck by her word choice and how similar her responses are to Madeline’s. I ask her to elaborate on what “opening the door” entails.
“It relaxes the OCD part of my brain. I multitask so much and there’s always so much running through my mind. When I use cannabis it relaxes that part of me that is on alert. I can be really present.”
Cinex was her favorite strain for a long time, but now Sam enjoys the fun that comes with trying new strains on a daily basis. Experimentation, it seems, is an essential part of her ability to create.
“Never stop trying new things. Keep the mindset of play in the forefront. The more you do that, that’s practicing opening up your doors,” she adds.
3. Sole Fiumefreddo
Painter and Culture & Education Coordinator at Sweet Cannabis
Sole’s work is all about color and shapes. It’s full of movement, suggesting flowers blowing in the wind on cloudless summer days, trees blossoming in spring, swirls of harmonious colors done in a modern art style.
Paintings are stashed in every corner of her space while her desk is overflowing with every kind of medium you could imagine. She takes out a hot glue gun that looks like something out of Mad Max and smiles. It’s one of her favorite tools to use to convey that feeling of motion.
“Creativity to me,” she begins, “is bringing something completely non-existent to life.”
I probe her for a little more information on the mechanism behind cannabis induced creativity. Her answers focused largely on the terpene aspects of cultivars, reflecting her savvy as an education coordinator.
“There are different cultivars that make me feel different ways about my work. Jack Herer, for instance, has a lot of Limonene.”
Every artist thus far agrees on one thing: Limonene seems to be key.
“Pinene allows me to focus. Sometimes I smoke CBD when painting and find a lot of CBD cultivars have pinene in them. I also really enjoy Skywalker OG, CBD Shark Shock. I could finally relax and let go of the things that surrounded me.”
It would seem like Limonene is the peanut butter to the jelly that is CBD.
“CBD allows me to slow down and helps bring forth to light these ideas I want to convey,” she says, playfully posing with her glue gun, “while cannabis can help you see what you weren’t able to before.”