Does Cannabis increase creativity?
Can we measure and locate creativity in a specific brain area?
To answer the above questions, we must first address creativity; its definition, and its implications.
Creativity can be widely defined as the ability to produce work that is novel and meaningful, as opposed to trivial or bizarre .
Its physiological and biochemical manifestation, however, is far more complicated to define and assess.
Cognitive neuroscientists have attempted to optimally quantify creativity using psychometric approaches such as divergent thinking (DT) tests and remote associations tests (RAT) –which focus on the ability of an individual to generate creative ideas– and other, more personality-based tests, including the Creative Personality Scale (CPS) of the Gough Adjective Check List, aimed at separating the creative person from the creative product [2, 3, 4, 5].
Scientists universally agree creativity is difficult to gauge, as it is thought to arise from a multitude of neural processes exhibiting overlap with each other .
Such is the case for Divergent Thinking, where scores on DT tests have shown positive correlations with self-rated creativity, IQ, and several personality traits including Openness to Experience [6, 7].
What neurobiological pathways differentiate creative individuals?
Correlation has also been demonstrated between divergent and convergent thinking (CT) . This correlation (and divergent thinking in itself) is thought to rely more heavily on personality traits, with curious, happier, more positive people generally performing better on DT tests.
DT is reciprocally leading to a more positive mood, and elevated dopamine levels, associated with reward as well as hallucinatory experiences or the legendary “artist madness” [9, 10, 11, 12].
All these findings indeed support the assertion that a relationship between creativity and dopamine (DA) exists, as previously claimed by a number of studies .
In many of these studies, creativity is considered to go hand-in-hand with activity of the D2 receptor, a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) responding to neurotransmitter Dopamine with elevated expression in pathways such as the mesolimbic and mesostriatal pathways, both associated with drug reward [13, 14, 15, 16, 17].
Increased synaptic Dopamine release mediated by substances of abuse in these pathways could therefore potentially lead to increased creativity .
Here we will review all the scientific evidence on the effects of cannabis on creativity.
The effects of Cannabis on creativity
One of the most extensively reviewed substance of abuse in relation to creativity is cannabis.
Cannabis was shown in one study  to enhance verbal creativity in regular cannabis users, and with relation to the Big Five Personality traits, they scored highest in Openness to Experience, a personality trait often interpreted as a proxy of creativity .
Similarly, another study with subjects who obtained low creativity scores when sober, when under the influence of cannabis, achieved verbal fluency similar to subjects who obtained higher creativity scores when sober, but also indicated that cannabis induced psychotic-like schizotypy .
However, in a separate study, cannabis users showed no development of schizotypy with respect to controls and displayed increased hyper-priming (ability to form connections between seemingly unrelated processes) .
Cannabis use has also shown to promote “rare-creative” responses and alpha wave activity (an electromagnetic brain wave activity associated with wakefulness and creativity) [21, 22].
Conversely, the best known component of Cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has also been demonstrated to lead to the diminishment of theta and fast-ripple waves, disrupting the synchronous firing of neurons, and negatively impacting on short-term memory generation and reconciliation, a subject cannabis is often criticised for .
Other areas of criticism include the extended consumption of naturally-smoked cannabis being associated with increased risk for the development of psychoses such as schizophrenia, an argument countered with lack of neurobiological evidence explaining the causative link and other studies suggesting that creative people are more prone to psychotic episodes independently of cannabis consumption [24, 25]
Ostensibly, the pieces of evidence supporting the beneficial effects of cannabis on creativity, are as many as the songs, poems, paintings produced by the effect of the plant.
Are you interested to delve deeper in the topic of creativity? Check out our next article “Are hallucinogenic substances increasing creativity”
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