Cannabis and the art industry have been intertwined for decades. Creatives have been using it when producing their art, but, does it have an impact on creativity? That’s the $420 million question.
From singers to writers to painters, countless artists have admitted to cannabis usage while working on their craft, including Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and novelist Stephen King. Creatives have confessed cannabis helps inspire, stimulate and fight writer’s block, and openness of users seems to be rising as legalization spreads.
The Phoenix spoke with cannabis experts and under-the-radar artists who confided their creative processes and experiences while under the influence.
Emily LaFrance, a graduate psychology instructor at Washington State University, conducted research to find the difference in creativity between cannabis users and nonusers.
She surveyed people from the Washington State University community and asked how creative they thought they were and also used a verbal creativity test that tested verbal fluency and originality. Cannabis users were more likely to think they were more creative and were, in fact, more creative than nonusers, according to the objective verbal tests.
LaFrance said other people’s research suggests people tend to lack filters when they’re high, making them less withheld during their creative process.
“What I found was that the people who are more likely to use cannabis tend to be more creative from the get-go,” LaFrance said. “So, not only being intoxicated on cannabis seems to enhance creativity a bit to some extent, but the people who are drawn to cannabis and other substances tend to just be a little more creative, a little more open-minded.”
LaFrance found some personality differences explain the relationship between creative people and cannabis users. A personality trait called “openness to experience” involves a willingness to try new things and users were more likely to look for cannabis and other substances to enhance creativity, according to LaFrance.
One Loyola student who’s a singer, guitarist, keyboardist and ukulele player shared her struggle with past mental illness such as ADD, anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia. She said high doses of adderall can take her to a state that makes her feel ultimately uncreative and she finds weed to be a compensating factor.
“[Adderall] make[s] me function well and make me normal,” the singer said. “But in a sense, it can make me too logical I guess, I’m too hung -up on what I should be doing rather than taking time for myself. When I smoke, I can focus on something, other than school or work, that’s important to me, like my music.”
The artist explained once she has the perfect song idea, she’ll smoke weed to help her relax and write thoughtful lyrics without overthinking how others will perceive them.
She was an artist way before she found interest in smoking weed. According to LaFrance, this is the case for most artists that use cannabis. They are interested in it because of their open personalities, not because they think it will add a huge boost to their creativity.
Creative use of cannabis doesn’t just extend to musicians. Some visual artists use it for inspiration and motivation as well.
One Columbia College photographer and graffiti artist said he smokes weed to get his creative juices flowing, but not while on the job. After four years of smoking and making art, the artist said he’s nailed his creative process down to almost a science. He often starts the day smoking — a “wake and bake” as it’s commonly called — and while high, he conceptualizes photography projects and finds his creativity expands as a result.
“[I] think about ideas that I can do that can push me in photography and really like get my to excel to the next point,” he said. “When I wake up and I smoke, that’s when I get the highest and at that point, I feel like I’m thinking at a different level and seeing things with different eyes than … when I’m sober.”
Although he doesn’t shoot while under the influence, saying it’s led to blurry and poorly exposed photos, the photographer said he spends the three to four hours editing photos while high. Cannabis makes the process more fun, he said.
“If you really want to pursue a passion, a drug isn’t necessarily a bad thing to help you along the way as long as you’re using it in a way to benefit you,” the photographer said.
Another Loyola student artist said she spends her free time puffing on Wedding Cake — a sweet, indica-based cannabis strain — and crafting digital pieces on SketchBook Pro.
“It makes me feel more clear-headed,” the artist said. “Like I don’t have as many anxious thoughts running through my mind. It also helps a lot with my neck pain and my headaches.”
The artist said smoking fosters her creativity and gets the imaginative juices flowing. She said being high plucks away her anxieties and lets her hands do the work. She said she mainly works in digital, but smoking helps lift away the comfort zone, allowing her to venture into watercolor or sketching.
“When I’m high and I’m creating, I think I’m more brave to experiment with things,” she said. “I think it also just helps with creating different things — exploring different mediums that I’ve never explored before.”
The artist said she’s a constant creator, regardless of what mental state she’s in. High or sober, rain or shine, she has an urge to decorate screens, canvases and sketchbooks. However, she feels that urge immensely heighten after treating herself to a smoke.
“I feel like when I’m high and creating I’m more focused,” the artist said. “I’m more in tune with what I’m creating. I think the best word to use is I’m more ‘connected’ with it in the moment. And when I’m sober, I think I still have that same effect, but it’s not as powerful or as memorable for me.”
Consistent with LaFrance’s results from testing cannabis users, the artist said the urge to get creative kicks in after the high hits.
“It’s a desire to create,” she said. “I have more of an urge to create when I’m high.”