Study: Marijuana users are more creative — but it might not be because of marijuana

A new study suggests that differences in personality traits account for the link between marijuana use and enhanced creativity.

“I became interested in this topic upon the realization that a number of my favorite musicians and artists were well known for their cannabis use, and that this cannabis use was commonly thought to have been a cause of the creative success of many artists,” explained study author Emily LaFrance, a graduate student at Washington State University.

“I began to wonder about this commonly held idea – are cannabis users really more creative than non-users? And if so, is this because cannabis use makes them more creative, or is something else causing differences in creativity between users and non-users?”

For their study, which was published in Consciousness and Cognition, the researchers had 412 cannabis users and 309 non-users complete a series of psychological tests.

They found that cannabis users tended to be more extraverted and also tended to be more open to new experiences.

Cannabis users self-reported higher levels of artistic creativity than non-users, but they did not report a higher number of creative works or achievements.

Cannabis users also performed better than non-users on a test of convergent thinking — meaning the creative process of narrowing down potential solutions to find one correct answer.

But the statistical relationship between cannabis use and creativity disappeared when the researchers accounted for the effect of openness to experience. The results suggest that cannabis users’ higher levels of openness to experience are responsible for their enhanced creativity.

“The average person should understand that according to the results of this study, cannabis users may be more creative than non-users, but this is not because using cannabis has increased their creativity. Instead, cannabis users tend to have different personality traits (they are more open to experience) than non-users, and this openness to experience is associated with both cannabis use, and heightened creativity,” LaFrance told PsyPost.

“So, cannabis use does not increase creativity, but certain personality traits tend to increase the likelihood that one will use cannabis, and that they will also be more creative.”

The study only examined sober cannabis users. Previous research, however, has found some evidence that cannabis intoxication is linked to a temporary increase in divergent thinking, another form of creativity.

“It is important to keep in mind that we did not assess the impact of being acutely high on cannabis on creativity,” LaFrance said. “Previous studies have done this, and results have been mixed. Some studies have found certain types of creativity are enhanced, others have found no effect of acute cannabis intoxication on creativity. However, no study has examined the role of personality differences between users and non-users when exploring the effect of cannabis intoxication on creativity.”

The study, “Inspired by Mary Jane? Mechanisms underlying enhanced creativity in cannabis users“, was co-authored by Carrie Cuttler.