We’ve recently gone over the side-effects of cannabis, but we didn’t mention the biggest
myth theory about cannabis and drugs in 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 stimulating the “Dionysian” side of your brain. You won’t need to be familiar with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, I promise.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was your brain on drugs, rather than this?
Maybe it is?
The study looked at a phenomenon called semantic priming, in which the activation of one word allows us to react more quickly to related words. For instance, the word “dog” might lead to decreased reaction times for “wolf,” “pet” and “Lassie,” but won’t alter how quickly we react to “chair”.
Interestingly, marijuana seems to induce a state of hyper-priming, in which the reach of semantic priming extends outwards to distantly related concepts. As a result, we hear “dog” and think of nouns that, in more sober circumstances, would seem to have nothing in common.
That’s not all. Lehrer goes on to mention “schizotypal,” which is a sort of mild schizophrenia. These schizotypal people have enhanced right hemisphere brain activity. Whereas most of us are just “normal.” These schizotypal personalities “perform above average when solving various lab tasks used to measure creativity.” Why is this relevant to cannabis use? I’ll let Lehrer explain:
Last speculative point: marijuana also enhances brain activity (at least as measured indirectly by cerebral blood flow) in the right hemisphere. The drug, in other words, doesn’t just suppress our focus or obliterate our ability to pay attention. Instead, it seems to change the very nature of what we pay attention to, flattening out our hierarchy of associations.
So what does this “flattening out our hierarchy of associations” mean? Basically, it’s the ability to associate words or images or sounds or touches to a broader plane of senses. You’re opening up your ability to combine and associate seemingly divergent subjects and stimuli.
This bring us to the “Butterfly Effect” in thought where Jason Silva explains creativity as it
almost always involve an experience of acute pattern recognition: the eureka moment in [which we] perceive the interconnection between disparate concepts or ideas to reveal something new.
Essentially, marijuana can extend the range of our free-associative capacities. It increases the novel ways in which we find connections between ideas, and it also extends the range of ideas that we might somehow relate to one another.
While not surprising, it does offer a scientific validation for what so many artists, philosophers and scientists have been saying for ages: that marijuana is a cognitive catalyst that can trigger heightened free-associative creativity, increased pattern recognition, and insight.
Silva’s piece goes on, but hopefully you’re beginning to understand how this flattening of cognitive hierarchies and associations can lead to what people refer to as creativity. Because cannabis triggers increased blood flow to the brain’s right hemisphere, you’re more capable of noticing patterns and correlations between altogether disparate notions.
It’s this very thinking that leads to paradigm-shifting changes in art, literature and all of the humanities. It’s within this realm where cannabis has been empirically shown to cause a heightened ability to notice affiliations between ideas once thought to be dissimilar. It’s like a non requiter that comes from no where but ends up iterating some primordial truth.
Or as I would have called it in college: “finish that whiskey up and hit the joint, and then I’ll start to make more sense.”
Silva also includes a great anecdote from Charles Baudelaire, that famed French godfather of modernity spawning Verlaine and Rimbaud and in turn bringing about the 20th century existentialism that dominated French literature for the better part of the century. Silva writes of Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire was fond of hosting “hashish parties” where members of the intelligentsia could use hashish to elicit a very affective ‘rhapsodic oratory’:
People completely unsuited for word-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idea relationships fit to outdo the ablest masters of this preposterous craft…
Every difficult question that presents a point of contention for theologians, and brings despair to thoughtful men, becomes clear and transparent. Every contradiction is reconciled. Man has surpassed the gods.
May you never feel foolish for going to a hash party again. You’re just being creative.
Here is Silva’s video explaining his theories.
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