It’s long been the rumored secret of successful authors and composers, artists and playwrights: cannabis just makes everyone more creative. And anecdotally, we all know of cannabis users behind many of our favorite movies, TV shows, pop songs and trendy businesses, from Seth Rogen and Willie Nelson to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
But compared to scientific studies of cannabis’s role in treating anxiety, stress or sleep disorders, there’s a lack of research into its role with creative endeavors. Recently, Washington State University — a campus where cannabis is legal — stepped in to conduct such a study.
Their findings? It depends.
254 entrepreneurs participated in the study, all of whom had venture founding experience and were either in the process of founding a new business or had recently done so. 120 were self‑reported regular cannabis users (averaging at least 20 times in the past month,) and 134 were non‑users. To test their creativity, they had to complete a new venture ideation task that incorporated VR technology. The ideas generated were then evaluated for both originality and feasibility.
As the study team had theorized, the cannabis users were exceptionally good at the brainstorming part of the exercise — showing less inhibition, more impulsiveness and more “free-thinking.” However, they fell short to the non-users when it came to the feasibility measure: their ability to reality-check was relatively low. One example idea from the cannabis users was a weightless, gravity-free virtual reality workout: rated high on originality but low on feasibility. Cannabis users who were passionate about coming up with new ideas or had relatively little experience at starting new businesses displayed the most originality.
The researchers note that for an entrepreneurial idea to be creative, it needs to be both original and feasible — so they don’t necessarily recommend that everyone begin using cannabis to generate ideas. They do, however, say the study suggests that cannabis users should run their ideas by people they trust before taking action.
Results of the study held whether or not the cannabis-using participants reported being high at the time of task performance. A follow-up study is being planned to consider whether being high might influence creativity versus a randomized group (although there are some legal barriers to experiments that would require cannabis use.)