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The Nutrition Examination Research Digest (NERD) aims to provide rigorous, unbiased analysis of the latest and most important nutrition and supplementation studies. Click here to subscribe or login if already a subscriber .

In this article

Does marijuana actually boost creativity?

Ancedotally, weed has been claimed as a creativity booster for decades. With THC having an effect on dopamine, a plausible mechanism exists. This randomized trial puts marijuana to the test.

Study under review: Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users.

Introduction

Steve Jobs once said that “marijuana and hashish … make me relaxed and creative.” And many people agree with his assessment. One study[1] found that over 50% of users report enhanced creativity when using marijuana. But, Steve Jobs was wrong about things before (the Apple Lisa, anybody?). Could he have been wrong about marijuana enhancing creativity as well?

Researchers know enough about the brain to take a decent stab at predicting how marijuana may affect creativity. The story starts with the neurotransmitter dopamine and its influence on two cognitive processes first fleshed out in the 1960s, a decade of great creativity!

While creativity is a hard thing to measure objectively, some components of it are being teased out. Specifically, two cognitive processes are thought to play a strong role in creativity. They are called convergent and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is best described as the skill behind brainstorming. It’s being able to explore options through loose associations to generate novel ideas. Convergent thinking works in the opposite direction: it takes a bunch of loosely-organized ideas and finds a common thread between them.

There is a common thread winding its way through these thought processes and dopamine. Dopamine is often thought of as the “reward neurotransmitter” (although this is a major overgeneralization[2] because dopamine has multiple[3] functions). However, it also seems to have a role in the neuroscience of creativity. Specifically, one study[4] found that dopamine has a negative linear correlation with convergent thinking, whereas it shows an “inverted U” shape correlation with at least one aspect of divergent thinking, where too much or too little harms it, but a middle amount is just right.

Who and what was studied?

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What were the findings?

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What does the study really tell us?

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The big picture

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Frequently Asked Questions

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What should I know?

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Other Articles in Issue #13 (November 2015)

  • What are you feeding your bacteria?
    While probiotics get most of the press, prebiotics arguably have more potential for altering one’s microbiome. This study looks at a promising type of prebiotic supplement to see if it might impact appetite and inflammation.
  • Breakfast: A disempowering nutritional dogma
    By Martin MacDonald, Msc
  • Return of the globule: milk fat strikes back
    Milk fat is structurally different than most other fats, and the milk fat globule membrane has been looked at previously (twice in NERD, in fact) for its impact on chronic disease. But could it also impact response to exercise?
  • Not-so-safe supplements
    Studies have shown that supplement buyers generally trust the supplements they buy. That might not be the safest assumption, as dietary supplements that are presumed helpful or neutral may sometimes cause serious side effects, as quantified by this study.
  • Probiotics and the propensity for portliness
    When you eat a meal, your gut bacteria also eats a meal. And gut bacteria are increasingly looked at for their influence on chronic disease. This study looks at the effect of a specific probiotic blend on weight gain.
  • The espresso effect: caffeine and circadian rhythm
    Your daily rhythms are influenced by “zeitgebers” such as light and exercise. But until now, we haven’t known the exact impact of late-day caffeine intake on melatonin and circadian rhythms.
  • Money, time, and the science that suits us
    By David Katz, MD, MPH
  • Human eating patterns ... there’s an app for that
    Eating throughout the day has become quite normal, given the ubiquitous availability of snack foods. Partly due to this, diet research has been plagued by inaccurate self-reports. This study used an app to get around that issue.
  • Diet and autism: no gluten, no casein, no difference?
    Gluten and casein are two food components often linked with autism spectrum disorder symptoms. Hence the prevalance of wheat and dairy free diets. But will they work in a rigorously controlled trial?