Cannabis has long enjoyed a reputation as the substance of choice for artists of all types, including writers. Many writers use weed as a writing aid in the belief that it will enhance their creativity, prime them for inspiration, and allow their ideas to flow more freely. But how much truth is there to these beliefs? Carl Sagan, Stephen King, and even (probably) Shakespeare all used the herb from time to time. So clearly (in the right quantities, and when smoked by the right people), weed apparently can’t stop you from becoming a great writer. But does it actually provide a benefit, or did Stephen King and Shakespeare merely succeed in spite of the habit?
A quick search on Reddit of “does marijuana help with writing” turns up some conflicting opinions. Some users find that when smoking and writing, they feel more inspired, but lack the motivation to put their words down on paper. Some users find themselves distracted; others find themselves super-focused, putting words down on the page as quickly as they can think them up. Some find that they write more slowly and make more mistakes, while others experience no significant difference.
Sativa vs. Indica
With responses that vary so wildly, it’s hard to say what the truth is. Maybe marijuana just affects every individual differently; maybe there are other variables at play. One such factor could be the strains that our friends on Reddit consumed before their writing sessions. Different strains have different terpene and cannabinoid mixes, and as such will have somewhat varied effects.
One of the biggest differences, though, is between Sativa and Indica strains. Indica provides a strong effect that can be felt physically throughout the body. In general, this is the type of weed that will give you a “stoned,” slow-moving, sometimes couch-locked experience. It can act as a sedative and isn’t particularly conducive to anything that involves a lot of thought. Sativa, on the other hand, is a more uplifting, energetic type of cannabis, and can more plausibly be used as a writing aid.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much research to look into on the subject. Some small studies have been conducted into marijuana’s overall effects on creativity, but not on writing specifically. In regards to overall creativity, only two aspects of creative thinking were tested: convergent and divergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is essentially brainstorming – in these tests, participants were asked to come up with as many solutions as they could for a single, loosely defined problem. Convergent thinking is the opposite. In convergent thinking tests, subjects were tasked with coming up with a single answer for a very specific problem.
The tests were limited in several ways, such as their narrow definitions of creativity and the narrow class of individuals they used (regular cannabis users), but their results are interesting. They found that up to a certain point, marijuana use could increase divergent thinking abilities, particularly in individuals who were not usually creative. With larger doses of THC, though, divergent thinking abilities actually decreased. These two tests found no significant difference in the convergent thinking scores of cannabis users and non-users.
Dosage & Potency
In a single dimension – divergent thinking – marijuana has been shown to have a positive effect at a low- to mid-sized dose, but a negative effect at a higher dose. This is consistent with many of marijuana’s effects: marijuana can relieve pain and help the user relax at low doses, but cause anxiety and hypersensitivity to pain at high doses. Based on anecdotal evidence, it’s likely that some individuals experience positive effects of marijuana on their writing ability. However, these benefits are likely dose-dependent, so take care not to overdo it and end up couch-locked when you should be getting work done.
In recent years, growers have been breeding marijuana plants to have higher and higher levels of THC. Decades ago, most strains contained less than 10% THC, and frequently contained less than 5%. Now, many high-THC strains contain upwards of 20 or even 30% THC. Taking into account the fact that dose is so important in determining whether marijuana’s effects are positive or negative, it might be a good idea to look for low-THC strains if you’re aiming for the perfect writer’s dose.
Is Marijuana Right for You?
Some writers say that marijuana assists their creative process in a number of ways. For some, it helps silence their “inner editor,” allowing them to get their thoughts down on paper without constantly second-guessing themselves. For others it provides a boost in creativity, helping them come up with ideas or overcome barriers to their story’s plot. For others, marijuana can be counterproductive – although, as an inexperienced user, the man who wrote that article may not be a representative example. In any case, it’s clear that marijuana’s effects can vary from user to user. So how do you know if it’ll be right for you?
There are several factors at play here, but it partially depends on your personality. Dr. Alice Weaver, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that “a very anxious creative person may get some benefit from cannabis. In calming them down, it could help their creativity.” She goes on to say that for individuals who aren’t experiencing anxiety in the moment of creation, marijuana might have the undesirable effect of making them too relaxed to work.
Marijuana can, in some cases, be a useful aid for some writers. However, if you intend to use it for that purpose, it’s important to know yourself well. You may find that marijuana affects you differently than some people and that your writing suffers when you write under the influence. Or, you may find your thoughts flowing more easily than ever. You’ll have to try it for yourself to find out which type you are. Either way, remember that in the previously mentioned studies, a high enough dose was found to negatively impact all of the test subjects. So, smoke in moderation, and see what you can type up!