As long as people have been creating art, they have been using mind-altering substances to inspire, gain creativity, and change the way they see the world. Often, artists would paint or draw visions they saw in hallucinogenic trances, induced by psilocybin, ergot, and in some cases, opium.
While hemp has been a massive industrial crop for centuries, there is no reason to believe that until recently (the last 200 years or less) that hemp’s female variety has had any significant influence on art. There are anecdotal stories of hemp farmers smoking marijuana, but they are just that – anecdotes.
It was unviable for hemp farmers to grow female plants, because they produced less fibre, and were less valuable. While some may have gotten missed, and smoked by curious souls, it is also important to consider that in the past, marijuana was far less potent than its hydroponic, and even earth grown, variants of today. Even throughout the rise of the hippies, art was less influenced by marijuana, and more influenced by cocaine, LSD, peyote, and other drugs.
In this article, we won’t focus on the anecdotal past, but instead on recent scientific discoveries, which show some ways that medical marijuana affects artists, and the creative brain.
In 2010, a study by Morgan CJ, of the Clinical Psychopharmacology unit at University College London, definitively proved that Marijuana caused hyper-priming in the brain. Priming is the usual succession of thoughts that your mind takes when exposed to stimuli, even if that stimulus is another thought. Hyper-priming is often seen in those with a schizophrenic spectrum disorder, where instead of forming regular patterns of causality your brain makes links and connections, seemingly at random.
For example – if your thought process normally went something like: Dog, Pet, Companion, while hyper-priming, it may go more like: Dog, Flamethrower, Helicopter. However, if you were to return to ’Dog,’ when hyper-priming, there’s a significant chance that your next thought wouldn’t be ‘Flamethrower’ again.
How does this influence art though? In part, this disconnect allows users to come up with unique colour combinations, concepts, and ideas. Hyper priming also allows for better visualisation, where an artist can ‘see’ what they are creating while working on an incomplete work.
Hyper-priming in itself isn’t enough though. A mind hyper-priming is under a lot more stress than usual; it can lead to confusion, frustration, outbursts, and the inability to concentrate. A person hyper-priming is unable likely to be in a calm mindset or a state of mind in which they can produce art. So, what else is there?
Marijuana causes dopamine to be released in increased amounts into your system, which is responsible for the euphoric calm that many marijuana users feel. This euphoria counters the stress an anxiety caused by hyper-priming, while still allowing for the altered causality patterns. Dopamine will also lower your inhibitions, so you can more easily translate your thoughts to a visual medium.
Though marijuana may have a positive influence on the creative process, it’s important to remember that without a learned mechanical skill, you won’t be able to act on it. Smoking marijuana won’t make you a better painter – if you don’t already understand the theories behind painting, or have the trained mechanical ability TO paint. Marijuana won’t help you learn how to paint either. In fact, using marijuana while learning makes it harder for you to retain knowledge. However, if you already know how to paint, smoking marijuana may help change your process, and allow you to implement your skills in previously unthought of ways.