Ask any creative cannabis user why they started using the plant in the first place, and a good number would probably tell you that it helps broaden their imagination and allows them to view things “outside the box”. After so many years of simply stating these conclusions with little evidence or research, other than the creative works of many an artist who, admittedly, were under the influence of cannabis at the time, we may finally have some scientific insight into why so many people explore their creative frontiers under the influence. It turns out, that this may be related to hyper-priming, something commonly associated with schizophrenia.
Hyper-priming is a process in the brain that affects Semantic Priming. Semantic Priming is our brain’s ability to associate things that have an obvious association with one another. For example, the word “sky” could be easily associated with the color blue. But if hyper-primed, our brain may associate “sky” with “cumulonimbus” because it is a type of cloud. Both are associated, but one is a further association than the other. The further association is a result of the brain being hyper-primed. This is what can get people with schizophrenia in trouble, because it can lead their brain down a rabbit hole of incoherent tangential thought. So, while cannabis can certainly be a creative catalyst for many people, there are some psychological conditions that it actually aggravates or makes worse.
This is not to say that marijuana smoking causes schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Only that if someone were already susceptible to bouts of either disorder, it would exacerbate the underlying problem. Essentially, this most recent study serves as a more tangible form of proof for what many have claimed for ages now. Smoking cannabis can cause our brain to simply see things in a different way. For some, this is an excellent tool to be used responsibly. For others, who already experience the world differently, it may be something to be avoided so as not to exacerbate an existing problem.
(1) Hyper-priming in cannabis users: A naturalistic study of the effects of cannabis on semantic memory function
(2) On Creativity, Marijuana and “a Butterfly Effect in Thought”
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