Cannabis and the creative thought process
Cannabis has the potential to unlock a form of spiraling thought, providing an alternative approach to divergent thinking. After smoking, you find yourself able to connect distantly related concepts, coming to conclusions previously unimagined. It forces ones mind out of context to see the world from a different angle; it won’t create new ideas, but rather allows you to think in a way which fosters them through a process called hyper-priming. In this way, cannabis is used to overcome writer’s block, artistic standstills, and creative junctures.
Hyper-priming: the marriage of control and chaos
In simple terms, hyper-priming is the ability to relate two conceptually distant ideas. ‘Priming’ in psychology terms, is “a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.” Basically, priming means you are shown something (the word ‘fire’) and you think of something else instinctually (the word ‘burn’). Your brain will react more quickly to words that are closely associated, resulting in a ‘mental distance’ between two concepts. The more unrelated the concepts, the greater the mental distance.
Priming, streams of thought and associative connections
There are several types of priming; semantic priming, for example, is the association between two words (ie; dog – wolf) within the same category. Associative priming is linking two related words (ie; dog – cat) without them necessarily needing to be in the same category.
Hyper-priming – as one could assume – is priming, happening at a much greater distance than usual, resulting in more complex ideas. Simply put, if you think of priming as relating ‘dog’ to ‘wolf’ then hyper-priming is relating a dog to, let’s say, a full moon.
The creative nature of a link between distant ideas
For anyone who has smoked and then daydreamed, you know how quickly things can digress. It’s like going down an internet rabbit hole; you start out watching a mini-documentary about acrobatics when suddenly you’re in a creepy-clown makeup tutorial vortex.
In other words, through hyper-priming, you are able to link theoretical concepts that are distantly related coming to an uncommon or creative conclusion. It promotes divergent thinking, which is the ability to view a problem or a concept in a multitude of ways.
Hyper-priming takes seemingly unrelated, chaotic abstractions and channels them into controlled, concrete ideas.
Studies have shown that cannabis users have a higher tendency to experience hyper-priming. Vaughan Bell is consistently quoted on the subject of marijuana and hyper-priming: “researchers decided to test whether stoned participants would show the ‘hyper-priming’ effect…[And indeed they found that]…volunteers who were under the influence of cannabis showed a definite “hyper-priming” tendency, where distant concepts were reacted to more quickly.”
The study he is referring to, however, also states that the same users still show tendencies of hyper-priming even when not under the influence of cannabis. Whether it is that creative people tend towards cannabis use, or that cannabis use has long-term hyper-priming effects on the brain, is inconclusive.
We can be sure that marijuana itself cannot take credit for creative endeavors. It’s not going to provide you with talent or drive, but it can and is used as an abstract-thinking tool. The list of artists, writers, and actors that do just that is long and varied. Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, Megan Fox, and Patrick Stewart all have publicly advocated for the legalization of marijuana.
Abundancy of anecdotal evidence for cannabis and hyper-priming
Recreational users know full well that marijuana encourages divergent thinking and problem-solving. It’s not a new phenomenon, despite the lack of conclusive research into the subject. So, next time you’re stuck thinking inside of the box, take a page from the creatives throughout history and try an exercise in cannabis-induced hyper-priming.