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Cannabis and Creativity: Is Weed the Key to Artistic Genius?

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Sometime around 1844, the artistic elite of Paris formed the Club des Haschischins – i.e., the “Club of Hashish-Eaters.) Every month, distinguished members such as Victor Hugo (author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables,”) Eugene Delacroix (painter of “Liberty Leading the People”) and Alexandre Dumas (author of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”) would gather together to eat a cannabis-infused paste made of pistachios and honey, believing the newly imported drug jumpstarted artistic inspiration.

They aren’t the only ones to infuse artistry with cannabis. Numerous filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, songwriters such as Lady Gaga, and artists like Pablo Picasso all used cannabis for some part of their creative process. An 87% upvoted Reddit post on the subject sparked a thread in which users shared being hit with a “creative energy,” along with becoming more productive and focused, after smoking.

So, could there be a link between cannabis and creativity?

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Of course, no one knows how much cannabis is to thank for the genius of the masters (we have no doubt they were more creative sober than most of us ever will be) and cannabis effects people different ways. But, there are a few ways cannabis could potentially unleash your artsy side.

1. It eases pain

Let’s start with the most obvious reason artists have turned to cannabis: pain.

Anyone who suffers from any kind of pain on a regular basis will tell you it is one of the most difficult obstacles for creatives. You’re not exactly thinking of the cover of your next album when you wake up feeling like you have a knife in your back.

Many of the world’s greatest artistic geniuses have used cannabis and/or CBD to cope with debilitating pain. Proven to reduce inflammation, it has been used by Whoopi Goldberg for glaucoma-induced headaches, by Lady Gaga for fibromyalgia, and by comedian Pete Davidson for Crohn’s disease.

RELATED: CBD: An alternative to opioids?

Marisa Zeppieri, award-winning blogger and author of “Chronically Fabulous,” a book on staying positive, active, and creative while living with a chronic illness, says cannabis gives her the ability to get in the zone when she’s writing or pursuing other creative endeavors during a Lupus flare-up.

“Cannabis allows me to really dive into my creative space when I want to paint, draw, or write,” Zeppieri said. “It helps me focus on the creative task at hand, rather than being continually pulled from it because I start focusing on my pain.”

2. It can aid the process of turning trauma to art

Many people find solace through art, but it can be difficult to pursue creative outlets in while coping with trauma. That’s why the revered poet Maya Angelou turned to cannabis to help her heal from the sexual and physical abuse she suffered early in life.

In her memoir “Gather Together in My Name” (the second autobiographical book in a seven-part series, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”) the late Angelou described smoking weed weekly as a kind of therapy that gave her the peace-of-mind she needed to become the writer we know her as today.

“I learned new postures and developed new dreams,” Angelou wrote in reference to her first experiences with cannabis. “For the first time, life amused me.”

There’s science behind her strategy. Medical marijuana is becoming more popular as a treatment for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of it’s potential to jumpstart extinction learning. Extinction learning is a form of therapy that aims to overwrite traumatizing memories with new memories, thereby diminishing triggers.

According to a recent study, low doses of cannabis consumed over time can increase the extinction rate of triggering memories (i.e., make it easier to live without constantly being triggered by the memory of traumatic events,) and, subsequently, decrease anxiety. Since stress is one of the greatest obstacles for creativity, it’s no wonder Angelou felt herself finally freed to express herself when she discovered cannabis.

RELATED: Veterans with PTSD are turning to cannabis

3. It silences the critical voice in your head

Some call it “blank page syndrome,” others call it the bowls of existential dread. Whatever term resonates with you, we all know that feeling of staring at a blank page or canvas, paralyzed by negative thoughts. For some, that voice is so bad it prevents them from ever completing a project.

Numerous studies are showing that cannabis can actually help people overcome this mental block by decreasing anxiety. It does this by reacting with the endocannabinoid system, the epicenter of anxiety regulation in the brain.

While it effects each person differently (for some, cannabis causes increased anxiety), Plant Medicine Integration Specialist Kathryn Cannon, who works with medical cannabis patients, has seen it can help with focus and stress-relief for some people who would otherwise be plagued by distracting or self-critical thoughts.

“Many creative types are drawn to using cannabis to remove barriers of self-doubt, and create a shift in energy, focus, and perspective,” Cannon told GreenState. “For folks who have a slight or even diagnosed ADD, ADHD or mood disorders, cannabis can be a great alternative to prescription medicine when it comes to focus and executing creative work.”

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At this point, some of you might be thinking, “How did the thing that makes me reluctant to even get up from the couch for a bag of chips inspire Alexandre Dumas to write a 464,234-word novel?” We hear you.

Cannabis certainly doesn’t make everyone creative. For some, it might inspire creativity, but if not paired with the energy and focus, that desire doesn’t have a lot of reward. For others, the most creative thing you’ll want to do high is crawl to the fridge instead of walking, and that’s O.K. Cannabis effects everyone in different ways, and different strains and doses can have a profound effect on your experience with it.

If you want to be more creative and productive while high, consult a cannabis clinician and play around with different products yourself. It may be that you, too, could take your art to a higher level.

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.