Posted on September 16, 2019

Throughout history, writers, artists, photographers, and creative types the world over have turned to cannabis as a source of inspiration, and a conduit for their creativity — more than a few, perhaps, even partaking in a toke while on the job. With the spreading legalization of recreational cannabis across the country and the world, employers are now being forced to face this fact head-on, and decide what to do about cannabis in the creative workplace. There are strong arguments for welcoming recreational marijuana into the workplace.

In moderation, cannabis makes people more creative.

Research, as well as copious anecdotal evidence, shows that cannabis in moderation can make its users more creative. Look and you’ll easily find creative types and those in other industries extolling the virtues and benefits of using cannabis at work. Many people working in creative industries swear by the abilities of this drug to bring out their creative side, and to help them relax and work more effectively.

In a 1997 interview, the comedian George Carlin, speaking about his marijuana and mescaline use in the 1960s, said “Where the drugs are concerned, and alcohol, they do seem to open a window for you. They do seem to broaden the vistas — at first.” He said he considered marijuana a “value changing drug” that opened “doors of perception.” He said he saw it as a creativity aid that, like any other substance, can have the opposite effect if overused. “I do find, that with judicious use, there’s some value in it.”

The scientific research on the intersection of creativity and cannabis seems to agree that there is potential for increased creativity. However, moderation is key. Biologically, creativity is associated with your brain’s frontal lobe, and cannabis consumption increases cerebral blood flow (CBF) to this area, which makes it more active.

According to Alice Flaherty from the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, “when subjects with high and low creativity are compared, the former have both higher baseline frontal lobe activity and greater frontal increase while performing creative tasks.” Ergo, by increasing the blood flow and brain activity in the frontal lobe, cannabis has the clear potential to increase creativity. There is also evidence, from a study performed in 2012, that shows cannabis can help those who aren’t naturally creative become much more so.

Another study, performed in 2014, found that low doses of THC in cannabis improved fluency, or the number of responses provided, flexibility, or the variation in answers, and originality, or the uniqueness of responses, in study participants. All three of those abilities are aspects of creative divergent thinking, which is one of the traits of the frontal lobe.

Creative workers already use it.

The fact of the matter is, many creative workers already use cannabis. And we’re not just talking about any creative worker, but some of the best creative minds out there. Charles Baudelaire, Amedeo Modigliani, Louis Armstrong, and even Steve Jobs all used cannabis regularly, to name merely a few of the thousands of famously creative people who have been associated with cannabis. 

If you want to attract the best talent, nurturing a work environment that encourages openness, flexibility, and personal freedom is essential, as is cultivating a creative environment that attracts these desired creative talents. Forbidding cannabis use can be a significant deterrent for creatives when so many of them so openly embrace it. Allowing cannabis can also be a competitive advantage when trying to secure a new hire.

According to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and a report by ABC News, workers in the “Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media” industries reported the second highest rates of using marijuana, at 28 percent. Although only a few percentage points behind the industry that smokes the most cannabis (that would be “accommodations and food services”), the creative industries ranked almost ten points above any others.

The discussion is already happening.

Although cannabis can be an uncomfortable topic of discussion between employers and employees in most environments, that discussion is most definitely happening. It’s happening online, in boardrooms, and in state legislatures. And of course, it’s happening in nearly every industry.

In 2019, Nevada passed a law banning employers from refusing to hire someone based upon a drug test that is positive for marijuana, with the exception of positions where the presence of cannabis could adversely affect someone’s safety. Those positions include jobs where someone is operating heavy machinery and emergency first responders, among others. A very similar law was passed in New York City, and in Maine, a slightly different law says employers cannot discriminate against an employee based on cannabis usage, although that law doesn’t specifically mention drug tests.

The head of an e-commerce agency located in a legal state wrote in an op-ed piece for Green Entrepreneur that he feels there is an ideal “middle ground to strike” between forbidding cannabis use at work and allowing an absolute free-for-all. 

Speaking about how he came to this decision, with the close participation of his employees, Ben Crudo, the CEO of Diff Agency, said “in the end, we came up with a plan that reflected our values as a team: we treat cannabis the same way we treat alcohol. They’re both legal substances and when it came down to it, most people felt we should allow both or none at all. Basically, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone or interfere with their work, people can use cannabis, or alcohol, however they want.”

For him, this discussion is all about objectively looking at the entire situation, not being hung up on old prejudices, being a fair and open-minded employer, and yes, getting the best out of his employees. “Adapting to cannabis legalization is about finding a balance between professionalism, workplace safety and respecting the legal rights of adults that work for you,” explains Crudo. “There’s no doubt it’s an ongoing process, but employers who put in the effort — and, importantly, include their teams in the conversation — will be ahead of the curve in creating a more honest, accepting culture, and consequently, a more engaged workforce.”