You’ve heard the theory: “Smoking weed helps you make better music." But is there any validity to that? Is it just a theory, or can we call it a fact? Read on.
What people say
I conducted a very sophisticated survey via Reddit, asking people, “Does smoking weed help you make better music?” There was a wide range of responses, so below, I’ve listed the responses that best represent the overall sentiments.
(One of my favorite responses: “Smoking weed will help you write songs that people who smoke weed will like.”)
- “Write under the influence and edit sober.”
- “I think of drugs as a filter or effect you might play through.”
- “In my experience, toking usually gives me great ideas. It’s the sitting down whilst high and putting in the work that’s tricky. What I do is make sure to record any ideas I have, even if it’s just humming them out on a voice recorder. Then I have a well of ideas for when I’m sober and not distracted.”
Pro-hard work responses
- “Hard work helps you write better songs. I’ve tried pretty much everything there is to try and the only thing that works is sitting down and putting the effort in.”
- “If you're not a good songwriter, weed isn't going to help.”
- “It's great for consumption, not so much creation. Kills motivation and a lot of higher-cognition, so what you do end up making (I can't speak for everyone, but this is the general consensus) will be far lower quality.”
- “Practice and study and hard work make you better. Weed just alters your chemistry to make you feel good and slow your mind a bit. ...But how many pot heads exist that DON'T make great music (a LOT) vs how many people who practice and work hard don't make good music...Odds are if they put in the hours to practice, they're great. The pot is an irrelevant personal preference that could go either way.”
What famous musicians say
What about the great songwriters and musicians who toked? I feel like their opinions on this matter carry much more weight than anonymous people in an online forum (nothing against Redditors).
In the book Songwriters On Songwriting, Paul Simon answers the question, “Did you feel that smoking pot got in the way of your best work or did it ever help?”
His response was actually pretty middle-of-the-road.
“I would say that it probably doesn’t make any difference. There’s a temptation, and a desire even, to be able to expand your imagination....And I think sometimes [pot] produces some kind of creativity that wouldn’t be there if the chemical wasn’t there. And sometimes it produces nothing. Except the feeling of creativity, which is not the same as creativity.”
He went on to say that he’s made music high and sober. He says pot won’t give you anything that isn’t already in you, but it may (or may not) help you get it out.
This is similar to what Bob Marley said about lighting up: “When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.” And songwriting definitely involves knowing yourself more and putting yourself in your songs.
Also, how many great past and present songwriters and musicians smoke(d) weed? Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Louis Armstrong, Snoop Dogg, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles... the list goes on.
So, I don’t know if you can prove the cause-and-effect of weed on the creation of good music, but you can definitely make the correlation.
What science says
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we turn to science.
Dr. Alice Weaver Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. She specializes in deep brain stimulation and how the brain and creativity are related.
“Marijuana is a stimulant,” says Dr. Flaherty. “And most stimulants, in the short term anyway, boost output of all kinds,” including creativity.
However, she says a person can have too much or too little pot to have any affect on their creativity.
“Somebody who’s trying to boost their motivation to be creative very often goes too far and gets themselves totally wired so they can’t concentrate,” she says.
“A very anxious creative person may get some benefit from cannabis,” she continues. “In calming them down, it could help their creativity. But for someone who’s already in the zone, and who’s not too anxious to work, it might push them into a place of being too laid back.”
So what does science say? Well, it says Mary Jane could help you make better music, but it’s not guaranteed.
Final word: Does being burnt light your music on fire?
It seems like, looking at both the anecdotes and the science, marijuana can help you harness the creativity that’s already inside you. It can also make you too high-strung or too laid back, depending on your default demeanor and how much pot you consume, to create efficiently.
So when asking, “Does weed help you make better music?” it seems the answer is “It can, but it’s not guaranteed.”
Pot isn’t a songwriting shortcut or a life hack for the musician. Hard work and practice seem to be what power the train, whether or not marijuana comes along for the ride.
- 5 Exercises to Write More Creative Lyrics
- When, How, and Why to Break the Rules of Songwriting
- 7 Easy Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Out of a Songwriting Rut
- How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People's Heads
- How to Find Co-Writers
Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.