The wellness craze for the cannabis compound CBD reached new heights last year after a fortunate sequence of celebrity endorsements, ranging from Mandy Moore to Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And as cafés across the United States began spiking lattes with the CBD oil, word spread that the substance could help ease anxiety, improve focus, aid sleep, and potentially increase creativity.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of about 200 compounds found in the cannabis plant, along with its psychoactive relative, THC. According to the federal government, a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC is considered industrial hemp and, along with its derivatives like CBD, is subject to minimal government regulation. (With more than 0.3% THC, a plant legally qualifies as marijuana and is thus subject to the ceaseless push and pull of weed legalization and criminalization.) So, with its legal status and purported benefits, CBD holds promise for not just coffee shop owners and dietary supplement distributors, but for consumers—including creatives.
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician who has a specialty in medical cannabis, recommends CBD to help patients with anxiety, insomnia, and pain management. “CBD sort of has a foot in both worlds,” Dr. Grinspoon explained. “On the one hand, it’s associated with cannabis, so the research has been suppressed.” But on the other hand, there are no strong arguments against CBD; it’s widely considered a relatively harmless non-intoxicant.
In 2017, the World Health Organization concluded
that CBD does “not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.” And last June, the FDA approved
the first drug to contain a purified cannabis derivative to help treat seizures caused by rare forms of epilepsy.
In the wake of such developments, CBD products and businesses have proliferated. According to Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm, the CBD market is expected to grow to $22 billion by 2022. In September, Coca Cola announced
that “along with many others in the beverage industry,” it is watching CBD’s growth as “an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world.” There are even specialized CBD brands that cater specifically to artists and other creative professionals.
Take for example, Recess, a CBD-infused seltzer that claims to boost creativity, which hit the market in October 2018. Recess founder Benjamin Witte told Adweek
that after incorporating CBD into his own regimen, he was “more productive, more creative and less stressed out and anxious.”
Through its marketing—including an Instagram campaign featuring profiles of creatives—Recess aims to position itself as part of a “mindset of balance and clarity, being calm, cool, collected,” Witte said, noting that he hoped to establish a connection between “having a Recess and being creative and productive.”
Creativity is also a driving force for Mowellens, a Los Angeles–based wellness company that deals mainly in high-quality CBD products. In a March 2018 blog post
, founder and CEO Amy Duncan shared how CBD enhanced her creativity. “One idea was now leading to another not-so-obviously related idea on a flurry of imaginative, original thought,” she wrote. She likened the experience to what neurologists would refer to as “hyper-priming,” when a person is able to make connections between seemingly distant concepts with ease. (Research
has shown that hyper-priming is amplified when subjects are under the influence of cannabis.)
While artists and other creatives appear to be a target demographic among CBD peddlers, there’s little to no research to back up its creativity-boosting powers, or its other potential benefits. In other words, we don’t yet know if CBD alone can trigger brain activity and attributes that are associated with creativity, such as convergent and divergent thinking, idea generation, and open-mindedness.
The lack of scientific research to substantiate such claims is at least partly due to the U.S. government’s war on drugs. Dr. Grinspoon explained that over the last 40 years, “the research on anything cannabis-related has really been focused on looking for harm.” CBD has long been associated with more dangerous substances such as heroin and methamphetamine—drugs that offer “no medical utility and high abuse liability,” Dr. Grinspoon added.
It shouldn’t be surprising that this research is lagging. In the case of psychedelics and CBD’s cannabinoid relative, THC, it was often artists and creatives
who first touted their creativity-boosting properties. Institutional research and studies followed, responding to anecdotal evidence, and confirmed such claims.
However, before CBD was believed to have productive medical uses, it had a snake oil reputation. The same folks who claim
that hemp alone has the power to cure cancer would often name CBD oil as a natural alternative to traditional medical treatments. Additionally, since most CBD products are considered supplements, they may skirt traditional FDA regulations. Dr. Grinspoon noted that this has led to several egregious cases where purported CBD products don’t even contain CBD, and in some cases, contain THC.
So, while CBD itself is not considered a threat to public health, these fraudulent practices have put the substance on the government’s radar. (In New York, the Department of Health has begun storming restaurants, issuing CBD embargoes and warnings of $650 fines for future offenders; officials in Ohio, California, and Maine have followed suit.) Despite this, though, CBD is safe to consume, so long as the product you buy is clearly labeled and appropriately tested
Ultimately, while CBD was once thought to be a danger to the public just for being related to marijuana, today, that same association may be the root of its purported creative benefits. But that isn’t to say that such benefits are nonexistent.
“If it helps you sleep, that will help you with your creativity because you need sleep to help your brain function,” Dr. Grinspoon said. “So, I’d say as an adjunct, if it really does help with anxiety and sleep, it will help with brain function better.”