Artists who use cannabis for creative inspiration say it’s also important to respect the herb and practice self-care.
People around the world will be sparking up to celebrate 420, their love of cannabis and to show support for its legalisation. We spoke to a handful of artists about the relationship between cannabis and creativity. According to Ras Kayleb, one half of legendary dub reggae soundsystem Channel One, smoking is “another form of meditation.
If you want to write about love, revolution, liberation, you want to clear your mind of all the daily problems and to go deep into the meaning of the song—then write lyrics that people didn’t think about before.” He added: “I can’t perform without a spliff. With a joint before a gig, I have greater flow. I’m more of a freestyler, I can think of words on the fly.” Kayleb recently went into the studio, lit up a joint and freestyled lyrics for new track “Dreader” in one take.
“The tune is about misinformation fed to us by society and I made it with full creative power of the herb,” he said. But Kayleb, who is also a mixed martial arts trainer, doesn’t smoke every day. “I’m not heavy on the smoking,” he said. “It’s more for when I’m recording, MCing, writing lyrics, making music.” T4T LUV NRG cofounder Eris Drew is a protagonist of the Motherbeat philosophy, which she describes as the “healing energy contained within music.” She told RA that most of her debut album, Quivering In Time, was written using a potent sativa strain called Unbiased Opinion. “It stimulates creativity, opens the ears,” she said. “It becomes quite psychedelic in a soft way. I listen more deeply on weed.
I’d say music on weed divides it into an orchestra of sound—I hear each sound as an individual element. I think it’s one of the reasons why so many THC users love grainy sampled sounds, old records and filters so much.” That said, Drew is also concerned about the impact of too much smoking and has moderated her intake with a Volcano convection vaporiser.
“But I’m a DJ and no expert, so I just try to listen to my body,” she said. So how does cannabis stimulate the creative brain? According to Professor David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, cannabis “seems to break down rigid ways of thinking and feeling, so it allows new insights and approaches to art,” he told RA. “This largely occurs in the high-level neural circuits, especially the frontal lobes.
The question of dopamine release isn’t resolved and anyway, if cannabis did release dopamine, this is likely not important for creativity.” Nutt said it was also critical to understand that “the brain has its own natural cannabis”: the endocannabinoid known as anandamide. But while “jazz was created under the influence of cannabis and painters like Rembrandt used it to improve depth and perception,” there are no research statistics to demonstrate the correlation between cannabis and creativity “because it is impossible to measure.” US jungle and drum & bass artist Mizeyesis thinks cannabis is critical to both her mental health and creative output.
“I’m ADHD,” she told RA. “Weed helps me stay focused to complete projects, tunes, mixes. I also have a chronic condition and use it for pain management and as a substitute for traditional prescription medicines.” She said it’s also important for her to take time off cannabis to observe its impact on her creative process.
“Balance helps check if there was any distortion in my sound or issues with my mixes.” Chill-out pioneer Mixmaster Morris has smoked for the best part of 40 years. “I drop a lot of dope references and comedy into my music and it’s not accidental,” he told RA. “I think cannabis just opens your mind to more possibilities. It certainly changed my musical tastes.” Morris said smoking has led to fruitful collaborations with other artists. He recalled countless studio sessions involving large amounts of cannabis and psychedelics with the likes of Youth, The Orb and Jimmy Cauty from the The KLF. “If there isn’t a joint in the DJ booth, I put on Linval Thompson’s “I Love Marijuana”—people usually get the message,” he said.
“Actually, I had two copies of that record and gave one to Howard Marks.” Morris also has fond memories of smoking with the late dub icon Lee “Scratch” Perry. “We spotted him in Zurich on a Ninja Tune tour and took him to the gig,” he said.
“He was in a good mood and went on stage with Mr. Scruff. I rolled him a spliff and he said ‘me no smoke ganja.’ I was like ‘what the fuck do you mean, you’re the ganja man?’ But he said ‘me hash man only’ so we got him some.” Despite smoking regularly, Morris recognises the need to take breaks, particularly when he’s touring and playing festivals. “It’s not possible to be out of your head the whole summer,” he said. Kayleb, too, has developed ways of moderating the impact of cannabis on his health.
“I also say to people who smoke weed or even tobacco, take ginkgo biloba and mullein,” he said. “It cleans your lungs and regenerates the cells in your body. If we abuse the herb and don’t care for our bodies, the things we love will harm us.” Listen to Mixmaster Morris’s top ten cannabis tracks.