Re: Hemp

Anders Sandberg (
01 Feb 1998 12:09:11 +0100

=- deluxe -= <> writes:

> It seems that like a lot of scientists, there is one variable which may
> escape you. Experience. What experience do you have using this drug? You
> can speculate about its possible effects on the brain, but it seems that
> when you guess at something like this and remove personal experience from
> the mix, there's little substance left.

I am a computational neuroscientist. I deal with how the brain works
and (hopefully) how these processes produce our mental experiences and
abilities. I'm also studying psychology, trying to learn as much as
possible about the high-level phenomena of the mind so that I can work
towards bridging the gap between neuron and mind.

My posting was simply based on what we know of how cannabinoids affect
the brain on a purely hardware level, fairly objective unless it turns
out that the experiments were done in the wrong way or cannot be
replicated. The problem with drug experiences (or for that matter a
lot of our subjective experiences) is that they are highly unreliable
- how much of the effects are real, and how much is just delusion?
There are plenty of mechanisms that make us fool ourselves, especially
when we are in unusual mental states (not that the normal state is
delusion-free). A typical example would be a paranoid delusion - once
you accept it partially it quickly makes you find more evidence for
it, even if an outside person would say this evidence is weak or
delusional. But to the paranoic, the persecution is experienced as

> I'm a long time smoker of hemp and find its effects very productive and
> useful. I use it as a catalyst to encourage the sort of "flow" and
> intuition that is at the root of my very best artwork. In fact, I can
> speak for a large portion of the fine arts community and certainly an even
> bigger segment of the music community that hemp is a powerful creative
> catalyst.
> How does that fit into your estimation of its function on the brain??

Sounds reasonable. Note the similarities with the temporal lobe
syndrome; many temporal lobe epileptics have been deeply creative or
intuitive, cf. Dostoyevski or van Gogh (slightly debated, could be
bipolar disorder instead). The hippocampus is likely involved in our
context binding process and memory encoding. If it is affected by
something, then we could expect that the normal bindings of context
and experience are changed, which might influence creativity by making
it more fluid.

An interesting find I found on Medline (I haven't read it):
"Undergraduate marijuana use as related to internal sensation novelty
seeking and openness to experience" by Eisenman R, Grossman JC,
Goldstein R J Clin Psychol 1980 Oct;36(4):1013-1019 says that "after 2
years of use, expressed boredom with the environment decreased
significantly". This supports my guess that cannabinoids make novelty
detectors fire more. Another find on Medline supports the idea that
associations become more fluid:

Marijuana effects on associative processes. Psychopharmacology (Berl)
1985;85(4):426-430 Block RI, Wittenborn JR

Acute marijuana effects on associative processes involved in
long-term memory retrieval were studied. Results were
partially consistent with expectations based on previous
subjective reports that marijuana promotes more uncommon
associations. Marijuana altered responses when people gave as
many examples of a specified category (e.g., CLOTHING) as they
could for 2 min, and when they gave an example of a specified
category beginning with a specified letter (e.g., WEAPON -
G). Reaction time in the latter task and in prior studies was
not altered in the expected manner, a finding problematic for
some theoretic interpretations of marijuana's effects on
associative processes.

In addition, the drug affects the basal ganglia. I'm not that familiar
with them but they seem to be deeply involved in our planning and
acting abilities, both by building up new behavior patterns and
inhibiting patterns before they are to be used. If they are affected,
then they might become less inhibiting, setting free new and unusual
patterns that would otherwise have been suppressed.

However, one should be careful to test these hypotheses. For example,
the following paper did not find any increase in creativity:

Marijuana effects on associations to novel stimuli. J Nerv Ment Dis
1978 May;166(5):362-364 Tinklenberg JR, Darley CF, Roth WT,
Pfefferbaum A, Kopell BS

Sixteen college-educated male subjects were given an object
description task during placebo conditions and while
intoxicated with marijuana extract cookies calibrated to 0.3
mg/kg delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, a dose within the range of
usual social use. The task was scored for fluency,
flexibility, elaboration, and uniqueness, all of which
represent associational thinking and are considered to be
components of creativity. Marijuana did not enhance any of
these measures.

Something similar was reported in this paper, which instead suggests
that it is the pleasant and social effects that are important:

The effect of marijuana on small group process. Am J Drug Alcohol
Abuse 1977;4(2):251-255 Salzman C, Kochansky GE, Van Der Kolk BA,
Shader RI

In a research group setting, marijuana increased
social-emotional interpersonal communication and decreased
task-oriented behavior. Following a frustration stimulus,
groups of marijuana smokers appeared nonintoxicated and showed
improvement in consensus problem solving. Interpersonal
behavior with marijuana may depend in part, on the presence or
absence of demand characteristics for task
performance. Creativity in group problem solving was not
improved by marijuana.

> I'll tell you why I'd like to think of hemp as a (pardon the cliché)
> transhuman tool because at the root of my personal transition are the
> creative ideas which forge and inspire my visions of a future culture. As
> a technology artist, the cultural and technological speculation I make
> about our world could eventually inspire its evolutionary direction. (not
> that my ideas are changing the world, but look at philip k dick or other
> visionary futurists) I'm not saying their process or mine depends on hemp,
> but I'm sure that if you were to investigate why artists use hemp, they'd
> have a similar opinion.

A good point. Unfortunately the cannabinoids as they stand today seem
to be rather crude tools for enhancing creativity. The studies above
are not necessarily the last word, but they suggest that the
cannabinoid induced creative experience may just a subjective
experience of creativity, not something that actually produces more
creative results (I admit that measuring creativity is at best hard
and in itself somewhat subjective). We cannot trust our subjective
experiences to reflect the objective world, we need to check them

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y