In my first literature course at Emerson, I read a beautiful poem by one of my classmates that impressed and moved me. When I told them how much I loved reading it, they informed me they always write better when they’re high, because that’s when they’re at their most creative. I walked away from that encounter, one of my first experiences at this new school with another writer, feeling that none of my work would ever live up to that because I don’t smoke weed or use drugs in any form. I have faced a different kind of peer pressure to smoke at a school so centered on creativity and being open and free.
During my first few months at Emerson, I seriously considered whether I should start smoking just so I could be included in more social interactions with fun new friends, or seem more artsy and edgy to fit in at a school where smoking is part of the culture. I wondered whether more magazines would accept my poetry or if I would have qualified for the slam team if I had used drugs to write my poems. Substance abuse and creativity in the artistic community are historically very closely related—many famous musicians and artists are known for their drug use, such as Bob Dylan or the Beatles. I made my decision to stay sober years ago based on my mental health history, because I didn’t like not being in complete control of my body and mind. It scared me that I was considering reversing a major life choice just to fit in at a new school, and that this seemed like the only way to succeed.
Inadvertently, Emerson students are including drugs as an integral part of the creative process and leaving behind those who don’t want to participate in that new culture. I know and fear that in many professional artistic circles, drugs are commonplace and considered part of inspiration and creation. While I can’t do anything to change that industry standard, I can ask the Emerson community to break down the idea that drugs are necessary for creativity—not ask students to give up smoking or quit, but to end any fundamental or critical difference in how we treat smokers and non-smokers in a creative setting.
There are numerous reports on the effects of smoking weed on artistic ability and how it affects one’s brain. A recent study from Washington State University on the relationship between cannabis and creativity found that people who used the drug tended to test as more creative and extroverted. The author of the report said in an interview that the subjects’ openness to experiences was most likely the cause for their apparent increased creativity. That is, subjects who used cannabis tested as more creative not thanks to the drug, but because those who use cannabis tend to be more open to experience in the first place. There’s been no concrete study linking the use of drugs to making people more creative.
In the Emerson community, I want to see students who don’t smoke feeling comfortable with themselves and their work and not feeling inadequate, left out, or like we need to smoke to match up to our peers. Conversely, I don’t want to see students who do smoke feeling guilty or like they should stop—because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
We need to place smokers and non-smokers on the same moral ground, neither above the other for their choices surrounding drugs. For me, this means students shouldn’t mention their state of sobriety when talking about their work altogether—you don’t need to credit your creativity to drugs because in the end you’re still the one making the art.