A lofty lecture series for stoned people aims to shatter some stereotypes, but also raises the question: Are people really more creative and open-minded when high?
The subject of the lecture was infinity.
The setting was the Cloud Room on Capitol Hill, where folks sat on couches and a thick white rug, nibbling on dried apricots dipped in chocolate. Jerry Zimmerman, a fixture at Canlis for decades, played a baby grand piano as the crowd of about 80 settled in.
Speaker Lesley Hazleton, an author and psychologist, then uncorked her tale of wonder and love for infinity at the event, which had sold out of $16 tickets in four hours.
It was like a TED talk with the prism turned slightly. Zimmerman played Pink Floyd. Hazleton spoke barefoot. The audience was stoned. That rug was really plush.
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It was the second in a lecture series called The Goodship Academy of Higher Education. The series is the brainchild of Jody Hall, the Cupcake Royale founder who has branched into legal marijuana edibles and aims to create a salon for conversations around mind-blowing topics where marijuana, not alcohol, is the main elixir.
Ticket-holders are encouraged to arrive stoned; no imbibing is allowed in the Cloud Room.
It’s a way to shatter stereotypes of slovenly stoners, but it raises the question: Are people really more creative, more open-minded when high, or does it just seem that way to them?
Stories of pot’s influence on artists and musicians are legion.
Brian Wilson said marijuana influenced his exquisite arrangements on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” which, in turn, inspired the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Rolling Stone magazine ranked them as the two greatest albums of all time.
On the other hand, there’s the story of Bob Dylan getting the Beatles so high in 1964 that Paul McCartney wanted all of his profound insights on paper. In the cold light of morning, the only thing jotted down was: “There are seven levels.”
Pot’s impact on perception goes beyond musicians. As part of a Pentagon background check, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told investigators his occasional use of marijuana and hashish in earlier years made him feel “relaxed and creative.”
The science, though, is conflicting and equivocal.
An often-cited 2014 Dutch study said pot doesn’t make you more creative, but may give you the illusion that you are. Or, it might induce distractions instead of creativity. The study focused on a measure called “divergent thinking,” or a kind of brainstorming ability, in regular pot users. But it had limitations, with fewer than 60 subjects, none of them occasional pot smokers.
Other research has reported that pot can stimulate creativity when it fuels a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine can have the effect of inhibiting critical thoughts, or quieting our internal editor.
Bruce Barcott’s book “Weed the People” chronicled the first year of legal pot in Colorado and Washington state and touched on some of this science and the “time dilation” musicians feel under pot’s influence.
At Hazleton’s lecture, Barcott said he doesn’t write under the influence of alcohol or pot.
“I’m a coffee writer. Right now it’s salted caramel latte season and I’m writing like a fiend!” he said.
But for others, he said, marijuana may spark creativity.
“That internal editor is a tyrant and if you can put him on ‘mute,’ more power to you. It doesn’t work for me but it’s a possibility,” he said.
Pat Goodwin and Carrie Miller, who play in the band Great Grandpa, attended the first Goodship lecture last month, a talk by a Google expert on machine intelligence that had the audience oohing and aahing at images of computers programmed to hallucinate. Goodwin and Miller snapped up tickets for Hazleton’s talk.
“Generally I really do not feel more productive or have better ideas when stoned,” Goodwin said. But used occasionally, he said, pot could provide a different perspective, or help someone to “meditate or steep in a particular medium.”
Best friends Beth O’Brien and Olivia Lee said pot’s influence depends on their situation.
O’Brien said she likes stargazing when buzzed. But she’s skeptical about it enhancing art.
“I dated a guy who said he could write music better when stoned. I thought he was full of (it),” she said.
Her ideas twisting like a Mobius strip, Hazleton may have bent a couple of brains in the audience with her nonlinear jaunt through physics, from the Paradox of the Grand Hotel (although fully booked, its infinite number of rooms can accommodate an infinite number of guests, infinitely) to her suggestion that “Mathematicians might be the real theologists of the 21st century.”
A former TIME magazine reporter in Israel, Hazleton has lived on a houseboat in Seattle for 23 years and written books about Muhammad, Jezebel and Mary. She doesn’t have the faintest idea, she said, about pot’s impact on creativity, itself a difficult concept to pin down. “I don’t write stoned,” she said.
But she said she liked the salon atmosphere of the Cloud Room. (A combination of a hairline fracture in her foot and the shag rug led her to speak shoeless, she said.)
It felt similar to a talk she gave in New York at which everyone had a drink or two, she said. “I didn’t really see a difference” between the events, she said.
“In New York nobody was drunk. Last night no one was stoned out of their minds,” she said.
In a word, she called the Goodship crew “convivial.”