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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2021 Research

Cannabis Use Both Helps and Hurts Entrepreneurial Creativity

By Will Ferguson

The study finds cannabis-using entrepreneurs generate new business ideas such as a gravity-free virtual reality workout, that are more original, but less feasible, compared to those who do not use cannabis. The effect only surfaces for entrepreneurs who report relatively strong passion for exploring new business ideas. It is absent for cannabis-using entrepreneurs who have founded more than one business.

“Originality and feasibility are both crucial in entrepreneurship—one without the other limits potential value creation,” says Warnick.

For the study, Warnick led a team of WSU researchers including Alexander Kier, Carson College assistant professor of entrepreneurship, Carrie Cuttler, WSU assistant professor of psychology, and Emily LaFrance (’16 PhD).

First of Its Kind Study Examines Cannabis Influence on Venture Creation

The 254 entrepreneurs participating in the study generated as many ideas for a new business as possible based on virtual reality technology. They also answered questions about the extent of their business experience, passion for entrepreneurship, and cannabis use patterns.

A panel of experts then rated the originality and feasibility of each entrepreneur’s best idea.

The researchers separated the entrepreneurs into cannabis users and nonusers. The cannabis users reported using the drug an average of nearly 20 times in the past month.

The WSU scientists’ work could ultimately help entrepreneurs and the business community determine how cannabis use may be beneficial or detrimental to venture creation.

“This is the first study we know of that looks at how any kind of drug use influences new business ideas,” says Warnick, “But there is still much to explore in this area.”

Warnick notes cognitive effects of chronic cannabis use have been shown to last for up to a month—including increased impulsivity and free-thinking tendencies.

Results of the study held whether or not the cannabis users reported being high at the time of the experiment, but the authors call for future research to consider how being high might influence entrepreneurs’ creativity via a randomized experiment.

Users and Nonusers Can Benefit Each Other’s Creativity

While the study suggests the effects of cannabis use may have some benefits in the early brainstorming stages of the venture idea process, the researchers stress the importance of grounding creativity in reality to successfully launch a new company.

“Our results suggest nonusers’ insights may benefit cannabis-using entrepreneurs in developing the feasibility of their ideas,” Kier says. “This may be especially true for cannabis users who get very excited about coming up with new ideas or don’t have much experience founding new businesses, since others can provide a reality check on their ideas.”

As legalization of cannabis continues across the country and the drug’s stigma fades, the researchers hope their work will help clarify the effects of cannabis not only in entrepreneurship but also in other areas of business. Pros and cons to using cannabis clearly deserve further investigation, Warnick says.

When entrepreneurs dream up ideas for new businesses, cannabis use might help, and hinder, their creativity, according to a new study in the Journal of Business Venturing by lead author Benjamin Warnick, assistant professor in the Carson College Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship.