Five Historical Figures Who Smoked Weed
Estimated 10-minute read
Cannabis has been one of humanity’s favorite plants for thousands of years. We know this because its use has been documented in ancient China as a medicinal plant, and traces of cannabis have been found in the tombs of Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. Due to its widespread use and in the absence of modern laws and restrictions, some historical figures are bound to have smoked it, right? There’s a lot of speculation on the Internet about famous people having consumed marijuana, so let’s look at those claims in detail, shall we?
Here are five famous historical figures who are likely to have blazed it up.
Now, we all know of the man who is credited with the European’s discovery of the Americas. We’ve all heard of the tales of his journeys through the seas on board of La Niña, La Pinta, and La Santa María, but did you know that those ships carried more than just the typical provisions for the trip?
Since the Old World, cannabis has been widely cultivated not only for its flowers, but also for its fibers. Hemp—which is what we call cannabis with less than 0.3% THC content—has historically been used to make an incredible plethora of products– from ropes to sails, to oil for burning lamps, to paper. (Yes, even rolling paper, just like our own!)
Columbus would not have made it to the Americas without cannabis. According to the Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum in Barcelona, the sails and ropes used on his three ships were made out of hemp, as no other natural fiber can withstand the stress of life at sea. But that’s not all– the cracks between the planks were filled with hemp to make the ships watertight, the oil on his lamps was also extracted from hemp, and some of Columbus’ personal artifacts, such as his clothing and his Bible, were also made from hemp fibers. By the time his flagship, La Santa María, left the Spanish port of Palos, it carried thousands of hemp seeds for his crew to eat as a source of protein and to plant as a cash crop wherever they went.
Many people online claim that Columbus likely carried seeds that grew marijuana—cannabis with higher THC levels—alongside his hemp seed supply, and this is how the Asian plant arrived in the New World. However, these claims seem to be unsubstantiated, and there is evidence that Cannabis was grown in the Americas before Columbus’ arrival.
So did Christopher smoke weed, or not? Honestly, it’s still up to debate. There’s not enough evidence. But if you ask me, I’d say these claims about Columbus being a stoner are possible but ultimately unconfirmed.
Lovers of literature have pored endlessly through the poetry of Britain’s favorite Bard, and some have found a few lines penned by Shakespeare himself that seem to reference his use of marijuana. Have you ever read Sonnet 76? These verses might be “barren of new pride” but they are full of references to “a noted weed” and its “compounds strange”. Scholars have long debated the true meaning behind these lines, but a 2015 investigation has allowed us to view this sonnet in a new light.
A team of South African scientists led by Francis Thakeray were loaned 24 “tobacco pipe” fragments that were found in Shakespeare’s backyard, in his house at Stratford-upon-Avon. These pipes are dated to the early 17th century, when Shakespeare was alive and writing, and were presumed to have been used by William to smoke tobacco. With advances in technology, Thackeray’s team used a method called “gas chromatography mass spectrometry” and with it, they were able to test the residue found in these clay pipes. Eight of these fragments tested positive for marijuana.
The use of marijuana in the Elizabethan era isn’t surprising at all, due to the experimental nature of medicine at that time. However, due to traces of other drugs in other pipe fragments, we can assume that Shakespeare partook in recreational drug use. He might have used marijuana as a medicinal herb, but it’s very likely that he also used it as a source of inspiration.
The verdict? William Shakespeare is a confirmed stoner.
You might have heard before that the United States’ first President owned a massive estate by the Potomac River, in which he farmed tobacco. But did you know that hemp was also one of the crops grown by good ol’ George?
As mentioned earlier, the cannabis plant has a wide range of uses, so it is no surprise that hemp was amongst Washington’s crops at Mount Vernon. It is said that Washington acquired hemp and planned to use it as a cash crop, but he found that wheat was more profitable. Despite the fact that he knew this plant wouldn’t make him a lot of money, he still decided to grow it to meet his estate’s needs. With his hemp, George Washington supplied his slaves with fibers to make ropes, clothing, fishing nets and other necessary items. Some people say that Washington also used his hemp to make concoctions to help with his toothaches, but in my research I haven’t come across any documentation to support the last statement.
The Founding Father kept meticulous journals, in which he relayed his daily activities. In one entry he says to have “sowed hemp at Muddy Hole by the swamp”, which is said to be a spot removed from his regular hemp crops. On this day, he laments the fact that he “began to separate the male from female plants at do– rather too late,” and that he “was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month”. Some people have taken this to mean that he was going for the female plants that naturally have a higher THC content. Actually, the marijuana flower that we all smoke is actually a byproduct of the female plant’s natural reproduction strategy. Others claim that he was in reality going for the male plants, which have thicker stalks that produce more fiber.
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, the nonprofit that currently runs Washington’s estate, maintains that the President only ever grew industrial hemp with low THC levels. In fact, as a way to honor Washington’s daring farming enterprises, they began growing hemp again at Mount Vernon in the spring of 2018, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s industrial hemp research program.
Honestly, it’s hard to know for real if Washington used his cannabis for anything other than its known industrial purposes. But, seriously, if you had fields full of cannabis, wouldn’t you at least be curious to see what it’s like to smoke it? So, I’m gonna mark him down as a possible smoker, although an unlikely stoner.
Queen Victoria was one of Britain’s most iconic monarchs, ruling over the British Empire for 63 long years. The period in which she ruled, commonly referred to as the Victorian Era, was one of many changes in the United Kingdom, with the rapid onset of industrialization, accompanied by several advances in science, and a significant expansion of the British military presence in the world. Victoria was known for her strict rule and her high standards of personal morality. Beloved by her subjects, they all trusted her to make the best decisions for the British Empire.
The Queen ascended into the throne at the young age of 18, and throughout her reproductive years Victoria went through what every woman goes every month: her period. Now, all women know how painful and debilitating some period cramps can be, and through the ages we have tried to find ways to alleviate this. The Queen’s physician had a solution for her: marijuana
Doctor J. Russell Reynolds was the vice-president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, and the physician of the Royal Household since 1878. He was a neurologist, and an amazing scholar. He used to write for one of the world’s oldest science publications, The Lancet. In fact, in 1890 he published an article titled “On the Therapeutic Uses and Toxic Effects of Cannabis Indica,” in which he called the herb “one of the most valuable medicines we possess.” So when Queen Victoria approached him with her problem, Reynolds offered a prescription of a marijuana tincture. This is made by soaking marijuana in alcohol and straining it, allowing the liquid to absorb all of the active components of the plant.
The Queen was really pleased by Reynolds’ service to the Crown— she even made him a Baron in 1895! Queen Victoria, therefore, is a confirmed medicinal user. But who’s to say she didn’t enjoy the effects of our favorite herb?
John F. Kennedy
The 35th President of the United States is a household name nowadays. John F. Kennedy’s widely known for his dashing good looks, his relentless optimism, and his tragic death that left America in shock. The President, who was also called Jack by his friends and family, died at the age of 43. This made him the youngest president to die in the United States.
Kennedy’s untimely death left a mark in the American public, and so many people since have been curious about his private and public life. Many biographers have taken upon the task of documenting the President’s life, and the lives of those who surrounded him. It is surprising, due to the amount of scrutiny his life and legacy have gone under that even after decades since his death we are still uncovering details about the life of America’s youngest President.
In 2002, a historian was allowed to examine President John F. Kennedy’s health records, alongside a medical consultant. They were the first to lay eyes on this private patient information since the president’s untimely death, and what they found there was surprising to many.
According to an article in the New York Times, the records contained medical files that covered the last eight years of JFK’s life. These included prescription records, which show that he used opiates as painkillers, antianxiety agents, stimulants and sleeping pills, as well as hormones to treat his Addison’s disease and keep him alive. The President was chronically ill by the time he took office, and it has been known that he also suffered from debilitating back pain, though his contemporaries claim that this never impeded him from performing his presidential duties.
In 2020, several claims popped up all over the Internet that the President used marijuana to treat his several ailments, chiefly his back pain. However, there is no mention of the use of cannabis in Kennedy’s records. So, where does the idea that JFK smoked weed come from?
The claims that Kennedy occasionally lit up a joint in the White House comes from an anecdote related in Mary Pinchot Meyer’s biography. Meyer was one of the President’s mistresses and the ex-wife of a prolific CIA Agent. In 1972, the National Enquirer article quoted James Truitt, an important journalist of the time, where he confirmed the fact that Mary Meyer had had a two year affair with the 35th President. He also stated that Meyer and Kennedy met up on an April night in 1962 and had smoked marijuana in a bedroom at the White House. The story goes that they smoked three marijuana cigarettes between the two of them, and that Meyer even offered the President some cocaine.
Heck, I’m impressed. Three joints in a night? Surely, this would make President Kennedy a confirmed stoner.
Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum (2022) - Columbus and cannabis retrieved from https://hashmuseum.com/en/collection/hemp-shipping/columbus-and-cannabis/
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