Marijuana has been around for centuries so it’s not surprising that many historical figures have been known to use marijuana. Here is a selection of famous and innovative people who are known (or evidence suggests) to have enjoyed marijuana.
William Shakespeare was a 16th century English playwright who is widely considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, dramatists of all time. His plays, which include such classics such Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Hamlet, are still performed, adapted, and admired today.
Researchers found traces of cannabis on clay pipes which came from Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. We can’t be certain that those pipes belonged to Shakespeare himself, but we know they were made in the 17th century (Shakespeare died in 1616), and they were found on his property. Shakespeare also wrote about a “noted weed” in one of his sonnets.
Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire from 1837 until 1901. Victoria was an extremely powerful woman, and, like all women, was visited each month by her pesky Aunt Flo. Unlike most women, however, Queen Victoria had her pick of the best physicians, all of whom wanted to make their queen comfortable, which is why her private physician, Sir J. Russell Reynolds, prescribed marijuana for her menstrual cramps. In an 1890 issue of The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals, Reynolds wrote that marijuana is “one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”
This is the woman who embodied that repressed time period, during which it was considered scandalous to even say the word “leg” in mixed company. So, it is awesome to think that the woman who led a nation in wearing corsets and eschewing all mention of bodily functions was secretly taking marijuana in order to cope with her PMS.
James Monroe was the 5th president of the United States. He was a representative at the Continental Congress, and before becoming president, he served as minister to both France and Britain.
In his book, The Great Book of Hemp, Rowan Robinson wrote that Monroe “was introduced to hashish while he was serving as ambassador to France, and he continued to enjoy the smoke until he was seventy-three years old.”
Rumors abound that many of our Founding Fathers used marijuana, but most lack definitive proof. Robinson’s account of Monroe smoking hashish when he went to France is the most solid source for any of these claims. If it’s true, this would mean that Monroe would have continued smoking marijuana while he was in the White House.
The pharaohs presided over a great civilization on the banks of the Nile River. Dynasties in Ancient Egyptian first gained power in 3150 BC and lasted, in varying lines and kingdoms, until 30 BC.
During their long reign, dynasties of Ancient Egypt started to use cannabis. Cannabis pollen was found on the mummy of one pharaoh, Ramesses II. Details on medical papyri describe a multitude of medical uses for marijuana, including treatment for hemorrhoids and sore eyes.
The Egyaptians built the pyramids. Today most people still don’t truly understand how did it. So if Egyptian pharaohs felt that using marijuana was a good idea, way back in 2000 BC, maybe we should listen to them.
Hua Tuo was a respected Chinese scholar and doctor who lived during the Han dynasty. Hua is credited with creating the world’s first anesthetic for performing surgery, around 200 A.D. The anesthesia that Hua concocted was called mafeisan. Mafeisan was made by mixing cannabis powder with wine. Sadly, the exact recipe for Hua’s mafeisan is now unknown, much to the chagrin of college kids everywhere.
Although the exact dates for Hua’s birth and death are unknown, he lived from about 140 to 208. Which means that nearly 2,000 years ago, Hua’s patients were comfortably sedated for surgery, letting Hua perform operations that would be impossible in other parts of the world for centuries. In contrast, Western medicine started using anesthesia for surgeries in the 19th century.
William Brooke O’Shaughnessy
William O’Shaughnessy (1808 – 1889) was an Irish physician. In 1833 he moved to Calcutta to work for the British East India company. O’Shaughnessy stayed in India for nine years, working as a doctor and as a scientist. While working in India, O’Shaughnessy learned about cannabis. O’Shaughnessy was intrigued enough to start researching marijuana. When he was back in England, O’Shaugnessy used cannabis to treat muscle spasms, vomiting, and diarrhea. He was so successful that other Western doctors soon began using the same treatments.
William O’Shaughnessy brought marijuana to the attention of modern Western medicine. In America, starting in the 1840s, you could get marijuana almost anywhere, thanks to its inclusion in a multitude of patent medicines. Without O’Shaughnessy, who knows how long it would’ve taken for Western medicine to clue into the benefits of cannabis?
Ancient Greece provided the foundation for Western civilization. Ancient Greek civilization lasted from about 750 BC to A.D. 600, during which time the Greeks invented democracy, developed philosophy, and wrote plays and poems that are still studied and performed today. In addition to the above innovations, ancient Greeks also came up with some new uses for marijuana. Various Greek writers talked about using cannabis to get rid of tapeworms, stop nosebleeds and reduce ear inflammation. Unfortunately, their next idea was to give teenage boys hemp seeds in order to “dry up semen,” so that the boys could make it through the night without unwanted ejaculations. Hopefully those patients at least had a few pleasant side effects.
Nowadays teenage boys surely get more pleasure out of their marijuana use than boys in ancient Greece did. But at least the ancient Greeks were open to using cannabis, unlike most of the world today.
Ottomon Sultan Abdülaziz I
Abdülaziz I was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ruling from 1861 to 1876. Eighteen seventy-six was also the year of America’s first World’s Fair, which Abdülaziz I attended. The Sultan set up an exhibit that gave Americans a chance to learn about the long history and fascinating culture of the Ottoman Turks.
The best part of the Sultan’s exhibit at the World’s Fair was the plethora of cannabis gifts that he brought for the Americans. Cannabis was a perfect accompaniment to the Turkish pavilion, where the finer points of smoking a hookah were demonstrated to a captivated American public.
This is what a World’s Fair should be all about! Americans in 1876 proved themselves to be extremely open-minded and ready to try new things. The hashish at the fair was so popular that people began opening Turkish smoking parlors all along the Northeast coast. It was rumored that there were 500 of these parlors just in Manhattan.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy was president of the United States in the early 1960’s, and he had the highest approval rating of any American president after World War II. He was assassinated in Dallas, TX in November of 1963.Several written accounts of JFK’s life claim that the president used marijuana to cope with his severe back pain. He also may have used it recreationally. John F. Kennedy: A Biography contains a story about JFK smoking three joints with a woman named Mary Meyer. He allegedly said, after the third joint, “Suppose the Russians did something now.”
Plenty of presidents and presidential candidates have admitted they smoked pot, but they all claim to have only done it when they were young. JFK lighting up in the White House is a whole different story. Hopefully he wasn’t high when he made any really important decisions.
The Scythians were a people who formed nomadic tribes, traveling across Eastern Europe and Central Asia from about 600 BC to AD 600. Scythians were also fierce warriors. On the battlefield, Scythians were known to behead their enemies and drink their blood. Greek historian Herodotus described Scythian culture and rituals in his Histories. Archeologists recently discovered cannabis and opium residue at a preserved Scythian ritual site. This supports Herodotus’ claim that the Scythians would throw hemp seeds on hot stones in order to produce steam “that no Grecian vapor-bath can surpass.” According to Herodotus, the Scythians would perform this ritual after a burial.
Okay, Scythians may have sown some destruction—drinking an enemy’s blood is taking things a bit too far. But they shared their stash with the people they were raiding, which was decent of them. And if you have to wash off a lot of blood and gore, a “marijuana sauna” sounds like the way to do it.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was a 19th century American author best known for her novel, Little Women. Alcott was also an outspoken abolitionist and suffragette. She was actually the first woman in Concord, Massachusetts to register to vote.
There is no record of Alcott admitting that she used marijuana, but her short stories indicate that she most likely did. She wrote one story called “Perilous Play,” which involves two lovers getting high and then getting engaged on a boat. One character explains the effects like this: “A heavenly dreaminess comes over one, in which they move as if on air.”
Even though Alcott didn’t admit to smoking herself, she did the next best thing by writing a story that ended with the line, “Heaven bless hashish, if its dreams end like this!” If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of weed, what is?
Francis Crick was one of the of two scientists (the other was James Watson) who earned the Nobel Prize for discovering DNA in 1962. This discovery lay the ground work for modern genetics. Though he never openly admitted to marijuana use, Crick’s biographer wrote that the scientist experimented both with marijuana and LSD.
This totally shatters the stereotype that people who use drugs like weed are unintelligent. Crick was one of the most important scientists in modern history. Saying he owes his genius to his drug use might be going too far but lighting up once in a while certainly didn’t do him any damage.
Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist and astrophysicist who wrote a ton of scientific papers and books. He is most famous for his theories about extraterrestrial life, and for writing and narrating the TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Throughout his life he earned several awards, including a Pulitzer and two Emmys. When he was 35 years old, in 1969, Sagan wrote an essay under a pen name talking about the insights he got when he smoked marijuana, and advocating for marijuana legalization. Later in life, Sagan openly advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana. It wasn’t until three years after Sagan’s death that the public learned he was the author of that 1969 essay.
Carl Sagan was a brilliant scientist who wrote that being high actually helped him think of some of his great ideas. Sagan’s essay makes a strong case that marijuana is a valuable tool for intellectuals.