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Did Shakespeare Smoke Cannabis?

The greatest playwright of all time may have been high when he wrote his most famous works. According to a study conducted in 2001, researchers detected traces of cannabis in pipes belonging to William Shakespeare[i].

Such a discovery doesn’t automatically prove that the Famous Bard smoked weed, but it does suggest that he had access to cannabis.

Cannabis References In Shakespeare

The study authors say they decided to analyse Shakespeare’s pipe residues after becoming intrigued by some of his writings. Sonnet 76, for instance, talks of “invention in a noted weed”, which may refer to the use of cannabis to enhance creativity.

Shakespeare mentions an aversion to “compounds strange” in the same piece, yet the researchers believe this phrase relates to cocaine. They therefore interpret these two expressions to mean that Shakespeare preferred cannabis to cocaine.

That Shakespeare would reference cannabis and cocaine in his writing is unsurprising, as both arrived in the UK during his lifetime. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake – both contemporaries of Shakespeare – brought coca leaves and cannabis plants back to England from their travels around the world.

Cannabis Found In Pipes Belonging To Shakespeare

The study authors obtained 24 pipe fragments from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to determine whether the great writer smoked pot. Some of these pipes originated in the garden of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, while others came from surrounding properties.

Using a highly sensitive technique called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the researchers discovered the presence of several exciting compounds.

Two pipes contained traces of cocaine, yet neither of these came from Shakespeare’s garden. However, four pipes unearthed from the home of William Shakespeare contained residues that suggest the presence of cannabis.

Some of the pipe bowls and stems contained exotic drugs like Chinese camphor and myristic acid, the latter of which indicates that someone may have smoked nutmeg. The researchers also detected hallucinogenic compounds like borneol, which comes from a plant that grows in the jungles of Borneo.

The presence of these chemicals doesn’t prove that Shakespeare smoked cannabis or any other substance. However, these findings do confirm that several people in and around his home were using psychoactive plants during his lifetime.

“We do not assume that any of the bowls and stems were from pipes used by Shakespeare,” write the study authors. “However, this study supports the suggestion that at least one hallucinogen was accessible in England in the 17th century and may have been used by writers.”

Much Ado about Puffing (sorry had to get one in). If you think of any others then comment below!

[i] Thackeray JF, Van der Merwe NJ, Van der Merwe TA. Chemical analysis of residues from seventeenth-century clay pipes from Stratford-upon-Avon and environs: research in action. South African Journal of Science. 2001 Jan 1;97(1):19-21. – https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.10520/EJC97282

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This post is also available in: French

Ben Taub