Drug Abuse Articles & Stories: Did William Shakespeare Take Cannabis & Coke?

DRUGS TRACES WERE FOUND in the vicinity of William Shakespeare's Stratford home. Could he have been a substance abuser — smoking cannabis and taking cocaine? By Ben Arogundade. [Apr.28.2016]


IT IS ONE OF THE BEST drug abuse stories of our time — the idea that English playwright William Shakespeare may have taken cannabis and cocaine. The question has fascinated and confounded Shakespeareans for decades. The first of the stories about his proposed drug abuse occurred in March 2001:

Researchers from the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, South Africa, analysed 24 fragments of clay tobacco pipes discovered near the home of William Shakespeare, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire. The objects, owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and which date back to the 17th century, were dug from various sites around Stratford, including the garden of Shakespeare’s home. The pipes were chemically treated and analysed by a team led by Dr Francis Thackeray, along with colleagues from the University of Cape Town and the South African police.

The researchers were partially inspired to conduct the tests after reading some of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which are thought to contain references to drug abuse. Sonnet 76 for example, refers to a “noted weed”. The idea that Shakespeare may have smoked cannabis or taken cocaine, either recreationally or as part of his creative process, excites scholars and commentators. It is not difficult to imagine the Bard as a drug user, as many creative types are today. “It could be what helped him paint such vivid images with his words,” Thackeray suggested.

The results of Thackeray’s analysis of the pipes revealed traces of tobacco, camphor and myristic acid – a chemical found in plants such as nutmeg, which has known hallucinogenic properties. Eight of the pipes also showed traces of cannabis-related compounds. The drug was available in Britain during Shakespeare’s time, and was used in the production of paper, rope and clothing.

Two pipes also tested positive for cocaine residues. One of them came from the house of the mother of John Harvard, after whom America’s Harvard University is named. The discovery of coke surprised researchers, as it had previously not been recorded earlier than 200 years ago. It is thought that the substance was first introduced to Europe via the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 16th century.

If the stories about Shakespeare's drug abuse are true, could he have been an addict? One can only speculate on the matter, and how it may have affected his work, as well as his relationships with friends and family. If the Bard was a substance abuser writing in the present day, perhaps his agent or fellow writers, fearful of how the drugs might destroy him, would have ushered him away to a treatment centre somewhere in London, or perhaps a drug rehab facility in Florida to escape the glare of the British press, and where he'd meet good company with musicians and actors with similar problems.

Ultimately, Thackeray’s findings at most only suggest that Shakespeare was aware of the existence and use of drugs in his time. There is no evidence that the pipes found in his garden actually belonged to him, or that he smoked cannabis or took cocaine. The only way to determine whether or not he did use drugs would be to exhume his remains, which are buried under a local parish church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where they have lain undisturbed for almost 400 years.

In June 2011 Thackeray and his team submitted a formal application to the Church of England to do just that. Using state-of-the-art technology, including 3-D imaging equipment, they planned to conduct a full forensic analysis without disturbing or removing any of the Bard’s remains. The team also planned DNA tests, not only for Shakespeare, but also the remains of his wife and sister, who are buried at Holy Trinity Church. The proposed action would have provided vital information about Shakespeare’s health, as well as the exact cause of his death, which is still unknown.

“Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness — a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s,” Thackeray told Fox News. “If we find grooves between the canine and the incisor, that will tell us if he was chewing on a pipe as well as smoking.”

But, this may never be possible now, as in March 2016, a team of archaeologists and geophysicists from Staffordshire University, were finally permitted access to Shakespeare's grave site, and, using high tech ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to look into the Bard's grave, discovered to their surprise that Shakespeare's skull is missing from his skeleton. Their finding gives credence to an 1879 report in The Argosy magazine that stated that the playwright's skull had been stolen from his grave, which is barely a metre deep.

Perhaps soon, further scans may reveal crucial information about Shakespeare's health that may determine whether or not he could have been a drug abuser. One fact is for sure, and that is that any such data will have to be discovered from above, as Shakespeare's tomb will never be opened, as it goes against his dying wishes. Fearful of what might happen to his remains after death, Shakespeare famously had a curse engraved upon his tomb:

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

Ben Arogundade's book, 'The Shakespeare Mashup', is out now.

THE BARD & DRUG ABUSE: Centuries after his death, stories have circulated that William Shakespeare may have taken a substance abuser. Traces found in the garden of his home tested positive for cannabis-related compounds and cocaine. If he were drug abuser today, Shakespeare may well have ended up in a treatment centre.

The Creativity of Author, Designer & Publisher Ben Arogundade






A DRUG USERS ABODE? Playwright William Shakespeare's home in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Clay tobacoo pipes found in the garden and the surrounding area showed traces of cocaine and cannabis-related compounds.




The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “drug abuse articles and stories”, each month.


The number of people worldwide who Google the phrases, “William Shakespeare marijuana, weed, cannabis”, each month.


The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Drug abuse”, each month.

*All figures for “William Shakespeare And Drug Abuse - The Stats”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.

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