To Puff or Not to Puff, That is The Question

Did William Shakespeare enjoy ye occasional toke? 

“Compounds Strange” and “Noted Weed” 

Sonnet 76 from William Shakespeare’s “Fair Youth” series:
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange? Why write I still all one, ever the same, And keep invention in a noted weed, That every word doth almost tell my name, Showing their birth, and where they did proceed? O know, sweet love, I always write of you, And you and love are still my argument; So all my best is dressing old words new, Spending again what is already spent: For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
–William Shakespeare
Pot lovers everywhere can revel in the fact that they share something in common with some of the world’s greatest luminaries, and archaeological and chemical research suggests that it’s possible that William Shakespeare might also be within that especially “enlightened” group of luminaries.
The history of cannabis’ use for medicinal, religious practices, and (possibly) recreational practices can be traced back to at least 3000 BCE, with the earliest known evidence indicating central and south Asia as origin points for its cultivation and use before its rapid spread to other points in Asia, Europe, and Africa and eventually the New World.
South African scientists under the leadership of the paleontologist, Dr Francis Thackeray published the results of a study in 2001 which was published in the South African Journal of Science. The study analyzed clay pipe fragments excavated around Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.New_Place_House
The pipes had previously been excavated in earlier studies of the areas around and near the residence and had since been stored away in museum storerooms, but a study of the chemical composition of trace materials left inside the pipe fragments had never before been undertaken…The operative assumption always having been that tobacco from the New World had been the material smoked. 24 broken pipe fragments (bowls and stems), all identified as the English type from the 17th century, comprised the study specimens.  Some of the fragments still retained soil from the areas they were unearthed and many had remnants of the previously smoked substances still clinging inside them. In the cases where the soil still existed, the soil had acted to help preserve the presence of these smoked substance residues.
Researchers took the residues collected from the pipes and analyzed them through gas chromotography which allows scientists to identify compounds by their constituent chemical/elemental signatures.   The results were varied and surprising. Nicotine, myristic acid (a known hallucinogen), borneol and other forms of camphor, quinoline and cocaine all appeared from the tests.  While not 100% definitive, residues of Cannabis were suggested.  Cannabis degrades differently than the other substances making it harder to track down over time.


The study can not definitively determine that any of the pipes were actually used by Shakespeare himself, but it does prove that the bard had access to mind altering hallucinogens, possibly weed, while alive. Other possibilities include that members of  his family, offspring or friends and neighbors experimented with smoking these substances.


This raises the possibility that one of the greatest acknowledged writers in history was under the “inspiration” of Lady Mary Jane, and if that’s the case, pot smokers everywhere join a most illustrious club indeed.


The pipe samples aren’t the only evidence of Shakespeare’s knowledge of pot smoking and possible usage. Several references to smoking appear in his work. Perhaps the most clear and noted one is his sonnet reproduced above at this article’s beginning (Sonnet 76). The researchers for the study readily admitted that these references in Shakespeare’s work raised their curiosity of the possibility of him using cannabis and helped influence their decision to test the clay pipe fragments.


Cannabis was first grown in England in the 5th century AD and by the 16th and 17th centuries was being widely used to produce rope and sails for sailing ships.

6 thoughts on “To Puff or Not to Puff, That is The Question

  1. To puff or not to puff…When one puffs for medical purposes,then that gives good reason to puff. And most of the pot smokers I know smoke to make themselves more relaxed…so if you can get benefits from smoking, then puff up.

  2. I’ve heard this before. I’ve read that a lot of well known writers were under the influence of drugs (usually acid or other though, not weed) while they wrote. I think it helps the creative process, when you’re not so held back by being sober. No doubt you have a much more creative imagination when under certain drugs, and then add to that the already creative mind of Shakespeare… that’s how these great works of art are born.

  3. Funny how some of the earliest origins are from South Asia–some of the more strict countries in today’s world when it comes to policies on weed.

    As far the ‘creative process’–I love weed, but I think it’s place in the creative process ends at abstract, yet ingenious concepts. You need the follow-through to be able to benefit from stoned thinking. Of course I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never been able to smoke and write a really good short story, or article. Sure, I could do it. But probably not better than if I was sober.

    Most of the publicized instances where writers produced revered works via drugs did not involve weed, instead amphetamines and more psychedelic substances.

    Maybe just me though.

  4. Everyone handles their drugs differently. Whether it be marijuana, pills, alcohol, or “harmless” and approved prescription medications. The bottom line is, weed may mellow out one person, while creating insane paranoia in another. To each his own is my motto. And hey, if it gets those creative juices going, why not?!

  5. This actually isn’t unheard of whatsoever. Many of the great writers use(d) mind altering substances while working – the ‘drunk writer’ is even a well-known stereotype. Being able to relax and let one’s thoughts out easier is the key to getting a good story down, after all. It is quite interesting that this may have been the case that far back in history, though.

  6. I think smoking pot is a great way to relax. Lot’s of writers and artist’s like to smoke because they feel like it relaxes them and makes them more creative. Interesting article.

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