Many of us have waxed poetic while puffing a joint, but probably not as much as Charles Baudelaire.
That’s right – France’s poetic genius loved hash, and there’s a sprawling list of literary greats who also liked to “weed” and write. After all, in the words of E.B. White: “The first duty of a writer is to ascend.”
We rounded up the top eight authors, poets, and screenplay writers known to have mixed cannabis into the creative process.
1. Maya Angelou
In her autobiography “Gather Together in My Name” (the second autobiography in a seven-part series, the first of which is “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) the late poet described her experience smoking cannabis for the first time.
“Walking on the streets became high adventure, eating my mother’s huge dinners an opulent entertainment, and playing with my son was side cracking hilarity,” she said. “For the first time, life amused me.”
Angelou later credited marijuana with helping her overcome the sexual and physical abuse she suffered early in life, and used it weekly as a kind of creativity-generating therapy for a time. So, you can thank weed, in part, for the Maya Angelou we know and revere today.
2. Stephen King
If you’ve ever gotten a distinctly trippy feeling while reading a Stephen King novel (who hasn’t?,) it may interest you to know that King was actually tripping while writing some of his novels.
The world-famous author of “It,” “The Shining,” and other iconic horror novels admitted to using a lot of cannabis in the 80’s in his biography, “Haunted Heart,” describing himself as “addicted” to weed, alcohol, and cocaine. King’s additions became so consuming that he says he barely remembers writing the pieces he produced in those years, such as “The Tommyknockers.”
Though he no longer uses cannabis, he remains a staunch advocate for cannabis legalization.
3. Hunter S. Thompson
This iconic American journalist wasn’t kidding when he described himself driving with a “car full of marijuana and head full of acid” in his novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Along with being the father of Gonzo journalism, he was also a known cannabis connoisseur and fathered several personal cannabis strains.
Some of those strains – the last he smoked before his suicide in 2005 – were cloned by his widow sold in Colorado. The line was lovingly labelled “Gonzo Strains.”
4. Victor Hugo
In the event that this French literary master wanted to feel a little less “misérable”, he was known to get baked.
The author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables” was part of an elite society of Parisian cannabis enthusiasts called the Club des Hashischins (literally, the “Club of Hashish-Eaters.) Active between 1844 and 1849, these intellectually elite smoking buddies met for monthly “séances” and ate dawamesc, a cannabis-infused paste made of pistachios and honey.
Though Hugo did not have a lot to say about the club in his lifetime, we like to think there was a little sativa behind his decision to write a 655,478-word novel.
5. Quentin Tarantino
In a 2012 interview with Playboy, the experimental screenplay writer and director let the world in on his brainstorming sessions, saying,
“You smoke a joint, you put on some music, you listen to it and you come up with some good ideas… Maybe it just seems like a good idea because you’re stoned, but you write it down and look at it the next day.”
It’s not exactly shocking that the man famous for long sequences of obsessive dialogue and anachronistic plot points was inspired by something “high”-er. What may come as a surprise, though, is that he says he never smoked while writing or making films.
“I wouldn’t do anything impaired while making a movie,” Tarantino said, and later added, “I don’t need pot to write, but it’s kind of cool.”
Still, we can’t help but think there was a reason he wrote “Pulp Fiction” in Amsterdam.
6. Charles Baudelaire
There’s a little more flower in “Les Fleurs du Mal” (“The Flowers of Evil”) than you might think.
Another member of the previously mentioned Club des Hashischins (“Club of Hashish-Eaters,”) this French writer penned several works of canna-literature when he wasn’t writing iconic books of poetry. He wrote “The Poem of Hashish,” an essay reflecting on the vastly different effects of alcohol and cannabis on the body, and a more philosophical book called “Artificial Paradises” on the state of being high from either opium or cannabis.
Readers will find the writer also coined some uncharacteristically endearing nicknames for cannabis in his works, including “little green sweetmeat” and “playground of seraphim.”
7. Susan Sontag
Famous for her pop-culture critiques, this American writer was once called the “Queen of the Aesthete.” As a champion of marijuana in the midst of the War on Drugs, we think she also deserves the title “Queen of Hash.”
In a 1978 interview with High Times, Sontag was asked if she had feelings about the increasing use of drugs. Sontag responded,
“I think marijuana is much better than liquor. I think a society which is addicted to a very destructive and unhealthy drug, namely alcohol, certainly has no right to complain or be sanctimonious or censor the use of a drug which is much less harmful.”
8. Alexandre Dumas
A founding member of the previously mentioned Club des Hashischins (“Club of Hashish-Eaters,”) this classic French novelist included an ode to cannabis in his celebrated novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” where one of the characters bursts out:
“When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter – to quit paradise for earth – heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine – taste the hashish!”
We’ll have what he’s having.
There’s no written evidence on this one, but it’s possible the bard smoked some herb in his day.
Archeologists from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa recently tested fragments of 25 pipes found in the playwright’s home at Stratford-upon-Avon. Among them, eight tested positive for remnants of 16th century cannabis.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.