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Some people like to call marijuana users “burnouts.” But it’s comforting to know just how many prominent historical figures would fall into the same category. Marijuana has been alleviating stress and maximizing leisure time for centuries. Studies have also found that the highly intelligent people smoke more marijuana. So it should be no surprise to learn that many of the people in our high school history textbooks enjoyed cannabis, even when we were being taught not to.

Here are six of the most influential marijuana enthusiasts who made history:

1. William Shakespeare

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English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), circa 1600. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

William Shakespeare’s work helped set the stage for all drama writers and playwrights who came after him. His work is a staple component in every English class in Western society, and he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time. He’s also an elusive character. Many believe that Shakespeare didn’t actually write his own plays. Others brush these off as conspiracy theories. But regardless of who penned them, it’s possible Shakespeare’s writings were aided by marijuana use.

Researchers have reportedly found clay pipes in his home that contained trace amounts of marijuana. It’s difficult to say whether or not they belonged to Shakespeare himself, or whether he was the one smoking marijuana out of them, but as Ranker notes, he did include talk of a “noted weed” in one of his sonnets. While absolute proof of Shakespeare’s marijuana use has yet to be found, it’s much more fun to believe Shakespeare was a marijuana enthusiast.

2. JFK

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President John F. Kennedy smokes a cigar during a Democratic fundraising dinner at the Commonwealth Armory at Boston University. (Photo via Getty Images)

John F. Kennedy was sort of like the Barrack Obama of his day: a young, hip president that was popular among young people and a celebrity in pop-culture in a way that politicians had never really been before. Many remember him as a progressive icon, and had he not been assassinated the United States might look a lot different today. We definitely remember JFK with rose-tinted glasses, and historians now point out that many global failings can be tied back to his presidency. Still, he remains one of the country’s most iconic presidents—many historians even rank him among the top ten—and reportedly, enjoyed marijuana both medicinally and recreationally.

One of JFK’s biographies even details one occurrence when he smoked three successive joints with someone named Mary Meyer. Although it’s difficult to say what would have been had JFK not been assassinated, it’s possible marijuana laws would be a lot different today had he served his full term.

3. Queen Victoria

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Even though the whole idea of royalty hasn’t stood the test of time, and it’s difficult to give Queen Victoria personal credit for her historical role, her place in history is still undeniable. There’s an entire era named after Victoria, after all. She also became England’s longest reigning monarch, and under her rule, the United Kingdom made some of its most significant technological and industrial strides. Again, she can’t necessarily be credited for this success, but her reign was and remains iconic.

There is one thing that Victoria can be credited for, however. And that’s her early adoption of marijuana, which was never illegal in the United Kingdom until a few decades after her death. Victoria was, reportedly, prescribed marijuana by her doctor to alleviate the pain of her menstrual cramps. Her doctor also exalted marijuana in a paper he wrote for The Lancet in 1890, a medical journal that maintains international prominence today.

So I suppose, thanks to Queen Victoria, British marijuana enthusiasts can call hypocrisy on the country’s current marijuana laws. After all, if Victoria were alive today, maybe it would be legal. Who knows?

4. Carl Sagan

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Photo via ScienceSource/Getty Images

Just take one look at Carl Sagan. It’s evident that he loved marijuana. He’s also one of the most famous astronomers and cosmologists in modern history. Among many others, Sagan won the Pulitzer Prize for his non-fiction writing, and two Emmy Awards for his films. He was also a pioneer of research into extraterrestrial life, responsible for the first physical messages sent into space with the intention of making alien contact. These two messages—an inscribed golden record, and an inscribed plaque— are eerie just to look at.

It’s impossible to appreciate the breadth of scientific contributions made by Sagen fully. Which makes it all the easier to appreciate his love for marijuana, for which he was a frequent user and vocal advocate. He even wrote an essay in 1971 under the pseudonym “Mr. X,” in which he talks about the plant’s influences on his professional life and personal experiences. This is worth restating: one of the most renowned scientific minds of our generation claims to have drawn inspiration from marijuana use. It’s pretty hard, then, to make the case that marijuana use makes one dull.

5. Andre Breton

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Portrait of French writer Andre Breton. (Photo by Ann Rosener/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Andre Breton was a prominent writer from France whose work changed the literary landscape of the 20th century. Today, he is recognized as the founder of Surrealism in literature. In 1924, he wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, in which he wrote “Thus the analysis of the mysterious effects and special pleasures it can produce — in many respects Surrealism occurs as a new vice which does not necessarily seem to be restricted to the happy few; like hashish, it has the ability to satisfy all manner of tastes — such an analysis has to be included in the present study.”

So it goes without saying that Breton enjoyed hashish, a concentrated form of marijuana. He also seems to have seen his work as a sort of literary channeling of the effects of marijuana. While it’s impossible to say how much marijuana influenced his work, based on his praise of hashish, it seems reasonable that the use of marijuana influenced his writing style. If marijuana does enhance creativity, then Breton undoubtedly set a towering historical precedent. 

6. Margaret Mead

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Dr. Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Margaret Mead was a world-renowned cultural anthropologist, whose brilliant work, and famously charismatic and outspoken personality made her into one of the scientific community’s most well-known media personalities during the 1960’s and 70’s. Her work also had profound social impacts. She was an advocate of liberalizing sexuality and breaking sexist social constructs. Today, she’s remembered for greatly influencing the sexual revolution of the 60’s.

As a free-thinker and breaker of social norms, it’s no surprise that Mead also reportedly a big supporter of legalizing marijuana. She also used weed to self-medicate for ailments that she contracted while conducting anthropological work abroad. After she recovered from her illnesses, she continued to enjoy marijuana. Today, she remains a cherished icon of progressive thought.

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Rob Hoffman

Staff Writer at HERB
I have written mostly about environmental policy and politics for publications like Fusion, ThinkProgress, and Politico. Before that, I was The Executive Editor for The Plaid Zebra.
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