Did Shakespeare Inhale? Pipes from Garden Held Cannabis

Did the greatest playwright the world has ever known have a taste for the wacky tobaccy? Did William Shakespeare have a case of the munchies while penning "Macbeth"?

The answer may very well be "yes" after a group of South African scientists found that clay pipes recovered from the garden of the Bard's home contain traces of cannabis.

The researchers examined fragments of 24 clay pipes that were recovered from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, as well as from surrounding houses. After examining the fragments using a gas chromatography technique, the scientists found that eight of the pipes contained traces of cannabis, one contained nicotine, and two contained traces of cocaine derived from Peruvian coca leaves. Four of the pipes containing cannabis came from Shakespeare's property.

"Hemp as a source of inspiration for Shakespearean literature?"

Professor Francis Thackeray of the University of Witwatersrand, who headed the study, writes that several kinds of tobacco were known to early 17th-century Englishmen. The earliest specimens of nicotine and coca leaves may have been imported by explorers Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, respectively.

Thackeray has a longstanding interest in Shakespeare's possible use of drugs. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in 1999, he wrote an academic paper titled "Hemp as a source of inspiration for Shakespearean literature?"

This may all be much ado about nothing, as there's no conclusive evidence that Shakespeare ever used cannabis himself. However, Thackeray notes that early performances of Shakespeare's works likely took place in smoke-filled rooms full of puffing members of the Elizabethan gentry.

"One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoked clay pipes filled with 'tobacco'," he writes.

A case of smoke them if you've got them, perhaps?