Drug use is associated with failure, wretched scum and villainy, and Lindsay Lohan, which are basically three descriptions of the same thing, but that’s mostly thanks to years of DARE classes and Ronald Reagan deciding to devote the GDP of Switzerland to scaring people straight. But many, many notable figures throughout history have been drug users, both heavy and casual, and while history books won’t tell you this, we’re here to set the record straight. One little rule before we begin: in order to make this list you have to have done your thing prior to World War II, or thereabouts. It’s around then that drugs became “drugs” and stopped being a historical curiosity and became the defining characteristic for most famous drug users. And with that out of the way, let’s begin, shall we? Here are eight historical figures who used drugs.
The Drug(s): Opium, Weed
Ben Franklin was pretty much the founding father of degenerates. He was notorious for his epic horniness and wasn’t afraid to live the high life. After all, that’s what freedom is all about. Sadly for the original gangsta (I mean, come on, his face is literally on the $100 bill and he’s the only man in history who can say, “I’m all about the me,” instead of “all about the Benjamins.”) a bladder stone kept him down late in life, and he was forced to seek solace in the pillowy embrace of sweet, sweet opium. In fact, it’s been said that it’s a near certainty that Franklin was addicted to opium in the final years of his life, which honestly doesn’t sound like that bad a way to go. While all his friends were dying miserable, solemn deaths in front of a priest and weeping family, ol’ Ben was sucking on the pipe and probably getting massages from Asian hookers. Okay, I may have embellished a bit there, but then again, maybe not.
The Drug: Opium
Charles Dickens reportedly was an opium addict for much of his adult life, and was said to have abused the drug – in the form of Laudanum - until he finally died of a massive stroke, which sounds sad until you remember that he was probably high as a goddamn kite when he came up with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in A Christmas Carol. Look, society likes to shake its head at dudes like Lil’ Wayne drinking the syrup, but back in the day, Dickens and his peers basically did the same thing. I’m guessing he’d spend a couple of hours writing in the morning, hit some of that shit and then play video games all afternoon with Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray, before hitting the London clubs late at night. I will believe this until the day I die.
The Drug(s): Absinthe, Camphor, Turpentine(!)
Look, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a dude who cut his own ear off was getting twisted on all manner of substances. Van Gogh, like many of the era, was a dedicated absinthe fiend, and that was back in the day when absinthe was the real deal and would legitimately mess you up, which is what gives its fairly harmless descendent its reputation today. One ingredient that old school absinthe contained was terpene – the same thing found in both camphor and turpentine. There is a theory that Van Gogh was essentially addicted to terpene, and would seek it out in whatever form he could find it. This is what led him to do weird shit like eat his own paint and drink turpentine. One of the biggest drawbacks of terpene is that if abused, it can cause serious depression. Van Gogh killed himself. Do the math.
The Drug: Opium
What can I say? Old timey dudes just loved them some opium. This one is particularly funny because Marcus Aurelius is considered one of the great Roman Emperors and is famous as the archetype of the “philosopher king, ” and hey, let’s face it, it’s funny to imagine the stately character in Gladiator hitting the pipe because his son kept letting him down. He was a brilliant man of deep convictions. He also liked to get as high as one of the members of Motley Crue. Look, even the best and brightest need a way to unwind. Actually, I should say that especially the best and brightest need a way to unwind, and sometimes that means you end up huddled behind your throne, sucking down some of that sweet milk of the poppy, just so you can get through another day of the riff-raff complaining about taxes. I get it, Marcus. I get it.
The Drug(s): Cocaine, Morphine
One of the best literary anecdotes ever is that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the entirety of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while in the midst of a massive cocaine binge. Of course he did. That just makes a weird sort of perfect sense, doesn’t it? Of course a dude who’s shoveling the entire contents of Peru into his nose would write a story about a dude losing his shit and periodically turning into a monster. The morphine use is indicative of that classic cliché of a dude who’s constantly trying to balance himself out. Do some coke to get up, hit that morphine drip to wind down. I see you, Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Drug: Cocaine
There is something beautifully delicious about the dude who invented psychotherapy being an obnoxious cokehead, isn’t there? Back when Freud was doing his thing, cocaine was the newest wonder drug, and Siggy was convinced it was the cure to a plethora of ailments, including, ironically, addiction. He used himself as a test subject, because of course he did, and then he got a highly functioning morphine addicted friend of his hooked on coke. The dude died a wreck, both a coke and morphine addict, only a few years later. But Freud kept on cokin’ on, largely because he loved the way it made him talk about bullshit for hours at a time. Of course. He later almost killed a patient of his with too much cocaine, but this still didn’t slow him down. It wasn’t until his father’s funeral when, confronted with his own mortality, Freud decided to kick the habit. Basically, he was the cliché of every upper middle class cokehead who ever lived. There is something perfect about that.
The Drug(s): Opium, Coca Wine, Weed, Chloroform(!)
Goddamn, Vic! Who knew the era named for her was actually wild as hell? It’s pretty much accepted that Victoria regularly used and abused opiates to get through a trying life of sitting on her ass and banging her cousin. Then again, realizing that your family tree doesn’t exactly fork would be enough to drive anybody to the good stuff. She also, like many of her contemporaries, drank coca wine, which is pretty self-explanatory, and used a cannabis tincture to help ease her through childbirth. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying she ate some pot brownies when the kids started pushing. I’m sure that was good for them. The funniest story, though, has to be her huffing chloroform like some sort of Victorian era Hunter S. Thompson. Again, this was said to be during childbirth, but she apparently huffed that shit for 53 minutes (!) before giving birth to her eighth child. Look, at that point, you’re just doing it for fun. But really, none of this should be a surprise given that she was essentially the biggest drug dealer in the world. Just ask the Chinese who her British Empire got hooked on opium back in the day.
The Drug(s): Amphetamines, Mescaline, Meth
Yes, Hitler was a meth head, which to be honest really isn’t that much different than every other white supremacist asshole with questionable facial hair. But really, this goes a long way towards explaining his obsession with science, doesn’t it? I mean, of course he would want the world’s best chemists by his side. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the infamous attempted assassination that saw him narrowly escape a bombing inside his own bunker wasn’t just a cover story for an underground meth-lab explosion. I can just see Hitler now, all dressed in a wife beater, hanging out of his trailer after being up for three straight days, grinding his teeth and hollering about Jews. Thank god Walter White never found a time machine, because that’s a tag team that nobody could have withstood.