Any dedicated Shakespeare scholar will likely recognize the Bard’s mentions of thinking up “new-found methods and compounds strange” thanks to “invention in a noted weed” in Sonnet 76.
But to this day, few people probably suspected this “noted weed” referred to the most noted weed of all: marijuana.
Newly-published findings from South African researcher Francis Thackeray and his team from the University of the Witwatersrand show the results of analyzing 24 tobacco pipe fragments from Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Eight of these pipes tested positive for cannabis residue; four of the cannabis-positive pipe fragments came from Shakespeare’s own garden.
According to the Seattle P-I, Thackeray’s team used an advanced, non-invasive testing technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry to analyze the residue on these pipe fragments. The findings led the researchers to conclude that Shakespeare was, in fact, a marijuana user during his famed literary career.
Thackeray himself actually got the idea for his research after reading the references to a “noted weed” in Sonnet 76.
“I had actually begun the project by reading all of Shakespeare’s sonnets,” Thackeray added.
In addition to the marijuana traces, scientists also found “unquestionable” evidence of Peruvian cocaine on two pipes from the Stratford-upon-Avon area; however, neither of these pipes were found on Shakespeare’s property like the cannabis pipes were.
Those who used this cocaine were probably consuming a product that had few, if any, similarities to the cocaine we know today, the stimulating effects of which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. USA Today reports that this cocaine likely came to England after Sir Francis Drake’s return from his 1597 visit to Peru.
Given the experimental nature of Elizabethan medicine, it’s not surprising to learn that 17th-century Englishmen and women used drugs like marijuana and cocaine. For Shakespeare, it’s entirely possible that he enjoyed marijuana for its mind-stimulating properties, which would undoubtedly have helped his creativity, Thackeray explained.
“We were delighted to find indications of cannabis,” Thackeray said. “We can’t be sure that the pipes which we analyzed were those of Shakespeare, but they were from his garden, and they were dated to the early 17th century.”