Brilliant People Who Used Drugs

Famous Users – Brilliant People who Also Used Drugs

BP wants to compile a list of some of the amazing people to walk through history, those who were able, either with help from or despite the use of, use drugs and create memorable art; be that writing, music, ideas and innovation, or were a serious mover and shaker, a man/woman of the times who changed things for the future. If you would like to submit a piece on the person you really rate from the past, or present, please send it in to us, we’d love to publish it. BP gets over 30,000 unique hits a month as of October, 2015 and it is growing all the time since it started in Dec 2010. So what you write will definitely get seen! Happy to link back to your site/blog as well.

Some of the individuals mentioned here are compiled from information gathered from the internet, biographies, reference books etc (links will be provided and credits etc) but others will be directly from Black Poppy’s hardcopy magazine, from our Famous User section each issue.

This is not about ‘glorifying’ drug use. This is about recognising our peer group -other drug dependent people (or heavy recreational users)  -who were drug enthusiasts of one type or another, like many of us, and either despite or because of, drug use often managed to inspire their art. Or, they succeeded despite the difficulties their drug use (and prohibition) caused. Whatever the case, we think it’s interesting to read about the drug using habits of brilliant people from history, how they managed, how it affected their art – and it’s inspiring as well to keep us focused on aiming for the stars, whatever our situation.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

English: "Elizabeth Barrett Browning,&quo...

Elizabeth Barrett Browning enjoyed great popularity during her lifetime. 1806 – 1861 A powerful yet often underestimated influence and part on the Romantic period, Elizabeth was opiate dependent for most of her life, it said she began by using it for pain relief from a childhood accident and continued to use it heavily til her death many years later. She wrote beautiful poetry, was extremely popular in her day, and was said to be incredibly gifted. She wrote about the power and relief morphine would provide her, and said it also helped her write, a fact others hastily tried to erase from the history books….

Bon Scott – Lead singer from ACDC

Bon Scott – Died 1980;  The deeply charismatic, completely cool rock n roller from Aussie band ACDC. What can one say about Bon Scott? Play the music! -check out some rare footage and a bit of interesting info about Bon and his time in ACDC at a time in Australia when it was all going on.




William Wilberforce: 


For this article from our back catalogue about famous drug users, BP into the history books and uncovered the man who was instrumental in halting the slave trade within the British Empire. A passionate believer in justice, William Wilberforce was a keen opiate user for most of his life. Here, Adam Wallace pays homage to the great man himself.



Keith Richards

Here, Keith talks candidly about his drug use in the Rolling Stones, the persecution he endured by the moralising press, prohibition and its brute force (when the law wants you, it will get you) and America and it’s white flag of rehab. 8 minute video

Ginger Baker

Jay Bulger catches up with the irascible Cream drummer Ginger Baker at his ranch in South Africa. He reflects on his sixty-year career that led him to sellout stadium concerts. Interviewer Jay says, “He’s long had a reputation for making even an infamous rock curmudgeon like Lou Reed come across like someone’s avuncular uncle, so I wasn’t relishing the prospect of an early morning phone chat with [the] drumming legend. And, as I quickly found out, choosing to wax lyrical about how much I loved Sunshine Of Your Love or Eric Clapton’s guitar playing on White Room wasn’t the best way of getting him to warm to me...”




Here are a few more rather clever dudes…(Yes -this list was borrowed as a base to work from – it is severely lacking the ladies….It will be BP’s job to amend this as soon as we can folks)


1. Sigmund Freud — Cocaine

To Freud, cocaine was more than a personal indulgence; he regarded it as a veritable wonder drug, and for many years was a huge proponent of its use in a wide array of applications. In a letter written to his fianceé, Martha, Freud wrote: “If all goes well, I will write an essay [on cocaine] and I expect it will win its place in therapeutics by the side of morphine and superior to it … I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success.”

Freud published such a review, titled “Uber Coca” in 1884. Interestingly, Freud’s paper was one of the first to propose drug substitution as a therapeutic treatment for addiction.  (For a great overview of Freud’s relationship with cocaine, check out this post by Scicurious.) And here is another great article about Freud’s Drug Demons. One of the defects of his book also known as On Coca, was its assertion that cocaine was an effective antidote to serious morphine and alcohol addiction. Most astonishingly, however, Freud “skimmed over cocaine’s most important clinical use as a local anesthetic.” That discovery was later championed by ophthalmologist Carl Koller, whom Freud never forgave, even though the mistake was Freud’s alone.

2. Francis Crick — LSD— of the DNA-structure discovering Watson, Crick and Franklin — reportedly told numerous friends and colleagues about his LSD experimentation during the time he spent working to determine the molecular structure that houses all life’s information.

In fact, in a 2004 interview, Gerrod Harker recalls talking with Dick Kemp — a close friend of Crick’s — about LSD use among Cambridge academics, and tells the Daily Mail that the University’s researchers often used LSD in small amounts as “a thinking tool.” Evidently, Crick at one point told Kemp that he had actually “perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD.”
3. Thomas Edison — Cocaine Elixirs
In 1863, French chemist Angelo Mariani invented “Vin Mariani,” a Bordeaux wine treated with coca leaves, the active ingredient of which is none other than cocaine. The ethanol content in the Bordeaux could extract cocaine from the coca leaves in concentrations exceeding 7 mg per fluid ounce of wine. Thomas Edison — the prolific American inventor and notorious insomniac (though perhaps not surprisingly) — was one of many people of the period known to regularly consume the cocaine-laced elixir.
4. Paul Erdös — Amphetamines
Paul Erdös — well known for his hyperactivity; his habit of working 19-hour days, even well into his old age; and his tendency to show up on his colleagues’ doorsteps demanding they ”open their minds” to mathematical dialogue — was one of the most prolific mathematicians who ever lived, publishing more peer-reviewed papers than any other mathematician in history.
His secret? According to him, amphetamines. Included here is an excerpt from a book published in 1998 by Erdös’ de facto biographer, science writer Paul Hoffman, which explains Erdös’ proclivity for amphetamine use:

Like all of Erdös’s friends, [fellow mathematician Ronald Graham] was concerned about his drug-taking. In 1979, Graham bet Erdös $500 that he couldn’t stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdös accepted the challenge, and went cold turkey for thirty days. After Graham paid up — and wrote the $500 off as a business expense — Erdös said, “You’ve showed me I’m not an addict. But I didn’t get any work done. I’d get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I’d have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You’ve set mathematics back a month.” He promptly resumed taking pills, and mathematics was the better for it.

5. Steve Jobs — LSD
LSD was a big deal for Steve Jobs. How big? Evidently, Jobs believed that experimenting with LSD in the 1960s was “one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” What’s more, he felt that there were parts of him that the people he knew and worked with could not understand, simply because they hadn’t had a go at psychedelics. This latter sentiment also comes through in his recently published biography, wherein Jobs goes so far as to associate what he interpreted as Bill Gates’ dearth of imagination with a lack of psychedelic experimentation:
“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
“He’d be a broader guy,” Jobs says about Gates, “if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”

6. Bill Gates — LSD7. John C. Lilly — LSD, Ketamine
Neurocientist John C. Lilly was a pioneer in the field of electronic brain stimulation. He was the first person to map pain and pleasure pathways in the brain; founded an entire branch of science exploring interspecies communication between humans, dolphins and whales; invented the world’s first sensory deprivation changer; and conducted extensive personal experimentation with mind-altering drugs like LSD and ketamine.
It bears mentioning that Lilly’s experiments with interspecies communication, personal psychedelic use and sensory deprivation often overlapped.
8. Richard Feynman — LSD, Marijuana, Ketamine
Feynman was always careful about drug use, for fear of what it might do to his brain — giving up alcohol, for example, when he began to exhibit symptoms of addiction. In “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!,” he writes, ”You see, I get such fun out of thinking that I don’t want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick. It’s the same reason that, later on, I was reluctant to try experiments with LSD in spite of my curiosity about hallucinations.”
Nevertheless, Feynman’s curiosity got the best of him when he became acquainted with none other than John C. Lilly and his sensory deprivation tanks. Feynman experimented briefly with LSD, ketamine and marijuana, which he used to bring on isolation-induced hallucinations more quickly than he could when sober.
9. Kary Mullis — LSD
Who, you may be asking, is Kary Mullis? Let’s put it this way: If you’ve worked in a biomedical research lab since the 1980s, there is an exceedingly good chance you’ve performed a polymerase chain reaction (aka PCR, the lab technique that can turn a single segment of DNA into millions of identical copies), or are at least familiar with it. You have Mullis to thank for that. While Mullis didn’t invent the PCR technique, per se, he improved upon it so significantly as to revolutionize the field of biomedical research, securing himself a Nobel Prize in chemistry in the process.
The secret to Mullis’ breakthrough? In a September 1994 issue of California Monthly, Mullis says that he “took plenty of LSD” In the ’60s and ’70s, going so far as to call his “mind-opening” experimentation with psychedelics “much more important than any courses [he] ever took.” A few years later, in an interview for BBC’s Psychedelic Science documentary, Mullis mused aloud: “What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR?” To which he replied, “I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
10. Carl Sagan — Marijuana
Preeminent astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan not only smoked marijuana regularly, he was also a strong advocate for its use in enhancing intellectual pursuits — though not as publicly as others on this list. Having said that, Sagan did contribute an essay to the 1971 book titled “Marijuana Reconsidered” that spoke to the virtues of marijuana use. The piece was penned under the assumed name “Mr. X.” The identity of its true author was only revealed after Sagan’s death.
Fernando Pessoa – Opium + Absinthe
William Burroughs – Heroin

Winston Churchill – Nitrous

Grover Cleveland – Cocaine

Samuel Colt – Nitrous

Salvidor Dali – Hashish

Arthur Conan Doyle – Opium, Cocaine

Thomas Edison – Coca Wine

Ben Franklin – Opium, Cannabis

Bill Gates – LSD

Ulysses S. Grant – Cocaine

King George V – Cocaine, Opium

Edgar Allen Poe – Alcohol and Opium (lots of ’em!)

Jack Nicholson – Cannabis (Easy Rider is proof enough), LSD (he was involved with actual medical trials?)

Albert Einstein – Tobacco, LSD, Cocaine, DMT

Dan Rather – Possible LSD use, and Heroin (he really went all the way for that story!)

Jean-Paul Sartre – Amphetamines (continual), Mescaline

Emile Zola – Coca Wine

Stephen Jay Gould. Renowned scientist and Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould died in May 2002, of lung cancer. Gould was the author of many books on science and evolution, including The Mismeasure of Man, and his massive 1400-page opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published shortly after his death. While many obituaries marked Gould’s passing, few mentioned that Gould had been usingmarijuana since at least 1982. That was the year Gould was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer called abdominal mesothelioma, and told he had eight months to live. Gould survived and thrived for 20 years after receiving that grim diagnosis, with treatments including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Yet above and beyond these, Gould claimed that it was pot that saved his life. “The most important effect upon my eventual cure,” said Gould, “was the illegal drug, marijuana.” Gould testified to the benefits of medical marijuana in August 1998, at the trial of Ontario med-pot patient and activist JimWakeford (CC#15, JimWakeford – Canada’s Best Hope for Medical Marijuana?). He told the court how “absolutely nothing” worked to treat his severe nausea, except for marijuana, which “worked like a charm.”  “It is beyond my comprehension that any humane person would withhold such a beneficial substance from people in such great need simply because others use it for different purposes,” said Gould.Yet Gould did not admit to being a pot head. “I was reluctant to try it because I have never smoked any substance habitually, and didn’t even know how to inhale. Moreover, I had tried marijuana twice… and had hated it.” Yet chronic use of medicinal marijuana robbed Gould of none of his intellectual vigor. His critically-acclaimed The Structure of Evolutionary Theory was researched and written over the two decades that Gould was using pot heavily to maintain his health.

Gould was also a signatory to a 1998 advertisement in the New York Times, which took two full pages to appeal for a new international drug policy. “We believe the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself,” the ad claimed.

(Other signatories to the ad included Walter Cronkite, former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, former Secretary of State George Shultz, Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco, Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, Mayor Susan Hammer of San Jose, Milton Friedman, and a variety of judges, police, academics and other prominent citizens.)

Douglas Engelbart – The Mouse. It is no secret that Engelbart used LSD and other psychedelic drugs for inspiration and solving tough problems while tripping to drum solos by the Grateful Dead.. It is unknown to me if he invented the mouse while on the drug, but he is quoted:
“It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain. Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used. When I’m on LSD and hearing something that’s pure rhythm, it takes me to another world and into another brain state where I’ve stopped thinking and started knowing.” 

Andrew Weil is possibly the world’s best-known naturopath. He is a Harvard Medical School graduate, also has a Harvard AB degree in biology, and is an internationally recognized expert on medicinal herbs, mind-body interactions, and alternative medicine. Dr Weil graced the cover of Time magazine in 1998, and is the author of eight books, including From Chocolate to Morphine, and the national bestseller Spontaneous Healing. Weil is open about his past and present use of illegal substances, claiming “I think I’ve tried about every drug in Chocolate to Morphine.” He is equally open with his views on ending the drug war and the benefits of many banned plants. Weil claims that there’s an innate need for humans to alter consciousness, and that there is no such thing as good drugs and bad drugs, merely that some individuals have good or bad relationships with these substances.

Yet despite this, Weil’s personal history with the drug culture is less well-known. Weil studied under Dr Timothy Leary at Harvard, and also worked with Dr Lester Grinspoon on marijuana research in the late 1960’s.

Early in his career Weil wrote for High Times magazine, including articles like A gourmet coca taster’s tour of Peru: Stalking an ancient herbal high. Weil’s first book was The Natural Mind, published in 1971. In it, he writes about the advantages of “stoned thinking” in understanding health and diagnosing illnesses. Weil has even been honored with having a psychedelic mushroom named in his honor: Psilocybe weilii was discovered and named in 1995.

Ralph Abraham has been a Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, since 1968. He has written over a dozen books and is an editor for the International Journal of Bifurcations and Chaos. Abraham is an acknowledged leader in the emerging field of “dynamical systems theory,” also called “chaos math.” In a 1991 interview with GQ magazine, Abraham explained how psychedelic insights had helped influence mathematical theories. “In the 1960s a lot of people on the frontiers of math experimented with psychedelic substances. There was a brief and extremely creative kiss between the community of hippies and top mathematicians. I know this because I was a purveyor of psychedelics to the mathematical community.”  “To be creative in mathematics,” continued Abraham, “you have to start from a point of total oblivion. Basically, math is revealed in a totally unconscious process in which one is completely ignorant of the social climate. And mathematical advance has always been the motor behind the advancement of consciousness.”

Timothy Leary is quite possibly the most famous stoned scientist of our time, Timothy Leary was a highly respected researcher and psychology professor before he became interested in LSD and other psychedelic substances. Although Leary’s complete biography is too long to fully recount here, his early academic accomplishments are worthy of note. Leary began his career in 1954 as a research psychologist at the Kaiser Foundation in Oakland. While there he published a great many papers, wrote an acclaimed psychology textbook, and developed a standard personality test used by prison officials to help classify prisoners according to their potential escape profile.

Leave a comment


  1. Very nice initiative please allow some loose ideas from my side.
    It is not sad Adolph Hitler is not mentioned for its Pervitine i.e. German methamphetamine, because following Dr. Morel’s diaries, Hitler was not that regularly injected with amphetamine. Despite he had its good points during his actions against the inhuman sanctions of the Versaille treaty, as soon as he started the unjustice on the Jewish People not online killing them but as a fervent maniac eliminating Gods chosen people from the Earth, one must be a psychopatic idiot or the personalization of Satan on Earth that moment. Mention Hitlers behavior as result of amphetamine abuse would be good as example of what this drug can do when wrong person wrong time, bad set and setting I guess. time proved later on when he started playing the Military super leader against all his military specialists letting miljons of non nazi Wehrmacht soldiers and a 10 fold Russian soldiers plus millions of Russian citizens seeing their lives and country destroyed. Without the Russian mass suffering, The Allied forces alone would probably never have won this ww2 European theatre conflict.

    One person that is a MUST to mention is in my humble opinion still admired worldwide today is the US PRESIDENT KENNEDY shamely killed in a bestial way to show the people what happens if no matter who opposes them., it’s too late anyhow and we did not ask to repeat this show of force with the twin towers, probably this message must be renewed to learn everey new generation ? President KENNEDY his little respected but major achievement was saving all of us alive today during the Cuban Missile crisis and a nuclear holocaust. Against advice of some US top military forces he softened negotiated not one time capitulated and kept his head cool. Even without whatever drug, he must have been a remarkable person but no doubt that his reasonable use of amphetamines released the shown super powers in this unique politician. A hero that could not be intimidated even he must have well known that his life was in danger every moment of his legislation. Further, but second place, putting a man on the moon before his decade was over.Third, Kennedy was a president of us all Americans Europeans Asians and many Russian hearts. Do not what to say about the Arabs or Muslims, having their own agenda still today. Killing him was the biggest mistake the powers that be ever made if they wanted to lead the whole world without a fight. Let us hope his eternal spirit still influences American Presidents to this date and a long time in the future for the well-being of this whole Planet Earth. The difference is in the detail, in this case 200 mg Dexedrine or alike probably made the difference.
    Once upon a time on the internet I saw a documentary on President Kennedy, reporter stated he used amphetamine on daily basis in his first stage and later on there was added Cortisone for his – I do not know what disease on short coming to perfection . Would guess a form of ADHD. In that documentary they showed a short video fragment one could see lots of Russian Officials with warm clothing on a freezing Red Square, and President Kennedy addressing the frozen Russians in a nice white cotton shirt with a tie only. For me the ultimate proof of a good doses of amphetamine or meth amphetamine acting in his body. Old film, difficult to manipulate, however as much from the early internet I do not find it anymore. I fear Internet prohibition will follow up the Drug prohibition soon and is already in place if we all are allowed to know your NSA admitted to have tapped German President Merkel, president of Europes Economic revival in many aspects. Tappin Mr Poetin is little frustrating to admit but why not ? Who will stop this arrogance from your NSA, it is killing the Reputation and good fame of Good Old Friend Uncle Sam the liberator fighting for freedom and justice for all repressed people on this earth. Be a hero and put some mdma into the tap water of that NSA building folks, this stuff can perform miracles, and is also a form of amphetamine in case you doubt. My guess is that Americas coming civil war will be lost by the majority of citisens using old fashioned guns and violence, but it can be won with the stealthy untraceable use of “illegal molecules” into the beverages or soups of Governements Power Circles. Timothy Leary remember ? Bon apetit, Lucy, Brussels Europe

  2. Jennie

     /  February 6, 2016

    It would be nice to see some WOMEN on this list!!

    • fancy writing a paragraph or 3 on some of your favourite drug using women? your absolutely right -we need heaps more on here -there are plenty on excellent brilliant women who were proliffic and adventurous drug users!

  3. realhistory

     /  October 11, 2014

    People justify their drug use by pointing to examples like the ones presented in the article. They argue that they are not losers, look at all the great people who used. The problem is they are mathematically challenged and over estimate their own achievements. Lets compare a famous drug user to you, Keith Richards, was a world famous musician at the time his abuse began, written numerous hit records, was very wealthy. How many people have picked up a guitar in the world and achieved the same success? Robert Downey Jr., how many people are acting today? how many achieved his level of success. These people where born with a talent many do not have. In almost every instance individuals like these did one of two things, either died because of drug use or stopped because it severely impacted their life and was destroying their careers and health. Drugs in the end is a losing deal and for those who do not have the talent of these famous people you are doomed unless you stop now.

  4. Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday for three.

    • Brilliant! Yes we need to build this list so yep – they need to be on it. If anyone fancies writing up something about one of their using heroes, please do. Dearest Lou Reeed died this year too…x

  5. Robert Owen

     /  October 1, 2013

    The eminent biologist J.B.S. Haldane resorted to speed when required, for prolonged research.

  6. william parlier

     /  September 1, 2013

    I needto break my frreebase crack back to liquid so I can inject it

  7. yer interview pete #

  8. No need to publish anything mate but im sick of putting crap in my body i know its all my own fault what has happend to the gear and how can i get a decent nod im no silly kid as im 50

  9. Hi, im afraid im not sure what article you are referring to? While we had plans to get an article with Pete D, we never managed to get it together sadly, though we hope to some day, there are loads of things we’d love to chat to him about. Are you sure it was in Black Poppy? Was it Tony ONeill the writer and musician speaking about writing a book about drug use, along with another writer perhaps? Or was it on our old website perhaps…? Our famous user section? More hints and we can try and help find it! And yeh, if youd like to write something about someone – we would love to print it! Thanks!

  10. kerry

     /  April 9, 2012

    Hi there, this subject has just reminded me… I remember a couple of years ago reading an article about Peter Doherty with an excellent interview. I think it was from back in 2006/7. It really had an impact on me and I would like to bring this article to the attention of some Young People I am working with at present to help remove some of the stigma that surrounds drug use. Can you tell me how i could get a back issue? And also if you would like an article on Peter, i would be happy to oblige.

    Warmest Regards,



We try and reply as soon as we can but please understand it might take anywhere from 1 day to 1 month, but we will always try our best. Mark URGENT if you require a fast reply. Thanks for your understanding!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: