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 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 – 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.