Did people take drugs in Tudor times?

Recent analysis of clay pipes found near William Shakespeare’s house revealed that they contained traces of narcotics, leading to wild media speculation that the Bard’s famed imagination was stimulated by drugs.

Did people take drugs in Tudor times? © Getty Images

That said, of 24 pipes examined, two had traces of coca plant, which would have been extremely rare in 16th-century Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Coca leaves – from which cocaine was first derived in the 19th century – were used as both stimulant and medicine by the Inca of Peru, but the Spanish showed no interest in introducing them to Europe.

More commonly imported was Cannabis sativa, yet this was primarily used to make hemp clothes and rope, rather than joints.

In Elizabethan England, the foremost recreational drugs were actually alcohol and tobacco.

The fact that cannabis and hallucinogenic nutmeg have been found in smoking pipes might suggest people were also getting high, but there are no written sources mentioning such habits.

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As for Shakespeare, the evidence is especially suspect – doobie or not doobie, that is the question!

This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of History Revealed. Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed – available in print and for digital devices.