Anybody who writes (or anybody who delves into the creative arts) realizes how satisfying, frustrating and how addictive the process of putting pen to paper (or today, fingers to keyboard) can be. Perhaps, it is because of this ‘yearning to write’ that, there is such a long history of substance abuse among writers. In some cases, it remains controversial whether the author him/herself actually indulged in drug use or whether the writer simply wrote about it, planting a character or two into the uncomfortable world of addiction.
One commentator of the time said: ‘I incline to the view that Poe began the use of drugs in Baltimore, that his periods of abstinence from liquor were periods of at least moderate indulgence in opium’.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass as well as a large number of entertaining, strange and wonderful poems was sickly as a child (whooping cough) and also suffered from a speech impediment (stammer). In later years, he suffered from hearing loss, migraine headaches and epilepsy. Dodgson is known to have used laudanum as did Poe and possibly also belladonna (deadly nightshade) for his headache. Belladonna, taken in adequate doses, can produce hallucinations, much like Alice experienced during her adventures (see post: Mother Nature’s Psychedelic Roadside Drug Store).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (an ophthalmologist, by training) wrote about his character, the detective Sherlocke Holmes who, aside from cigarettes, cigars and pipes was a regular user of cocaine (in a ‘seven percent solution’) as well as the occasional user of morphine.
There is evidence that William Shakespeare may have at least experimented with drugs. Residues of cocaine and myristic acid, also known as tetradecanoic acid (a plant-derived (nutmeg) hallucinogen) in clay-pipe fragments have been retrieved from the bard’s Stratford-Upon-Avon home. Marijuana residues were also present. His ‘Sonnet 76‘ is interesting for the implications of experience with drugs…’compounds strange’ and ‘noted weed’:
“Why with the time do I not glance aside To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name.”
Stephen King, hugely successful as a writer of horror, admitted to cocaine use especially between the years 1979 and 1987 which explains the history of his constant bloody nose and stories which always seem to involve a psychic or a mad man.
William S. Burroughs, author of ‘Naked lunch’ and ‘Junkie’ was an abuser of eukodol (an opioid, today’s oxycodone) and heroin.
Jack Kerouac, author of ‘On the Road’ and ‘The Subterraneans’ (written in under four days!) was a renowned user of Benzedrine, an amphetimine which would explain his ‘rocket-jet writing style’ and the subject matter of his books, often involved ‘drug-fuelled cross-country road trips’.
Ken Kesey, is best known for his book about a mental institution (where he actually spent some time as a patient), ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Kesey was a graduate of Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program and was also part of the government-financed (CIA) MKULTRA experiments, which tested the effects of mind-distorting drugs like LSD, mescaline, and pot. These drug ‘studies’ were focused on finding ‘mind-control’ and ‘truth’ drugs. Towards the end of the program (1957 to 1964), the study focused on schizophrenia research under the direction of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron of the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Allan Memorial Institute, Montreal
Aldous Huxley wrote ‘Brave New World’ and was known for his interest in mysticism, parapsychology and ingesting mescaline. On his death-bed at age 69, unable to speak, he wrote a note to his wife asking for an intramuscular injection of LSD. His book ‘Doors of Perception’ is thought to have influenced the band ‘Jim Morrison and the Doors’ (‘Break on through to the other side’).
But of all the modern writers, it is Hunter S. Thompson who stands out as the ‘ultimate drugged writer’. Known for his sarcastic commentaries and pointed critiques, Thompson wrote ‘The Rum Diary’ and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, most of which concerns on-going drug-crazed experiences: ‘Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with seeing things like your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing.’
Thompson was a life-long user of LSD, mescaline, cocaine and alcohol. He loved guns and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head on February 20, 2005, age 67.
Being an author can be stressful, even dangerous…Any of you reading this thinking about writing a book?
The Organ Donors
Whip the Dogs
The Tao of the Thirteenth God
- Robin Rickards Spotlight (laemonie.wordpress.com)
- THE HANGMAN by ROBIN RICKARDS (laemonie.wordpress.com)
- Does Gender Matter in the Addicted Brain’s Response to Stress? (my.psychologytoday.com)
- ‘Cupcakes are as addictive as cocaine,’ and Other Worthless Comparisons [Debunkery] (io9.com)
Next week: Blaine L. Perdoe, true crime writer.