How Doth I Smoke Thee? Shakespeare, Weed, and The History of Love
Shakespeare, Cannabis and Love
Valentine’s Day is around the corner, so we turned to one of literature’s greatest to learn about the connection between cannabis, love and sex—William Shakespeare. We can’t be completely certain Shakespeare was a stoner, but we do know that tobacco pipes found in Shakespeare’s garden contained traces of chemicals found in cannabis.
Some analysis points to Shakespeare’s own writing as evidence he was a fan of pot. In Othello, he writes, “O thou weed / Who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet / That the sense aches at thee.” It is unknown when the term weed became a popularized name for cannabis but we can’t imagine he was talking about pesky unwanted plants in his garden. In Sonnet 76 he writes, “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.” In this sonnet he ponders criticisms of his work, and “invention in a noted weed” could suggest that the answer to his trite poetry was cannabis.
The Return of Othello, ‘Othello,’ Act II, Scene II Othello, the Moor of Venice, Thomas Stothard, 1755-1834, British
It’s not hard to believe that Shakespeare smoked weed. After all, according to recent studies, creativity is associated with the frontal lobe, and cannabis consumption increases cerebral blood flow to that area of the brain. Increased activity in the frontal lobe stimulates creative output and is the headquarters for creative, divergent thinking. This type of thinking is out-of-the-box, stream of consciousness, creative thought.
With 37 plays and approximately 375 poems under his ruff, we’d say Shakespeare was one of the most creative people ever to exist. In fact, he invented phrases we still use today such as “breaking the ice” and “heart of gold” along with approximately 1700 original words. He is the definition of creative divergent thinking. He was also, of course, a famous lover: Of words, of poems, of people.
Shakespeare, Sex and Intimacy
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
– (Romeo and Juliet)
Themes of love and lust (along with darker subjects, like death) were Shakespeare’s forte. Instead of writing about love in a two-dimensional way like most writers of his time, Shakespeare wrote about all aspects of love including sexual love, unrequited love, compassionate love and courtly love. We don’t know much about Shakespeare’s love life other than the fact that he married at age 18 and had children, but we do know he thought a lot about the subject of sex. There are many erotic lines in his work that aren’t discussed in standard English classes like “stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie” from the poem “Venus and Adonis.”
Cannabis and Sexual Frequency
According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, “Marijuana use is independently associated with increased sexual frequency.” Many people believe that cannabis use may increase sensitivity, intensify orgasms, and slow down the perception of time— all of which make for a more fulfilling sexual experience.
Besides that, cannabis is also linked to decreased stress, anxiety and depression which facilitates better sex and human connection. Cannabis expert John Renko believes that strains with high levels of the terpene limonene create a euphoric, relaxing bodily sensation that may increase sex drive. Unfortunately, not much research has been done on the subject.
We can’t be sure that the Bard consumed cannabis regularly, but cannabis has been around for centuries and the human species has evolved alongside it. Since we began to cultivate it as a natural medicine, it has become a part of our “evolutionary garden” and our body’s endocannabinoid system is primed to process it.
Love, too, is something that exists in the brain and body. Studies have shown that falling in love turns on the neurotransmitters dopamine, which stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers. It also leads to a drop in serotonin, which can add a manic obsession to feelings of love. However, in later stages of love there is an increase in oxytocin that helps to strengthen bonds. We can only hope that research on the effects of cannabis increases in the near future and consider the relationship of cannabis to feelings of love, connection and sexuality.
It’s not far fetched to think that better sex and less stress through cannabis might be conducive to love and connection. As Shakespeare wrote in Antony and Cleopatra, “Her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love.”