Remember that old phrase that used to flash on arcade games back in the 90’s, “Winners don’t use drugs?” I hope I’m not the only person whose “nonsense alarm” went ballistic reading that, even as an adolescent. Then the drug awareness classes in middle school arrived. Who doesn’t remember hearing about how smoking pot would lead us down a cocaine and heroin infused spiral, resulting in an early grave and nobody at our funerals? I guess the brainwashing would have worked, but I knew about the life and works of Jimi Hendrix from age eight.
As history will show, however, some winners actually do use drugs. The warlock Charlie Sheen did nothing but drugs for a while, and his slogan was “WINNING.” Keith Richards has done so many drugs that he now looks like a skeleton wrapped in a baseball glove, but who can argue with the results? The Stones have made some of the most amazing music the world has ever heard. Here is a list of ten influential men who regularly used drugs. The list is predominantly historical figures and a couple of scientists, as its common knowledge that many artists, writers, musicians, actors and other creative types frequently use substances. Additionally, for this list, we have left out recent politicians, such as Bill Clinton, who admitted to using pot once or twice; that’s not a story.
George W. Bush gets an honorable mention on this list for two reasons. First, while it is widely believed that “Dubya” was a heavy drinker in his early years, the experts, stalkers, haters and biographers are still quarreling and debating over cocaine’s involvement in his life. Second: he gets an honorable mention because his drinking and alleged cocaine use are old news.
10 Sigmund Freud – Cocaine
Reading Freud’s work, it's hard to be surprised that some of his ideas were concocted and perfected while using some form of mind altering substance. Don’t be mistaken, he is the father of psychoanalysis and was a brilliant man, but some of what he wrote seems like the ravings of a delirious man. He was a frequent user of cocaine for over a decade, noting its ability to negate his need for sleep, relieve feelings of depression and finally that it eliminated all anxiety. He advocated for the use of cocaine as a remedy for these things, but also considered it a substance that could be used to treat morphine addiction.
9 Winston Churchill – Alcohol
Imagine being the man in charge of a nation during the bloodiest war in the history of mankind. Between frequent air raids and the responsibility to eventually mount a counterattack in hopes of eliminating the threat to your country, I’d want a drink too. With that said, however, Churchill took “having a drink” to a new level. This is not to say he was a problem drinker, but completely the opposite. He was contemptuous of those who frequently got drunk, and generally drank throughout the day, including whiskey with breakfast and significant consumption with other meals. Reflecting on his own alcohol use, he once commented “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” Additionally, he once commented to a female political figure (either Nancy Astor or Bessie Braddock) accusing him of being not just drunk, but “disgustingly drunk,” by saying “my dear, you are ugly, and what's more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly." Shots fired. Round one goes to the bulldog.
8 Kary Mullis – LSD
Here’s one for the scientists out there. Kary Mullis is an American Nobel Prize winner in the field of chemistry. His major accomplishment was a significant advancement in the PCR (polymerase chain reaction); which amplifies DNA sequences. Being a product of the social sciences, I’m not completely certain of what that means, but he did attribute his thought process which led to the discovery of PCR to frequent LSD use during his educational years. He was quoted in a 1994 interview with Berkeley’s alumni organisation: "Back in the 1960s and early '70s I took plenty of LSD. A lot of people were doing that in Berkeley back then. And I found it to be a mind-opening experience. It was certainly much more important than any courses I ever took." A scathing indictment of “higher education” if I’ve ever seen one.
7 Richard Nixon – Alcohol
I mentioned earlier, discussing Churchill, how difficult it must be to be a wartime political leader. Richard Nixon had a different set of circumstances to deal with than Churchill, but my comment “I’d want a drink too” still stands. Part of his electoral campaign promised to end the war in Vietnam. During his time in the White House, President Nixon was frequently intoxicated to the point of being unable to address his aides and more than once he was too loaded to answer phone calls from other world leaders. He was also widely viewed as a lightweight and a man who frequently became belligerent. I have to wonder if President Nixon as depicted in Futurama is anything like the real thing was during a rough night in the late 60’s.
6 Marcus Aurelius – Opium
What is a list of influential men without a Roman Emperor? The philosopher-monarch ruled ancient Rome from 161 to 180. His reign involved some expansion of the empire, and of course the wars against Germanic tribes, but he is personally remembered for his overall temperance, his writings on duty and order and has even been called “philanthropic” by some historians. The extent of his philanthropy is difficult to gauge however, when considered in light of the sadism and in some cases pure insanity of previous Roman emperors. While historians differ on the reason, whether it be enthusiasm for producing feelings of well-being or eliminating chronic pain he lived with, they agree that he was a frequent user of opium. Moreover, in his most widely renowned book; Meditations, he recommended the use of the drug for everything from dizziness to leprosy.
5 Steve Jobs – LSD
Back in the 1970s, the founder of Apple used marijuana once or twice per week for a few years and used LSD over a dozen times, according to his own admissions in security forms filled out for the US government. He stated that he never sold or distributed these substances but frequently used pot and hash with friends and used LSD on his own. Jobs stated that he experienced relaxation and increased creativity while high and called his experiences with LSD as positive and life changing.
4 Thomas Edison – Alcohol and Cocaine
For those of you who are currently picturing Thomas Edison tearing around a workshop, shouting a thousand words per minute, with a big “Montana-esque” pile of Columbian icing sugar on his desk, sorry, that’s probably not how it went back then. In fact, Edison enjoyed Vin Mariani, which was Bordeaux wine with coca leaves. Essentially, the alcohol in the wine broke down the leaves of the plant, creating a cocaine cocktail, and the end result was a mixture that he credited with keeping him alert and awake for extended periods.
3 John C. Lilly – LSD and Ketamine
Truly one of the most interesting minds of the 20th century, Lilly was a prominent researcher in the realm of human consciousness. His other work involved dolphin communication and the creation of the isolation/sensory deprivation tank. Several of his experiments during the 1960’s comprised him around dolphins or in one of his isolation tanks, evaluating his own consciousness and any responses to mind-changing substances. Additionally, he was known to conduct experiments during which he gave dolphins LSD.
2 Ulysses S. Grant – Alcohol and Cocaine
Another influential man who became fond of the coca-laced Vin Mariani was none other than the 18th President of the United States. Again, he credited the drink with producing feelings of well-being along with enabling him to remain awake during periods of pain. He consumed most of the drink late in his life when he was suffering from the throat cancer that would later kill him. He claimed that being able to stay awake in spite of the pain and fatigue helped him to complete his memoirs. The fact of the matter is, in this list, the men who used cocaine did not see it as an illicit substance, but rather as it was seen at the time, as a wonder-drug.
1 Benjamin Franklin: Laudanum
Laudanum is a tincture or extract of opium that was popular as a pain killer and mood elevator prior to the 20th century. Since then it has been determined to be extremely addictive. One of the fathers of the US Constitution found this out the hard way. During much of his life, Ben Franklin suffered from a variety of obesity related conditions, mainly gout and gallstones. He took laudanum to minimize the effects and pain from these, but ultimately became heavily dependent and spent much of his later life using laudanum. Regardless of his use of what is now a heavily regulated substance, it undeniably did not stop him from achieving. The bottom line is: I guess sometimes winners do use drugs.