03 May 2006

Q: The Founding Fathers: Were they on drugs, or what?

A: After looking at the designs on the dollar bill, you might think so. Though none of them ever admitted to inhaling, rumors abound: that James Madison took opium, that George Washington smoked opium to numb the pain of his ill fitting dentures, that Benjamin Franklin got hooked on laudanum when kidney stones made him feel as if he were pissing fire. Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, marijuana’s leafy green cousin; they claimed they used it to make rope as well as the paper on which the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Some historians even credit a grain fungus called ergot, which contains the alkaloid lysergic acid, which is similar to LSD with causing all sorts of historical craziness, from the Salem witch hunts to the French Revolution to lunatics disguising themselves as Indians and throwing tea into Boston Harbor. Even if our forefathers never got hopped up on homemade crank, they certainly were a bunch of longhaired, freethinking radicals who thumbed their noses at authority. The lusty Ben Franklin summed up the spirit of the revolution by proclaiming, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”


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