Cannabis has been both the inspiration for and subject of millions of written words over the centuries, from hieroglyphics on the walls of Egyptian tombs to Hunter S. Thompson’s description of the contents of the trunk of his car. For your edification and enjoyment, we’ve compiled a list of seven books from various genres that celebrate the devil weed.
Autobiography: Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow
If there is a Johnny Appleseed of weed, it might be jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who brought Mexican bud to Harlem back in the ’30s. Mezzrow’s autobiography covers his days selling “gauge” on 125th Street, but also his friendships with jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, as well as his own musical career in New York, Chicago and Paris. It’s also an interesting snapshot of the birth of a counterculture that would lead to both Jack Kerouac and Cheech & Chong.
He wasn’t selling it anymore, but he put us in touch with another cat who kept coming up from Mexico with real golden-leaf, the best that could be had. As soon as we got some of that Mexican bush, we almost blew our tops. Poppa, you never smacked your chops on anything sweeter in all your days of viping. It had such a wonderful smell and the kick you got was really out of this world. Guys used to say it tasted like chocolate candy, a brand Hershey never thought of.
Pioneer’s Account: The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer
Jack Herer began his career as a marijuana activist in the early ’70s running a head shop in California. He advocated for the legalization of hemp and cannabis, ran for president twice and wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a mix of history, how-to and political manifesto that may not be the most slickly written tome, but is full of passion and information. The Jack Herer sativa strain and the Jack Herer Cup—held annually in Amsterdam and Las Vegas—honor his legacy.
World Fairs and International Expositions, from the 1860s through the early 1900s, often featured a popular Turkish Hashish Smoking exposition and concession. Hashish smoking was entirely new for Americans; its effects came on much faster. However, smoking hashish was only about one-third as strong or long lasting as orally ingesting the cannabis extract medicines that even American children were regularly prescribed.
Biography: Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care by Lee Server
Before Brando and McQueen, Robert Mitchum was the guy who invented Hollywood cool in films like Out of the Past and Night of the Hunter-—and, before Willie and Snoop, the first celebrity pot smoker. Mitchum’s 1948 marijuana bust landed him tabloid headlines and a two-month jail sentence but, given his tough-guy image, it didn’t hurt his career. Server’s biography is packed with entertaining tales of Mitch’s lust for life, liquor, ladies and large amounts of weed.
He planted marijuana ‘trees’ in the back garden of the hotel, which yielded a huge crop… Generously encouraging all and sundry to try a toke, he gave much of the inhibited British cast and crew their first experience with the devil weed. On one occasion, Sarah Miles was startled to see Mitchum and her own mother sitting together sharing a joint. On another, a policeman showed up at the Milltown [Hotel] to inquire about the unusual vegetation in the garden. Mitchum whipped out a sizeable spliff, lit it, and goaded the cop into trying it.
Gothic Tale: The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow
Like Dr. Frankenstein or Jekyll-Hyde, the protagonist begins his journey in a lab—well, an apothecary—where he encounters a little bottle of “cannabis indica” extract. His first few experiments don’t do much, but when he gets up to 30 grains “after tea,” the marijuana finally kicks in. Hard. A walk home becomes part-adventure, part-ordeal and our hero returns home in a state of panic, then settles in to contemplate past lives, celestial glory and the ceiling.
One portion of me was whirled unresistingly along the track of this tremendous experience, the other sat looking down from a height upon its double, observing, reasoning and serenely weighing all the phenomena. The calmer being suffered with the other one by sympathy, but did not lose its self-possession. Presently, it warned me that I must go home, lest the growing effect of the hasheesh should incite me to some act which would frighten my friends.
Novel: Budding Prospects: A Pastoral by T. C. Boyle
As the marijuana becomes a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s easy to forget the decades of DIY in yards and garages—or, in the case of Budding Prospects, Middle of Nowhere, Northern California. Protagonist Felix Nasmyth and a pair of buddies agree to handle a crop of cannabis sativa from seed to harvest for the promise of a million-dollar windfall. Lousy weather, nosy neighbors, conniving partners and bad seeds both agricultural and human interfere with the profits, but up the adventure quotient.
I’d watched the infinitesimal green filaments emerge from the earth, crooked as dollar signs, and then come back the following morning to see that they’d been grazed to the root as I slept. Night after night I stalked the greenhouse, sitting in darkness, breath suspended, ears perked, waiting for the tell-tale crunch of mandibles or the scurry of soleless feet, and always I’d been skunked.
Short Stories: Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes by Terry Southern
Old-school counterculturist Terry Southern was the author of the novels Candy and The Magic Christian as well as the screenplays for Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider. The stories in Red Dirt Marijuana range from a young boy’s first experience with weed (the title tale) to wannabe hipsters slumming in Paris to pulp-fiction Mickey Spillane parodies to a farmer’s struggle with a sea beast.
You see, you don’t swing with the heavy gage, you jest goof… that’s what you call that. Now you light gage, you swing with you light gage… you control that gage, you see. Say a man have to go out an’ work, why he able to enjoy that work … Sho’, that’s you sociable gage, you light gage is—this here other, well, that’s what you call you thinkin’ gage.
Children’s Book: If a Peacock Finds a Pot Leaf by Morgan Carman
Well, you needed a way to explain your stash to the kids, right? If a Peacock Finds a Pot Leaf is vaguely based on the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie cause-and-effect books and follows Peter the peacock on a walk through the forest and how said walk changes once Peter “discovers a strange leaf in his path” and it ain’t catnip. He meets Scarlet Spider, Rocco Rhino and other animal friends who tell him about the many uses of his magical leaf. Even if you don’t have little ones, it might be a fun read after a few hits.
He walked up to Benjamin Beaver and asked what the unusual leaf he’d found was. Benjamin told him it was known as medical marijuana or cannabis, and it was a very useful medicinal plant that he himself, in fact, used to help with his chronic pain from working so hard on his dam.