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What Was In The Pipes Tolkien's Characters Were Smoking?

Ever wonder what residents of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth were smoking in their pipes? Some think the mysterious "pipe weed" that characters in The Lord of the Rings crave is actually cannabis. And that could explain a few things.

Like the hobbits' insatiable hunger. 

Gandalf's strange laughing fit.

And Bilbo's fashion choices.

So was ganja the secret of Gandalf's magic? It's tough to say based on the novels alone. Tolkien - who was born 124 years ago today - offered scant details about pipe weed, aside from giving names to specific kinds like Longbottom Leaf (which has since become the name of a nerdy cannabis strain). But Tolkien did include a coy note on pipe weed in the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring.

"There is another astonishing thing about Hobbits of old that must be mentioned," he wrote, "an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of a herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana [i.e. tobacco].”

Tolkien is basically saying pipe-weed is probably tobacco, but he's not sure - even though he wrote the stories. The prologue also included a quotation from the fictional "Herblore of the Shire" by Meriadoc Brandybuck - one of the main characters in LOTR, who claimed that hobbits popularized popularized puffing pipe-weed among dwarves, rangers, wizards and other Middle-earth inhabitants.

In other words, Tolkien was definitely having some fun with his readers. Maybe because he had a little pipe weed before writing the prologue.

So whether or not hobbits smoked tobacco or cannabis is up to interpretation - at least in Tolkien's novels. Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptations of Tolkien's work aren't so subtle. As Bailey Rahn of Leafly has noted, the evil wizard Saruman basically calls Gandalf a stoner at one point in "The Fellowship."

Gandalf stoner

And in the first Hobbit movie, Gandalf seems to take the wizard Radagast the Brown on a different kind of unexpected journey.

But if you want the stoneriest of stoner adaptations, check out Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings. The parody novel is full of drug references, such as changing Orcs to Narcs and renaming Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry as Tom Benzedrine and Hashberry.

h/t Leafly.


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