In her 86 years on the planet, there was very little that Maya Angelou did not accomplish. The author, poet, playwright, actress, director, dancer, professor, and civil rights activist was conferred over 50 honorary degrees throughout her lifetime.
She was also a fan of Cannabis.
Angelou speaks freely about her use of Cannabis in her late teens and early 20s in the second installment of her autobiography (the first being the famous “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) “Gather Together In My Name.” What’s interesting about these early accounts of using Cannabis – which would have been in the mid-to-late 1940s – is the positive light she paints of her experience, one which would have been quite taboo at the date of publication (1974), especially for such a respected author and poet.
Angelou writes of smoking Cannabis, which she was first introduced to as “grifa,” as such: “Smoking grass eased the strain for me. I made a connection at a restaurant nearby. People called it Mary Jane, hash, grass, gauge, weed, pot, and I had absolutely no fear of using it.” Angelou goes on to describe her experience, which sounds all-too-familiar to any of us who have a special bond with this medicine. “From a natural stiffness I melted into a grinning tolerance. Walking on the streets became high adventure, eating my mother’s huge dinners an opulent entertainment, and playing with my son was side-cracking hilarity. For the first time, life amused me.”
If you’re one of the millions of people who have looked up to Angelou’s life and work over the years, this admission may come as a bit of a surprise. However, Angelou was truly a responsible user of Cannabis – something we can all look up to. Later in the chapter she notes, “…I disciplined myself. One joint on Sunday and one on the morning of my day off. The weed always had an intense and immediate effect. Before the cigarette was smoked down to roach length, I had to smother my giggles. Just to see the falling folds of the curtains or the sway of a chair was enough to bring me to audible laughter. After an hour the hysteria of the high would abate and I could trust myself in public.” To be sure, a heavy public stigma still remained regarding Cannabis use at the time. In fact, it was more equated to the use of cocaine or heroin back then. While we know that Cannabis and these drugs have very little in common today, it is interesting to note that a truly successful person like Angelou chose to moderate her intake – yet another admirable admission from the icon.
Was Angelou’s creative genius directly influenced by Cannabis? Maybe. But more likely, Cannabis (like it does for so many of us) was one of the many experiences and gateways that led to a greater appreciation for life’s simple pleasures – and to a different outlook on the world. For that, we can all be thankful that Maya Angelou not only knows the plant well, but has shared her eloquent insights on such with the world.