Certainly the poster child for drug reference fantasy stories, did Lewis Carroll ever reveal just what his 3 inch long blue "Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar" character smoked in his bubble pipe while giving advice to Alice in 1865's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", or was it left up to our collective imagination?


  • 11
    He was probably smoking hookah. Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 3:27
  • 2
    The purest Afghan Opium... Duuu! Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 15:26
  • 3
    you might also be interested in the answers to this question I asked over on History-SE
    – DQdlM
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 19:19
  • @DQdlM Nice. A +1 comment if I ever saw one! Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 20:04
  • 4
    He's actually smoking an anti-psychotic making him the only sane creature in the drug trip that is Wonderland.
    – IG_42
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 21:55

6 Answers 6


Hookahs are designed different than bongs. Rather than lighting the substance on fire you use coals to heat the substance.

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Most hookahs are used to smoke flavored tobacco rather than marijuana, but due to the chemicals and the shear volume of smoke a person can consume over smoking a cigarette, the effects are quite different than regular smoking. Although my "stoner" friends say it was "pot" the caterpillar was smoking, I have no reason to think it was anything other than the normal substance they used in a hooka back then and today.


Your question sent me off to read about the history of marijuana smoking in England, though I haven't found much reliable information. From Wikipedia I could find a study, prompted by certain phrases used by Shakespeare in the 16th/17th century, finding traces of cannabis in pipes buried in Shakespeare's home town:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,

Shakespeare, Sonnet 76

However, even if this does indicate that marijuana consumption wasn't unknown in England before Carroll's days (which it does very weakly) it still doesn't imply that Lewis Carroll himself smoked marijuana (despite extremely flaky claims such as the fifth paragraph here), or that he was familiar enough with the habit to insert it into his rather hallucinogenic fantasy world.

Some googling for "Lewis Carroll marijuana" and variants thereof led me to many "Was Lewis Carroll advocating marijuana usage?" pages, but nearly all were on marijuana and cannabis advocacy sites that don't even try to present any evidence (see for example Famous Users).

In short, since tobacco smoking was well-known and popular in Victorian England, and the hookah was becoming known after the conquest of India, I see no reason to assume cannabis was in the caterpillar's hookah.

That is not to say that evidence for other hallucinogenic drugs can't be found. This is just my 15 minutes' worth of research. :)

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    "Weed" used to be a slang term for tobacco, so it is not evidence of marijuana use.
    – Martha
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 14:01
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    @Martha: the "weed" reference was what prompted the study. The evidence itself is remains of cannabis found on pipes. And for the down-voters - could you be more explicit in your feedback? Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 17:49
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    Smoking pure marijuana from a hookah is very difficult cause the burning process is very different. It must be mixed with lots tobacco anyway.
    – Sulthan
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 15:29

Lewis never said. The illustrator in the original Alice In Wonderland put tobacco plants - you can tell by the flowers - next to the caterpillar. I don't think there was any intention to suggest anything else.

(What Disney may have intended to suggest - who knows.)

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    excellent point that Disney may have intended something Carroll didn't.
    – FoxMan2099
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 20:37

The Caterpillar is most likely smoking opium. Carroll never states this in any of the three Alices (Underground, Wonderland, Nursery), but he does offer some clues. In Underground, we are told that “...her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, which was sitting with its arms folded, quietly smoking a hooka, and taking not the least notice of her or of anything else (p. 26, original pagination). From here it is notable that time seems to slow down drastically, and we are soon told that “...the caterpillar took the hooka out of its mouth, and languidly addressed her” (p. 26). The above is repeated in Wonderland, but this time the Caterpillar “addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.” (p. 59, original pagination). The word “languid” probably best describes the state of an opium user, as opposed to the state of any other person under the influence of different drugs.

  • This feels very opinion-based.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 22:50
  • I do say (or at least imply) that Carroll does not tell us, so an “answer” cannot be fact-based. A circumstantial case then can be made by following the clues in the texts. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 23:06
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    Languidity seems to best describe the stupor caused by smoking opium, opium was one of the substances smoked out of hookas in Victorian England, so probably this was what the caterpillar was smoking. If a person can make a case for another substance that was smoked out of hookas and caused languidity, then I would accept their answer. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 23:15
  • 1
    certainly opium was used a lot in 19th century england.
    – releseabe
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 0:12
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    Yes, it was used like aspirin is used today, and it was easily bought in a lot of places. At around the time ‘Wonderland’ was written, some famous writers (like Dickens) were beginning to look down on smoking opium, as opposed to “eating” it, for exactly the reason that it was seen as weakening its languid users. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 0:42

Opium I bet.
I've been watching Alice: Madness Returns and it's a very Chinese oriented, and in the Eastern regions in general it was produced a lot, and of course it started in England.

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    What are you basing this on? Can you offer any actual evidence?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 13:29
  • In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her gang fall asleep after the smelling the sent of Opium Poppies. But that movie is not very Chinese orientated, is it not?
    – Mr Pie
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 6:42

He was either smoking shisha (flavored hookah tobacco) or a variety of marijuana of some sort. Carroll was a known marijuana and opium user, which is where the creativity for the story came from. I should expect that it would be shisha but we will never really know.

  • 10
    Do you have any references? I for one believed that the drug induced creativity was in fact a myth, and the story was inspired more by the changing nature of mathematics in his time...
    – Mac Cooper
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 14:45

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