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History of Smoking

Smoker’s delight

The museum has a sizeable collection of unusual paintings, prints, drawings and photographs of people smoking: men and women, in their early twenties to eighties, from all walks of life.

After Adriaen Brouwer, The Smokers, 19th century. Etching.

After Adriaen Brouwer, The Smokers, 19th century. Etching.

Postcard of an Algerian girl smoking a narghile, early 20th century.

Postcard of an Algerian girl smoking a narghile, early 20th century.

History of smoking

Various inhaling devices

Exactly when cannabis was first smoked for recreational purposes is unknown, but evidence can be found the world over. Cannabis is often smoked using pipes, in which the weed or hash can be burned and from which the smoke can be effectively inhaled. The oldest known pipes were discovered in a graveyard in Laos. They are approximately 3000 years old and were probably used for smoking cannabis. In Southern and Western Africa, cannabis was burned in small, covered pits, then wooden tubes were used to inhale the smoke produced by these ‘earth pipes’.


The hookah, also known as the water pipe or narghile, is famous all over the world. These elegant pipes were developed in Persia (now Iran) and from the early 17th century they were widely used in Southern Asia and the Middle East. A hookah is characterised by a central bowl in which cannabis is placed on top of hot coals or charcoal, and one or more flexible tubes extending from the body of the pipe, through which the smoke is inhaled. The smoke is cooled by filtering it through a water reservoir.


Kif, a mix of two thirds cannabis and one third tobacco, is traditionally smoked in Morocco in a sebsi, a long, thin pipe with a wooden stem and a clay bowl. The long stem cools the smoke before it is inhaled.

Why do people smoke cannabis?

Every strain of cannabis has a different effects on the human body, from relaxing and calming to a stimulating or even psychedelic effect. The experience differs from one individual to another, as does the strength of the effect. Users often experience temporary changes in perceptions or unexpected thought processes. People let go of fixed ideas and are able to think more freely, which may result in new ideas or insights. For this reason, cannabis has a long history as a substance which can lend inspiration and for recreational purposes.

On display in the museum

The museum houses a few hundred pipes, the most beautiful of which are on display in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Richly embellished African pipes and typical Dutch pipes made of white limestone from the Golden Age are on display. Simple Asian pipes are displayed alongside hookahs, elegant oriental water pipes.

Collection Items

Check out these collection items

Mellow Yellow
Picasso Cannabis
Les fumeurs de kiff
La vie littéraire
Bamum Pipe
After Adriaen Brouwer, The Smokers, 19th century. Etching.

The Smokers of Adriaen Brouwer

This nineteenth century etching is a reproduction of a painting by Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer from ca. 1636.

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Francis Carco

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