Getting High in the Highlands

For centuries England’s landed gentry headed north of the border to smoke themselves into a state of botherless delirium.

This remains the case today with the graduates of some of the nation’s finest public schools making their way to Scotland to find a gram or two of the substance that gave its name to the Scottish Highlands.

The heady mix of thistle leaves, slowly dried over a bed of darkest peat is smoked in country inns throughout the mountainous Scottish Highlands.

The Decapitated Sassenach (Sludge G / flickr)

Sitting in The Decapitated Sassenach, a thatched pub on the bleak, isolated Beg O’Nachtie Fell, Mallard Carlton-Moofield, 22, contemplates another spliff.

“You simply can’t get anything like this in Oxford,” says the son of the Earl of Roughage, who is 23rd in line to the throne.

Curragh McAllistair smiles as he pops another crisp English 50-pound note in his cash register.

Potent stuff (Nell Williamson / flickr)

“These young Englishmen can manage two or three roll-ups in a night,” says McAllistair as he polishes the taps on his 17th Century bar. “If 10 of them come up from a boys weekend that’s a couple of thousand pounds profit.”

The hallucinogenic effect of the thistle was first detected by the Picts in the 2nd Century A.D. Its properties are  similar to those of Qat, consumed in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, according to Tarquin Slae, a narcotics researcher and advocate from the Glasgow College of Fertility and Agrotech.

Locals call the thistle high “the drooler” because of the effect it has on its smokers.

“If smoked on an empty stomach, ingestion causes a trance-like state, which is rather pleasant, ” says Slae, though he admits dribbling as an adult can be somewhat embarrassing.

“But if everyone’s doing it together, no one really cares if you end up with green stains on your shirt.”

(This video teaches you how to pick your own thistles and which are best)

Slae was among those to fight for the legalization of the drooler in Scotland. And that’s while the young English are flocking to far-flung village pubs each weekend. It’s estimated the Scottish tourism industry has grown some 234% since thistle smoking was legalised seven years ago. This has brought much-needed job creation to a region that sets itself up as a ski area but where minimal snow falls.

Now the Tay & Androsachs Regional Council is offering farming trips for those who want to help cultivate the thistle, which is Scotland’s national flower. For details of the package, which includes accommodation and as many free smokes as a man can consume, send an email to

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