For Cocteau, the euphoria of opium was superior to health. “I owe it my perfect hours,” he wrote. But try as he might to keep his dependence under control—boasting in his diary that he “never exceeded 10 pipes [a day]”—the drug’s emotional and physical toll would periodically drive him to sanatoriums to detox. His 1930 book Opium: The Diary of a Cure recounted in vivid detail his experiences of withdrawal and recovery, accompanied by drawings of human figures transformed entirely into opium pipes. More often than not, he would resume smoking again within months of taking the cure, and was an on-again off-again addict until finally weaning himself from the drug late in life.
Yet Cocteau never lost his attachment to opium’s allure. And he wasn’t alone. Recounting a 1953 meeting with a 72-year-old Picasso, the 64-year-old Cocteau wrote how both men spent most of the time reminiscing about opium.
Picasso extolled the drug, remarking at one point that “apart from the wheel, opium is man’s only discovery.”
“Do you still smoke?” he asked Cocteau.
“No, I don’t, and I regret it as much as you do,” Cocteau replied.
“Opium promotes benevolence,” Picasso sighed, wistfully. “The smoker lacks greed. He wants everyone else to smoke, too.”