From Cocaine to Tranqs to Cannabis: Stevie Nicks’ Journey to the Dark Side and Back

Published on May 26, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
US singer songwriter Stevie Nicks performs at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London's Hyde Park, Sunday, June 26, 2011. This is the sixth consecutive year of the central London festival. (AP Photo/Andy Paradise)

The ethereal lead singer of Fleetwood Mac is shrouded in mystique (and in long, flowing garb) that adds to the intrigue behind her gypsy persona. Known as the Queen of Rock n’ Roll, she is famed for her wild and wanton ways, including quite a bit of drug use in her heyday that has since devolved into small amounts of cannabis for that creative spark.

The petit singer stands just 5’1’’ but she brings a powerful presence to the stage when she performs. During guitar solos, the gold dust woman twirls and dances, making use of her flowy garments to put on quite a show. “The reason I wear the ponchos and the big shawl-y chiffon things,” she explained to Rolling Stone reporter Rob Sheffield, “is because I realized from a very young age, if you were 5 foot 1, and you wanted to make big moves and be seen from a long way away, if you weren’t twirling a baton of fire, you needed something that was gonna make you show up…If you’re gonna dance, you gotta really dance.”

“Nobody had any idea how insidious and dangerous and horrible cocaine was.”

She has a dance she refers to as “the Crackhead Dance,” a slow burn that gradually builds with intensity, reminiscent of the uninhibited dance of souls lost in their own addiction. “It’s me being some of the drug addicts I knew, and probably being myself, too–just being that lost girl on the streets, freaked out with no idea how to find her way,” she reminisced. “When Christine [McVie, fellow vocalist in Fleetwood Mac] saw it, she said, ‘Wow, we’ve always known that ‘Gold Dust Woman’ was about the serious drug days, but this really depicts how frightening it was for all of us and what we were willing to do for it.’ We were dancing on the edge for years,” Nicks mused.

When Lindsey Met Stevie

Stevie Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham, who would become her future musical and romantic partner, when she was just a senior in high school. At a Young Life youth group meeting, he started playing “California Dreaming” and they clicked, but it wouldn’t be for another two years before they would put their talents to good use–in a psychedelic rock band called Fritz.

Fritz was popular enough that they opened for both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, which Nicks pointed to as a source of inspiration for her own live performances. The band broke up in 1972, but Nicks and Buckingham continued to write songs while Nicks waited tables. It was during this period that she wrote two of her most famous ballads, “Rhiannon” and “Landslide.” She also tried cocaine for the first time.

Before the ‘Landslide’

Nicks is surprisingly open and honest about her past cocaine use. “It was amazing how when people talked about it, how not a big thing it was,” she marveled. “Nobody was scared. Nobody had any idea how insidious and dangerous and horrible it was.”

Buckingham and Nicks pursued an intimate relationship together, and Nicks ultimately chose to pursue a musical career over an education. This decision caused inner turmoil for Nicks, and it was these complicated emotions, juxtaposed with the beauty and epic majesty of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, that inspired the lyrics for “Landslide.”

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“I was definitely doing a whole lot of reflecting when I was up there. Lindsey was on the road with the Everly Brothers and I was very unhappy and very lonely,” she recalled of the uncertain time period. “I realized then that everything could tumble, and when you’re in Colorado, and you’re surrounded by these incredible mountains, you think avalanche. It meant the whole world could tumble down around us and the landslide would bring you down.”

‘Rumours’ Had It

Within two months, Mick Fleetwood called them both, and the rest is rock n’ roll history. Their first self-titled album was an international success, and “Rhiannon” was eventually voted one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone, but it was Stevie’s live performances that truly began to catch everyone’s eye, along with her soaring voice and eclectic style. Fleetwood later said, “She’s not a person that half cooks anything, so her ‘Rhiannon’ in those days was like an exorcism.”

“When I’m writing, I will allow myself to smoke a little bit of pot. It’s my one little thing that I can do.”

As the band gained commercial success, the relationship between Buckingham and Nicks suffered, and Nicks ended the relationship. The emotional bedlam provided ample material for their next album, Rumours. “It made for some hurtful times,” Buckingham later told VH1. “It made for some times that were definitely rife with anger. And you had to push through, anyway.”

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

The second song to be released from Rumours was “Go Your Own Way,” penned by Buckingham. Nicks called “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” twin songs–the two sides to a complicated and toxic romantic relationship, ultimately resulting in the immense success of the album.

“Even though ‘Go Your Own Way’ was a little angry, it was also honest,” Nicks wrote in the liner notes for the 2013 reissue of Rumours. “So then I wrote ‘Dreams,’ and because I’m the chiffony chick who believes in fairies and angels, and Lindsey is a hardcore guy, it comes out differently. Lindsey is saying go ahead and date other men and go live your crappy life, and [I’m] singing about the rain washing you clean. We were coming at it from opposite angles, but we were really saying the same exact thing.”

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Although the wounds from her split with Buckingham were still fresh, in 1977, Nicks began an affair with Mick Fleetwood, who was married with two children. “I was very much in love with Stevie,” Fleetwood admitted. The affair was short-lived, however, due to the immense guilt Nicks felt. “I was horrified. I loved these people, I loved his family.” The affair ended almost as quickly as it began. “It began, it was, and it was over. Mick will tell you–and I will tell you,” she informed Classic Rock Magazine, “that a lot of the reason our relationship didn’t continue was because we knew it would be the end of Fleetwood Mac.”

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Drugs Take Over

Cocaine use was rampant during the recording of Rumours, so much so that the band seriously considered thanking their cocaine dealer in the album credits. Nicks turned to cocaine for energy to deal with the rigorous demands of a grueling recording and touring schedule, as well as the devastation of continuing to work with her former love. During this period, she explored other musical ventures, including a tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a band she has always admired.

Her cocaine use, however, was so extreme that she nearly wore a hole in his nose. A plastic surgeon warned her, “You’re going to have a lot of problems with your nose if you don’t stop doing this.” Fearful of damaging her singing voice, Nicks checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic in 1986 and kicked the habit once and for all. She recalled performing with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and feared becoming a casualty of rock history. “I would be very sad if some 25-year-old lady rock and roll singer 10 years from now said, ‘I wish Stevie Nicks would have stopped and thought about it a little more.’ That’s kind of what stopped me and made me really look at the world through clear eyes.”

Unfortunately, it would not be the end of her struggles with substance abuse. After releasing the album The Other Side of the Mirror, a doctor prescribed her Klonopin, a heavy tranquilizer. “This doctor was a groupie–he just wanted to hear me tell stories about rock and roll. So he kept upping my dose for years,” she recalled. Nicks was heavily medicated with Klonopin for eight years, which left her struggling to write songs and perform. Once again, she checked herself into rehab to kick the habit. “Forty-seven days in rehab to get off Klonopin was way more horrific than 30 days to get off coke,” she shuddered.

Cannabis as a Creative Aid

After all these years, she doesn’t touch cocaine or Klonopin, but she does occasionally use cannabis as a creativity aid. “When I’m writing, I will allow myself to smoke a little bit of pot,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s my one little thing that I can do. I use it as a tool, and I’m very careful, you know? And I get results. However, if I thought it was going to lead me back to something worse, I’d stop.” She’s finally happy and healthy and performing with Fleetwood Mac, with the exact same lineup they had way back in 1975. “It’s always intense to look back, but it’s always good to remember who you were and what it was like, then. It makes me remember how beautiful and frightening it all was.”

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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