William Cantrell
William Cantrell (pictured) took an Xbox belonging to his neighbour as well as the box containing the remains of the victim's mother. Metro PD

A man from Nashville, Tennessee has been arrested after allegedly stealing a box of human ashes, thinking they were cocaine.

William Cantrell is accused of robbing an Xbox from his neighbour Steven Medley, along with a small box, containing the remains of the victim's mother, before fleeing to his grandmother's home.

Cantrell's family and friends insist the 28-year-old only stole the box because he believed it contained drugs.

"William thought it was drugs, he thought he'd done found him a box of cocaine is what he thought," Cantrell's grandmother, Wanda Allen, told News Channel 5.

Although he eventually brought both items back, Cantrell was held on an aggravated burglary charge after Medley pressed charges.

"They just made it sounds like he's a bad, terrible person broke in this house and stole this woman's ashes. I'm not saying he's not guilty but he didn't know what he was stealing," his mother Kathy said.

"On the top of it, it had a white piece of paper taped over it with date of birth, date of death, name and the funeral home.

It is thought that Cantrell was drunk at during the incident. He did not appear to have snorted the ashes as it was returned with the original tie intact.

In 2010, three Florida men appeared in court on charges of theft after stealing human and dog remains thinking the urns contained crushed-up drugs. They admitted tasted and snorted the contents.