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Historical References
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years

Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years

The Hashish Club

For twenty years Napoleon had led his loyal minions against the armies of Europe. His spectacular victories, often against overwhelming odds, filled France with a feeling of pride and ebullience. No matter that the cost of victory had been two million French casualties. These dead were heroes. [1]

Despite his ultimate defeat and the terrible price of the transient glory he gave France, Napoleon would always be remembered for what he did on the battlefield and for what he accomplished on the domestic front, especially in the area of civil liberties.

Although it had not been his intention of doing so, Napoleon's military exploits were also responsible for introducing thousands of French soldiers to hashish. The initiation came about as a consequence of the French invasion of Egypt in 1798 and caused Napoleon some concern that his troops might become dissipated and unruly because of their indulgence in the drug.

Then, as now, army life was basically a series of endless routines and insurmountable boredom. To pass the time, some men will drink themselves into oblivion. But in Moslem Egypt, alcohol was not the intoxicant of choice. The Egyptians preferred another drug, and that drug, of course, was hashish. So widespread did the hashish habit become among his men that in October 1800 Napoleon issued the following ordinance to the French army of occupation:

It is forbidden in all of Egypt to use certain Moslem beverages made with hashish or likewise to inhale the smoke from seeds of hashish. Habitual drinkers and smokers of this plant lose their reason and are victims of violent delirium which is the lot of those who give themselves full to excesses of all sorts. [2]

The soldiers heard the order, probably nodded in agreement, and went right on using hashish. Along with the soldiers, three French scientists - Silvestre de Sacy, Rouyer, and Desgenettes - whom Napoleon had brought with him to study the country and its people, also began using hashish, ostensibly to see for themselves what this drug did to the human body. Intrigued by their experiences with hashish, they sent some back to France for their colleagues to conduct further experiments in their laboratories.

The first of these studies to be published appeared in 1803 by a Dr. Virey, who made various extracts of hashish, hoping to track down the drug's elusive active principle. After studying the drug at length, it was Virey's opinion that hashish was nothing less than the mysterious nepenthe used by Helen of Troy to drug her guests into a stupor of forgetfulness.

Soon after the army's return, the French began hearing about the incredible effects of hashish from both the soldiers who had used it themselves and from the country's scientists who had had an opportunity to study the drug and its mystique while serving with the army in Egypt. It was shortly after the army's return to France, for instance, that Silvestre de Sacy, the foremost Arabic scholar in the world at that time, announced that he had at last solved the long-baffling mystery of the origin of the name of the Assassins - the Arabic gang of cutthroats who had terrorized the Middle East at the time of the Crusades. In an address to the Institute of France in 1809, Silvestre de Sacy claimed that the word "assassin" was derived from hashish, a common term for herbage or grass in the Arab world. He then argued that cannabis was considered to be like grass and that the mysterious potion mentioned by Marco Polo was in fact hashish:

The intoxication produced by the hashish [can lead to a] state of temporary insanity [such that] losing all knowledge of their debility [users] commit the most brutal actions, so as to disturb the public peace... it is not impossible that hemp, or some parts of that vegetable, mixed with other substances unknown to us, may have been sometimes employed to produce a state of frenzy and violence. [3]

In 1818m a Viennese writer, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, capitalized on European interest in the Assassins and the stories of hashish, the exotic drug of the Arab world, by publishing the first full-length book to be written about the sect. Originally published in German, the book became so popular it was soon translated into French (1833) and English (1835). The link between hashish and the Assassins became firmly soldered in cannabis folklore from that time.

Drugs and Dreams

Prior to 1800 there were only about ten references to cannabis in all of French literature, travel books or botanical books. Between 1800 and 1850, no fewer than thirty articles and books were published on the subject in France. The Thousand and One Nights, with its tales of hashish intoxication, drug-induced hallucinations, and "double consciousness", topped the bestseller lists for many years. Famed Orientalist Silvestre de Sacy's warning that hashish produced ecstasy, delirium, insanity, and even death, only whetted the public's appetite for more.

Among those to become enthralled by the furor over this strange drug were a number of young writers, poets, and artists, who thought that hashish's peculiar effects on the mind might be a way to enhance their creativity.

The post-Napoleonic era in France and throughout the rest of Europe was a time of soul searching. People seemed disenchanted with the achievements of the "rational age" which had only made war more terrifying, and searched instead for the hidden, irrational, emotional self that was buried deep within the human mind, whose activity could be glimpsed only in dreams. If only they could discover the entrance to this hidden world, they could communicate with the unconscious.

At first they relied on opium. Opium's potential for psychic enlightenment came to the attention of the literary world as a result of a series of articles appearing in London Magazine in 1821. Thomas de Quincey, the author of these Confessions of an Opium Eater, had held his readers spellbound with descriptions of his weekly excursions into the world of this mind-altering drug and the excruciating torment he later suffered as a consequence of his addiction. For many writers, opium promised to be the key that would unlock the invisible bonds shackling them to the mundane world of the conscious self. Once freed, perhaps it might be possible to conjure up the hidden muse of creativity. Out of drug-inspired dreams and altered consciousness might come plots for stories, images for poems, ideas for art.

It was especially the potential for producing dreams that first attracted novelists, poets, and artists to opium. Many of the major literary giants kept notes of their dreams and used these notes in their work. Browning, Coleridge, Poe, Wordsworth, etc., all kept pad and pen beside their beds to record their nightly visitations from their dream muses. Not to be able to remember a dream was a regrettable loss to a writer's creativity. The drug-induced dream promised enhanced creativity with each swallow.

But many who chose this route to the hitherto inaccessible regions of the human mind later regretted their decision; De Quincey was not the only one to experience the agony of addiction. Their experiences in opiate hell led to the search for some other drug, some other type of chemical concoction with opium's desirable effects, yet free of its nightmarish properties.

There were stories of such a drug. Veterans of the Egyptian campaign used to tell about a drug right out of the pages of the Arabian Nights, a drug known as hashish. There were also rumors that a well-known doctor in Paris was asking for volunteers to test this drug.

Hashish and Madness

Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau (1804-84) had studied psychiatry under one of its most important innovators, Jean Esquirol. It was due to Esquirol's influence, for instance, that psychiatrists began to recognise that the events preceding mental breakdown sometimes held the key to the mystery of mental illness. It was also due to Esquirol's influence that psychiatrists such as Moreau became intrigued with hallucinations, believing that if psychiatry could only determine what caused them, it might be able to get at the cause of insanity itself.

Duly impressed with his teacher's emphasis on causality and hallucinations as the keys to understanding and treating mental illness, Moreau pondered how to experience insanity without first suffering a mental breakdown:

To understand an ordinary depression it is necessary to have experienced one; to comprehend the ravings of a madman, it is necessary to have raved oneself but without losing the awareness of one's madness, without having lost the power to evaluate the psychic changes occurring in the mind. [4]

By knowing what a patient was experiencing, Moreau felt that he might eventually understand the psychotic state and devise a method to treat it. His tool for producing this "model psychosis" was to be hashish.

Moreau had first tries hashish during a trip through the Arab countries in the 1830's. He was no doubt already familiar with some of the properties of hashish through the writings of other doctors, but it was not until 1840 that he became intrigued at hashish's potential for exploring the mind after reading a scientific article by Dr. Aubert Roche entitled "Du typhus et de la pests en Orient" (Concerning Typus and the Pestilence in the Orient). Although Roche had only claimed that the Egyptians were less susceptible to diseases that plagued Europeans because of their indulgence in hashish, Moreau began to think seriously of other uses for the drug.

"There are two modes of existence - two modes of life - given to man," Moreau mused. "The first one results from our communication with the external world, with the universe. The second one is but the reflection of the self and is fed from its own distinct internal sources. The dream is an in-between land where the external life ends and the internal life begins." [5] With the aid of hashish, he felt that anyone could enter this in-between land at will.

During the course of his studies with hashish. Moreau began to notice a peculiar relationship between the amount of the drug he administered and its effects. A small dose produced a sense of euphoria, calmness, lassitude, and apathy. A little higher dose and attention began to wander. Ideas appeared at random. Time sense was distorted; minutes became hours. Thoughts rushed together. Sensory acuity seemed greater. More drug yet, and dreams began to flood the brain. These dreams Moreau felt, were like the hallucinations of insanity.

Moreau's experiments with hashish led him to the conclusion that insanity was not due to brain damage, as many of the leading psychiatrists of his day maintained, but was instead due to a change in the way the brain functioned, a change that was caused by a chemical alteration in the nervous system. A hundred years later, psychiatrists working with LSD would come to a similar conclusion.

Because his supply of hashish was limited, Moreau decided not to explore possible therapeutic applications to which hashish might be put. Instead, he decided to follow through on his initial idea to use the hashish experience as a model psychosis. To conduct such studies, however, he had to be able to observe the effects of hashish objectively. By experimenting on himself, he had gained some insight into what the drug did to the mind. But perhaps these subjective impressions were inaccurate? Hashish distorted time sense; might it not also distort other impressions? Only by enlisting the aid of volunteers could he observe the drug's effects on others while he himself was free of hashish's reverie. It was in this role as dispassionate scientist that Moreau became drug dispenser tot he Hashish Club, a coterie of France's leading writers, poets, and artists.

Although Moreau's work in psychopharmacology is now recognized for its pioneering approach to the study of the way drugs affect the brain, his own colleagues failed to recognize the value and importance of his studies.

In 1846, a year after the publication of his 439-page book, Diu Hachish et de l'alienation mentale - etudes psychologiques (Hashish and Mental Illness - Psychological Studies), Moreau decided to enter it in a competition sponsored by the French Academy of Sciences. The other entries consisted of other medical, surgical, and neurological books. Six of these entries receive prizes; two received honorable mentions, among them Moreau's book. Even this distinction might have eluded him had not one of the judges been impressed with the intriguing relationship between drug dosage and subjective effects. Were it not for Theophile Gautier and the Hashish Club, Moreau would probably be even less known than he already is, although he was one of the earliest scientists to study hashish and to propose drugs as tools in the study of mental aberrations.

Far from being disinterested in hashish, however, French scientists seemed very curious and intrigued about its therapeutic potentials. In 1847, the Pharmaceutical Society of Paris posted a prize for the isolation of the active principle in cannabis, which was eventually won in 1857. In 1848, the first doctoral thesis on hashish was written by DeCourtive, whose pharmacopoeia Charles Baudelaire later relied on for much of his information about hashish.

Hashish's Advance Man

Among the luminaries of the French world who sought in hashish the key to expanded consciousness was Pierre Jules Theophile Gautier. A failure as a painter and poet, Gautier became an overnight sensation in 1835 at the age of twenty-four with Madamoiselle de Maupin, the story of a transvestite, hailed by one critic as "the most daring novel... that ever a full-fledged Romantacist could write." [6]

Gautier's view of life is best stated in the preface to this novel. A special award ought to be given to people who invent new pleasures, he tells his readers, "for enjoyment seems to me to be the end of life, and the only useful thing in the world." [7]

No doubt, one of the first recipients of such an award, had Gautier had his way, would have been Moreau, who introduced him to the wonders of hashish. As a result of this encounter with Moreau, Gautier subsequently founded the famous Hashish Club (Club des Hachichins) which met on a monthly basis in the elegant Hotel Lauzun in Paris's Latin Quarter. It was during these sessions that Moreau dispensed dawamesk (a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides) to such notables as Alexandre Dumas, Gerard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Ferdinand Boissard, Eugene Delacroix, and Gautier himself.

Gautier's own interest in hashish stemmed in large part from curiosity. He had heard the gossip of the French soldiers who had first tried the drug in Egypt and was intrigued by their stories. Gautier was also astute enough to realize that the French public would be just as interested as he himself was in hashish. They too had heard stories of this mysterious drug, and the popularity of books about the Arab countries such as The Thousand and One Nights was proof enough that articles of this kind would sell.

In 1843, Francois Lallemand anonymously published Le hachych, the first book to incorporate hashish as a plot device. The book became popular enough to warrant reissue in 1848 and this time it carried Lallemand's name as the author. But it was Gautier's "Le hashish", also published in 1843, which captured and held imaginations. It was a relatively short article describing the various hallucinations Gautier experienced while under the influence of the drug - the changes in colors and designs; the disfigurement of bodies; and the sensation of being able to hear colors and see sounds (a phenomenon known as synesthesia) - and its popularity encouraged Gautier to write another.

His second article appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1846 and was entitled "Le Club des Hachichins". Although it contained relatively little concerning his experiences under the influence of hashish that he had not already described, it was to become the better known of his writings on the subject because of his description of the Hotel Lauzun and the members of the club that gathered there.

The hotel immortalized by Gautier was built in 1657 by the duc de Lauzun as his personal palace, and he lived there until his death at the age of ninety in 1723. In its time it was a magnificent architectural feat, but by the 1840s it was more rundown than remarkable. When first erected, the building's three stories made it one of Paris's skyscrapers. Its large windows, tiny panes of glass, and stone balcony were city landmarks. To the left of the front door were red, bright-yellow, and gold-colored iron posts. At about the level of the first floor was a gargoyle dragon that looked down on all who called upon the duke. The popularity of Gautier's writings on hashish, it has been said, was not so much due to his descriptions of the hashish experience as to the moody atmosphere of the gathering place of the Hashish Club and the eminent people who assembled there to partake of the drug.

The fascination evoked by Gautier's article is immediate. Gautier sets the mood with deliberation. It is night. A fog drifts in of the Seine. Nothing is discernible. Shapes are indistinct, fuzzy, there and gone. When at last Gautier finds the hotel and knocks at the door, he is met by an old porter who points the way with a "skinny finger stretched outwards".

Among those who greet him at the top of the stairs is a mysterious doctor (Moreau) who hands him a "morsel of paste of greenish jam about as large as a thumb from a crystal vase", as he cautions that "this will be deducted from your share in Paradise". [8]

Gautier then goes on to tell his readers about the Old Man of the Mountain and the Assassins, declaring that the "green paste that the doctor had just passed out among us was precisely that which the Old Man of the Mountain used to administer to his fanatics... that is, hashish, whence come hashisheen or hashish-eater, the root of the word 'assassin', whose ferocious meaning is readily explicable of the blood thirsty habits of the votaries of the Old Man of the Mountain". [9]

The sinister relationship between hashish and death is further developed in Gautier's description of his table fellows - "long-haired, bearded, moustached or singularly shorn guests, brandishing sixteenth century daggers, Malayan drisses or navajas..." [10]

As the meal draws to a close, Gautier begins to hallucinate. The faces of the people at the table change shape and color, and "madness, like a wave foaming against a rock, which withdraws to hurl itself once more, entered and departed my brain, at length altogether invading it." [11]

The guests retire to the drawing room. Gautier sinks into a chair by the fireplace and surrenders himself to the drug. Totally absorbed in his thoughts, he knows that others are with him in the room, but he sees no one. He is completely wrapped up in himself, his mind filled with grotesque characters whose faces and bodies are monstrously contorted.

The rest of his narrative contains much of the same material. The images which Gautier calls to mind are thoroughly at home in the Gothic interior of the Hotel Lauzun. The grotesque shadows which lace through his thoughts as he hallucinates owe much to his surroundings. From Gautier's description, the reader senses that hashish is indeed the boatman ferrying passengers across the Styx of imagination to the netherworld of insanity.

Hashish's Troubadour

Without doubt the best known member of the Club des Hachichins was the brooding melancholic Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire was no stranger to drugs. During his youth he lived in the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris like San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district of the 1960s, inhabited mainly by students, writers, artists, and thieves. The streets were narrow, dimly lit, and foul smelling. Students "hung out" at cafes and restaurants carousing and boasting about real and imagined sexual conquests. They drank to excess and indulged themselves in all the latest vices, among which were opium and hashish.

Baudelaire first met Gautier toward the middle of 1849 thanks to a mutual friend, the artist Fernand Boissard. Boissard and Gautier were both tenants at the Hotel Lauzun, and in the course of things Baudelaire was invited to attend the meetings of the Hashish Club. Yet, always the loner, Baudelaire rarely accepted the invitation.

In the preface to his Flowers of Evil (Fleurs du Mal), published in 1868, Baudelaire confesses that he usually avoided these clandestine soirees and that when he did attend, it was only as an observer. Gautier corroborates this confession:

It is possible and even probable that Baudelaire did try hascheesh once or twice by way of physiological experiment, but he never made continuous use of it. Besides, he felt much repugnance for that sort of happiness, bought at the chemist's and taken away in the vest-pocket, and he compared the ecstasy it enduces to that of a maniac for whom painted canvas and rough drop-scenes takes the place of real furniture and gardens balmy with the scent of genuine flowers. He came but seldom, and merely as an observer, to the meetings in Pimodan House [Hotel Lauzun], where our club met..." [12]

Gautier himself gave up hashish "after trying it some ten times or so,... not that it hurt me physically, but because a real writer needs no other than his own natural dreams, and does not care to have his thought controlled by the influence of any agency whatever." [13]

In the introduction to The Artificial Paradises, his best known work on hashish, Baudelaire candidly admits that for much of his information concerning the actions of the drug, he relied on the detailed notes he had accumulated in talking to his friends who had been using hashish for a long time. Two other major sources were Sylvestre de Sacy's writings, and a popular pharmaceutical text of the day, L'Officine ou reportoire general de pharmacies practiques (The Laboratory or General Encyclopaedia of Practical Pharmacy), parts of which he copied verbatim. The latter was first published in 1844 by the pharmacist Dorvault, and became a standard reference manual on drugs (it was reprinted and expanded in 1847, 1850, and 1855). Baudelaire incorporated approximately three-quarters of the material on hashish from Dorvault's 1850 edition in the Artificial Paradises which he published in 1858, although no mention of Dorvault appears anywhere in Baudelaire's writings.

The Artificial Paradises is divided into two parts. The first contains Baudelaire's "Poem of Hashish"; the second is a translation of de Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater. Baudelaire's inclusion of these two works into a single volume was due to his feeling that both drugs produced very similar effects. Indeed, it is sometimes impossible to tell whether Baudelaire is writing about opium or hashish in various parts of his "Poem of Hashish".

Although widely hailed as one of hashish's most articulate and analytical devotees, as well as one of its most tragic victims, Baudelaire was neither devotee nor victim of hashish. He was merely an observer of hashish's effects, and he died not from overindulgence in hashish but from syphilis. Nevertheless, aside from the bitter recriminations expressed at the end of his essay, Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises is unsurpassed as literature's most poetic description of the hashish experience. Gautier later wrote of the book:

Medically speaking The Artificial Paradises constitute a very well written monograph of hascheesh, and science might find in it reliable information; for Baudelaire piqued himself on being scrupulously accurate, and not for the world would he have allowed the smallest poetic imagery to slip into a subject that was naturally adapted to it. [14]

Baudelaire begins his discussion by refuting the notion that hashish will transform anyone into an entirely different person. One "will find in hashish nothing miraculous, absolutely nothing but an exaggeration of the natural," he says. "The brain and organism on which hashish operates will produce only the normal phenomena peculiar to that individual - increased, admittedly, in number and force, but always faithful to the original." [15]

Next he cautions that the user be in the right frame of mind to take hashish, for just as it exaggerates the natural behaviour of the individual, so too does hashish intensify the user's immediate feelings. Obligations that require attention will keep the user from enjoying the otherwise pleasurable effects of the drug and instead he will be tortured with worry and subjected to unbearable agony.

Once he has been properly prepared, the hashish user will pass through three successive phases. The first comes on rather slowly, almost imperceptibly. Because the novice has in all likelihood been previously told something of the effects of hashish, Baudelaire advises his readers that they are likely to feel impatient. This impatience, he warns, must be overcome for it could throw the novice into a state of anxiety. An indication that the drug is beginning to work, regardless of what the user says, is uncontrollable laughter. The most trivial remark assumes new meaning. A sense of incongruity, of puns on words, of ridiculous situations, are all characteristic of the mirth of hashish. A second indication that hashish is beginning to act is an inability to maintain a train of thought. Ideas race through the mind, becoming disjointed, fragmented, isolated; conversation is no longer possible.

The second stage of intoxication is characterized by a feeling of coldness in the extremities and general lassitude. There is a sense of stupor and stupefaction. The mouth feels parched with incredible thirst. A heightened feeling of sensory acuity begins to be imagined. The senses are scrambled. Sounds have colors; colors contain music. It is now that one begins to see and hear things that are not there.

The final stage is marked by a feeling of calmness. Time and space have no meaning. There is a sense that one has transcended matter. In this state, one final supreme thought breaks into consciousness - "I have become God."

Having traced the stages of hashish intoxication, Baudelaire concludes his essay with a chapter entitled "moral". Here Baudelaire deals with the after effects of hashish. Although he states that there are no dangerous physical consequences from hashish, he contends that the same cannot be said for the user's psychological health. Although hashish increases creativity and elevates imagination, the individual who has come to rely on the drug for inspiration may become its prisoner, unable to think creatively at all unless drugged with hashish. Moreover, hashish's weakening of the will makes the user unable to profit from any creative insights he may derive from the drug. If one can instantly realize all the pleasures of heaven and earth through hashish, he asks, why should anyone actively pursue such goals?

Baudelaire moved out of the Hotel Lauzun shortly after a botched suicide attempt. He was suffering from syphilis, he drank heavily, and he was constantly resorting to opium to help himself deal with a deep-seated feeling of despondency and self-hatred. Although respected by fellow writers and critics, Baudelaire considered himself a failure. He died in 1866, his brain decayed by the syphilitic bacterium he had contracted as a youth.

Balzac and Flaubert

Baudelaire was not the only well-known nonparticipant to attend the meetings of the Hashish Club. As Baudelaire noted, Honore de Balzac also preferred to watch the proceedings without personally partaking of the "green paste" handed out by Moreau:

Balzac no doubt held the belief that there is no deeper shame nor worse suffering for a man than to renounce control over his own will. I saw him once at a meeting where the prodigious effects of hascheesh were being discussed. He listened and asked questions with amusing attention and vivacity. Those who knew him will readily guess that he was interested. But the idea of thinking in spite of himself shocked him deeply; he was offered some dawamesk; he examined it, smelt it, and returned it without touching it. The struggle between his almost childish curiosity and his dislike for abdication exhibited itself on his expressive face in a striking manner. The love of self-dignity won the day. [16]

Gautier recalls that occasion:

I was at Pimodan House that night, and I am in a position to certify to the absolute accuracy of the story. I will merely add this characteristic trait: as he handed back the spoonful of dawamesk that had been offered him, Balzac remarked that it would be of no use to take the test, for he was sure that hascheesh would have no effect upon his brain. [17]

Balzac's curiosity finally got the better of him, however, and in a letter dated December 23, 1845, addressed to a Madame Hanska, he confesses that he finally took some hashish at one of the gatherings of the Hashish Club, adding that as he was leaving the group, he began to hear celestial voices and see divine paintings. [18]

One of France's well-known writers who was profoundly influenced by Baudelaire's description of the hashish experience, and who like Balzac had certain misgivings about trying the drug himself, was Gustav Flaubert. Baudelaire has sent Flaubert a personal copy of Artificial Paradises, and in a return letter, Flaubert confessed that "these drugs have always aroused great longing in me. I've got some excellent hashish made up for me by Gastinel, the chemist. But it terrifies me! I blame myself bitterly for this!" [19]

Although frightened by the prospect of taking hashish, Flaubert nevertheless took issue with Baudelaire's characterization of the drug as something evil. To Flaubert, Baudelaire's condemnation of hashish had ruined what was otherwise an excellent essay. "It seems to me," Flaubert wrote, "that in a subject treated so eminently, in a work that is the beginning of science, in a piece of natural observation and induction, you have emphasized too greatly the spirit of evil. I would have preferred that you would not have accused hashish and opium of excesses. It was not the drugs that were evil, but rather the misuse of these substances." [20]

Shortly before his death, Flaubert had begun outlining a novel of his own entitled La Spirale, based on Baudelaire's description of hashish's effects. Flaubert's notes depict a tormented hero who is eventually confined to an institution for the insane. The cause of his mental breakdown is hashish, a drug habit he had acquired during a visit to the Arab countries, and an exceptional imagination and disposition for reverie upon which the drug acted. Saturated with hashish, his brain manufactured ecstatic visions and plunged him into a state of "permanent somnambulism" which rendered him insensible to pain.

Hashish's Tragic Apostle

Gerard de Nerval was another prominent French writer who belonged to the Hashish Club and who wrote about the drug in his books. Like, Baudelaire, Nerval was plagued with fits of melancholy. Most of his life he lived in poverty and dissipation. Also, like Baudelaire, Nerval tried to kill himself. Unlike Baudelaire, he succeeded.

Nerval had met Theophile Gautier while they were both students in Paris and the two remained friends for the rest of their lives. It was through Gautier that he became a member of the Club des Hachichins.

Nerval's first major literary triumph was a translation of Faust, published when he was only twenty. The story of the man who sold his soul to the devil appealed to his mystical interests and was only one of many such stories to set his mind on a cryptic transcendental course. During a trip to the Near East which he described in his Voyages to the Orient (1847), Nerval got the idea for his "Story of the Calif Haken", a singularly exotic tale of hashish and double consciousness.

The main character of the story lives a dual existence. By day, he is the caliph, the ruler of Egypt; by night, he dresses in slave's clothes and wanders among the common people. As the story opens, the caliph enters an okel, "one of those houses where taking no heed of the prohibition (against intoxication), infidels came to make themselves drunk with wine, Bouza [beer] or hashish." He orders some hashish which is brought to him in the form of a "greenish paste", and has some with a companion whom he has just met. As the drug is brought to them, the other man says that "this box contains the paradise your prophet Mohammed promised to his believers..."

Nerval describes the various feelings the caliph experiences, the uncontrollable laughter, the languor, the rapid whirl of ideas, the visions, and the feeling of total relaxation. During this unique experience, the caliph announces that he is God, a remark that turns the other patrons against him for this act of blasphemy, and they beat him severely. Although he is forgiven because he has not mastered the hashish experience as yet, this idea remains fixed in his mind and he is thrown into an insane asylum. While he is a patient there, he is visited by the famous Arab physician Avicenna, who dismisses his protestations and his insistence that he is the caliph as the ravings of a hashish-crazed lunatic.

The high point of the story comes when the caliph escapes from the asylum and sees someone else upon the throne who resembles himself so closely that it can only be his doppleganger. This is another part of his existence previously unknown to him. In the end, by a set of peculiar circumstances, the caliph is physically killed while his spiritual being, the being that sits on the throne, continues to rule over Egypt.

The point of Nerval's allegory is that under the insidious influence of hashish, reality and illusion cannot be separated. The hashish user is cast under a spell in which an idea is fixed in his mind to the exclusion of everything else and this idea determines how one sees oneself on a number of different levels. The hashish user assumes both a physical and a spiritual entity. Mind and body dissociate; yet all the while the soul consciously and dispassionately observes what happens to each.

Nerval also wrote several stories in which opium played a prominent part. Like Baudelaire, he was no stranger to drug abuse. His last years were spent in poverty and misery. Unable to cope any longer after a number of tragic love affairs exacerbated his already thread-bare sanity, he hanged himself.

Alexandre Dumas

The fourth prominent member of the Club des Hachichins whose writings deal with hashish was Alexandre Dumas, one of the most prolific and entertaining of the French writers of the mid-nineteenth century. Although well acquainted with the effects of hashish through attending the gatherings at the Hotel Lauzun, there is no indication that Dumas ever used hashish or any other drug to excess. Like Gautier, Dumas was astute enough to realize that hashish had a mystique about it that fascinated the French reading public, and he heightened the interest of one of his best known stories, The Count of Monte Cristo, by making hashish a part of the plot. In a chapter from Monte Cristo entitled "Sinbad the Sailor", Dumas tells of the meeting of Franz with a mysterious stranger who lives on a deserted island and refers to himself only as Sinbad.

Franz has come to the island, which is sometimes used as a base for smuggling, to do some hunting. He encounters some smugglers and is invited to dine with their leader Sinbad, whose quarters are located somewhere beneath the island. To prevent any outsiders from finding the entrance to these quarters, Sinbad blindfolds Franz and then leads him into an underground palace. magnificently furnished with articles from around the world.

After a sumptuous meal, a servant places a cup on the table. Franz lifts the lid of the cup and sees a "greenish paste". "Taste this," his host says, offering the paste, "and the boundaries of possibility disappear, the fields of infinite space open to you, you advance free in heart, free in mind, into the boundless realms of unfettered reverie."

Sinbad takes some of the paste himself, and while they are resting he tells Franz the story of the Assassins. The mystery of the green paste now becomes clear to Franz. "It is hasheesh!" he cries.

His curiosity soaring, Franz also takes some of the drug and the two men retire to another lavishly furnished chamber where they relax and talk about visiting the great cities of the Arab world.

Franz experiences the various effects of hashish and then finally falls asleep. When he awakens, he finds himself above ground and alone. He tries to find the entrance to the palace so that he can return, but it is too well hidden. He then begins to doubt the whole adventure, but his servant, who has been waiting for him, points to a boat sailing off in the distance. Peering at the vessel through a telescope, Franz is able to make out the figure of Sinbad standing alone on the deck of the ship. It was not a dream. The experience had been real.

Franz's encounter with his mysterious host, the underground palace, the blindfold, his initiation to hashish, the visions he experienced, and his dream-like impressions are all calculated to hold the reader's interest. They are examples of Dumas's expertise as a storyteller. And they are also examples of Dumas's subtle and masterful craftsmanship, for what the reader has actually been treated to is a rendering of Marco Polo's story of the Old Man of the Mountain and his band of Assassins.

The mysterious Sinbad is none other than Hasan. The cave is the Alamut stronghold. The smugglers are the Assassins. The magnificent palace id the Paradise of the legend. Franz is blindfolded; the candidates (fidais) are given a potion to render them unconscious before they can enter the gorunds, and like Franz they are taken from the grounds in an unconscious state. The analogy is so well executed that even the reader who is acquainted with Marco Polo's narrative is unaware that he is encountering the very same legend in the story of Monte Cristo.

Hashish in England

The lurid accounts of the hashish experience by the popular French literati did not go unnoticed across the Channel, and it was not long before the English writers and students were also experimenting with the drug.

In 1845, Thomas de Quincey obtained some "bang" and said that he would shortly be describing his reactions to it for the English reading public, much the same as he had done in the case of opium. For some unknown reason, his plan never materialized. However, he does state that

one farmer in Midlothian was mentioned to me eight months ago as having taken it, and ever since annoyed his neighbors by immoderate fits of laughter; so that in January it was agreed to present him to the sheriff as a nuisance. But for some reason the plan was laid aside and now, eight months later, I hear the farmer is laughing more rapturously than ever, continues in the happiest frame of mind, the kindest creature and the general torment of his neighborhood. [21]

In 1848, an anonymous article appeared in Chamber's Edinburgh Journal, a widely read literary periodical of the era, in which the author warned his readers that a menace was ravaging France. Indulgence in hashish, he said, had spread from physicians and medical students to the nation's "poets, idealists, and all the lovers of novelty". After describing the effects of the drug, the "alterations" produced "upon the perceptive powers, the imagination, and the reason", he concludes with a grave warning to those Englishmen who may have been contemplating their own hashish romp of the senses: "It may be emphatically said that none of nature's law can be violated with impunity, nor can that reason which renders man pre-eminent be misapplied without a punishment." [22]

This dour admonition seems to have been ignored since the popular press and the medical journals began to carry more and more articles on the effects of hashish. In 1850, David Urquhart, a member of Parliament, published a two-volume book entitled The Pillars of Hercules in which he added his own experiences regarding hashish to the literature on the subject. [23] The use of such a drug by a member of the government convinced many readers that the dangers attributed to hashish had probably been exaggerated, although the number of people who decided to try some for themselves as the result of such books was never great. It was personal contact with other users, not books, that increased the growing coterie of hashish patrons.

The anonymous author of an 1858 article in Little's Living Age Magazine comforted his readers that

the English are in no danger whatever of becoming a nation of opium or hashish debauchies; and we feel no compunction in placing before them an account of some of those exceptional cases in which the results have been sufficiently delightful to constitute a temptation to one of the most ruinous species of debauchery. [24]

Following this pronouncement, the author cites some interesting statistics regarding the use of hashish and other drugs throughout the world at that time: "Tobacco is the one universal narcotic; the others are consumed by the human race in the following proportions; opium by four hundred millions, hemp by between two and three hundred millions, betel by one hundred millions, and coca by ten millions." [25] Interestingly, he makes no mention of alcohol in spite of the fact that alcohol abuse was a major problem in England in the mid-nineteenth century.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, English writers repeatedly denied that any of their fellow Englishmen were turning to hashish. In 1877, for example, a W. Laird-Clowes wrote in the magazine Belgravia that "as far as I am aware - and my researches have been tolerably extensive - no Englishmen (non-physician) has hitherto noted down the latter drug [hashish]." [26] Apparently, Laird-Clowes was unfamiliar with Urquhart's Pillars of Hercules or what was being written in other popular English magazines about hashish. But he had read enough to know that hashish was being blamed for the frenzied killings committed by the Assassins. To the charge that hashish inspires violence, Laird-Clowes says that as far as his own personal experience with the drug was concerned, he had never had the urge to go out and kill anyone.

Perhaps I am not of a violent nature [he says in his concluding remarks], certainly I have no inducement to commit a murder; and probably a man's inborn tastes in great measure direct the effect that hashish will exert on his mental faculties... anything more foreign to the effects of the drug than the "creation of unpleasantness", either in thought, word, or deed, I cannot conceive. [27]

Other Englishmen concurred with Laird-Clowe's contention that the English were in no danger of becoming hashish addicts or even experimenting with the drug on a large scale. "The temperament which is unsusceptible of exultation by narcotics into a rapturous or vision-beholding condition, seems happily to be rare in northern climates," was how one writer put it. [28] Another wrote that "the Theatre of Seraphim, with its gay marionette-version of human experience is open to all at the price of almost inevitable physical and moral degradation," a condition foreign to the English temperament. [29]

It was not that the English were above using drugs that altered consciousness, but rather that they were more content with alcohol, and saw little need to experiment with other mind-altering drugs. Those who did were either members of minority groups, artists, writers, criminals, or students. It was the isolated cases that came to the attention of the press and gave the impression that hashish was rampant in parts of England.

One such case took place in 1886 in the dormitories of staid old Cambridge University. According to a newspaper report, some students had obtained "Turkish Delight", and not being experienced users of the hashish-laden confection, had taken an overdose and become ill as a result. [30] Oxford also had its share of cannabis users. [31]

In a footnote to "The Tale of the Hashish Eater", Richard Burton likewise commented that "I have heard of a 'Hashish-orgie' in London which ended in half the experimentalists being on their sofas for a week. The drug is useful for stokers, having the curious property of making men insensible to heat. Easterns also use it for 'Imsak' prolonging coition, of which I speak presently." [32] This observation was published in 1885 so it must have occurred some time earlier.

While the medical journals began to teem with articles concerning possible therapeutic uses of the drug and adverse reactions occurring in those who took overdoses, the only nineteenth-century book to deal with hashish in England was an anonymous work entitled Confessions of an English Hashish-Eater , published in 1884, which was patterned after De Quincey's bestseller of years gone by.

The "Decadents"

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the spirit of ennui that had gripped the French Romantic writers of the mid-nineteenth century crossed the English Channel and settled on a coterie of English writers such as Arthur Symons, William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Oscar Wilde, and Havelock Ellis. Yeats called them the "Tragic Generation".

Like their French forebears, this new generation of creators sought new sensations, visions, and ideas to write about, and agreed with Gautier that "art [should be] for art's sake" rather than moral reform. Because the eschewed morality in their works, they were called the "decadents". And just as their French forebears had sought inspiration and escape from boredom in drugs, so too did the "decadents". Absinthe was a favorite with many of these writers such as Oscar Wilde, mescaline was preferred by Havelock Ellis and W. B. Yeats, although Yeats was not averse to hashish; [33] Dowson preferred hashish in his youth, [34] but gave it up for alcohol. Their French counterparts, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlane, "intoxicated themselves with both absinthe and hashish and wrote poems of hellish and heavenly music," [35] the best known of which is Rembaud's Illuminations, and its memorable lines - "This is the time of the Assassins... it began with the laughter of children, it will end with it."

For Rimbaud and many of his contemporaries, hashish was, however, a means to an end, not an end in itself. "The Poet," he wrote, "makes himself a voyant through a long, immense reasoned deranging of all his senses. All the forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he tries to find himself, he exhausts in himself all the poisons, to keep only their quintessences." [36]

While the "decadents" used hashish and other drugs as much as Gautier, Baudelaire, Nerval, and the other members of the Hashish Club, they did not make drugs a formal part of their socializing, and there was no Gautier or Baudelaire to chronicle or exploit their drug-oriented activities. Moreover, their use of drugs seemed nothing out of the ordinary.

Cannabis in Western Medicine

While the French were the first to begin experimenting with hashish on a relatively large scale, the introduction of cannabis into Western medicine is credited to a now obscure Irish physician, Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy. Although known today for his pioneering experiments with cannabis, during his own lifetime he was best known for introducing intravenous fluid and electrolyte-replacement therapy in the treatment of cholera. His major achievement, however, had nothing at all to do with medicine. Instead, after leaving the medical profession for engineering, O'Shaughnessy was instrumental in introducing the telegraph system into India - an accomplishment for which he was knighted in 1856 by Queen Victoria. O'Shaughnessy retired from military service in 1861 at age fifty-two and returned to England, where for some unknown reason he changed his name to William O'Shaugnessy Brooke. Although he lived for another twenty-eight years, he never returned to medical research and spent his retirement engaged in other activities.

O'Shaughnessy first came to India in 1833 as a thirty-year-old surgeon in the employ of the British East India Company. He also held the position of professor of chemistry at the Medical College of Calcutta. Apparently, he became intrigued at cannabis's therapeutic potential almost as soon as he arrived in India, and in 1843 he reported a summary of his studies of the drug [37] which so captured the interest of his medical colleagues in England that it was not long before they were clamoring for him to supply them with cannabis for their own medical practices.

O'Shaughnessy began his article by observing that while the intoxicating and medicinal effects of cannabis were known throughout the countries of the East, the drug was practically unknown in the West. Following a brief history of the use of the drug in India and in the Arab countries, O'Shaughnessy described the experiments he had conducted on animals, noting an observation that has not since been commented upon nor subjected to further study. In O'Shaughnessy's words, the experiments he had conducted "led to one remarkable result - That while carnivorous animals, and fish, dogs, cats, swine, vultures and crows, and adjutants, invariably and speedily exhibited the intoxicating influence of the drug, the graminivorous, such as the horse, deer, monkey, goat, sheep, and cow, experienced but trivial effects from any dose we administered." O'Shaughnessy had been nothing if not thorough in his preliminary studies on animals, judging by this statement.

Confident that cannabis posed no danger to the well-being of his animal subjects, O'Shaughnessy went on to test its curative potential in some patients who were plagued with rheumatism. After treatment with the drug, O'Shaughnessy found that many reported an easing of their pain and a "remarkable increase of appetite", "great mental cheerfulness", and a feeling of aphrodisia.

The capacity to make these patients euphoric led him next to try to alleviate the terrible symptoms associated with rabies in one of his patients. Although the man soon died of the disease, O'Shaughnessy was intrigued to find that the drug did relieve some of the patient's agony and did enable him to swallow some juice and moistened rice. O'Shaughnessy also experimented with cannabis in the treatment of cholera, tetanus, and epilepsy, reporting that in all cases his patients experienced relief from the symptoms of these disorders.

When O'Shaughnessy returned to England in 1842, he brought back a quantity of cannabis and turned it over to pharmacist Peter Squire to convert to a form suitable for medical usage. This preparation came to be known as Squire's extract, and launched Squire and his sons into prominence as the main and most reliable suppliers of cannabis extract in England. [38]

Soon after Squire's extract became commercially available, physicians began to prescribe it for almost any physical difficulty. One of the earliest conditions for which it was administered was childbirth. Dr. John Grigor, a pioneer in the obstetrical use of cannabis, wrote that while the drug was not effective in increasing labor contractions or reducing the pain of childbirth for all women, "it is capable of bringing the labor to a happy conclusion considerably within a half of the time that would otherwise have been required, thus saving protracted suffering to the patient, and the time of the practitioner." [39]

Other conditions for which the drug was often prescribed were loss of appetite, inability to sleep, migraine headache, pain, involuntary twitching, excessive coughing, and treatment of withdrawal symptoms associated with morphine and alcohol addiction.

Menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding) was yet another condition for which cannabis was liberally administered, often with positive results. Dr. John Brown, an English obstetrician, stated that "there is no medicine which has given such good results... the failures are so few, that I venture to call it a specific in menorrhagia." [40] His colleague, Dr. Robert Batho, concurred. In his experience, cannabis had proven itself "par excellence the remedy for that condition... it is so certain in its power of controlling menorrhagia, that it is a valuable aid to diagnosis in cases which it is uncertain whether an early abortion may or not have occurred..." [41]

Among the most prominent of English doctors to administer cannabis to his patients was Dr. J. R. Reynolds, court physician to dour old Queen Victoria. [42] Unfortunately, no one knows whether the drug's euphoric properties were ever experienced by the queen while she was being treated for any of cannabis's other therapeutic effects.

While a great many doctors could not say enough about cannabis's medicinal virtues, many others were reluctant to use the drug because of the variability of its actions. To overcome this problem, chemists throughout the country attempted to identify and extract the active principle in cannabis so that it could be standardized as to purity and potency.

In the 1890s, a group of chemists at Cambridge University, Wood, Spivey, and Easterfield, succeeded in obtaining a relatively pure extraction of cannabis which they called "cannabinol". The discovery was not without mishap, however. While working on the project, Easterfield and Spivey were each blown to bits in chemical explosions. Wood, the third member of the group, almost perished under similar circumstances. While working in his laboratory, he took some cannabinol and lost consciousness. A chemical he was working with ignited some time later and the laboratory burst into flames. Luckily, someone smelled the smoke and ran to his assistance, rescuing him from the engulfing inferno. [43]

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