ARTS OF INTOXICATION
The Aim, and the Results.
Rev. Jonathan Townley Crane
Carlton & Lanahan.
THE HEMP INTOXICANT.
O that men should put an enemy into their mouths to steal away their brains!
that we should with joy, revel, pleasure, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts.
HEMP has long been known as a powerful intoxicant. Herodotus, twenty-three
centuries ago, wrote that the ancient Scythians were addicted to the inhalation of the
vapor of the burning plant. It seems from this that the practice of smoking the leaves is
not a modern invention. Some writers conjecture that the nepenthe which Helen
prepared for her guests was an infusion of this narcotic.
Hemp has been employed for centuries by the Turks as a luxury, and a procurer of
abnormal mental states. It is said that during the Crusades the Saracens were accustomed
to drug themselves to intoxication with it, and then with reckless fury make an attack
upon the Christian army. The Turkish name of the preparation of hemp being hasheesh,
and those addicted to the use of it being called hashasheen, it is supposed that
the English word assassin originated in the time of these wars, and in the
murderous deeds which the baleful drug instigated.
In some parts of South America, and also in Africa, as well as Asia, hemp is used in
various forms and in large quantities. The plant possesses in all climates more or less of
the narcotic property; but when grwon under the burning sun of India it becomes peculiarly
powerful. When the plant is in full growth a gum, charged with the poison, exudes from the
tender stems and half-grown leaves. Sometimes the leaves and newly formed shoots are cut
off and dried for use. Another mode is to boil the entire plant in alcohol, and thus
extract its juices. The drug comes to market in various forms -- a greenish paste, a dry
powder, or simply as dried leaves. The leaves and flowers, smoked like tobacco, are highly
intoxicating. Dr. Livingstone, the missionary traveler in Africa, thus describes the
custom and its effects:
"The Batoka of these parts are very degraded in their appearance, and are not
likely to improve, either physically or mentally, while so much addicted to smoking the mutokwane.
This pernicious weed is extensively used in all the tribes of the interior. It causes a
species of frenzy; and Sebituane's soldiers, on coming in sight of their enemies, sat down
and smoked it, in order that they might make an effective onslaught. I was unable to
prevail on the young Makololo to forego its use, although they cannot point to an old man
in the tribe who has been addicted to this indulgence. Never having tried it, I cannot
describe the pleasurable effects it is said to produce. Some view every thing as if
looking through the wide end of a telescope; and others, in passing over a straw, lift up
their feet as if about to cross the trunk of a tree. The Portuguese in Angola have such a
belief in its deleterious effects that the use of it by a slave is considered a
The Malays make a highly intoxicating drink by infusing the leaves, as do also the
Hindoos. Like other intoxicants, it is joy, bliss, at the beginning, but ends in
enslavement and ruin. The effects of a dose of the poison are very peculiar. Dr.
O'Shaughnessey, a physician in the employ of the British Government in India, tried some
experiments with it. For instance, he gave a rheumatic patient a grain of the resin at two
o'clock in the afternoon. At four o'clock he was exhilarated in the highest degree. He
talked incessantly, sang, and declared himself perfectly cured. At six o'clock he was
asleep. At eight o'clock he was insensible, with the whole nervous and muscular system in
such a state that, when the attendant lifted his arms and placed them in any given
position they remained in the same posture, apparently without effort or weariness on the
part of the patient. Brutes dosed with it are affected in the same singular way.
We are not confined, however, to the observations of mere spectators. Several travelers
have tried the drug in their own persons, and have recorded their varied experiences. M.
de Saulcy, while in Palestine, was curious enough to take a dose of what he afterward
termed "the abominable poison which the dregs of the population alone drink and smoke
in the East," and thus describes the result:
"We fancied that we were going to have an evening of enjoyment, but we nearly died
through our imprudence. As I had taken a larger dose of this pernicious drug than my
companions, I remained almost insensible for more than twenty-four hours; after which I
found myself completely broken down with nervous spasms and incoherent dreams, which
seemed to have endured a hundred years at least!"
Another physician, M. Moreau, tried the experiment with a different result, finding
great enjoyment therein: "It is really happiness which is produced by the
hasheesh; and by this I mean an enjoyment entirely morale, and by no means sensual,
as might be supposed. The hasheesh eater is happy like him who hears tidings which fill
him with joy; or like the miser counting his treasures, the gambler who is successful at
play, or the ambitious man who is intoxicated with success."
It must be remembered that the French word morale has no connection with what we
term morals. The author just quoted is to be understood as saying that the enjoyment
derived from a dose of hemp seems to be mental, and not physical. I call attention
to the declaration, because in this feature of the effect hemp is but a type of the whole
list of intoxicants. The cause is purely physical, and yet the impression, so far as it
reveals itself to the victim, is wholly mental.
Another curious effect of the hemp poison is worthy of note. At a certain stage of the
inebriation every thing toward which the eyes are directed seems to be enlarged to
colossal dimensions. To the intoxicated negro, a twig looked like the trunk of a tree.
Others tell us that the floor of an ordinary room appeared to spread out into a broad
plain, so vast that it would require hours of travel to reach the other side. Duration
also seemed to be extended in the same way, so that seconds appeared like hours, and hours
An American traveler, Bayard Taylor, when in Damascus, must needs be "silly
enough," as De Saulcy expresses it, to experiment with hemp. He thus narrates the
result. Through misinformation he took twice the usual dose, and yet for a time felt
nothing, and began to conclude that the quantity taken was too small. But suddently a
strange thrill shot through him, and then another and another in quick succession. Then he
seemed suddenly to grow to gigantic size. His whole being was filled with unutterable
rapture; a bliss so deep, full, exquisite, that the very possibility of such happiness was
a wondrous revelation. Visions rose before him. Now he was climbing the great Pyramid of
Cheops. Now he sailed, in boat of pearl, over a desert whose sands were grains of shining
gold, while the sky was filled with rainbows innumerable, the air was thick with delicious
perfumes, and music, soft and entrancing, floated around him.
Suddenly the vision changed, and he fancied that he was a mass of transparent jelly,
which the confectioner was trying to pour into a twisted mold. At this ludicrous idea he
laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks; and lo, each tear became a loaf of bread
rolling down upon the floor.
Then came a sudden change of the sensations. He felt as if on fire with fierce internal
heat. His mouth seemed as hard and dry as brass, and his tongue felt like a bar of rusty
iron. He seized a pitcher and drank long and deep, but was not able to taste the water nor
feel its coolness. His sufferings grew more and more intense. In agony indescribable he
stood in the middle of the room, brandishing his arms convulsively, heaving sighs that
seemed to "shatter his whole being," and crying loudly for help.
Then he fancied that his throat was filling up with blood, which rose till crimson
streams poured from his ears. Maddened by his agonies, he rushed out upon the roof of the
house, and, as he did so, raised his hand to his head, and imagined that all the flesh had
dropped off and left nothing but a hideous grinning skull. Turning back to the room, he
sank down in measureless distress and despair. Reaction had come.
In all this Mr. Taylor dimly remembered who he was, and what he had been doing. But now
a new horror was added. The fear came upon him that the poison had made him permanently
insane, and that from the torments into which he had plunged there was no escape. At last
he fell into a stupor in which he remained thirty hours; and when he began to awake it was
with a system utterly prostrate and unstrung, his brain still clouded with visions, and
all around him dim and shadowy. And thus he remained for days, scarcely noticing things
about him, scarcely able to distinguish the real from the imaginary. Thus ended an
experiment which came near costing life. It illustrates in an exaggerated from the whole
process of inebriation, the dreamy, senseless pleasures of the first effect, and the
horror, the wretchedness, which so soon buries in darkness and woe the memory of the
previous fleeting enjoyment.
A few years ago a student of Union College, New York, became addicted to the poison,
and, after his escape from the enemy, recorded his experience in a volume entitled
"The Hasheesh Eater." He corroborates all that has been quoted from Mr. Taylor
and Dr. Livingstone. The hemp intoxicant is a hateful poison. He who trifles with it
sports on the brink of a gulf tossing with lurid fires and haunted with all shapes of
Yet even the hemp intoxicant has apologists and defenders. Its victims indulge in it
for a time with apparent impunity. They claim that it does them good, and that no evil
follows, except in cases of excess. If rebuked for their degrading habit they offer
specious arguments, like the victims of alcohol, and, in fact, make about as good a show
I will here add that the manufacturers of patent medicines here at home
are using this abominable intoxicant in the preparation of their wares. This is no random
assertion. Let the reader govern himself accordingly.