This text is from a longer article about global drug use that was first printed 130 years ago. Since I have been working on DC’s medical cannabis legislation, I have found it very interesting to research the historical uses of cannabis and to see how it was written about before the “reefer madness” of the 1930’s. What I found most interesting is that today’s marijuana was then called “Indian hemp.” I have added a few notes in [brackets] as well as hyperlinks.
The Strange Narcotics Used in Asia and South America
The New York Sun, February 8, 1880
One of the earliest attempts to expand the popular acquaintances with the practical lessons of chemical science was made in Jonhsons’s Chemistry of Common Life, first published twenty-five years ago [in 1855]. The progress of inquiry since that epoch has rendered a new edition of the book desirable, and the work of revision and addition has been carefully performed by Mr. A. H. Church in the volume now issued by the Appletons. Mr. Church is himself favorably known as the author of several lucid and trustworthy handbooks on topics relating to the applications of chemistry, and in the portions here contributed by himself he has striven, not unsuccessfully, to emulate the cogency of method and simplicity of style which distinguished the original treatise. His additions comprise some valuable matter which had been gleaned by Prof. Johnston and inserted in that writer’s private copy of the first edition. Altogether, the book, in its present form, deserves to maintain its old preeminence as a readable exposition of the main uses of chemistry in the daily life of man. Of peculiar interest will be found the chapters which discuss the effect of the various narcotics, including opium, tobacco, Indian hemp, the betel nut, the coca leaf, the red thornapple, and the Siberian fungus. Some of the data relating to the least familiar of these narcotising agents deserve particular attention.
Few persons appreciate to what extent certain races are addicted to forms of narcotic indulgence with which Anglo-Saxons are almost wholly unacquainted. According to the work before us, the use of Indian hemp obtains among upwards of 200,000,000 of human beings, dispersed over a large part of the earth, viz. in Persia, India, and Turkey, throughout the whole continent of Africa, from Morocco to the Cape of Good Hope, and even in Brazil. One hundred millions of men in China, Hindostan, and the Eastern Archipelago consume, for the same narcotic purpose, the betel nut and betel pepper. Again, the chewing of coca is more or less practised among some 10,000,000 of the human race.
As regards the first named of these agents, Indian hemp, it seems at first sight curious that the narcotic properties of hemp should never have obtained popular recognition in southern Europe, when we consider that our common plant [Cannabis sativa], so extensively cultivated for its fibre, differs in no essential feature from the Indian variety [Cannabis indica] which, from the remotest times, has been celebrated in the East for its care-dispelling virtues.
In northern climates, however, the peculiar resinous substance residing in the sap is so small that it would naturally escape observation. Yet even in such latitudes the growing plant emits a peculiar smell, which sometimes occasions headache and giddiness in those who remain long in the field.
In parts of India resinous exudation is so abundant that it may be gathered by the hand in the same way as opium. The resin obtained this way is the most highly prized, and is known as the chorrus. It appears that that even the tops and tender parts of the plant, when dried, are powerful narcotic agents, but the seeds, it said, are not used for this purpose.
The preparation known as hashish in Syria is made by boiling the leaves and flowers of the hemp with water, to which a certain quantity of butter has been added, and evaporating and straining the decoction. The butter thus becomes charged with the active resinous principle of the plant, and acquires a greenish color. It is apt to have rancid taste, and hence is commonly mixed with sweetmeats and aromatics, so as to form a sort of electuary. One of these confections used among the Moors is called el mogen(?), and is sold at an enormous price; another is well known at Constantinople under the name of madjoun, and is reputed to possess aphrodisiac powers.
The dried plant is also smoked, and sometimes chewed, five or ten grains reduced to powder being mixed with tobacco in a pipe or narghile. The pure resin and resinous extract are generally swallowed in the form of pills or boluses.
In one or other of these forms the hemp plant appears to have been used from very early times. Herodotus, for instance, tells us that ancient Scythians excited themselves by inhaling its vapor. The potion which Homer makes Helen administer to Telemachus was prepared from a plant said to have been procured from Thebes in Egypt, where, there is reason to believe, a knowledge of the qualities of hemp existed as early as the eighteenth dynasty (1700 B.C.).
There is no doubt that hemp is often mentioned under the name of beng in the “Arabian Nights;” we may add that the derivation of the English word assassin from the hasisheens, or the hemp-eating followers of the Old Man of the Mountain, seems to be generally acknowledged.
The effects of the churrus, or natual resinous exudation, have been carefully studied in India by competent physicians. We are told that when taken in moderation, it produces increase of appetite and great mental cheerfulness, while, in excess, it causes a extraordinary kind of delirium and catalepsy. In the latter case, limbs of the patient can be placed in every imaginable attitude, and they will remain perfectly stationary in violation of the laws of gravity, the brain, meanwhile, being almost insensible to impressions from without.
It has been proved also by experiment that the hemp extract exercises the same extraordinary influence upon other animals as as well as upon man, and it is believed that the wonderful feats of the Indian Fakirs and snake charmers of India should, in many cases, be explained by their employment of this agent. It appears that after the cataleptic trance has passed, the patient is left entirely uninjured.
In general, indeed, the effects of hemp upon the human system are pronounced less deleterious than those of opium. Hemp does not lessen, but rather excites appetite. Moreover, it does not occasion nausea, constipation, dryness of the tongue, or the lessening of any of the secretions, and is not usually followed by that melancholy state of mental depression to which the opium eater is subject. It appears, however, that a long and gradual training to its use is requisite before its agreeable effects can be fully experienced; it is affirmed, also, that the remarkable cataleptic state above described has never been produced in a European.
Click here to continue reading the article on Chronicling America.