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The American Scholar Vol.8. No.1 - Winter 1938-1939 - Pub. By the PHI BETA KAPPA society



MARIHUANA which because of its increasingly popular use in this country has received so much attention of late in our newspapers and magazine articles, is not a new drug. It has been known and extensively used for 3000 years in the Far East. For marihuana is no other than hashish, a narcotic derived from the leaves, flowers and resin of the hemp plant which is grown for its fiber and its seed. Originally indigenous to Central Asia, hemp has been distributed far over the world, in temperate as well as in warm regions. It has long been found growing as an introduced weed in waste places in the United States and has recently been cultivated here illegally for the drug, marihuana. The word hashish we associate either with life in the Far East or with a relatively restricted class of drug addicts in our own country. It inspires feelings of horror and repugnance which the new word marihuana, used in connection with more familiar surroundings, fails as yet to arouse. By whatever name it may be called, however, the hemp drug well deserves to be feared and dreaded. In an effort to acquaint people with the dangers involved in smoking marihuana an energetic drive, led by our Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations, is on.

In Far Eastern countries the active drug principles of the hemp plant are used in various ways. Most commonly the dried flowers of the plant (ganja) or the resin (charas) are mixed with tobacco and smoked, and the dried leaves (bhang) are soaked in water and the infusion taken as a beverage. Sometimes one of these preparations is mixed with sugar to form a confection, the Gaiety Pills of the Sanskrit writings. In the United States the leaves, flowers and resin of the hemp are usually dried mixed with tobacco and made into cigarettes.

Why marihuana-smoking should have become so suddenly fashionable in the United States is a riddle not easy to answer. Only since 1930 have our officers of law and order considered marihuana-smoking a serious problem, and satisfactory statistics as to its use here have been and are difficult to secure. All workers in the field of narcotics, whether concerned with the psychological, spiritual, physical, legal or sociological side of addiction, emphasize the difficulty of estimating the extent of a practice necessarily secretive in nature. The estimates vary enormously, giving rise to widely contradictory reports. Some claim that as much as 25 per cent of the population in some of our southern cities are habitual users. Large seizures of the drug in one form or another have been made in all sections of the United States. In spite of inadequate laws for the control of marihuana a single state destroyed 100 tons of it in 1936. Hemp has been discovered concealed between rows of corn in the prison yards of San Quentin and Colorado State, in window-boxes of New York penthouses and in city lots in the Bronx. Undoubtedly marihuana-smoking is widespread. Some say the habit was brought to New York and other large cities by "popular" musicians, who had found in Mexico the cigarette capable of so distorting the sense of time that the rapid and difficult technique of "hot" music could be managed without consciousness of speed or super-agility. Perhaps the recent business depression played some part in determining the moment for the spread of marihuana. It may be that traffic in other narcotic drugs had become so restricted by 1930 as to create an increasing demand for the cheaper and less-feared marihuana. Whatever the cause of the apparent sudden increase in this drug habit, the use of marihuana is growing with such rapidity that within a mere decade it has become a real menace, serious particularly because of its attraction for young people, who turn to it as an aid to the breakdown of conventional restraint and for artificial thrills and "kicks." People of greater maturity feel less need of continual excitement and confirmed addicts of other drugs are seldom satisfied by marihuana, but young people are susceptible victims.

The obvious and immediate effects produced by the hemp narcotic are release of inhibitions, weakening of will, increased amenableness to suggestion and exaggerated sense of well-being and gaiety. Depending on the dosage and on the mental and emotional nature of the individual concerned, subsequent effects may be apparently harmless or markedly deleterious. All the senses are affected; colors become more vivid, sounds are intensified, time seems long and space limitless. Because the drug dulls the nerves it gives general relief from pain. In many instances the preliminary stimulation soon gives way to apprehension and to a terror and feeling of persecution which not infrequently lead to violence and crime, sexual aberrations or even suicide. When sleep comes it may be peaceful or it may be disturbed by dreams varying from those of great subjective pleasure to others of extreme horror. Awakening is not generally accompanied by unpleasant after-effects. Individuals vary greatly in their reaction to this drug; seemingly there is no way of predicting how any particular person will be affected. Repeated use of it has led to mental weakness, dullness and an insanity either of a violent sort in which the victim is pursued by terrible sense-illusions, with insomnia and acute mania, or of an imbecile-lethargic kind, resulting in incurable dementia. Physically, addiction to marihuana-smoking is likely to cause bronchitis, dysentery, increased susceptibility to lung diseases, an insecure gait and emaciation. Destructive changes in the brain are sometimes evident. Children of addicts are said to be inferior; in some parts of India, where hashish has long been used to excess, whole communities are imbecilic and morally degraded. A secondary and more serious evil is directly traceable to marihuana: this drug seldom continues to satisfy and often leads to the use of other and more dangerous narcotics. The manner in which hashish acts on the body is as much of a mystery as the action of other drugs. Many theories have been suggested but none fully explains the phenomenon of narcosis.

The present educational campaign against the popular smoking of marihuana might be less difficult to wage if the case against hashish were as strong as that against morphine, heroin, laudanum, cocaine and other drugs that have been legally restricted in this country much longer than marihuana. Dangerous as is the hemp drug it is not so insidious as the opium POPPY. There is, for example, disagreement as to whether marihuana is habit-forming in the physiological sense. A person accustomed to using it regularly may be suddenly deprived of it without experiencing depression, exhaustion, physical pain or death, which sometimes follow withdrawal of morphine or heroin. Physically the marihuana habit may be broken by simple abstinence, although psychologically the craving for the drug may become so overpowering that the victim will resort to criminal action to secure the stuff. But this habit does not grow with the rapidity of the opium habit; tolerance, requiring constantly increasing doses, is not so quickly acquired. As has already been noted, sleep produced by marihuana leaves no hangover with the return of consciousness. Again, the onset of physical degeneration caused by continued smoking of hemp appears to be long delayed. Several years may pass before deterioration becomes obvious. One hashish addict, admittedly an unusual case, lived for 20 years in spite of excessive use of the drug. Eventually, however, he died insane. Finally, though symptoms may be alarming, no case of death from an overdose of hashish appears to have been recorded.

Although scientific study of the pharmacology of the hemp drug dates only from the middle. of the 19th century it is not infrequently mentioned in ancient writings as affording solace in distress, arousing religious hallucinations inciting to violence or leading to excessive gaiety. The hemp plant existed in Syria at least 700 years before the beginning of the Christian era and much earlier than that in Persia and India. The Vedas and the Mahabharata frequently mention hemp and bhanga,[1] the drink made from it. The Greeks had a word for it, [KaivaflLrw], to smoke with hemp. Some have suggested that Homer' s nepenthe was hashish.

[1] It is interesting to note that the Sanskrii word llbhangall primarily meant frustration, humiliation, downfall, ruin, paralysis.

Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel. Straightway she cast into the wine of which they were drinking a drug [nepenthe] to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill. Whoso should drink this down when it is mingled in the bowl would not in the course of that day let a tear fall down over his cheeks, no, not though his mother and father should lie there dead, or though before his face men should slay with the sword his brother or dear, son, and his eyes beheld it.' [2]

Heroclotus wrote of vapor-baths formed by throwing hemp-seed on hot stones: "the Scythians, transported by the vapor, shout aloud." Mohammedans have long employed hashish as an intoxicant, since wine is forbidden them, and the drug is reported to have been in regular use in the religious ritual of some Mohammedan sects. Our word assassin is believed to be derive from the Arabian word, hashshash, "one who has drunk of hashish."

In modern times accounts of hemp intoxication by Baude-laire, Balzac, Gautier and Ludlow, the "minor De Quincy," were supplemented by the more scientific reports of Dr. J. Moreau of Tours who deliberately took hashish for the purpose of studying its effects. The Hemp Drugs Commission of India investigating consequences of this drug in a country where it use is closely interwoven with religious and social customs, reported (I893) that moral depravity was produced and intensified and physical and mental injury was brought on by the immoderate use of hashish.

With the recently increasing use of marihuana in the United States opportunities for study have become frequent, at least among the criminal class of users, but reports are still contradictory. Many authorities believe that drug addicts constitute the major class of our criminals, that they are the most violent and most frequent offenders and that the smoking of marihuana actually produces crime especially sex attacks and murders. In I934, out of a group Of 450 prisoners in New Orleans, 12 were marihuana addicts. Nearly one-half of the murders committed in that city were ascribed to them. Other investigators

[2] The Odyssey, Book 4. Translated by Murray, A. T.

are convinced, however, that marihuana exerts no such direct action but that its effect is due to the release of inhibitions, and that where crime results the tendency to it was present beforehand.

The legal control of marihuana is more difficult than that of most drugs. In the first place- the hemp plant may occur as a weed almost anywhere in our country and may easily be secretly cultivated in almost any soil. Its eradication is retarded by the general failure to recognize the plant.[3] In the second place the hemp plant has so many legitimate commercial uses (as sources of fiber, birdseed, oil, etc.) and it grows so readily as a weed that it cannot be absolutely prohibited by law. All permissible uses must of course be protected by legislation directed against the marihuana drug. The Harrison Narcotic Act of the United States Congress, passed in 1914, prohibited the importation of opium poppy and coca leaf, except for medical purposes, but it did not outlaw hemp in any form. Arrests for the misuse of marihuana could therefore he made only when provisions of the Pure Food and Drugs Act had been violated---that is, when adulterated or misbranded goods were offered for shipment between states. Although many states had enacted legislation directed against marihuana their laws were not uniform and were on the whole totally inadequate. The need for federal legislation concerning the newly---popular drug became increasingly apparent and at length the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in the summer of 1937.

Under the terms of this act the word marihuana is defined to cover every part of the hemp plant, whether growing or not,

[3]-The hemp plant, cannabis sativa, is a rough branching annual which at flowering time may be from 3 to 16 feet in height. The thick stems and nearly erect branches are not easily broken, for their inner bark, from which the hemp fiber of commerce is obtained, is tough and stringy. The plant is most readily recognized by its leaves, each has a distinct stem or petiole which bears at its tip, arranged digitally, 5 or 7 narrow, thin and flexible leaf segments, each with a conspicuous midrib; they are sharply pointed at both ends and their margins are saw-toothed or serrate. Hemp is dioecious: staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers are not borne together on the same plant. Both flowers are small, green, insignificant in appearance and have a characteristic odor. The staminate flowers are loosely arranged in panicles between 3 and 5 inches long whereas the pistillate flowers grow in erect spikes less than an inch long when mature. The seeds are ovoid, with hard and brittle coats.

capable of yielding the poisonous drug. It does not cover the harmless stalk used for fiber, the oil from the seed, and the seedcake. It requires that seed to be used for birds must be subjected to heat treatment to render them incapable of growth. Since it is only through taxation that our federal government has power to act, the law stipulates that "with the exception of federal, state and municipal officials, every person who imports, manufactures, produces, compounds, sells, deals in, dispenses, prescribes, administers or gives away cannabis or any preparation or derivative thereof covered by the act must register annually in the office of the collector of internal revenue and pay the prescribed tax." These records must be at all times open to state and federal officials and, on written request, to any person. The control of illicit traffic will be greatly facilitated by thus making public all dealings in marihuana. Already many arrests have been made under this law; but too often the penalties, in cases of conviction, have fallen far short of the stated maximum of five years imprisonment or a fine of $5000 or both.

Our government stands in a peculiar position in regard to the marihuana question. The elimination of addiction to other drugs depends largely on rigid law---enforcement and the detection of smuggling at our national boundaries. In hemp the United States has for the first time a drug plant growing at random throughout the countryside---a drug plant that is also cultivated (some 10,000 acres of it) for a commercial purpose, its fiber. Experiments are now in progress to breed out the poisonous narcotic principle from the hemp plant; but even if these are successful the process of achieving any reduction in the supply of marihuana must necessarily be slow. Only the full and intelligent cooperation of the people of the country can cope with the marihuana problem now confronting us.

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