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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
No. XCV. -- APRIL, 1858. -- Vol. XVI.
HASHEESH AND HASHEESH EATERS*
THE statistics and phenomena of narcotics deserve more attention, as an element of general knowledge, than they have heretofore received. "No nation so ancient," says Johnson, in his Chemistry of Common Life "but has had its narcotic soother from the most ancient times; none so remote or isolated but has found within its own borders a pain-allayer or narcotic pain-dispeller. . . . . No crops except corn (wheat and maize), and perhaps cotton, represent more commercial capital, or are the subjects of a more extended and unfailing traffic, or the source of more commercial wealth."
Of the minor narcotics Siberia has its narcotic fungus; the Polynesian Islands their ava; New Granada and the Himalayas their thornapple; the Florida Indians their emetic holly, and Northern Europe and North America their ledum and sweetgale. The five great narcotics, which are articles of national consumption in different parts of the world, are tobacco, opium, hemp (hasheesh), betel, and coca. Of these, tobacco alone is universal. Opium is consumed by four hundred millions of men; hemp by between two and three hundred millions; betel by one hundred millions; and coca by ten millions.
Aside from the general effects which are common to all these substances, each works some peculiar result differing from the rest. The Siberian fungus produces insensibility to pain, without interfering with consciousness. Cocculus Indicus makes the body drunk without affecting the mind. The Himalyan and New Granadian thorn-apple causes spectral illusions, enabling the Indian to hold converse with the spirits of his ancestors. The common puff-ball stops all muscular action, but leaves the perceptive powers active. Coca chewed by the couriers of Peru, has the wonderful power of sustaining muscular strength in the absence of food, and of preventing the wasting of the tissues of the body during the greatest and most prolonged fatigues. Betel is an antidote to opium, as tea is to alcohol. Tobacco suspends mental activity, while opium and hasheesh increase it a thousand-fold. The strange illusions produced by opium, and the peculiar effects of that drug upon the system, have been placed on record for us by the most brilliant of modern essayists and metaphysicians, whose accounts of the "happiness that may be purchased for a penny and carried in the waistcoat pocket; the portable ecstasies which may be had corked up in a pint bottle; and the peace of mind that can be sent down in gallons by the mail-coach," are familiar to all who read. Hasheesh has many points in common with opium; but the two drugs are opposite in this, that while opium tends to obliterate all sensitiveness to external impressions, hasheesh increases this to an almost unlimited and most surprising extent. In fact, hasheesh produces real catalepsy, and exaggerates rather than perverts the reports of the senses as to external objects.
The substance known to us as hasheesh exudes from the pores of the hemp plant of India, and is gathered in the form of a resin. The narcotic principle is but imperfectly developed in the hemp of northern climes; yet the odor of a hemp-field, and the giddiness and headache which frequently attack persons remaining long in it, prove sufficiently that it is only in degree that the sap of the northern plant is modified. In India, Persia, and Egypt the resin exudes from all parts of the herb in sufficient quantities to be gathered by the hand. In Central India men with leather aprons rush through the thickly-planted field, and the exuded gum sticks to them. In portions of the country they even go naked through the fields, receiving the precious gum upon their bodies. The churrus of Herat, which is one of the most powerful species of the narcotic, is obtained by pressing the plant in cloths. The gunjah of Calcutta is the plant gathered when in flower, dried, and put up in bundles. Bhang -- under the maddening influence of which the Delhi rebels are said to have committed such atrocities -- consists of the larger leaves and seed-pods. The hasheesh for smoking is made from the tops and tender shoots, and the pistils of the flowers. Gunjah, boiled in butter, yields an extract also called hasheesh. Boiled in alcohol, the gunjah yields at least one fifth its volume in pure resin. It should be mentioned that, in the East, hasheesh, besides being smoked, is made up into sweetmeats, which, containing but small portions of the gum, are mild in effect, and in very general use.
Although so little is known of hasheesh in this country that the name is scarce familiar to the general reader, it appears that the drug, in one form or other, has been known to Eastern nations from very early times. Herodotus, in his account of the manners and customs of the Scythians, makes unmistakable mention of its use: "They take the seeds of this hemp, and placing it beneath woolen fleeces, they throw upon it red-hot stones, when immediately a perfumed vapor ascends, stronger than from any Grecian stove. This to the Scythians is in the place of a bath; and it excites from them cries of exultation." It seems always to have been known to the Egyptians. Pliny mentions it as adverse to the virile power. In the Arabian Nights, it goes under the name of beng -- the modern bhang. By the Arabs its powers seem to have been accidentally rediscovered so late as the year 668 of the Hegira. Sheik Haïder, a hermit and recluse, who held no communication with mankind, but walked the fields in self-imposed solitude, returning one day from a ramble, surprised his neighbors by an unusual air of joyful serenity, and unwonted communicativeness. Being asked the cause of this change, he replied: "Walking abroad, I noticed that every plant was in a state of perfect calm, without experiencing the least agitation, by reason of the extreme heat, and the absence of the slightest breath of wind. But passing by a certain plant, I observed that it waved gracefully with a gentle swaying, as if inebriated by the fumes of iodine. I began plucking the leaves of this plant and eating them, and they have produced in me the gayety you have noticed." Accordingly the Arabic poets call the hasheesh draught the cup of Haïder, and in singing its praises extol also the virtues of its discoverer.
The Arabic physicians, however, seem early to have awakened to its injurious effects upon mankind. "The truth is," says one, "that there is nothing more injurious to the human constitution than this herb." "I have had ample experience," says Alaeddin, son of Nefis, "and I have seen that the use of this drug produces low inclinations, and debases the soul. The faculties of those who take it are degraded more and more, so that at last, so to say, they have none of the attributes of humanity left." Makrizi, an Arabic historian, states that at one time a law was made against eating hasheesh, the penalty being the extraction of the hasheesh eater's teeth. "But at last," says the historian, "in the year 815, this cursed drug began to be publicly used, and the most refined persons were not ashamed to make presents of it to one another. The consequence was that vileness of sentiment and manners became general; shame and modesty vanished from among men; they learned to boast of their vices; and nothing of manhood remained but the form." A description which applies with singular accuracy to the present condition of the people of Hindostan, the country which is, so to speak, the home of hasheesh; and where, if we may believe the reports of intelligent travelers and residents, the drug is in almost universal use. Dr. Honiberger, thirty-five years physician at the court of Lahore, states that the great fondness of the people of that city for a drink prepared from hasheesh induced the king to appropriate a certain sum annually to its preparation and gratuitous distribution to the inhabitants of the city and vicinage. Dépôts were established for its regular distribution, called seid-gunjah, and one of these, near the Delhi gate of Lahore, being near the Doctor's hospital, he was enabled to ascertain the various effects produced by the inebriating fluid upon the crowds of wahungs, or common people, who daily flocked thither for their portion. He found that inebriation began in about half an hour after imbibition of the fluid, and lasted from three to four hours, producing, meantime, an agreeable exhilaration of the spirits, but leaving on its subsidence none of those depressing effects which result from the use of other intoxicating fluids. In fact, the juice of the hemp-plant administered in this way seems to operate very mildly, and to be comparatively harmless.
Recent researches go far to establish the veracity of Marco Polo's account of the famous and terrible sect of the Assassins, and explain even the origin of that name, which has come to be in our own language the titular designation of one who commits a cowardly murder. It was through the potent inhuence of hasheesh that their chief, "the Old Man of the Mountain," exercised the influence over his followers recounted by Henry, Count of Champagne, who visited him in his mountain fastness.
Taking the Count to the top of a high tower where were stationed guards in white robes, "I doubt," said he, "whether you have any subjects so obedient as mine;" and making a sign to two of the sentinels, they precipitated themselves from the height and were dashed to pieces.
Summoned, at another time, by an envoy from a powerful enemy to submit himself, the Sheik called a soldier and ordered him to kill himself, which the man, unquestioning, did.
"Tell your master," said the old man to the wondering envoy, "that I have sixty thousand men who will do the same."
Hasheesh was the influence employed to procure such unhesitating obedience. Hasheeshins, that is to say, the eaters of hasheesh, were the disciples of the unscrupulous monster who caused so many deaths; and from hasheeshin undoubtedly came our word assassin.
Of the mode of administering the drug the old Venetian gives the following account:
"You shall hear all about the Old Man of the Mountain, as I, Marco Polo, heard related by many persons. He was called in their language Alaodin; and had caused to be formed in a valley between two mountains the largest and most beautiful garden that ever was seen. There grew all the finest fruits in the world; and it was adorned with the most beautiful houses and palaces, the interior being richly gilded, and furnished with finely-colored pictures of birds and beasts, and the most striking objects. It contained several conduits, through which flowed water, wine, honey, and milk. Here were ladies and damsels, unequaled in beauty and the skill with which they sang and played on instruments of every description. Now the Old Man made his people believe that this garden was Paradise; and he formed it there because Mohammed had given the Saracens to believe that those who went into that place would meet great numbers of beautiful women, and find rivers of water, wine, milk, and honey; hence the visitors were led to think that this was really Paradise. Into this garden he admitted no man, except those whom he wished to make Assassins. The entry to the spot was commanded by a castle so strong that he did not fear any power in the world. He kept in his court all the youths of the country between twelve and twenty years of age; and when he thought proper, selected a number who had been well instructed in the description of Paradise. He gave them a beverage which threw them into a deep sleep, then carried them into the garden and made them be awakened. When any one of them opened his eyes, saw this delightful spot, and heard the delicious music and songs, he really believed himself in the state of blessedness. When again, however, he was asleep, he was brought out into the castle; when he awoke in great wonder, and felt deep regret at having left that delightful abode. He then went humbly to the Old Man, worshiping him as a prophet. . . . The chief then named to him a great lord whom he wished him to kill. The youth cheerfully obeyed; and if in the act he was taken and put to death, he suffered with exultation, believing that he was to go into the happy place. . . . Thus," quaintly adds the old traveler, "scarcely any one could escape being slain when the Old Man of the Mountain desired it."
Not very unlike this account of the Eastern hasheeshins is Lord Macartney's description of the Javanese opium-eaters:
"They acquire an artificial courage; and when suffering from misfortune and disappointment, they not only stab the objects of their hate, but sally forth to attack in like manner every person they meet, till self-preservation renders it necessary to destroy them." The term "running a-muck" is said to be derived from the cry, "Amok, amok!" meaning "Kill, kill," with which they accompany their fantastic crusade. On one occasion a Javanese was "running a-muck" in Batavia, and "had killed several people, when he was met by a soldier, who ran him through with his pike. But such was the desperation of the infuriated man, that he pressed himself forward on the pike, until he got near enough to stab his adversary with a dagger, when both expired together."
Inquiring into the phenomena of hasheesh, we have the evidence of divers intelligent experimenters to bear witness to the exactness of the delineations of the latest hasheesh eater, the title of whose volume we have prefixed to this paper. As before said, hasheesh exaggerates rather than perverts the reports of the senses as to outward objects; a peculiarity which Marco Polo's Old Man of the Mountain seems to have availed himself of. The chief peculiarity of the hasheesh vision is its immense exaggeration of time and space. Moments appear to be thousands of years. Narrowly circumscribed views seem to run out into vistas embracing not only this earth but the entire vastness of the universe. Standing in a doctor's office, awaiting the approach of a servant with water, the Pythagorean loses his self-consciousness in a vision: "I stood," says he, "in a remote chamber at the top of a colossal building, and the whole fabric beneath me was steadily growing into the air. higher than the topmost pinnacle of Bel's Babylonish temple -- higher than Ararat -- on, on forever into the lonely dome of God's infinite universe we towered ceaselessly. The years flew on; I heard the musical rush of their wings in the abyss outside of me, and from cycle to cycle, from life to life I careered, a mote in eternity and space. Suddenly emerging from the orbit of my transmigrations, I was again at the foot of the doctor's bed, and thrilled with wonder to find that we were both unchanged by the measureless lapse of time. The servant had not come.
"'Shall I call her again?' I asked. 'Why, you have this moment called her.' 'Doctor,' I replied, solemnly, and in language that would have seemed bombastic enough to any one who did not realize what I felt, 'I will not believe you are deceiving me, but to me it appears as if sufficient time has elapsed since then for all the pyramids to have crumbled back to dust.'" M. Moreau found every thing appearing to his eyes "as it does on looking through the wrong end of a telescope." Bayard Taylor says: "The fullness of my rapture expanded the sense of time; and though the whole vision was probably not more than five minutes in passing, years seemed to have elapsed." A French gentleman, an habitual swallower of the narcotic, states that one evening, in traversing the passage of the opera under its influence, "the time occupied in taking a few steps seemed to be hours, and the passage interminable." The idea of vastness is eloquently expressed by our Pythagorean. Desiring to pass down stairs into the street, he says: "I looked down the stairs: the depth was fathomless; it was a journey of years to reach the bottom! The dim light of the sky shone through the narrow panes at the sides of the front door, and seemed a demon-lamp in the middle darkness of the abyss. I never could get down! I sat me down despairingly upon the topmost step.
"Suddenly a sublime thought possessed me. If the distance be infinite, I am immortal. It shall be tried. I commenced the descent, wearily, wearily down through my league-long, year-long journey. To record my impression in that journey would be to repeat what I have said of the time of hasheesh. Now stopping to rest as a traveler would turn aside at a wayside inn, now toiling down through the lonely darkness, I came by-and-by to the end, and passed out into the street."
And yet this was but the distance of a single story!
To another curious effect M. Berthault, a French savant, bears witnesswith our American hasheesh eater.
One day he had swallowed a large dose; and while under the effect of it, the band of a regiment of dragoons suddenly began to play beneath his windows. Never, he tells us, had he known what music was till then. His perceptive powers were so much intensified, that he became able to distinguish the part taken by each instrument in the band as well as the best leader of an orchestra could have done. He experienced, in a remarkable degree, that extraordinary materialization of ideas, which seems to be one of the most constant effects of the drug when taken in large quantities. The elements of the harmonies heard by him assumed the form of ribbons of a thousand changing colors, intertwisting, waving, and knotting themselves in a manner apparently the most capricious. "Untwisting all the chains that tie the hidden soul of harmony," says Milton; and what occurs to the poet as the best figure under which to represent his idea, with the hasheesh eater assumes reality. The experience of Theodore Gaultier, the artist, when under the effects of hasheesh, was curiously the converse of that of M. Berthault. Colors to him represented themselves as sounds, which produced very sensible vibrations and undulations of the air. M. Berthault's hallucination of the ribbons after a while changed; but only to become more material and tangible. Each note became a flower; and there were as many different kinds of flowers as notes; and these formed wreaths and garlands, in which the harmony of the colors represented that of the sounds. The flowers soon gave place to precious stones of various kinds, which rose in fountains, fell again in cascades, and streamed away in all directions. The next phase of the vision will at once suggest Coleridge's Kubla Kahn, which, the reader will remember, was written under a similar inspiration. The band began to play a waltz: with the change of the measure the vision entirely changed; M. Berthault found himself in a multitude of saloons gorgeously decorated and illuminated. All these apartments merged into one, surmounted by an enormous dome, which was built of colored crystals, and supported by a thousand columns. This dome dissolved, and beyond its vanishing walls appeared another far more glorious. This gave way to a third, more splendid still; and this again to a congeries of domes one upon the other, and each more gorgeous than any of its predecessors. At the same time there appeared the vision of an innumerable assemblage executing a frantic waltz, and rolling itself like a serpent from hall to hall.
The intensifying of sounds is another of the peculiar phenomena of the hasheesh condition. "The ticking of my watch sounded louder than that of the kitchen clock," relates an amateur. And another records that the beating of his heart resounded in his ears like the blows of a vast trip-hammer.
With a large dose the hallucinations frequently become of the most gorgeous, fantastic, or grotesque character. Our Pythagorean shall speak to this point. "I stood," says he, "in a large temple, whose walls were adorned with grotesque frescoes of every imaginable bird, beast, and monster, which, by some hidden law of life and motion, were forever changing, like the figures of the kaleidoscope. Now the walls bristled with hippogriffs; now, from wainscot to ceiling, toucans and maccataws swung and nodded from their perches amidst emerald palms; now Centaurs and Lapithæ clashed in ferocious tumult, while crater and cyathus were crushed beneath ringing hoof and heel. But my attention was quickly distracted from the frescoes by the sight of a most witchly congress, which filled all the chairs of that broad chamber. On the dais sat an old crone, whose commanding position first engaged my attention to her personal appearance, and, upon rather impolite scrutiny, I beheld that she was the product of an art held in pre-eminent favor among persons of her age and sex. She was knit of purple yarn! In faultless order the stitches ran along her face; in every pucker of her re-entrant mouth, in every wrinkle of her brow, she was a yarny counterfeit of the grandam of actual life, and by some skillful process of stuffing her nose had received its due peak and her chin its projection. The occupants of the seats below were all but reproductions of their president, and both she and they were constantly swaying from side to side, forward and back, to the music of some invisible instruments, whose tone and style were most intensely and ludicrously Ethiopian. Not a word was spoken by any of the wooly conclave; but with untiring industry they were all knitting, knitting, knitting ceaselessly, as if their lives depended on it. I looked to see the objects of their manufacture. They were knitting old women like themselves! One of the sisterhood had nearly brought her double to completion; earnestly another was engaged in rounding out an eyeball; another was fastening the gathers at the corners of a mouth; another was setting up stitches for an old woman in petto.
"With marvelous rapidity this work went on; ever and anon some completed crone sprang from the needles which had just achieved her, and, instantly vivified, took up the instruments of reproduction, and fell to work as assiduously as if she had been a member of the congress since the world began. 'Here,' I cried, 'here, at last, do I realize the meaning of endless progression!' and, though the dome echoed with my peals of laughter, I saw no motion of astonishment in the stitches of a single face; but, as for dear life, the manufacture of old women went on unobstructed by the involuntary rudeness of the stranger.
"An irresistible desire to aid in the work possessed me; I was half determined to snatch up a quartette of needles and join the sisterhood. My nose began to be ruffled with stitches, and the next moment I had been a partner in their yarny destinies but for a hand which pulled me backward through the door, and shut the congress forever from my view."
Not less grotesque was the vagary of a companion ofMr. Bayard Taylor, who -- shades of Young America! -- thought himself a locomotive, and, "for the space of two or three hours, paced to and fro in his room with measured stride, exhaling his breath in violent jets, and, when he spoke, dividing his words into syllables, each of which he brought out with a jerk, at the same time turning his hands at his sides as though they were the cranks of imaginary wheels;" and who, aiming to taste water from a pitcher, set it down again with a yell of laughter, crying out, "How can I take water into my boiler when I am letting off steam?"
And of a piece with such vagaries is this part of Mr. Taylor's own experience:
"I was a mass of transparent jelly, and a confectioner poured me into a twisted mould. I threw my chair aside, and writhed and tortured myself for some time to force my loose substance into the mould. At last, when I had so far succeeded that only one foot remained outside, it was lifted off, and another mould, of still more crooked and intricate shape, substituted. I have no doubt that the contortions through which I went to accomplish the end of my gelatinous destiny would have been extremely ludicrous to a spectator, but to me they were painful and disagreeable. The sober half of me went into fits of laughter over them. . . . . I had laughed until my eyes overflowed profusely. Every drop that fell immediately became a large loaf of bread, and tumbled upon the shop-board of a baker at Damascus. The more I laughed the faster the loaves fell, until such a pile was raised about the baker that I could hardly see the top of his head. 'The man will be suffocated,' I cried; 'but if he were to die I can not stop.'"
Such are a few of the pleasures of hasheesh. But let all beware how they are tempted into this region of the ideal. It is through tortures the most exquisite and indescribable that the soul returns from such flights. All who have rashly tasted the delights of the Eastern drug bear shuddering witness to the pangs of returning consciousness; and prominent in each account stands the dread fear of threatening madness -- a fear and a threat by no means meaningless, if we may believe eminent physicians who have given these phenomena their attention. Permanent insanity not infrequently follows, we are told, on the use of the hasheesh. Dr. Madden relates that of thirteen inmates of a Turkish mad-house no fewer than four had gone mad from overdoses of hasheesh. And another eminent medical writer says, significantly, "The analogies between the phenomena of insanity and those which are induced by the introduction of such substances into the blood, must not be overlooked in any attempt to arrive at the true pathology of the former condition, or to bring it within the domain of the therapeutic art."
We are, however, in very little danger of becoming a nation of hasheesh-eaters. A predisposing warmth and activity of imagination -- a common quality with Eastern races, but a rare one with us -- is absolutely necessary to enable a man to become a hasheesh-eater to any purpose. The vast majority of experiments made by Europeans and Americans resulted in naught but a general and painful disturbance of the nervous system -- preceded, in a large number of instances, by a condition of insensibility, lasting from twenty-four to thirty-three hours. The hasheesh fantasia seems physically unattainable to the great majority of the Anglo-Saxon race.
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