The discovery of the passage to the East Indies by way of the Cape of Good Hope was one of the great events of Western European history. Besides bringing great wealth, the explorations that followed the trade routes, the conquests, and the early settlements in the East helped to free Western Europeans from the shackles of medieval parochialism. Once their imaginations had been whetted, Europeans craved to know more and more about the people who lived in these far-off lands. What the people of India looked like, what they ate, how they dressed, acted, thought, etc., fascinated erstwhile provincially minded Europeans. Even the momentous landing on the moon pales before the excitement generated by the landings of the first explorers in the East Indies.
In the marketplace of ideas, the demand for news far outstripped supply and created an insatiable outlet for travelogues, or itineraries as they were often called. To supply this demand, anyone and everyone who visited these far-off places, and had the ability to put what he had seen into words, became the bestselling authors and the most sought after raconteurs of their day.
These books and storytellers were the eyes and ears of Europe. They were the entertainment media in an age of boredom. But the stories that were told did more than just entertain readers and listeners. They were the grist for European brain mills to process into new thoughts and ideas. It was through these stories, for instance, that many Europeans learned that the hemp plants that grew wild in their fields were used as medicines by the people of India. Even more surprising, Europeans were told that the people in the lands of the east actually made a beverage from this plant which caused them to act as though they were drunk with wine!
Such revelations were startling. Had these same Europeans visited their own countryside and villages, or the urban hovels where the unskilled and uneducated lived, they would have known of such things long before they were written about in the travel books that poured off the printing presses. The people who craved vicarious adventure and escapism such as that offered by travelogues were mainly the well-to-do. Although European craftsmen and businessmen used enormous quantities of hemp, their familiarity with the cannabis plant was totally related to its fiber. Even the Italian hemp dealers and artisans who were so expert in evaluating the different grades of hemp fiber were totally unaware of the plant's other properties. The Decameron, Giovanni Bocaccio's ribald masterpiece of the Fourteenth century, refers at one point to the "Old Man of the Mountain", and to some mysterious potion, but Bocaccio never identifies the drug by name: "He sought out a powder of marvelous virtue which he had gotten in the parts of the Levant of a great prince who avouched it to be that which was wont to be used by the 'Old Man of the Mountain' when he would fain send anyone sleeping into paradise."
In the next century, the French writer and physician Francois Rabelais wrote at length about cannabis, calling it Pantagruelion. Pantagruelion, says Rabelais, "is sown at the first coming of the swallows, and is taken out of the ground when the grasshoppers begin to get hoarse." Its stalk is "full of fibers, in which consists the whole value of the herb" (italics mine). Following Pliny, he declares that the seeds produced by the male plant "destroy the procreative germs in whosoever should eat much of it often." Referring to Galen, he says, "still is it of difficult concoction, offends the stomach, engenders bad blood, and by its excessive heat acts upon the brain and fills the head with noxious and painful vapors."
If Rabelais knew anything more about the effects of cannabis, he did not record them. Probably he did not. Beyond what he recorded from these classical sources, it is unlikely Rabelais was in any was familiar with cannabis as a medicament or as a psychoactive agent.
The Witches' Brew
Away from the hustle and bustle of the major urban centers, in the relative peace and serenity of the countryside, or in the wretched shacks that housed the unskilled city dwellers, where superstition passed for truth, where magic and sorcery were a way of life, where witches revelled with the devil in hallucinatory stupor, hemp was appreciated for marvelous powers unknown to Bocaccio and Rabelais.
"During the whole time that Catholicism had the spiritual direction of Europe," writes Emile Grillot de Givry, "a veritable Church of Evil opposed... the Church of God, a Church of the devil defying the Church of God... like the latter [it possessed] its priests, its rites, its cult, its books, its congregations, and its supernatural visitants."
The Church of Evil was the church of the discontented and the ungratified, men and women who looked upon the glories to God - his splendid churches, his powerful clergy, the pomp and ceremony dedicated to his worship - with awe and envy. Condemned to poverty and destitution through no fault of their own, they questioned the fairness of their plight and decided that if God were not on their side, then maybe they would be better off serving Satan. After all, Satan was the renowned master of mortal wealth. Serving him could lead to no worse adversity than that which they were already experiencing.
Many were content simply to worship the devil. Others aspired to higher satanic office and proclaimed themselves sorcerers (priests) and witches (priestesses). The main duties of these servants of the devil was to cast spells on those whose misfortune they desired. In so doing, they called upon the Prince of Darkness to do their bidding. Sorcerers and witches also officiated at the Black Mass - the Witches' Sabbath - an assemblage of worshippers of the devil presided over by Satan himself.
Invariably, whenever medieval artists turned to the subject of the Witches' Sabbath, they depicted a group of women, who were usually naked, compounding a mysterious drug in a large cauldron. As early as the fifteenth century, demonologists declared that one of the main constituents that the witches compounded for their heinous ceremony was hemp.
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal fiat condemning witchcraft and the use of hemp in the Satanic mass. In 1615, an Italian physician and demonologist, Giovanni De Ninault, listed hemp as the main ingredient in the ointments and unguents used by the devil's followers. Hemp, along with opium, belladonna, henbane, and hemlock, the demonologists believed, were commonly resorted to during the Witches' Sabbath to produce the hunger, ecstasy, intoxication, and aphrodisia responsible for the glutinous banquets, the frenzied dancing, and the orgies that characterized the celebration of the Black Mass. Hemp seed oil was also an ingredient in the ointments witches allegedly used to enable them to fly.
Jean Wier, the celebrated demonologist of the sixteenth century, was quite familiar with the exhilarating effects of hemp for sinister purposes. Hemp, he wrote, caused a loss of speech, uncontrollable laughter, and marvelous visions. Quoting Galen, he explained that it was capable of producing these effects by "virtue of affecting the brain since if one takes a large enough amount the vapors destroy the reason."
Cannabis sill retained its importance as a key ingredient in magical potions well into the nineteenth century. An occult French publication, The Prophet's Almanac, in its 1849 edition, for example, shows a crowd of people standing in front of a wizard who is gazing through a telescope into the future. Two of the men in the throng carry banners; one banner has "ether" printed on it, the other bears the word "hashish".
Sorcerers and witches were not the only people to attribute magical properties to the marijuana plant. In the Ukraine, peasant farmers used to pluck marijuana flowers on St. John's Eve in the belief that this would keep the evil eye from hurting their farm animals. Ukrainian girls of marriageable age used to carry hemp seeds in their pockets when they whispered magical spells designed to hasten their wedding day. After they pronounced these spells, they stripped naked and scampered around their homes to complete the magic. In Ireland, young maidens sowed hemp seed during Halloween, believing that if they looked behind them while sowing, they would see the ghost of their future husbands, In other parts of Great Britain, this rite was not confined to Halloween alone. For example, a love poem of bygone days states:
A eve last Midsummer no sleep I sought,
But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought;
I scatter'd round the seed on ev'ry side,
And three times, in a trembling accent, cried
This hemp-seed with my virgin hand I sow.
Who shall my true love be, the crop shall mow.
While occult in nature, the basis of these superstitious rites are lost in time.
Hemp was also mentioned in many medieval herbals as a medicinal agent. In 1530, and again in 1548, the English herbalist William Turner states that the plant was known as hemp in English, "hanffe" in Dutch, and "chanvre" in French, but he does not list any of its therapeutic properties. About the same time, Mattioli, an Italian herbalist, described the characteristics of male and female hemp plants and listed the therapeutic properties of their seeds, roots, leaves, and sap. In 1564, another Italian herbalist, Dioscobas Tabernaemontanus, wrote that hemp seeds and roots were used as medicinal agents and prescribed the application of an ointment of dry cannabis leaves and butter for burns and scalds.
Hemp was also a particularly familiar ingredient in the folk medicine of Eastern Europe. In Poland, Russia, and Lithuania, peasant farmers relied on the vapor given off by smoldering hemp seeds to relieve their toothaches. In some parts of Eastern Europe, doctors advised patients whose gums and teeth were thought to be infested with worms to inhale hemp seed fumes so that the worms would become intoxicated and fall out on their own! Other common folk uses for the plant were in easing childbirth; reducing inflamation, fever, and the swelling of joints; preventing convulsions; and curing jaundice and rheumatism. Many of these uses later found their way into the pharmacopoeias of modern European medicine in the nineteenth century.
The use of cannabis in magic and folk medicine clearly shows that the European peasantry was well aware that the hemp plant had other important properties besides the marvelous virtue of its indomitable fiber. But this awareness of the plant's other uses seems not to have gone beyond the peasant farmers and the practioners of the occult. Hence, it was a revelation for many Europeans to learn that in the Arab countries, and especially in India, the hemp plant was hardly valued at all for its fiber and instead was actually eaten and made into a beverage which was said to have the same intoxicating effects as alcohol.
The first reports came from Africa. In 1510, Leo Africanus, a Moroccan convert to Christianity, told his readers of a compound called "Lhasis" used by the people of Tunis which made them burst into laughter, caused them to act as if half drunk, and "provoked them into lust."
Toward the end of the sixteenth century, a physician by the name of Prosper Alpini published a widely read book in its day entitled The Medicines of the Egyptians (1591), in which he stated that hashish caused men to revel in ecstasy. He compared the early stages of hashish intoxication to that of alcohol, but emphasized that the visions hashish users experienced were to an important extent dependent on their intelligence and their psychological state at the time they took the drug.
During the next two centuries, Europe entered a period of unprecedented colonialism. As more and more ships made their way down the coast of Africa and on to India, Europeans who remained at home were able to keep abreast of what was happening in these far-off lands through the various books that seemed to crop up everywhere. Many of these books were diaries and travelogues, written by adventurers, sea captains, wealthy travelers, priests, traders, administrators - in short, anyone who could write about the people of Africa and the East Indies did so. At home, the people eagerly awaited any and every bit of information that these returning voyagers might bring concerning the habits and customs of the people who lived in these "newly discovered" parts of the world.
Since Portugal was the first to establish outposts in India, it is not surprising that the earliest books to be written about life in the East Indies were authored by Portuguese writers. The first European book to deal with the effects and uses of marijuana was written by a Portuguese physician whose writings were posthumously burned in public because a secret he had carefully guarded all his life was finally revealed after his death.
A Closet Heretic in India
One of the many to be fascinated with the anecdotal titbits about India that began filtering back to Portugal wa a young doctor, Garcia Da Orta (1501-68). After hearing about Inida and its people, Da Orta decided to enlist in the Portuguese civil service as personal physician to the viceroy of the Indian provinces so that he could observe firsthand the truth of all these strange and exotic customs. Da Orta was also curious about the reports he had heard concerning strange new drugs that the people of India used and decided to record everything he could about India's materia medica. It was as a result of these writings that the people of Europe learned of a new and previously unimagined use for the familiar hemp plant. Although Da Orta's book subsequently became a classic in the literature of drugs, almost every copy was destroyed when the Portuguese church found out that he had been a closet Jew who had hidden his religion nearly all his life.
Da Orta was not a native-born Portuguese citizen but the son of Spanish Jews who had been forced into exile when Spain banished all Jews from that country in 1492. Like many other Spanish Jews, Da Orta's father sought refuge in neighboring Portugal. The king and the church allowed them to stay until 1497. In that year, Jews were once again faced with the threat of exile if they did not convert to Christianity.
Tired of flight, Da Orta's father let it be known that he had diavowed his Jewish heritage. This enable him to remain in the country and allowed his son Garcia to enter the Spanish universities of Salamanca and Alcala de Henares where he studied arts and medicine. It was shortly after receiving his degree in medicine that Garcia left Europe to serve in Portugal's new territories in the east.
Da Orta got more than he bargained for, however, for in serving in India he was occasionally required to take part in military campaigns against the native populace. The life of a military surgeon seems not to have been to his liking, for as soon as his enlistment ran out he left the army and went into private practice in Goa, the Portuguese colony off the coast of India. It was during this period that he wrote his famous Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, which was subsequently published in Goa in 1563.
The book was to become the most important text on natural medicines since Dioscorides' herbal, hitherto the most influential text of its kind for the previous 1500 years.
The Colloquies is a landmark in the history of psychopharmacology. Written in the form of a dialogue between himself and a colleague from Salamanca named Ruano, Da Orta describes for his readers the effects of various hallucinogenic drugs commonly used in India. Among those which receive special attention are opium, datura, and of course, bangue, the concoction made from cannabis.
Bangue, Da Orta said, makes a man laugh foolishly and lifts him above all cares and anxieties. It had aphrodisiac effects ("I hear that many women take it when they want to dally and flirt with men") as well as soporific actions ("I've heard it said, although it may not be true, that the great captains, in ancient times, used to drink it with wine or opium so that they could get some rest from their work, banish their cares, and get to sleep").
Da Orta also remarked on what was already a well-known phenomenon regarding marijuana, namely that the drug's effects on mood depended on the user's feelings at the time he took it:
I myself saw a Portuguese jester... eat a slice or two of the electuary and at night he was pleasantly intoxicated, his utterance not intelligible. Then he became sad, began to shed tears, and was plunged into grief. In his case the effect was sadness and nausea... Those of my servants who took it, unbeknownst to me, said that it made them so as not to feel their work, to be very happt, and to have a craving for food. I believe that it is generally used and by such a lagre number of people, that there is no mystery about it. But I myself have not tried it, nor do I wish to do so. Many Portuguese have told me that they have taken it and they experienced the same feelings, more especially female partakers.
Da Orta's book created quite a stir when it first appeared in Europe. The book was widely read by his colleagues and by those interested in the customs of the people of India, and very often his observations were copied verbatim in subsequent medical treatises or travel narratives, often without giving any credit as to the source. Owing largely to Da Orta's writings on the subject, physicians began to regard cannabis in a new light. Prepared properly, hemp could be made into a drug the actions of which included euphoria, sedation, stimulation of appetite, hallucinations, and aphrodisia.
However, Portuguese physicians were not able to keep Da Orta's book on their library shelves for very long. Soon after the author's death, his wife confessed to the Portuguese Inquisition that her husband had been secretly practicing his Jewish faith. He had only adopted the outward signs of Christianity to deceive the authorities.
When it heard this confession, the Inquisition had Da Orta's body exhumed and cremated in public as a lesson to all other Jewsih apostates who thought that they might get away with deceiving the church as to their conversions. Furthermore, all copies of Da Orta's book that could be located were confiscated and burned as well. (Fortunately, a Flemish botanist discovered a copy in a Lisbon bookshop and kept it from being destroyed. The book was later republished in Latin, Italian, French, and English, and was widely quoted whenever any reference was made to the hallucinogenic plants of India.)
More about Bangue
In 1578, a Portuguese colleague of Da Orta's, Cristobal Acosta (1524-94), published his own textbook, On the Drugs and Medicines from the East Indies, in which he dealt at some length with the properties of bangue. Acosta had also sailed to India in the service of the government. He too had had to take part in military campaigns against the native populace, and on one occasion was actually captured and imprisoned in Bengal. After his release, he traveled to Goa where he visited Da Orta, and the two doctors exchanged information on what they had learned about the exotic drugs of the Indies.
Like Da Orta, Acosta had found that bangue was used by different people for different reasons: "some take it to forget their worries and sleep without thoughts; others to enjoy in their sleep a variety of dreams and delusions; others become drunk and act like mertry jesters; others because of love sickness."
Also like Da Orta, Acosta noted that various other ingredients were added to bangue for various purposes. Gum areca (Indian betel nut), opium, and sugar were common additives. For those who wished to hallucinate ("enjoy a variety of dreams"), the recipe called for the addition of camphor, clove, nutmeg, and mace. Increased sexual potency could be had by adding amber, musk, and sugar.
The last major book of the sixteenth century to mention marijuana was written by a Dutchman, John Huyghen van Linschoten. Van Linschoten had been especially intrigued by Da Orta's descriptions of India and its exotic drugs. He realized the potential for success and wealth in catering to Europe's new appetitie for vicarious wanderlust by supplying more of the same.
Van Linschoten was a man of single-minded purpose. To visit India he had to be employed by the Portuguese since they still controlled the subcontinent. Consequently, he left his native Holland and took up residence in Portugal, learned the language, and eventually got a job in the Portuguese colonies. After his tour of duty, he returned to his native Holland and began to write about what he had seen overseas. His travel log, or Itinerario as he called it, was published in 1596 and was an instant bestseller.
But while he claimed to have written about things he himslef had seen, much of the Itinerario's description of the effects of bangue were taken almost verbatim from other books such as Da Orta's Colloquies. Van Linschoten was not content with simply copying Da Orta's text, however. In several instances he deliberately embellished or distorted the material he copied to make it more interesting. It was also through van Linschoten's Itinerario that many readers got the mistaken impression that bangue and opium were identical in their effects.
Fifty years later, in 1649, a Portuguese missionary, Fray Sebastien Manrique, also mistakenly equated the two drugs in a book he wrote describing his own travels in India: "This country also produces a plant called Anfion resembling our own hemp [which is uded by the people] to assit in the gratification of lust and lewdness, by increasing their sexual power... Bangue and posto [cannabis spiked with opium] have a similar effect."
Summing up his attitude toward these drugs and the people who used them, the friar said: "Being mere barbarians and people ignorant of out true and sacred religion, they think only of the pleasure of the flesh, believing that the highest pitch of human beatitude lies in them [that is, in drugs such as opium and bangue]."
Such errors were not peculiar to the Portuguese. In 1628, Peter Mundy, an employee of the British East India Company, wrote that bangue had the same effect as opium "soe that most commonly they [ the natives] will call a druncken fellow either Amphomee [opium eater], Postee [opium drunkard] or Bangguee [hemp eater]..."
In 1698, John Freyer, a physician employed by the same British company, made a similar mistake. Freyer in fact believed that opium was made from bangue. "It [bangue] grows," he said, "as our hemp, the juice of whose seed ground in a bowl like mustard-seed, and mixed with any other liquor... [causes its users to develop] a craving for this poisonous drink... [and when mixed with belladonna] bangue is the inebriating confection of the Post [opium]." Apparently Freyer was under the impression that the cannabis in Post was more potent than the opium in it.
Freyer also describes a form of punishment Inidan rulers meted out to subjects who were too important to execute outright:
Upon an offence they are sent by the King's order, and committed to a place called the Post (from the punishment inflicted), where the Master of the Post is acquainted with the heinousness of the crime; which being understood, he heightens by a drink, which they first refuse, made of Bang (the juice of the intoxicating hemp), and being mingled with Dutry (the deadliest sort of Solanum or Nightshade) name Post, after a week's taking, they crave more than ever... [and die].
The French journalist Bernier also remarked on this strange torture:
[Miscreants] whose heads the Monarch is deterred by prudential reasons from taking off... [are brought] a large cup of this beverage... early in the morning, and they are not given anything to eat until it be swallowed; they would sooner let the victim die of hunger. This drink emaciates the wretched victims, who lose their strength and intellect by slow degrees, become torpid and senseless, and at length die.
The fact that opium was actually mixed with bangue may have been responsible for the notion that the two were one and the same or that bangue could be chemically transformed into opium. Whatever the basis for the error, the idea that bangue had the same addicting effects as opium began to take shape in the minds of Europeans.
The World of Bangue
As more and more travelers visited India, more and more began to be written about bangue and its effects. A well-known herbal of the eightheenth century in which bangue was given special attention was published in 1695 by a physician living in India named Rumphius. Rumphius remarked that bangue was widely used in India to treat all kinds of diseases from gonorrhea to diarrhea.
A particularly interesting account of bangue and its uses in Persia and India is contained in another seventeenth-century medical treatise by Englebert Kaempfer. Kaempfer was a German physician who was equally well known as a historian, political scientist, diplomat, and botanist. Very early in life, Kaempher earned a reputation as a brilliant scientist, and so impressed the king of Sweden that he asked Kaempfer to be one of the ambassadors he was sending to Persia to coax the Persians to break ties with the Arab empire and begin trading with the West. After the unsuccessful delegation returned to Sweden, Kaempfer signed on with the Dutch East India Company as fleet surgeon. It was during this time that he observed a fascinating spectacle in India involving bangue:
At the time of the sacrifices in honor of Vishnu, vurgins pleasant to behold and richly adorned, were brought to the temple of the Brahmins. They came out in public to appease the god who rules over plenty and fine weather. To impress the spectators, these young women were previously given a preparation with a basis of hemp and datura, and when the priest saw certain symptoms, he began his invocations. The Devadassy (the term for these girls) then danced, leapt about yelling, contorted their limbs, and, foaming at the mouth, their eyes ecstatic, committed all sorts of eccentricities. Finally, the priests carried the exhausted virgins into a sanctuary, gave them a potion to destroy the effect of the previous one, and then showed them again to the people in their right mind, so that the crowd of spectators might believe that the demons had fled and the idol was appeased.
Although intrigued by such spectacles, Kaempfer was no stranger to cannabis. During his student days at the University of Cracow he says that he used to eat food made with cannabis, so he probably had some personal experience with its effects. He was also familiar with Pliny's description of the drug as well as its uses as a medicinal agent in ancient times, mentioning its properties as a soporific and an antispasmotic. From his writings, it appears that by the seventeenth century the medicinal properties of the plant were fairly well known to the medical profession.
Among the popular travel logs that entertained English readers was A Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal, an interesting memoir published some time around 1680 by a wizened old sea dog named Capt. Thomas Bowrey.
Bowrey was a frequent visitor to India between 1669 and 1679, and had sailed up and down the subcontinent carrying supplies and goods to and from the various outposts that dotted the seacoast. Unlike many Europeans, who lived in India and observed the customs and foods of the native people without participating in what they saw, Bowrey often partook of the food and especially the intoxicating beverages of the country. His observations, as described in his book, were English readers' first detailed insight into the effects of bangue as experienced by a fellow Englishman.
Bowrey began his discussion by noting that bangue had different effects on different individuals depending on their temperament:
It operates accordage to the thoughts or fancy of the Partie that drinketh thereof, in such manner that if he be merry at that instant, he shall continue soe with exceedinge great laughter for the before mentioned space of time [four to five hours], rather overymerry than otherways, laughinge heartilie at every thinge they discerne; and, on the contrary, if it is taken in a fearefull or melancholy posture, he shall keep great lamentation and seem to be in great anguish of spirit, takinge away all manly gesture or thought from him.
In the following excerpt from his travelogue, Bowrey describes his first reactions to bangue. Note the precautions he and his comrades took to keep from being observed, and the effect of the drug on the participants, especially the man who stuck his head in a jar:
Eight or tenne of us to trye practice, wee wold needs drinke every man his pint of bangha, which we purchased in the bazaar for the value of 6d English. I ordered my man to bringe alonge with him one of the Fackeers (who frequently drinke of this liquor), promisinge him his dose of the same to come and compound the rest for us, which he cordially and freely accepted of, and it was as welcome to him as a crowne in moneys. Wee dranke each man his proportion, and sent the Fackeer out of dores, and made fast all dores and windows, that none of us might run into the street, or any person come in to behold any of our humors thereby to laught at us.
The Fackeere sat without the sreet dore, callinge us all kings and brave fellows, fancyinge himselfe to be at the gates of the Pallace at Agra, singinge to that purpose in the Hardostan languadge.
It soon tooke its operation upon most of us, but merrily, save upon two of our number, who I suppose feared it might doe them harme not being accustomed thereto. One of them sat himselfe downe upon the floore, and wept bitterly all the afternoone, the other terrified with feare did runne his head into a great Mortavan Jarre, and continued in that posture 4 hours or more; 4 or 5 of the number lay upon the carpets (that were spread in the roome) highly complimentinge each other in high termes, each man fancyinge himslefe noe less than an emperor. One was quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden pillars of the porch, until he had left himselfe little skin upon the knuckles of his fingers. My selfe and one more sat sweatinge for the space of 3 hours in exceedinge measure.
For his part, Bowrey regarded the effects of cannabis rather favorably, speaking of it as "theire so admirable herbe". But despite his praises for the drug, Bowrey seems to have suffered a mild withdrawal effect after he stopped using it regularly. "Taste it hath not any, in my judgement less faire water, yet it is of such bewitchinge Scottish nature, that whoever use it but one month or two cannot forsake it without muche difficultie." Judging from this mild dependency reaction, it is likely tha Bowrey's bangue contianed more than a little opium.
The French Itineraria
The French also had their world travelers who brought back exotic tales of the East and their experiences with hashish.
Laurent D'Arvieux visited the Middle East in 1665-6 and described his adventures in Voyage in Palestine, To the Grand Emir, Chief of the Arabian Princes of the Desert, Known as the Bedouins. D'Arvieux relates that he took a drug called Berge which mat have been hashish, but he identifies it at one point as opium and at another time as henbane.
In 1686, Jean Chardin, published an account of his adventures in the Middle East in Voyages to Persia and Other Parts of the Orient, a widely read book which was reissued several times. Like most of the European observers, Chardin did not experience the effects of cannabis firsthand, but merely related what he had seen and been told.
Regarding cannabis, Chardin distinguishes between the bueng used by the Persians and that used in India. Perian bueng, he says, is actually a mixture of cannabis, opium, and nux vomica, which is also called "Poust". Like John Freyer, Chardin relates to "Poust" was given to "state criminals whose lives are to be ended, so as to take away their spirit", as well as to "children of royal blood whom they wish to render incapable of reigning. They say it is less inhumane than killing them, as is done in Turkey, or in blinding them as the Persians do." On the othe hand, Indian bueng, he says, consists only of cannabis "but in all sects it is only the worthless people who drink it, particularly tramps and beggars."
In 1681, another French traveler, Pere Ange, who had journeyed to Persia to study the plants used by the people, also reported (Pharmacopoea Persica) that the Persians used a mixture of cannabis and opium which, he says, produced effects similar to those Herodotus described when he wrote about the Scythians.
The Danish Expedition
With all the excitement and curiosity being generated by the fascinating accounts of life in other lands, the urge to send even more expeditions was infectious. Yet another monarch to be caught up in the ebullience of the times was the king of Denmark.
Less interested in staking claim to new territories than in learning more about the culture of the Arab world, the knig agreed to finance an expedition to the unmapped region of the Yemen, a hitherto isolated region of Arabia once known as the Incense Trail.
In 1759, the expedition set out to make the long voyage to the south. The fact-finders were five prominent scholars - a botanist, a zoologist, a philologist, an artist, and a mathematician. Each was to exercise his skills as best he could in learning about Yemen and its people.
Yemen is an incredibly hot country. The temperature often soars to over 120F. Parts of it are almost impassible. When the expedition arrived in the country, the villages were primitive outposts built either of stone on the highlands or of mud in the low regions.
The country took its toll. Of the five explorers, only one, the mathematician Carsten Niebuhr, survived, and even he contacted malaria. Seven years after he first set out, Niebuhr finally returned to Denmark and filed his report to the king. In 1772, he formally published his observations in a book which he called Travels in Arabia.
Like many of his fellow explorers who had witnessed and been intrigued by the widespread use of bangue or hashish, niebuhr reflects in his book the European fascination with the popularity of these drugs among non-Europeans.
"The lower people [Sufis] are fond of raising their spirits to a state of intoxication," Niebuhr told his readers, explaing that they did so by smoking hashish. "which is the dried leaves of a sort of hemp." He explained:
The smoke exalts their courage and throws them into a state in which delightful visions dance before their imagination. One of our Arabian servants, after smoking Haschisch, met with four soldiers in the street, and attacked the whole party. One of the soldiers gave him a sound beating, and brought him home to us. Notwithstanding his mishap, he would not make himself easy, but still imagined, such was the effect of his intoxication, that he was the match for any four men.
Cannabis in Medicine
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marked the appearance not only of travel books dealing with cannabis, but also of "dispensatories" which began referring to cannabis as a medicinal agent. Typically, however, these texts were rather cautious in their advocacy of hemp as a therapeutic agent. In most instances, cannabis's antibiotic and analgesic properties were emphasized.
Although as early as 1621 Robert Burton had suggested that cannabis might be of value in the treatment of depression, this proposal was never tried in England. The New London Dispensatory, published in 1682, contained only a brief reference to hemp seeds, claiming that they cured coughs and jaundice but filled the head with vapors," but the Complete English Dispensatory of 1720 took issue with the recommendation to use hemp seeds in treating jaundice, asserting that such recommendation is "not hitherto with authority enough to bring them into prescriptions of any knid."
The New English Dispensatory of 1764 recommended boiling hemp roots and applying them to the skin to reduce inflammation, a folk medicinal treatment that had been popular in eastern Europe for centuries. Other uses for the concoction were in drying up tumors and dissolving deposits in the joints.
The Edinburgh New Dispensatory of 1794, carried a relatively long description of the effects of hemp in medicine, indicating that its popularity in this regard had begun to increase. "This plant," the text stated, "when fresh, has a rank narcotic smell, the water in which the stalks are soaked, in order to facilitate the separation of the tough rind for mechanical uses [e.g. rope], is said to be violently poisonous, and to produce its effects as soon as drunk." Regarding the seeds, the text claims that they yield an "insipid" oil when pressed, and that when this oil is added to milk, an emulsion is formed which is useful in treating coughs, "heat of urine [venereal disease]," and "incontinence of urine." The authors also state that cannabis was believed to be useful in "restraining venereal appetites," but adds that "experience does not warrant their having any virtue of this kind." The section on cannabis closes with a foreshadowing of the future: "Although the seeds only have hitherto been principally in use, yet other parts of the plant seem to be more active, and may be considered as deserving further attention."
A few years later, Nicholas Culpepper, the foremost herbalist of his time, summarized all the conditions for which cannabis was reputed to be an effective medicinal agent. Culpepper repeats many of the claims for cannabis contained in the previously mentioned dispensatories and adds a few from the classical writings of Galen and Pliny, including some of his own recommendations. For example, he mentions that cannabis "dries up the natural seed for procreation," and "being boiled in milke and taken, helps such as have a dry hot cough." "It is held very good to kill worms in men and beasts; and the juice dropped into the ears kills worms in them; and draws forth earwigs, or other living creatures gotten into them." Furthermore, "the emulsion or decoction of the seed stays lasks and continual fluxes, eases the colic, and allays the troublesome humours in the bowels, and stays bleeding at the mouth, nose and other places." Regarding its other effects, Culpepper mentions that "the decoction of the root allays inflamation of the head, or any other parts; the herb itself, or the distilled water thereof doth the like. The decoction of the roots eases the pains of the gout, the hard humours of knots in the joints, the pains and shrinking of the sinews, and the pains of the hips. The fresh juice mixed with a little oil and butter, is good for any place that hath been burnt with fire, being thereto applied ."
It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that cannabis was to be given serious consideration by the medical preofession. Until that time, it was sparingly used as a folk remedy for certain disorders, but it never enjoyed any popularity and there is absolutely no indication that the English ever became intoxicated as a result of eating cannabis leaves or seeds. The variety of cannabis that grew in England did not produce enough resin for it inadvertently to intoxicate any proponent of the plant as a home remedy.
Linnaeus versus Lamarck
In 1753, the hemp plant was christened Cannabis sativa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, in his Species Plantarum, and it has borne this name ever since.
However, almost as soon as Linnaeus dubbed hemp Cannabis sativa, other botanists began to argue that there were two distinct types of hemp plant and therefore it was a mistake to lump all hemp-like plants under one name. The most notable dissenter was the French biologist Jean Lamarck.
In 1783, Lamarck contended that the European hemp plant and the Indian hemp plant each warranted its own name. The latter, he noted, contained far more resin than the European plant and it also appeared noticeably different in other distinct ways. Because of these differences, Lamarck reserved the name Cannabis sativa for the European plant and gave the name Cannabis indica to the Indian plant - indica referring to its place of origin.
Lamarck was not the first or the only scientist to point out the differences between the two plants, but he was the first to contrast clearly the two types, and his arguments were very convincing.
This early argument as to whether there is one species of cannabis which includes many different varieties or several species still remains to be settled.
References and Notes
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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