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Historical References

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Excerpts from


The Aim, and the Results.


Rev. Jonathan Townley Crane

New York:
Carlton & Lanahan.



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. -- SHAKSPEARE.

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 crime."

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 became ages.

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 evil.

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 of reason.

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.