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Historical References

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By W. B. O'Shaughnessy, M.D.,

Assistant-Surgeon, and Professor of Chemistry, &c.

In the Medical College of Calcutta.

Presented October, 1839.

The narcotic effects of Hemp are popularly known in the south of Africa, South America, Turkey, Egypt, Asia Minor, India, and the adjacent territories of the Malays, Burmese, and Siamese. In all these countries Hemp is used in various forms, by the dissipated and depraved, as the ready agent of pleasing intoxication. In the popular medicine of these nations, we find it extensively employed for a multitude of affections. But in Western Europe, its use either as a stimulant or as a remedy, is equally unknown. With the exception of the trial, as a frolic, of the Egyptian 'Hasheesh,' by a few youths in Marseilles, and of the clinical use of the wine of Hemp by Mahneman, as shewn in a subsequent extract, I have been unable to trace any notice of the employment of this drug in Europe.

Much difference of opinion exists on the question, whether the Hemp so abundant in Europe, even in the high northern latitudes, is identical in specific characters with the Hemp of Asia Minor and Hindostan. The extraordinary symptoms produced by the latter depend on a resinous secretion with which it abounds and which seems totally absent in the European kind. As the closest physical resemblance or even identity exists between both plants, difference of climate seems to me more than sufficient to account for the absence of the resinous secretion, and consequent want of narcotic power in that indigenous in colder countries.

In the subsequent article I first endeavour to present an adequate view of what has been recorded of the early history, the popular uses and employment in medicine of this powerful and valuable substance. I then proceed to notice several experiment which I have instituted on animals, with the view to ascertain its effects on the healthy system; and, lastly, I submit an abstract of the clinical details of the treatment of several patients afflicted with hydrophobia, tetanus, and other convulsive disorders, in which a preparation of Hemp was employed with results which seem to me to warrant our anticipating from its more extensive and impartial use no inconsiderable addition to the resources of the physician.

In the historical and statistical department of the subject, I owe my cordial thanks for most valuable assistance to the distinguished traveller, the Syed Keramut Ali, Mootawulee of the Hooghly Imambarrah, and also the Hakim Mirza Abdul Rhazes of Teheran, who have furnished me with interesting details regarding the consumption of Hemp in Caudahar, Cabul, and the countries between the Indus and Herat. The Pundit Modoosudun Goopto has favoured me with notices of the remarks on these drugs in the early Sanscrit authors on Materia Medica; -- to the celebrated Kamalakantha Vidyadanka, the Pundit of the Asiatic Society, I have also to record my acknowledgments; -- Mr. DaCosta has obligingly supplied me with copious notes from the 'Mukzun-ul-Udwieh,' and other Persian and Hindee systems of Materia Medica. For information relative to the varieties of the drug, and its consumption in bengal, Mr. McCann, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, deserves my thanks; -- and lastly, to Dr. Goodeve, to Mr. Richard O'Shaughnessy, to the late Dr. Bain, to Mr. O'Brien of the Native Hospital, and Nobinchunder Mitter, one of my clinical clerks, I am indebted for the clinical details with which they have enriched the subject.

Botanical characters, chemical properties, production.

Botanical Description -- Assuming with Lindley and other eminent writers that the Cannabis sativa and Indica are identical, we find that the plant is dioecious, annual, about three feet high, covered over with a fine pubescence; the stem is erect, branched, bright green, angular; leaves alternate or opposite, on long weak petioles; digitate, scabrous, with linear, lanceolate, sharply serrated leaflets, tapering into a long, smooth, entire point; stipules subulate; clusters of flowers axillary, with subulate braces; males lax and drooping, branched and leafless at base; females erect, simple and leafy at the base.