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  The Forbidden Game

    Brian Inglis

        9.  Science

THE INVESTIGATIONS OF MEN SUCH AS MOREAU AND O'SHAUGHNESSY reflected a growing interest in pharmacology during the century, stemming from the results of the research of Davy, Priestley and Lavoisier, towards the end of the century before. Their discoveries had begun to elevate chemistry to the status of an exact science; and pharmacologists had naturally begun to look forward to the day when their branch of the faculty would share in the distinction.
    For a while it looked as if their ambition was going to be realised. One by one, plant drugs began to deliver up their secrets—the alkalis which, it was assumed, constituted the essential drug element. Morphine was derived from opium in 1803, and other similar discoveries followed: caffeine, quinine, nicotine. More reliable evidence began to be available, too, about the purposes for which drugs were used throughout the world; and it became possible to investigate the subject not, as before, primarily from the standpoint of the botanist or the chemist, but with a view to assessing the role of drugs in society. And the first serious attempt at a general survey was made by James Johnston in his Chemistry of Common Life, which was published in 1854.


James Johnston

    Johnston, who was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Durham, had the breadth of outlook of a Benjamin Franklin or a Humphry Davy; he was interested in chemistry not for its own sake, but for what it provided for mankind. He was not thinking in terms simply of the chemical processes by which bread, or wine, were provided, but of what gave bread its flavour, and wine its bouquet. How significant he felt drugs were can be gauged by the fact that he devoted almost half the book to them; a chapter each to tea and coffee; two chapters to alcoholic liquors; and no fewer than eight chapters to 'the narcotics we indulge in', ranging from tobacco to deadly nightshade.
    Johnston was disturbed by what he felt was the irrational prejudice against the use of narcotics of any kind, reflected in the efforts that had been made in countries all over the world to suppress them. It was absurd, he argued, to think of them as strange and sinister, considering the vast number of people who regularly took them. Precise estimates of the number of drug-takers were impossible to come by; but tobacco, he estimated, was used by 800 million people; opium by 400 million; Indian hemp by 200 300 million; betel by 100 million; and coca by 10 million.
No nation so ancient but had its narcotic soother from the most distant times; none so remote and isolated but has found within its own borders a pain-allayer and care-dispeller of native growth; none so savage which instinct has not led to seek for, and successfully to employ, this form of physiological indulgence. The craving for such indulgence, and the habit of gratifying it, are little less universal than the desire for, and the practice of, consuming the necessary materials of our common food.

    Nor was it any more reprehensible; on the contrary, Johnston argued, man's recognition of the value of narcotics should be considered as forming 'one of the most wonderful chapters in his entire history'. In the first of the three stages of that history, man had found how to provide for his material needs—'beef and bread'. In the second, he had sought ways to 'assuage the cares of his mind and banish uneasy reflections', which he did with the help of alcoholic beverages. And in the third, his object was
to multiply his enjoyments, intellectual and animal, and for the time to exalt them. This he attains by the aid of narcotics. And of these narcotics, again, it is remarkable that almost every country or tribe has its own, either aboriginal or imported; so that the universal instinct of the race has led, somehow or other, to the universal supply of this want or craving also.

    Johnston cited tea and coffee as examples. Tea, in particular, could be a dangerous drug; 'green tea, when taken very strong, acts very powerfully on some constitutions producing nervous tremblings and other distressing symptoms, acting as a narcotic, and in inferior animals even producing paralysis'. But men had learned to use it more discreetly, so that 'it exhilarates without sensibly intoxicating'. Even the poorest took it, preferring the 'luxury' of a cup of tea to an extra potato or a larger loaf—a choice which Johnston wholeheartedly approved; 'he will probably live as long under the one regimen as the other; and while he does live, he will both be less miserable in mind, and will show more blood and spirit in the face of difficulties, than if he had denied himself this trifling indulgence'.
    It was not the chemical properties of the plant—Johnston argued—but the uses to which man put it, that mattered; a point which comes across even more forcibly when his book is read today, as many of the plants which he included are no longer considered to be drugs. The English beer drinker esteems hops for imparting flavour; to Johnston, the hop was 'the English narcotic', justly celebrated as a sleep inducer, and 'unquestionably one of the sources of the pleasing excitement, gentle narcotic intoxication, and healthy tonic action which well-hopped beer is known to produce on those whose constitutions enable them to drink it'. Even more surprising is Johnston's description of lettuce.
The juice of these plants, when collected and dried, has considerable resemblance to opium. If the stem of the common lettuce, when it is coming into flower, be wounded with a knife, a milky juice exudes. In the open air, this juice gradually assumes a brown colour, and dries into a friable mass. The smell of this dried juice is strongly narcotic, recalling that of opium. It has a slightly pungent taste but, like opium, leaves a permanent bitterness in the mouth. It acts upon the brain after the manner of opium ... eaten at night, the lettuce causes sleep; eaten during the day, it soothes and calms and allays the tendency to nervous irritability.

    There are other reminders in the Chemistry of Common Life that the classification of what is, and what is not, a plant drug may vary from country to country, and from period to period. But even more significant, in the light of what was to happen later, was Johnston's realisation that drugs could not be classified by their observed pharmacological action on man, because that action varied so greatly. Moslems, for example, took tobacco because it soothed the mind to sleep, while leaving the body alert and active. But,
that such is not its general action in Europe, the study of almost every German writer can testify. With the constant pipe diffusing its beloved aroma around him, the German philosopher works out the profoundest of his results of thought. He thinks and dreams, and dreams and thinks, alternately; but while his body is soothed and stilled, his mind is ever awake. From what I have heard such men say, I could almost fancy that they had in this practice discovered a way of liberating the mind from the trammels of the body, and thus giving it a freer range and more undisturbed liberty of action. I regret that I have never found it act so upon myself.

    To some extent, Johnston realised, individual reactions to a drug could be accounted for by observing how the individual took it. A glass of whiskey would have a different effect if it were tossed off neat than if it were sipped, with water, for an hour. But this, he felt, was not enough to account for the remarkable differences in the effects of the same drug on different individuals—and even on different communities. Could it be, he wondered, that the use of a particular drug over a long period gradually changed the disposition and temperament of a people—in turn changing their reactions? There was no way of telling, with any certainty; but 'the fate of nations has frequently been decided by the slow operation of long-acting causes, unthought of and unestimated by the historian, which, while the name and the local home of the people remain the same, had gradually changed their constitution, their character, and their capabilities'.
    In view of all this evidence, Johnston argued, to think in terms of trying to prohibit drug-taking by legislation was futile:
A tendency which is so evidently a part of our general human nature, is not to be suppressed or extinguished by any form of mere physical, fiscal, or statutory restraint. It may sometimes be discouraged or repressed by such means, but even this lesser result is not always obtainable... an empire may be overthrown by inconsiderate statutory intermeddling with the natural instincts, the old habits, or the growing customs of a people, while the instincts and habits themselves are only strengthened and confirmed.


Francis Anstie

    Johnston's thesis made an impression on Francis Anstie, a physician at the Westminster Hospital who had been specialising in toxicology, hoping—as he explained in his Stimulants and Narcotics, published in 1864—to be able to remove the study of the subject from the metaphysical to the physical level. To this end he had experimented on himself, and on some patients, with a variety of drugs; his original intention being to put them into categories, such as the one suggested by the title of his book. To the patient, as well as to the doctor, the distinction seemed clear; some drugs were 'stupefying poisons'—narcotics; others, 'grateful restoratives'—stimulants. But the result of his researches had upset his expectation that he would be able to clarify the distinction for textbook purposes. 'To the philosophic student', he ruefully admitted, 'who desires to arrange in orderly classification the weapons of his art, and thereby to multiply his resources, the accurate definition of these two classes of remedies offers a problem at once of great interest and of extreme difficulty.' Chloroform, for example, was regarded as a narcotic. But his experiments had shown him that in certain circumstances, it could be a powerful stimulant. The action of alcohol was even more confusing. At first sight, it appeared to be a stimulant; 'but on analysing the symptoms we are at no loss to perceive that it is the emotional and appetitive part of the mind which is in action while the intellect, on the contrary, is directly enfeebled'. It was at least possible, Anstie speculated, that the outbreak of the passions which alcohol could induce was due, 'not to any stimulation of them, but to the removal of the check ordinarily imposed by reason and will'.
    To most Europeans, Anstie went on, opium was a narcotic; to Orientals, a stimulant. They were able, 'sometimes without any previous practice, to take large quantities of opium without suffering stupefaction; on the contrary, they appear much exhilarated in spirits, and their minds work with much freedom. In some cases, muscular power and the disposition for exertion seem actually to increase'. The likely explanation, Anstie thought, was that opium prevented other activities from interfering with mental processes, which gave the appearance of an increase of intellectual power. And this could also be an explanation of another mystery. Pain, he suggested, was not relieved by sedatives and depressants—except where they poisoned the system, as when a man took enough alcohol to render himself insensible. What relieved pain was the stimulating effect of opium, or other drugs, in small doses. It was the stimulus, he concluded, that mattered, and that might be given by some substance which was not, in the strict sense, a drug, but which had the appropriate effect; 'I have seen one patient suffering from severe agony with peritonitis who developed rapid relief from the careful and gradual injection of a pint of rich soup into the rectum'.
    Like Johnston, Anstie had been compelled to recognise what a minor part the pharmacology of a drug might play in determining man's reactions to it, compared with the part played by man's responses. It was a matter of common observation that the same amount of alcohol which would enliven one man, would depress another; or, according to his circumstances make the same man jolly, one evening, and sad, the next. But to the new generation of scientifically-minded chemists, toxicologists and pharmacologists this was a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. It left their discipline uneasily suspended, like a hammock slung between one solid tree—chemistry—and some young saplings—biology, neurology, psychology—which bent and swayed in every scientific breeze.
    Throughout the century, therefore, pharmacologists continued to engage in a search for certainties; and in this they were naturally encouraged by further discoveries of alkalis. These, it continued to be assumed, represented the essential drug element in a plant. When they were extracted they would obviate the wastage involved in consumption of the rest of the plant; when refined, impurities would be removed. And it would be easier to measure out the prescribed strength of dosage. So it came about that morphine, the derivative, began to replace opium and laudanum as a sedative and a painkiller.
    The outcome was the first of a succession of cruel disillusionments. So long as morphine continued to be taken strictly on prescription, for specific medical purposes, it fulfilled expectations. But some of the people for whom it was prescribed came to rely on it for release from everyday cares, and others took it for a 'lift'. It began to enslave addicts as effectively as laudanum had enslaved de Quincey. The medical profession—the doctors by this time had formed themselves into a profession, and had begun to exercise a closer supervision of drugs—reacted with alarm, and for a time addicts were treated by enforced deprivation. The withdrawal symptoms, though, could be dangerous, as well as painful; cases were reported of addicts, deprived of morphine, who had had hallucinations and delirium, and some of them died under the treatment. What was needed, clearly, was some drug which would do the work of morphine, but without creating addiction. Any medical scientist who found one would have his fortune made—as the young Sigmund Freud realised, when he first began to experiment with the alkali which pharmacologists had extracted from the leaves of the coca plant: cocaine.



    Unlike tobacco, coca had not established itself as a drug in Europe—or even in South America, among the colonists. For a young Spaniard to begin to take it was regarded as a sign that he was rebelling against his class; he would be repudiated, and forced either to leave or to live with the Indians, and adopt their ways. Occasionally travellers would return from voyages in the Andes with stories of the feats of endurance which the Indians performed under its influence; but although they were noted by Abraham Cowley (in whose mind, Dr. Johnson was to recall, 'botany turns into poetry')
Endowed with leaves of wondrous nourishment
Whose juice succ'd in, and to the stomach ta'en
Long hunger and long labour can sustain

    its possibilities do not appear to have been recognised until the Jesuit Don Antonio Julian lamented in his Perla de America that it was not used in Europe alongside tea and coffee ('it is melancholy to reflect that the poor of Europe cannot obtain this preservative against hunger and thirst; that our working people are not supported by this strengthening plant in their long continued labours'). The author of a treatise published in 1793 suggested that the sailors in European navies would benefit from a coca ration; and in 1814 a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine elaborated on the proposition. It was not yet clear how the South American Indians achieved their feats of endurance, he admitted; but
it is certain they have that secret, and put it into practice. They masticate coca, and undergo the greatest fatigue without any injury to health or bodily vigour. They want neither butcher, nor baker, nor brewer, nor distiller, nor fuel, nor culinary utensils. Now, if Professor Davy will apply his thoughts to the subject here given for his experiments, there are thousands even in this happy land who will pour their blessings upon him, if he will but discover a temporary anti-famine, or substitute for food, free from all inconvenience of weight, bulk and expense, and by which any person might be enabled, like the Peruvian Indian, to live and labour in health and spirits for a month now and then without eating.

    With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the employment of men, women and children in the mills twelve hours a day, six days a week, there was an incentive to examine the claims for coca more seriously; especially after von Tschudi's observations in the 1830s convinced him that coca's reputation was well-founded. When he took an infusion of the leaves of the plant, while he was on a hunting expedition at 14,000 feet up in the Andes, he found it worked for him, too: 'I could then during the whole day climb the heights, and follow the swift-footed wild animals.'
    Taken in excess over a protracted period, Tschudi realised, coca could have unwelcome effects; the inveterate chewer could be detected from 'his unsteady gait, his yellow-coloured skin, his dim and sunken eyes encircled by a purple ring, his quivering lips, and his general apathy'. But this was unusual. Ordinarily, the drug appeared to have no adverse effects. Even when it was taken in very large amounts, there was no loss of consciousness; and many of those who took it every working day (and doubled their intake on festival occasions) lived on to a great age, in perfect health. 'Setting aside all extravagant and visionary notions on the subject', he concluded, 'the moderate use of coca is not merely innocuous, but it may even be conducive to health.'
    Tschudi's Travels in Peru was followed by accounts from other travellers, most of them in agreement with him; and in the 1850s an Italian doctor, Paolo Mantegazza, experimented on himself by chewing dried coca leaves. He experienced an increase in physical and mental energy, and when he tried an infusion of the leaves, he found that not merely did the inclination to take exercise become irresistible; he also had an odd feeling of becoming isolated from the external world, which would enable him to perform feats which ordinarily he would not have attempted. On an impulse he jumped up on his writing table, without smashing the lamp or other objects on it. Nor did he suffer any reaction, comparable with a hangover: following the activity he felt only quiet comfort. And increasing the dose—to the amount commonly consumed by the natives of Peru—only increased his sense of exhilaration. Joyously he told his colleagues that he preferred 'ten years with coca to a million centuries without'. In a treatise on the subject published in Milan in 1859 he wrote, more sedately, that the principal property of coca, 'not to be found in any other remedy, consists in its exalting effect, calling out the power of the organism without leaving any sign of debility'; and he recommended its use for nervous disorders.
    Gradually, coca began to win adherents in other countries. In the early 1870s Sir Robert Christison tried it out on medical students in Edinburgh, and was impressed by the results; the chewing of coca leaves, he reported, 'not only removes extreme fatigue, but prevents it', and the only effect it had on the mental faculties was to eliminate the dullness ordinarily associated with fatigue. In France racing cyclists began to take it, to increase their powers of endurance; so did the Toronto Lacrosse Club, in Canada, who with its assistance won the title 'Champions of the World'.
    From the time of its foundation half a century before, the Lancet has enjoyed exposing nostrums as quackery; and the budding reputation of coca gave it yet another opportunity to live up to its reputation. In 1876 it carried a report of an investigation by G. F. Dowdeswell, a member of the staff of the University College Physics Department, into the properties of coca and its action on the human body. Dowdeswell claimed that he had been concerned solely with the measurable effects on a human subject—changes in pulse rate, temperature, and so on; and he had demonstrated they were negative. But consumption of coca had also failed to produce any of the subjective effects 'so fervently described, and ascribed to it, by others; not the slightest excitement, not even the feeling of buoyancy and exhilaration which is experienced from mountain air, or a draught of spring water'. Although Dowdeswell was not prepared to claim that coca, in this capacity, was pharmacologically inert, his experiments, he argued, demonstrated that its action was so slight 'as to preclude the idea of its having any value either therapeutically or popularly'. Whatever might be the virtue of the coca leaf in South America, the Lancet commented editorially, 'it seems to have lost much of its marvellous virtue when used in this country.'
    Laboratory trials of that kind had not then acquired the authority they were later to command; and even the Lancet's reputation was not sufficient to stem coca's growing popularity as a stimulant. The following year, it was admitted to the U.S. Pharmacopeia; soon afterwards, to its British counterpart; and from the variety of disorders for which it began to be prescribed it looked as if it might be following the same triumphant clinical course that tobacco had taken three centuries earlier. But it was just too late. Pharmacologists succeeded in identifying what was assumed to be the narcotic element of the coca leaf: cocaine. It seemed self-evident that it would be absurd to ask a patient to chew coca leaves, or drink infusions of them, when it was possible to give him accurately measured doses of its essential ingredient.
    But first, it was necessary to demonstrate that cocaine worked; and in 1883 a German army doctor tried the drug out on soldiers to see if it did the same for them as the leaves did for the natives of Peru. It did. Cocaine, Dr. Theodor Aschenbrandt was able to report, greatly increased their energy and endurance. The report attracted Freud's attention. He had just become engaged to Martha Bernays, and was looking for some medical discovery which would make his name, and his fortune, so that they could afford to marry. 'I am procuring some myself', he wrote to tell her, 'and will try it with cases of heart disease and also of nervous exhaustion, particularly in the miserable condition after withdrawal of morphine', a possibility which had been suggested in an American medical journal. Having taken some cocaine—it altered his mood from depression to cheerfulness, he was delighted to find, without impairing his ability to work—he tried it on his friend Dr. Fleischl, a morphine addict, with immediately gratifying results.
    'The temperament of an investigator'—Freud had told Martha in the letter describing his research into cocaine—'needs two fundamental qualities: he must be sanguine in the attempt, but critical in the work'. He failed to heed his own advice. Cocaine, he decided, was 'a magical drug'. He took it himself against depression and indigestion; sent some to Martha; recommended it for a variety of disorders; and wrote an essay on it published in 1884, which was an extended eulogy. Cocaine provided 'exhilaration and lasting euphoria'; 'an increase of self-control'; 'more vitality and capacity for work'. Whether mental or physical, work could be performed without any fatigue; there were none of the unpleasant after-effects associated with alcohol; and 'absolutely no craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even repeated, taking of the drug; one feels, rather, a curious aversion to it'.
    The following year, the first warnings were sounded. To some persons, nothing was more fascinating than indulgence in cocaine—a writer commented in the Medical Record for November 28th, 1885—
It relieves the sense of exhaustion, dispels mental depression, and produces a delicious sense of exhilaration and well-being. The after-effects are at first slight, almost imperceptible; but continuous indulgence finally creates a craving which must be satisfied; the individual then becomes nervous, tremulous sleepless, without appetite, and he is at last reduced to a condition of pitiable neurasthenia.

    By the spring of 1887 a Brooklyn doctor, J. B. Mattison, had compiled a formidable dossier to show that cocaine was highly addictive—as Freud himself, who had passionately defended cocaine, now realised. He had to watch Fleischl suffering from the agonies of chronic intoxication, delirium tremens, and 'white snakes creeping over his skin'.
    There was no reason, in theory, why the unmasking of cocaine should have had an adverse effect on the reputation of coca—any more than the discovery that tobacco's alkali, nicotine, was highly poisonous had deterred people from smoking. But because the early experimenters with cocaine had argued that, as Freud put it, cocaine was 'the essential constituent of coca leaves', there was an understandable tendency for coca to be found guilty by association; and it had not been on the market for long enough to become established in the way that tobacco had been before nicotine was found.
    Coca had its defenders: chief among them W. G. Mortimer, a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1901 he published his history of the 'divine plant of the Incas', a rambling, repetitive, but exhaustively researched defence of the use of the plant, as distinct from its alkali. The pharmacologists, he asserted, had deceived the public; cocaine no more represented coca than prussic acid, found in minute quantities in peach stones, 'represents that luscious fruit'. The analogy might not be precise, but the proposition he derived from it was of fundamental importance: that the action of cocaine on the human system, though in some respects similar to that of coca, must not be considered as identical: 'each gives a peculiar sense of well being; but cocaine affects the central nervous system more pronouncedly than does coca; not—as commonly presumed—because it is coca in a more concentrated form, but because the associated substances present in coca, which are important in modifying its action, are not present in cocaine'. As proof he was able to cite the discovery of Dr. Henry Rusby that the Andean natives, making their careful selection of leaves for chewing, did not, in fact, choose the leaves with the highest cocaine content. And in the entire literature on the subject, Mortimer claimed, before the attacks on cocaine, there had been no serious criticism of coca. Nor was there any known case of coca addiction or coca poisoning ('What it does for the Indian at fifteen', one authority had asserted, 'it does for him at sixty; a greatly increasing dose is not resorted to.') Not merely was it as innocent as tea or coffee, 'which are commonly accepted popular necessities—but it is vastly superior to those substances'.
    But how was it—if the authorities Mortimer cited were correct—that the findings of scientific experimenters like Dowdeswell had been negative? Perhaps, Mortimer surmised, they had used the wrong kind of leaves. Or the explanation might be along the lines put forward in 1881 by a New York physician, W. S. Searle: that not only was coca's action so gentle that it could escape detection: it might not take place at all in experiments, because the appropriate mechanism would not be brought into action.
While no other known substance can rival coca in its sustaining power, no other has so little apparent effect. To one pursuing the even tenor of his usual routine, the chewing of coca gives no special sensation. In fact the only result seems to be a negative one, viz.: an absence of the customary desire for food and sleep. It is only when some unusual demand is made upon mind or body that its influence is felt. And to this fact is to be attributed much of the incredulity of those who have carelessly experimented with it and who, expecting some internal commotion or sensation, are disappointed.

    Mortimer himself felt that the explanation probably also lay in the different circumstances in which coca was consumed in South America, where it affected the body's capacity for work by more efficient conversion of food into energy. Coca helped the Andean Indians to avoid fatigue by acting upon the stored-up carbohydrates to which they were accustomed. It might have no affect—the implication was—on a Westerner accustomed to a different diet.
    Whatever the explanation—Mortimer concluded—the evidence from clinical experience was irrefutable. He had himself circularised doctors all over America about their experiences with coca; over 350 had replied and a large majority of those expressing opinions were agreed that coca improved the digestion, strengthened the heart, stimulated the mind, and improved sexual performance. All doctors who agreed with him, he urged, should accept the need for a long and persistent campaign to explain coca's value, 'and so reflect credit upon themselves through the advocacy and use of a really marvellous drug'.
    It was to no purpose. Coca might be all that Mortimer claimed, but it lost caste; the medical profession gradually losing interest. Cocaine, like morphine, continued to have a limited range of clinical uses; but they would soon, it was hoped, be replaced for most purposes by a new drug. Heroin had been derived from opium in 1898; soon it was being enthusiastically promoted by manufacturers, and enthusiastically welcomed by doctors, as more effective than its predecessors, and carrying—the assurance was—no risk whatsoever of promoting addiction.



    After the disappointments with laudanum and Indian hemp, the search for a safe and effective vision-inducing drug had languished for a time; but towards the end of the century it was revived, largely through the efforts of a young Berlin pharmacologist, Louis Lewin. Lewin first made his reputation by some research into morphine; then, he went on to make the first scientific study of kava. Missionaries, Lewin had read, were inclined to regard kava as a powerful intoxicant which ought to be banned; yet Europeans who took it generally found that it had little or no effect on them. Why? Lewin decided to find the active chemical principle, test it, and settle the issue one way or the other. The tests convinced him that kava was a mild stimulant, improving muscular efficiency and endurance; and though it could be taken as an intoxicant, its effects were relatively gentle, compared with alcohol. At least people under its influence did not become noisy and aggressive.
    Up to this point, Lewin was following Anstie's course; but whereas Anstie's findings compelled him to give up the attempt to distinguish drugs by their effects on man, Lewin remained sublimely confident that it was only a matter of time before he could unravel the strands sufficiently to allow him to categorise drugs according to their effects. And he was greatly encouraged in this view by peyote which came into his possession on a visit to America. The botanical Museum in Berlin decided the cacti were a new species; four alkaloids were extracted from them, including mescal—mescaline; and Lewin had his monument—the sub-species was named after him, anhalonium lewinii.
    In Lewin, however, peyotl induced no vision. He found it only toxic (as did William James. It made him vomit; 'I will take the visions on trust', he told his brother Henry). But another American, the pioneer psychiatrist Weir Mitchell, was delighted with the results, when he tried peyotl in the lE90s, finding it a powerful physical and emotional stimulus. He could climb to the fourth floor of his hotel two steps at a time without puffing; and later—'deliciously at languid ease, I was clearly in the land where it is always afternoon'—he had a sense of heightened intellectual power. In retrospect he had to admit that a reading of what he wrote under the influence failed to justify it; but he could not find words to express the 'beauty and splendour of what I saw'.
    After reading Mitchell's account in the British Medical Journal, Havelock Ellis took mescaline, with very similar results. His first symptom was an access of energy, and of intellectual power; then visions, the colours indescribably vivid and delightful, so reminiscent of Monet's paintings that Ellis decided to offer some mescal to an artist he knew, to observe the effect. The artist duly had fantastic visions—but they were accompanied by paroxysms, pain, and the fear he was dying. 'It may at least be claimed,' Ellis wrote, 'that for a healthy person to be once or twice admitted to the rites of mescal is not only an unforgettable delight but an educational influence of no mean value.' But he realised that more research was needed; and the fact that Weir Mitchell had also had unfortunate results when he tried it out on a colleague did not encourage more orthodox medical scientists to carry it on.
    Mescaline had been discovered at the wrong time. Pharmacologists were looking for drugs which had measurable effects; not drugs which induced unquantifiable delight. And Lewin, though he had no doubt that divine inspiration could account for such visions as that of the prophet Ezekiel—'a great cloud, and a fire unfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber'—felt that visionary experiences were ordinarily 'transitory states caused by substances produced in the organism'. This was a view that was becoming increasingly popular among scientists: that the visions of the alcoholic, the schizophrenic and the mystic reflected biochemical changes in the body. The chemical processes interested them. The visions, they felt, were of no significance.

Chapter 10

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