Victor Robinson wrote his witty, entertaining and thoughtful “Essay On Hasheesh” in 1912, just before the dawn of the age of Pig Pharma. These were times when the companies whose greed would ultimately dominate world medicine were still peddling miracle baldness & flatulence cures on street corners.
In this blog post I would like to share a small section of one of Robinson’s introductory chapters in which he summarizes the history of natural medicines in just a few amazing paragraphs. Up until the early 20th Century physicians and healers had depended exclusively on a global apothecary of natural medicines. In introducing the medical glories of Cannabis, Robinson creates an amazing summary of these generations of medical knowledge which sometimes, as in the case of mercury, was horribly wrong but which often, as in the case of Cannabis, has proven more valuable to mankind than many of the nightmarish chemical inventions of Pig Pharma.
Two rather famous quotes by book reviewers of the time show how impressed and worried they were by the depth and scope of Robinson’s research and his appealing writing style.
One editor commented that Robinson’s arguments in favor of Hasheesh were so powerful that “…if there is any caution to go with this monograph, it should be to keep it out of the hands of the neurotics.”
Another prohibitionist reviewer remarked dolefully “We hope that Victor Robinson’s delightful description will not unduly popularize the use of this drug.”
Excerpt from “Hasheesh”
“Ailing man has ransacked the world to find balms to ease him of his pains. And this is only natural, for what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his digestion? Let the tiniest nerve be but inflamed, and it will bend the proudest spirit: humble is a hero with a toothache! It is doubtful if Buddha himself could have maintained his equanimity with a bit of dust on his conjunctiva. Caesar had a fever and the eye that awed the world did lose its lustre, and the tongue that bade the Romans write his speeches in their books cried like a sick child.
Our flesh is heir to many ills, and alas when the heritage falls due. Even pride and prejudice are then forgotten, and Irishmen in need of purgatives are willing to use rhubarb grown on English soil, while the foreign Colombo Root gathered by the feral natives in untamed forests is consumed by ladies who never saw anything wilder than a Fabian Socialist.
The modern descendant of Hippocrates draws his Materia Medica from the uttermost ends of the earth: linseed from busy Holland and floretted marigold from the exotic Levant; cuckoo’s cap from little Helvetia, and pepper-elder from ample Brazil; biting cubebs from spicy Borneo and fringed lichens from raw-winded Iceland; sweet flag from the ponds of Burmah, coto bark from the thickets of Bolivia, sleeping nightshade from the woods of Algeria, brownish rhatany from the sands of Peru, purple crocus from the pastures of Greece, aromatic vanilla from the groves of Mexico, golden seal from the retreats of Canada, knotty Aleppo from the plains of Kirghiz, fever-tree from the hills of Tasmania, white saunders from the mountains of Macassar.
Idols are broken boldly nowadays, but the daughter of Aesculapius does not fear, for Hygeia knows she will always have a frenzied world of worshippers to kneel at her every shrine in every land. All the reservoirs of nature have been tapped to yield medicines for man.
From the mineral kingdom we take the alkali metals, the nitrogen group, the compounds of oxygen, the healing waters, the halogens, the nitrate of silver, the sulphate of copper, the carbonate of sodium, the chloride of mercury, the hydroxide of potassium, the acetate of lead, the citrate of lithium, the oxide of calcium, and the similar salts of half a hundred elements from Aluminium to Zincum.
From the vegetable kingdom we extract the potent alkaloid; all things that blossom and bloom, we knead them as we list: the broad rhizome of iris, the wrinkled root of lappa, the inspissated juice of aloes, the flowerheads of anthemis, the outer rind of orange, the inner bark of cinnamon, the thin arillode of macis, the dense sclerotium of ergot, the ovoid kernel of nutmeg, the pitted seed of rapa, the pale spores of club-moss, the spongy pith of sassafras, the bitter wood of quassia, the smoothish bark of juglans, the unripe fruit of hemlock, the fleshy bulb of scilla, the brittle leaves of senna, the velvet thallus of agaric, the balsamic resin of benzoin, the scaly strobiles of hops, the styles and stigmas of zea.
The animal kingdom has likewise been forced to bring tribute to its highest brother: we use in medicine the blood-sucking leech, the natural emulsion from the mammary glands of the cow, the internal fat from the abdomen of the hog, the coppery-green Spanish fly, the globular excrements of the leaping antelope, the fixed oil from the livers of the cod, the fresh bile of the stolid ox, the vitellus of the hen’s egg, the fatty substance from the huge head of the sperm-whale, the odorous secretion of the musk-deer, the swimming-bladder of regal fish, the inner layer of the oyster-shell, the branched skeleton of the red polyp, the dried follicles of the boring beaver, the bony horns of the crimson deer, the thyroid glands of the simple sheep, the coagulated serum from the blood of the horse, the wax and the honey from the hive of the busy bee, and even the disgusting cockroaches that infest the kitchen-shelves and climb all over the washtubs are used as a diuretic and for dropsy.
Little it matters by whom the healing agent was ushered in, for mankind in its frantic search for health asks not the creed or color of its medical savior: Pipsissewa was introduced into medicine by the redskins, buchu by the hottentots, quassia by a negro slave, zinc valerianate by a French prince, krameria by a Spanish refugee, ipecac by the Brazilian aboriginecs, guaiac by a syphilitic warrior, aspidium by a Swiss widow.
“Medicine,” wrote the greatest of literary physicians, “appropriates everything from every source that can be of the slightest use to anybody who is ailing in any way, or likely to be ailing from any cause. It learned from a monk how to use antimony, from a Jesuit how to cure agues, from a friar how to cut for stone, from a soldier how to treat gout, from a sailor how to keep off scurvy, from a postmaster how to sound the Eustachian tube, from a dairy-maid how to prevent small-pox, and from an old market woman how to catch the itch-insect. It borrowed acupuncture and the moxa from the Japanese heathen, and was taught the use of lobelia by the American savage.”
And all these substances are daily being powdered, sifted, granulated, desiccated, percolated, macerated, distilled, sublimed, comminuted, dissolved, precipitated, filtered, strained, expressed, clarified, crystallized, ignited, fused, calcined, torrified and deflagrated into powders, pills, wafers, capsules, ampoules, extracts, tinctures, infusions, decoctions, syrups, cordials, essences, magmas, suppositories, tablets, troches, ointments, plasters, abstracts, liniments, collodions, cataplasms and so on and so on.
And all these finished preparations have a most laudable object in view – the eradication of disease and the alleviation of pain. Ah, this is indeed a quest worth the striving for! To accomplish the quadrature of the circle, or ferret out the secret of perpetual motion, may be highly interesting, the of problematical value only; but when a clammy sweat bathes the brow, and the delicate nerves twitch till the tortured human frame shakes in anguish, how important is it to be able to lift the veil from a condition like this! He who conquers disease is greater than the builder of cities or the creator of empires. His value is above the poets, statesmen cannot be compared unto him, educators equal him not in worth.
A careful economist like John Stuart Mill tells us it is doubtful if all the labor-saving machinery ever invented has lessened for a single day the work of a single human being, but when a discovery is made in medicine it becomes a sun which sheds its beneficence on all who suffer. The sick pauper of today lying in a charity hospital receives better medical treatment than the sick potentate of yesterday lying in his costly palace. But so far medical science has only unhorsed, not overthrown pain, its ancient antagonist. In spite of all the remedies, in spite of all the research, mankind as yet possesses no satisfactory antidote for suffering; it knows no drug which can give pain its conge for more than a transient period.
But altho the time of relief be limited, the simple fact that there are substances which do have some power over pain is sufficient to make the study of narcotism highly important. And of all the narcotics – a narcotic being roughly defined as a substance which relieves pain and produces excitability followed by sleep – none is more alluring to the imagination than the intoxicating hemp-plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa and popularly famed as Hasheesh – those strange flowering-tops that appeal to a pot-bellied bushman of Australia who smokes it in a pipe of animal tusks, and to so hyper-esoteric a litterateur as Charles Baudelaire of the Celestial City of Art.”
Before getting to the promised insights, dear reader, please indulge me for a few paragraphs.
Readers of this blog know that I am fascinated by lost knowledge, and by the phenomenon of history repeating itself for new generations who believe that their experiences are unique in the history of the human race.
So it is with the current “Opioid Crisis”. The historical reality is that absolutely none of this current “Crisis” is new – not in kind, not in scale, not in consequences, not in causes, and certainly not in the ineffectual “solutions” that are (once again) being proposed.
I am in the process of editing and preparing to re-publish a lengthy and complex book from 150 years ago by a New York doctor, Alonzo Calkins, who wrote the book for members of the medical profession of his time. His objective was to make clear the deep historical roots of the love affair between people and mind/body altering substances. Although it is clear that Dr. Calkins disapproved – to put it mildly – of any kind of mind-alteration with the possible exception of vigorous exercise and (Christian) prayer, he was also clearly a person with a deep grasp of world history and human nature.
The book is: “Opium And The Opium-Appetite: With Notices Of Alcoholic Beverages, Cannabis Indica, Tobacco And Coca, Coffee And Tea, And Their Hygienic Aspects and Pathologies Related” by Alonzo Calkins, MD, New York, 1870. (I will have this ebook available on Amazon in a week or so and will post a link in the sidebar of this blog.).)
Dr. Calkins lived near the end of the great Age of Exploration. For centuries before he wrote this book thousands of explorers, adventurers, writers, physicians and entrepreneurs of all kinds had been ranging the earth sampling all of the many and varied ways that people use mind-altering natural substances.
As far as Dr. Calkins was concerned, using drugs outside of a medical context is a destructive and immoral activity, so his book was not written in praise of all of those discoveries of colorful and imaginative ways that people of the world have found to get high. He was, however, a competent and observant physician, and he understood that in addition to people seeking to alter their minds in order to just plain have a good time, most people who use mind-altering substances are seeking ways to deal with misery, pain, disease, poverty, hopelessness and the general brutality of their existence.
This acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the human need for drugs, and the extensive documentation he offers, should give Dr. Calkins’ book a place in the library of anyone today who seeks to learn the lessons of the past in order to better understand the profound dilemmas we face today – dilemmas like 60,000+ Americans dying of pharmaceutical overdose. These numbers, so alarming to the breathless media, hypocritical politicians, parasitic “professionals”, and privileged classes, are really nothing new. Not at all. They are, however, absolute proof that people never learn, and especially that people who fancy themselves to be “in charge” never learn.
As long as societies that can well afford to change do not, and as long as a tiny minority keeps all the wealth and power of the society to themselves and continues to allow pain, disease, poverty, hopelessness and brutality to dominate the lives of the majority, the “drug problem” will never, not ever, be solved. Violent revolutions, however, can and do occur with regularity, and they are always about the same evils that “cause” the “drug problem”.
That is because, as Dr. Calkins’ book makes so clear although the author himself does not realize that he is making this point, in the end the “problem” is not drugs. It is the life that so many people are forced to lead by the cruelty, ignorance and selfishness of others.
So, that said, here is one of the many interesting chapters in Dr. Calkins’ book, chock full of those historical references I promised. Although I have been an avid investigator of the history of both Cannabis and Opium for many years, some of the following observations on Hashish were brand new to me, as I hope they will be to you as well. Keep well in mind the limitations of the time in which Dr. Calkins wrote, and have fun!
Chapter XXV: Opium And Cannabis Indica Contrasted
“Fallax Herba veneni.” – Virgil.
“That juice – the bane, And blessing of man’s heart and brain – That draught of sorcery, which brings Phantoms of fair forbidden things.” – Moore
The authorities upon Cannabis besides those to be specified are Rhases, Kaempfer, D’Herbelot, Herault, Mantegazza, and others. The solid extract (which is procured from the summitates of the herb) is called Hashisch in Arabia, Gunjah and Chumts in India (where it is also familiarly known as the “Herbe des Fakirs”), Bust or Shoera in Egypt, El Mogen by the Moors, and among the Hottentots Dacha or Dagga (Von Bibra). Bangue (Bang) or Bendji is the spirituous extract.
Cannabis as a stimulating narcotic has for some centuries at the shortest been known and familiarly used in India, Persia, Bokhara, and other countries, and in some of the Islands. In Egypt, particularly among the lower orders, it takes precedence of opium, and is chewed or sometimes smoked from the gozeh (Lane). Bhang – the more active preparation – is conspicuous for its inebriative and delirative operation.
The Massagetce (as is related by Herodotus), a people on the Araxes, had a seed (conjectured to have been this same seed of Indian Hemp or perhaps of the Datura), which thrown upon hot stones sent forth a vapor that excited boisterous mirth and shouting. Davis the navigator on visiting Sumatra found such a seed, a little only of which being eaten gave to every object a metamorphosed appearance and turned the man for the time into a fool. Dampier observed among the natives of this island an herb which produced exhilaration and then stupefaction, making the eater lively or dull, witty or foolish, or merry or sad, according to the predominant temperament.
Hashisch far surpasses opium in relative power. A dose of twenty centigrammes of the resinoid repeated three or four times shows activity in half an hour, but the full effect is not attained short of three times this space. The duration of action is three to four hours (Steeze of Bucharest). Irregularity and uncertainty in action are doubtless to be ascribed to adulteration (Schroff).
The full impression once produced the brain is speedily affected with a sensation of extraordinary elasticity and lightness and the senses become wondrously acute, a tingling as from an electric shock is felt shooting from the spinal centre to the periphery of the body, the vault of the cranium is lifted off as it were by the expansive force within, the skull seeming as if enlarged to the dimensions of a colossus; and now with one impetuous rebound the experimenter rises above this low commonplace of terrene existence to soar in a purer ether above.
If still conscious of a lingering upon the confines of earth he sways himself along in a balancing gait as though he were under a sort of ivresse. External impressions as from the pricking of a pin or a stroke from the hand may perchance pass unheeded. Objects in the immediate range seem invested with an unwonted splendor, human faces take on a seraphic lustre, and the man for the time feels himself to be possessed of the power of ubiquity. According to the varying humor things around may seem to have assumed a fantastic dress, when peals of laughter will break forth; or suddenly a change will have come over the spirit, when under the impressions produced by lugubrious images and depressing apprehensions the mind will be wrapped in cloudiness and gloom (Polli).
The appetite is assisted by moderate doses but made ravenous for the time by large ones, and the digestive function is correspondingly aroused while constipation is obviated, and the various secernent processes go on in their normal way (Dr. Teste). Not until after long-continued and excessive use does appetite decline, as is observable of the Arabs, says Auber, who finally get fleshless and withered as the general tendency to decay becomes more distinct and progressive.
An excessive dose hinders the approach of sleep; a moderate one brings on a sopor speedy and irresistible. This sleep may be profound and stertorous, or it may partake more of the dreaminess of ecstasy. In the story of Mahmoud lord of the Black Isles, the wife, to cover up her absence for the night, administers just before going out a powder that soporizes him immediately and effectually for the time, or until she shall return again to awaken him with a perfume placed under the nostrils.
This powder there is reason for believing was some preparation (simple or compounded) of the hemp. In another of the stories of the “Nights,” that of the Jew Physician, is a similar incident described. So the chamberlain of Ala-ed-Deen is suddenly thrown into a profound sleep by the use of a powder which Ahmed Kamakim an arch-thief throws upon his face. Unlike that after the opium-sleep, the sensation on awaking is one of refreshing.
The mental condition is an ideal existence, the most vivid, the most fascinating. Time and space both seem to have expanded by an enormous magnification; pigmies have swelled to giants, mountains have grown out of molehills, days have enlarged to years and ages. De Moria in wending his way one evening to the opera house, seemed to himself to have been three years in traversing the corridor. De Saulcy having once fallen into a state of insensibility following upon incoherent dreamings, fancied he had lived meanwhile a hundred years. Rapidity as well as intensity of thought is a noticeable phenomenon. De Lucca after swallowing a dose of the paste saw as in a flitting panorama the various events of his entire life all proceeding in orderly succession, though he was powerless in the attempt to arrest and detain a single one of them for a more deliberate contemplation. Memory is sometimes very singularly modified nevertheless, there being perhaps a forgetfulness not of the object but of its name proper, or the series of events that transpired during the paroxysm may have passed away into a total oblivion.
The normal mental condition is that of an exuberant enjoyance rather than the opposite, that of melancholy and depression, though the transition from the one state to the other may be as extreme as it is swift. Oftener the subject is kept revolving in a delirious whirl of hallucinatory emotions, when images the most grotesque and illusions the drollest and most fantastic crowd along, one upon another, with a celerity almost transcending thought (Mirza Abdul Roussac).
Command over the will is maintainable, but temporarily only. As self-control declines the mind is swayed by the mere fortuitous vagaries of the fancy; and now it is that the dominant characteristic or mental proclivity has its real apocalypsis. The outward expression may reveal itself under a show of complacency and contentment in view of things around, or suspicion, distrust, and querulousness of disposition may work to the surface, or maybe a lordly hauteur that exacts an unquestioning homage from the “profanum vulgus” by virtue of an affected superiority over common mortals, is the ruling idea of the hour; or peradventure the erotic impulses may for the time overshadow and disguise all others.
Amid the ever-shifting spectacular scene the sense of personal identity is never perhaps entirely lost, but there does arise in very rare instances the notion of a duality of existence; not the Persian idea precisely, that of two souls occupying one and the same body in a joint-stock association as it were (the doctrine as alluded to by Xenophon in the story of the beautiful Panthea), but rather the idea of one and the same, soul in duplication or bipartition else, and present in two bodies.
The rapturous delights inspired by the beatific visions thus find expression in an exclamation of an aged Brahmin: “O sahib, sahib, you can never know what perfect pleasure is until you see as I have seen and feel as I have felt – spectacles the most gorgeous, perfumes the most delicious, music the most transporting and bewildering.”
The inspiration of the Pythian priestess at Delphi has been attributed to opium and again to hashisch, and not unlikely both conspired to the effect. This improvisatore power was amusingly developed one day in a pupil of Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s, upon a trial of ten minims of the tincture. The young man in the ecstasy of the excitement assumed the airs and language of an Indian rajah, talking learnedly and haranguing with great volubility in a lively display of brilliant fancy and logical acuteness, to the admiration of friends no less than to his own astonishment as subsequently felt (for the recollection of his scenic personations survived the performance), inasmuch as a habitual taciturnity and an unostentatious carriage were so congenial and habitual to the young man. The paroxysm having lasted six hours, a retransformation occurring somewhat suddenly was complete nevertheless.
Note. In a Prize-essay lately read before the American Philosophical Society by H. C. Wood, M.D., the Professor records an experimentation with somewhat unexpected results, as conducted upon himself. The preparation used was an extract made from Kentucky hemp, in quantity about half a drachm. The effect, which began in three hours, lasted into the following day. At midnight a profound sleep had come over him, and in the hours of waking there was noted an anesthesia affecting the entire skin. The characteristic expansion of time and space was a conspicuous symptom. Mental action as an effect of volitional effort was mostly restrained, from the embarrassment experienced in attempts towards a concentration of the thoughts. A sense of impending death besides hung over him at intervals. In a student who experimented with a grain dose, there was developed a hilarious excitement simply, with a sexual erethism ensuing which did not relax short of three days. This scientific paper (the first contribution of the kind to the medical literature of America) should command the attention of the Profession.
This singular excitant, extensively known in the age of the Crusades appears to have been used by the Saracens for a double purpose, to kindle up the ardor of the soldier against the Paynim, and in larger dose to beguile his adversary into a careless security and so to facilitate the stealthy use of the poignard. In the neighborhood of Mount Libanus there existed from the beginning of the twelfth century for about one hundred and fifty years a military organization, made up for the most part of rude hordes gathered out of the tribes of Kurdistan. Ishmaelitish by genealogy, vindictive in their passions and implacable in their resentments, while professing fealty to the Crescent they campaigned oftener in reality, “their hand being against every man and every man’s hand being against them. Their generalissimo was known as “Le Vieux de la Montagne” (Von Hammer).
At Allamut and Massiat were their famed gardens, secluded by high walls from the vulgar gaze but within adorned with every decoration and luxury that could entrance the vision and captivate appetite; and here presided girls of enchanting beauty and ravishing seductiveness, the houris of the scene. Into this “outer court of the temple,” the youthful aspirant to the honor of a matriculatory membership having been previously drugged with hashisch, was mysteriously conveyed, here to breathe the balmy airs of a terrestrial paradise, introductory to the solemn oath of covenant which at once exacted entire and unquestioning obedience and which denounced an abjuration on peril of life.
Such were the Herb-eating Assassins, the “Hashasheen” (De Sacy). A final dispersion was carried out by the victorious sword of Hulakii, when Aldjebal, Khalif of Baldrach, after sustaining a siege of three years was shut up in a tower by Ulau, there to perish in his solitude by a lingering death (Benjamin of Tudela).
Hashisch, more energetic in action than opium, is in comparison prematurely exhaustive also. Rapid deterioration of the physical forces is to be expected, and as is thought a determination towards phthisis may be established. The ultimate mental condition is that of dementia. The santons (holy men) of Egypt, those distinguished objects of popular veneration in their wanderings from town to town, are living illustrations of this degenerescence, in their corporeal as well as in their mental decay.
Quite unlike opium in one characteristic, hashisch is a powerful aphrodisiac (O’Shaughnessy), ranking second on the list perhaps, or after arsenic. The power of the latter indeed appears remarkable. In the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal is a case from Dr. Parker, that of a young man thirty years old at his death, who began the use at the age of four. A double effect ensued, a prodigious development of the sexual organs in size, and a proportionate exaltation of function amounting to an impetuous and uncontrollable salacity.
Deleterious as is hashisch in the ordinary habitual use, it may be counteracted or neutralized very effectually for the time by the free use of lemon-juice. Dr. Castelnuovo a resident in the country for thirty years observes, that the people of Tunis understand the secret thoroughly and avail themselves habitually of the benefits.
Bearing an analogy to the poppy from their more intimate relationship to cannabis are Hyoscyamus, Belladonna, and the Datura family. The first – reckoned by Von Hammer to have been identical in origin with the bendji – produces giddiness and stupidity. Belladonna, that “insane root that takes the reason prisoner” (rather is it one out of a number of such), excites delirium and the risus sardonicus (Ray).
The pathologic mental phasis is described by Winslow as a species of “hallucination without fantasia,” i.e. a metamorphosis of things actual in idea rather than a display of mere fanciful creations without analogies in natural things. A pathologic condition has been remarked simulating delirium tremens. The recollection of past phenomena is found to have been obliterated “at once and irrecoverably.”
Datura brings spectral illusions, but leaves a persistent, perhaps incurable stupidity. A singular effect wrought upon the memory is in the interchanging of the names of objects, there being at the same time a conscious perception of the incongruities. The daturas possess strong erotic powers, and a species is used in India by courtesans upon themselves and for the benefit of their visiting friends. The cordial sometimes made by digesting the seeds in wine is especially dangerous to the sex by a double action, exciting physical desire most actively for the time and making the subject oblivious altogether of any faux-pas adventures hazarded.