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Historical Insights Into Hashish

Courtesy of 420 Magazine

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.


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Medical Cannabis & Hashish In Old Europe

The consciousness that Cannabis is a powerful natural medicine was well-developed in Europe of the 1800s. Knowledge of the medical uses of Cannabis, Coca Leaf and Opium came to Europe from the Andes and Asia first through explorers and traders of the 1600s and 1700s, then increasingly through travelers, writers, adventurers, scholars and missionaries in the 1800s.

Of course Cannabis also came to Europe as Hashish at the same time as it arrived as dried, pressed flowers, so Europeans had a Cannabis concentrate to work with from the earliest days. In the beginning there was some confusion over whether Cannabis flowers and Hashish were the same thing – a confusion soon to be mirrored with Coca Leaf transmuted into Cocaine, and Opium Sap transmuted into Morphine and Heroin.

Americans who find the history of Cannabis fascinating will enjoy browsing the following essay, which I discovered in a public domain EU document. The entire document is mostly about drug control in Europe, but this essay which is intended as background for discussions of control happens to be the best concise history of early medical use of Cannabis in Europe that I have read, and so I’m happy to share it with you here on Panacea Chronicles.

Cannabis as medicine in Europe in the 19th century
Manfred Fankhauser

As in the previous centuries, hemp was predominantly used in the 19th century as a fibre material. Herbal cannabis played a marginal role as a medicinal plant, although its seeds were used medicinally, mostly in the form of pressed oils or hemp milk as medicine against gonorrhoea or cystitis. In tandem with prevailing interest in plants, products and culture from the Orient, medicinal use of cannabis arrived in Europe from the East during the 18th century.

Much has been written on the historical knowledge in Europe of the psychoactive properties of hemp prior to the 18th century: among readers of Herodotus’ description of Scythian cannabis-incensed burial rites; by alchemists, in particular the herb Pantagruelion lauded by author François Rabelais; via knowledge of Islamic medicine via al-Andalus, and elsewhere (Bennett et al., 1995; Booth, 2003; Mercuri et al., 2002).

However, widespread scientific writings on its psychoactive properties came later. For example, Gmelin wrote in 1777 of the Eastern use of bhang for stupefying (‘etwas Betaeubendes’), mind-clouding (‘Benebelung des Verstandes’) and intoxicating effects (Fankhauser, 2002); and in 1786 the Comte d’Angiviller thanked a certain Boulogne for his sending of Indian hemp plants with the prophetic words ‘Cette plante sera peut- être un présent intéressant pour l’Europe’.

At the end of the 18th century, the French naturalist Sonnerat informed Lamarck’s 1873 Encyclopédique de botanique of Cannabis indica (Emboden, 1974) and brought Indian hemp home to France after a journey to the Orient. Napoleonic campaigns in Egypt and the Near East introduced colonial troops — notably the scientists Silvestre de Sacy, Rouyer and Desgenettes — to hashish (Abel, 1980; Booth, 2003).

European interest in this ‘new’, or rather rediscovered, plant grew only hesitantly. The first comprehensive description of the medical usefulness of Indian hemp in Europe was written in 1830 by the German pharmacist and botanist Friedrich Ludwig Nees von Esenbeck. Until that point in time, use of hemp for medical purposes had remained at a low level.

This situation changed significantly prior to the middle of the 19th century. William B. O’Shaughnessy (1809–1889/90), an Irish medical doctor stationed in Calcutta, India, published in 1839 a comprehensive study on Indian hemp. Thanks mainly to his On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp or Gunjah, Cannabis indica now also became recognised within European-school medicine. O’Shaugnessy used various hemp compounds in his investigations, partly with great success, against the following indications: rheumatism, rabies, cholera, tetanus, convulsions and delirium tremens.

With hashish he had found a well-suited medicine to give his patients relief, and in the case of cramps, even total disappearance of symptoms. For concluding remarks, he wrote: ‘The presented cases are a summary of my experience with cannabis indica, and I believe that this medicine is an anticonvulsivum of great value’ (O’Shaughnessy, 1839).

Europe reacted promptly to this new knowledge from India. This is not surprising as until then no adequate treatment existed against recognised diseases such as rabies, cholera or tetanus. Great hopes were based on O’Shaughnessy’s results. The French were the first to engage themselves intensively with the plant. As early as 1840, the French medical doctor Louis Aubert-Roche (1809–1874), who resided in Egypt, used hashish seemingly successfully against pestilence (Hirsch, 1884–1886). Nearly simultaneously, his compatriot and friend, the psychiatrist Jaques Joseph Moreau de Tours (1804–1884), began to experiment with hashish. He started out with experimenting upon doves and hares, giving them large doses of hashish extracts with their fodder. Then he tested hashish on friends, colleagues, patients and himself. He was convinced that hashish was the supreme medicament for use in psychiatry. His book, Du Hachich et de l’aliénation mentale (1845), caused a great sensation at the time, and is still understood as the origin of experimental psychiatry and psychopharmacology (Weber, 1971).

The works of Moreau de Tours had an impact not only in medical circles, but also among writers and artists. The poet Théophile Gauthier (1811–1872), for instance, received hashish samples from Moreau de Tours. In 1843 he described extensively a self-experienced hashish intoxication in the Paris newspaper La Presse under the title ‘Le Club des Hachichins’. The club of hashish eaters, of which Gauthier was one of the founders, had regular meetings in Hôtel Pimodan on the Seine island of St Louis.

He and Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) shared a penthouse in the hotel for several years. Other prominent club members were Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) and Honoré Daumier (1808–1879) (Moreau, 1904). Further well-known contemporaries such as Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) and Victor Hugo (1802–1885) participated occasionally (Behr, 1982).

Inspired by Moreau de Tours and later by pharmacy professor Eugène Soubeiran (1797–1859), the pharmacist Edmond de Courtive published in 1848 his widely noted dissertation, Haschish. In addition to chemical analysis, he carried out self-experiments with miscellaneous hashish compounds and gave exact descriptions of their physical and psychic effects (De Courtive, 1848).

Many medical doctors took advantage of the promising results of the pioneers O’Shaughnessy, Aubert-Roche and Moreau de Tours and used these new drugs for therapeutic purposes. Initially, primarily doctors from the colonial powers of England and France showed interest in the use of compounds made of Indian hemp. The necessary commodities or compounds were imported in great quantities to Europe from the colonies, especially from India (Smith and Smith, 1847). Hemp was in this period sold to Europe primarily in three commercial variations:

Ganjah: consists solely of the blooming tips of the female, carefully cultivated plant. Mostly 24 blooming tips are bundled in a length of approximately 1 m, and 11 cm thickness.

Charras: consists of the resin, which is extracted foremost from the blossom, but also from leaves and stalks of the female plant. Today, the extracted resin is called hashish.

Bhang: extracted from the leafless stalks of the female hemp plant. Bhang was predominantly exported to Europe in powder form.

In Europe ganjah was the first to be pharmaceutically exploited. Initially, the fields of application known to O’Shaughnessy were adopted. Later on, the therapeutic application of hashish was considerably extended. In particular, the English and French medics applied this new wonder drug against tetanus (Martius, 1844). Encouraged by many positive reports, especially from England, the Bulgarian medic Basilus Beron intensively engaged in this problem in a dissertation. His work concludes:

I was so contented that, after having used almost all known antitetanic drugs without result, the sick person that had been assigned to me was totally cured after use of the Indian hemp (…) wherefore the Indian hemp is strongly recommended against tetanus. (Beron, 1852)

Homeopathy, founded by Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) and rapidly advancing in this period, was also quick to include Indian hemp in its medical catalogue. Towards the middle of the 19th century, in addition to the illnesses already mentioned, Indian hemp was mainly used against neuralgia and other pains, chorea, hysteria, insanity, haemorrhage and insomnia. Since prepared products did not yet exist, cannabis extracts and tinctures were mostly used.

The real success story of cannabis as a medicine began in the second half of the 19th century after the publication of Beron’s dissertation in 1852. In the same year, Franz von Kobylanski published a dissertation on the effect of cannabis as an oxytocic (1852). Four years later, the German Georg Martius wrote his comprehensive work Pharmakognostisch-chemische Studien über den Hanf, which attracted much attention.

Interest was also aroused by the experiments of the Viennese Carl Damian Ritter von Schroff (1802–1887). Martius was among the few who did not deem cannabis compounds as harmless. He wrote that:

the Indian hemp and all its compounds show great diversity concerning the degree and type of effect according to individual differences in healthy as well as in pathological conditions. It therefore belongs to the unsafe agents, and the medic should under all circumstances use it with great care.
(Von Schorff, 1858)

At the same time, Ernst Freiherr von Bibra (1806–1878) published his standard work, Die narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch. Here, he discussed hashish for over 30 pages. In addition to experiences of others, he describes a self-experiment with hashish. His concluding judgement was as follows: ‘Recent experiments and experiences made on the medical effect of the hemp plant and its compounds very much point to their advantage’ (von Bibra, 1855).

In this period, most European countries, as well as the USA, included Indian hemp in their national pharmacopoeia. The monographs Herba Cannabis indicae, Tinctura Cannabis indicae and Extractum Cannabis indicae enjoyed increased prominence,
whereas Semen/Fructus Cannabis and Oleum Cannabis became more and more rare. It was first of all France and England, and to a lesser extent the USA, that significantly contributed to the definitive breakthrough of the drug into Western medicine.

The study of Indian hemp was even pursued in Germany. A comprehensive work of Bernhard Fronmüller, written in 1869, is frequently cited. He had studied the qualities of the hemp plant for a long time, and carried out cannabis experiments within the framework of ‘clinical studies on the euthanising effect of the narcotic drugs’ with exactly 1 000 test patients. These test patients suffered from heavy insomnia due to various illnesses. The results of his investigation were positive. Thus, he concluded in his work: ‘The Indian hemp is, among the known anaesthetic drugs, the narcosis which most perfectly achieves a replacement of natural sleep, without particular repression of expulsions, without bad repercussions, without paralyses’ (Fronmüller, 1869).

Well-known medical experts or pharmacologists of the time wrote more-or-less comprehensive essays on Cannabis indica. Some of these articles criticise the unreliability of hemp compounds. Indeed, the standardisation problem continued to be an issue for cannabis compounds until they disappeared. Kobert is one of very few who discussed the dangers of long-term consumption: ‘The habitual consumption of any effective hemp compound deprives the human being and brings him to a mental institution’ (Kobert, 1897).

The period 1880 to 1900 can be considered a peak in the medical use of cannabis. The use of hashish compounds had become commonplace in almost all European countries and in the USA. Nonetheless, it was still scientists from England, France, Germany and the USA who persistently continued cannabis research. It is, therefore, not a coincidence that most of the products on the market (‘specialities’) originated in these
countries. It is first of all through the contribution of the company E. Merck of Darmstadt, Germany, that cannabis compounds became more widely used in Europe towards the end of the 19th century. One of the preferred source materials in the production of cannabis compounds in this period was Cannabinum tannicum Merck. In addition, the company Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. in England produced cannabis compounds. In the USA, cannabis compounds were manufactured by Squibb and sons in New York (‘Chlorodyne and Corn Collodium’), and, later, Parke-Davis & Co. in Detroit (‘Utroval’ and ‘Casadein’) and Eli Lilly (‘Dr Brown’s Sedative Tablets’, ‘Neurosine’ and ‘The One Day Cough Cure’). These companies delivered sufficient quantities of high-quality raw materials and produced compounds for the market.

Probably the most-used hemp compound was the sleeping pill Bromidia, of the American company Battle & Co. This was a combined drug, that is, in addition to cannabis extract it contained bromine potassium, chloral hydrate and henbane. While single compounds dominated during the 19th century, combination compounds were preferred in the 20th century. Most cannabis drugs were for internal use, but there existed topical compounds, for instance, creams or the common clavus tinctures.

In the meantime, France continued its 50-year tradition and honoured medical doctors and pharmacists with doctoral degrees based upon works on hashish. In 1891 Georges Meurisse (born 1864) published his work Le Haschich, and five years later Le chanvre indien by Hastings Burroughs (born 1853) appeared. The latter is strongly based on Villard’s work, but also upon his own therapeutic experiments. He summarises: ‘In therapeutic doses, the Indian hemp is safe and would deserve to be more frequently used’ (Burroughs, 1896).

In Germany, the PhD students H. Zeitler (‘On Cannabis indica’, 1885) and M. Starck (‘How to apply the new cannabis compounds’, 1887) first wrote their graduation dissertations, before the pharmacist Leib Lapin in 1894 published his dissertation, ‘A contribution to the knowledge of Cannabis indica’, under the guidance of the leading figures Johan Georg Dragendorff (1836–1898) and Rudolf Kobert (1854–1918). In the first part of his work, he gives an overview of ‘common, manufactured and officinal hemp compounds’ in use at the time. In the second part he describes the pharmacology of ‘cannabindon’, a cannabis derivate first studied by him. In the preamble of his investigation, he makes a remark which shows the uncertainty that existed regarding the medical safety of Indian hemp:

Had it been so simple to solve the hashish question, it would certainly have been solved by one of the numerous previous investigators. I believe that I have contributed to the definitive resolution, and this belief gives me the courage to publish the following as a dissertation.
(Lapin, 1894)

A scientific contribution of extraordinary importance within the cannabis research of the 19th century was the so-called Indian Hemp Report of 1894. This census, carried out by Great Britain in its colony India, primarily studied the extraction of drugs from cannabis, the trade in these drugs and the implications for the total population. Additionally, the study set out to clarify whether prohibition of the compounds might be justified, and an expert commission was established for this purpose. Its report impressively shows the significance of the stimulant and drug cannabis in India towards the end of the 19th century. The main conclusion of the commission was: ‘Based upon the effects of the hemp drugs, the commission does not find it necessary to forbid the growing of hemp, nor the production of hemp drugs and their distribution’ (Leonhardt, 1970).

Towards the 20th century, Indian hemp enjoyed an important position in the materia medica of Western medicine. Evidence of misuse of cannabis compounds was practically non-existent until then. Kunkel writes:

The chronical misuse of cannabis compounds — cannabism — is believed to be widespread in Asia and Africa. It results in chronic, heavy disruption of the entire organism, especially mental disorder — attacks of raving madness and a subsequent condition of weakness. It is not observed in Europe, Indian doctors report however daily frequent cases of this disease.
(Kunkel, 1899)

To sum up, hashish played a significant role as a medicine in Europe and in the USA towards the end of the 19th century. The most important applications were against pain, especially migraine and dysmenorrhoea, pertussis, asthma and insomnia. Additionally, hashish was relatively frequently used as an additive in clavus supplements. Rare applications were stomach ache, depressions, diarrhoea, diminished appetite, pruritus, haemorrhage, Basedow syndrome and malaria. Cannabis compounds were also used in numerous single cases, partly with good results. These were, however, of smaller significance.

Typically, doctors who worked intensively with cannabis drugs for years would classify them as valuable medicines. Others criticised them, and frequently looked upon them as worthless or even dangerous. However, both groups agreed on the unpredictable effect of cannabis compounds.

After keen use of cannabis compounds around the turn of the century, they disappeared completely in the middle of the 20th century. The main reasons for the disappearance of hashish medicaments are medical developments. Even before the 20th century, new, specific medicines were introduced for all main applications of cannabis compounds.

Vaccines were developed for the treatment of infectious diseases (cholera, tetanus, etc.), which not only fought the symptoms as cannabis did, but also gave protection against infections. Other bacterial illnesses, such as gonorrhoea, that were frequently treated with cannabis could somewhat later be treated successfully with chemotherapeutica.

Cannabis indica received competition as a sleeping and tranquillising drug in the form of chemical substances such as chloral hydrate or barbiturate. Contrary to the numerous opium drugs, cannabis compounds were also replaced as analgesics by chemical substances. In this area, aspirin achieved great importance shortly after its introduction in 1899.

Another reason for the decline of cannabis as medicine was pharmaceutical instability. The varying effectiveness of the hashish compounds has often been noted. Very different factors, such as origin, age, storage and galenic preparation, affected effectiveness of the medicine. Unlike, for instance, alkaloid drugs such as opium, the isolation of active ingredients was not successful until the middle of the 20th century. This resulted in standardisation problems. There were also legal constraints. The use of cannabis compounds became more and more restricted in international and national law.

Hashish compounds were defined as anaesthetics sometime in the 20th century. This complicated their use enormously, until finally a general ban made it impossible to apply them.

Finally, economic aspects contributed to the decline in use of medical cannabis. Import into Europe of high-quality Indian hemp became more and more difficult due to constraints in the producing countries (mainly India) and the influences of the two world wars. Laws of supply and demand also applied to cannabis, resulting in a massive price increase for raw materials (e.g. herba Cannabis indicae) as well as for compounds (e.g. extractum Cannabis indicae).