Thoughts On Coca, Cannabis, Opium & Tobacco – Gifts Of The Great Spirit

Leave a comment

Smoking True Magic

“In China and the Indian Archipelago, and wherever else opium is smoked, we ought to endeavour to supply it as pure and cheap as possible. It makes milder smoking than tobacco, and is evidently beneficial in many ways; and we may rest assured that mankind, where it has once taken to it, will never give up smoking either opium, tobacco, or some other such stuff, however silly it may look. It is not really sillier than eating and drinking, or any other natural action to look at, while it is undoubtedly one of the least alloyed of the pleasures of the senses, if, indeed, it may not be said to be almost a supersensuous pleasure; for it seems, in some way past searching out, to possess the true magic which spiritualises sense.”

Opium Smoking
Sir George Birdwood
January 17, 1882

Leave a comment

Opium, Peru, & The British Empire Drug Cartel

When most of us think of Peru and drugs we naturally think of Cocaine, and of course I hope that readers of this blog also think of Coca Leaf and say to themselves – “La Coca no es la Cocaine.” It’s probably a fair assumption that few people link Opium and Peru in the same thought, and of course there is not a lot of Poppy production in Peru – unlike Mexico, Cuba and a number of other Latin American countries.

However, as I have been researching the historical record for my book “The Coca Leaf Papers” I am finding some fascinating Opium-Peru connections, with an interesting England-China-California-Peru axis.

To fully appreciate this connection we have to remember that the British in the 19th Century were the world’s greatest drug dealing empire, far eclipsing the dreaded “Cartels” of today in scope, wealth and power. Of course, just as it is highly unlikely that the American CIA, or at least some of the main people involved, got out of the heroin business just like that after the war in Vietnam ended, it is equally unlikely that the British ever actually left the lucrative worldwide Opium trade after the 20th Century saw the birth of the “War On Drugs”.

While the propaganda machine popularly called “the media” go on and on about the Latin American Drug Cartels, complete with photos galore of the tacky wedding cake mansions built by the “Drug Lords” and gruesome photos of their leaders lying full of holes and bleeding out in some filthy alley in a slum, one never hears a peep from the media about the network of American and European financial and business institutions that operate from well-groomed British estates and ultra-private American clubs with the Latino Drug Cartels as the front men. Does anyone really think that monsters like HSBC really arose from nowhere, or started life as legitimate banking institutions?

If one had the resources, and the careless disregard for personal safety, it would be a relatively simple matter to trace a great deal of the dark network behind today’s international drug trade straight back in an unbroken line to the British Empire. The goobers who control today’s worldwide drug trade are, in large part, blood and marriage descendants of the “legitimate businessmen” who ran the worldwide drug trade under the legal protection of the British Crown – which I am sure takes its share of the profits today just as it did hundreds of years ago.

In the following post you can clearly see how one small part of this global network began and flourished in the 1800’s. Again – does anyone think that such an immensely profitable enterprise simply went away at some point in time? After all, the drug trade isn’t like any other industry – it has continued in unbroken succession over many generations because its basic products have not changed and cannot be supplanted by technological advances. Of course the initial trade in Opium evolved into Morphine and then Heroin, but good old Opium is still King. And of course Cocaine evolved into mutations like Crack, but nothing yet has replaced Queen Cocaine. Even Cannabis, which in modern times has evolved from crumbled bags of mostly-leaf Mexican weed to today’s gourmet 10X-20X THC buds hasn’t really changed, and there are still huge amounts of money being made by growing it south of the US border and smuggling it in in spite of all the legal growing now going on in some of the more enlightened US states. Even alcohol hasn’t changed that much, even though we now have esoteric markets for hundreds of brands of micro-brew and boutique liquors like Blue Agave Tequilas to choose from, most of the world still gets drunk on plain old beer and cheap booze. Joe Six-Pack still rules.

So without further ranting (which I hope you find at least somewhat entertaining dear reader) here is some documentation and correspondence from an English gentleman in the mid-1800’s discussing how he found, and grew to love, the Opium trade – in Peru of all places.

113 London, 10th June, 1880.

My Lord, The undersigned British merchants haying establishments on the West Coast of South America, being deeply interested in the development of the agricultural resources of the Republic of Peru, desire to call your Lordship’s attention to a matter of the greatest moment in connection with this subject.

As your Lordship is doubtless aware, Peru has for some years past been making steady progress as an agricultural country, and more especially in the cultivation of sugar and cotton, the exportation of which articles to this country has rapidly increased in importance from year to year. A large amount of English capital has found remunerative employment in fostering this industry.

It is also no doubt within your Lordship’s knowledge that, owing to the peculiar conditions of the country, those concerned in the development of its agriculture have been mainly dependent upon Chinese labour for the cultivation of their estates. The chief reason for this is, that the lands best suited for the growth of the sugar cane and the cotton plant are situated on the coast, the inhabitants of which region are not sufficiently numerous to supply the necessary labour.

On the other hand, the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Peru, who would find abundance of occupation on the coast and are far more numerous, are nevertheless unable to withstand the effects of the climate of the coast.

Chinese immigrants have, on the contrary, been found to thrive on the Peruvian littoral, and many thousands are now settled in that region, where they readily find employment both in agricultural and in other pursuits. Large numbers of them have acquired competencies, and it may be said that none, except those suffering from bodily ailments and infirmities have become destitute, whilst comparatively few care to return to their own country, the larger proportion remaining as permanent settlers. The majority of these were brought to Peru from Macao under the old coolie system, which was abolished in 1874 through the intervention of Her Majesty’s Government with the Government of His Majesty the King of Portugal, as it was found that that system gave rise to many abuses.

The great demand which existed and still exists for Chinese free labour brought about an attempt which was made in 1877 to establish a regular line of steamers between the ports of Hong Kong and Callao, the latter being the chief port of Peru, and situate in the centre of the agricultural district of that country.

This attempt was unsuccessful through the failure of the firm owning the line of steamers. The scarcity of labour has in consequence greatly increased, and has reached such a point that the large sums invested in sugar and cotton plantations in Peru are jeopardised through this cause.

The principal cultivators, under the denomination of the “Agricultural Society of Peru,” have therefore commissioned a gentleman now in Europe to proceed to China with the object of contracting free labourers on their behalf, and providing them with the passage money and requisites for their journey to Peru, of which Her Majesty’s Minister Resident at Lima has been duly informed.

An ambassador from the Court of Peking is now on his way to Lima, and it is thought will establish Consulates in Peru, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Commerce already in existence between that country and China. We have thus briefly laid before your Lordship the principal features of this important subject, our object being to solicit the countenance and support of Her Majesty’s Government in facilitating the free emigration to Peru of labourers, both from the British colony of Hong Kong and from ports in the Chinese Empire.

We are Your Lordship’s obedient humble Servants, Graham, Rowe & Co. Duncan, Fox & Co. Antony Gibbs & Sons. Isaac & Samuel. Frederick Huth & Co. Bates, Stokes & Co. Haines, Batchelor & Co. Baring Bros. & Co. Henry Kendall & Sons, Bute, Taylor & Co. Matheson & Beausire. GRtoiNo & Co. To the Right Honourable Earl Granville, K.G., -Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whitehall.

Edinburgh, August 6th 1882.


Dear Sir, – I am obliged by yours of yesterday, and should be glad to hear at your entire convenience how you like my translation. My experience of the Chinese was acquired in Australia some twenty-five years ago. I was then conversant with prepared opium as an article of merchandize imported from China for the use of the Chinese.

It was a dark-coloured viscous fluid, somewhat resembling treacle, and was contained in small metal packages covered outside with paper wrappers, inscribed with Chinese characters. The contents might be about from four to five ounces, and the wholesale importer’s price, if I remember right, was about 30 – 32s. for that quantity. I have often sold it to the Chinese dealers, amongst whom there were many highly respectable and very intelligent men.

They assured me that the use of opium, except in excess, was not injurious, and although a considerable quantity was at that time imported and consumed among the Chinese population, I never heard of its doing any harm. If death had been in any case caused by it, the Coroner would have had something to say on the subject, and the public would have heard all about it.

Considering the low rate of wages current in China, it seems to me that opium must be unattainable by the bulk of the population on account of its costliness, and that this fact must be a powerful check on any tendency to excess. I think your Lima correspondent is right in saying that the use of opium by the Chinese is very analogous to that of tobacco amongst Europeans, neither better nor worse.

I remain, yours truly, R. WAUGH MACARTHUR.

The above referred- to Lima correspondence runs as follows:

Lima, June 24th, 1882.

Dear Sir, – Replying to your private letter I have to say that as far as my practical experience goes with our Celestial customers, I do not believe that they are the worse, either physically or mentally, for their habit of smoking opium, except in very rare cases where through excess the habit has developed into real vice.

I have on many occasions discussed this question with the leading Chinese merchants of Peru, and I have always been assured by them that the habit is not deleterious. Employers of Chinese labourers all along the Peruvian coast allow their men a moderate use of the drug, and facilitate even its sale to them, which they certainly would not do if it impaired their energies.

In my own opinion the use of opium by the Chinese labourers can be fairly compared with the use of tobacco by Europeans,

Yours faithfully, G. A. B. H. H. SULTZBERGER, Esq.


Under this heading I must give a short account of my own experience in the article, because I had the rare advantage of being the very first engaged in this particular trade with Peru. While a pupil in one of the numerous educational establishments in and near Geneva (Champel Venel) during the years 1849-50, an intimate friendship sprung up between one of the masters there and myself, in consequence of which I procured him the means of undertaking the journey to Peru, whence he was offered the post of private tutor in a family of position, residing in Lima, on condition of risking the journey at his own expense.

From mere family tutor my friend soon rose to the position of secretary to his wealthy master, and through taking also an active part in the business of the same, whenever not engaged in his educational duties, he was finally admitted a partner, and thus became a most enterprising merchant.

At first his principal’s chief business consisted in the importation into Peru of Chinese Coolies from Macao, which circumstance afforded my friend an early opportunity to acquaint himself with the Chinese habit of opium-smoking, and soon induced him to ask me for a trial shipment of one or two cases of that drug as a small venture on joint account, which turned out so exceptionally profitable that I repeated the operation at frequent intervals, and on an increased scale, when the matter attracted the attention of his principal, and the business, from a joint speculation between ourselves, changed into regular orders from the firm to be executed by me on the system of commission business pure and simple.

The importation of these Chinese Coolies having taken a rapid development, my orders too steadily increased, and soon attained such importance that without this intervention on the part of the firm, we never could have kept pace, between ourselves, with this ever increasing demand. While at first the article was admitted entirely free, it soon became subjected to a pretty heavy duty, when my packing instructions assumed such a peculiar character, as to leave me no doubt whatever respecting their real object, and years afterwards I learnt from my said friend, when on a visit to this country, that not one-fifth part of the opium consumed in Peru was properly declared at the Custom House there, but “was got through somehow or other”.

The effect of this systematic “evasion of the duty,” as my friend called it, probably because the word “smuggling” was not to his taste, was that the duty was lowered to one-half of its original rate, when the effect following this change took everybody completely by surprise. Lowered still further, and to such a point as to render smuggling no longer worth risking, the result was another considerable increase in the receipts of the Peruvian Exchequer. The business now had assumed an importance such as to attract the attention of several other firms, and owing to this competition it lost considerably of its former profitableness.

Some Chinese merchants, too, having settled in Lima, a good portion of the supplies of the drug was now imported by them from China, via San Francisco, which rendered it rather difficult to keep any longer a true record of the trade in this article with Peru.

However, by putting this down somewhere between 120 to 150,000 lb. per annum, previous to the breaking out of the war with Chili, I think I am not far from the mark.

During the worst period of this protracted and most ruinous struggle between the two sister Republics, the exports of opium from here to Peru, though at times entirely suspended for a month or two, yet never fell below the figure of 40,000 lbs per annum., from which undeniable fact I draw the conclusion that “coute que coute,” John Chinaman – in Peru at least – must have his pipe of opium.

Considering that before the war, with the exchange on London at 30d. per sol, or thereabouts, the selling price of opium averaged only from 7 soles to 9 soles per lb., it looks all the more surprising to see him pay gradually up to say 90 soles and even 100 soles per lb. for the article, after the rate of exchange had fallen, and if it be true, as I was assured by a presumably well-informed friend that, notwithstanding this unprecedented depreciation in the value of the paper currency of the, country, John Chinaman’s wages out there are now very much the same as before the war, the wonder really is that he should be able to manage at all to remain true to his pipe.

To my knowledge there never was any attempt made in Peru to “prohibit” the importation of the drug, which most likely may be accounted for by the entire absence out there of those well-meaning missionaries who think that John Chinaman cannot take care of himself, and who, with respect to this article, manage to see things which, to less fantastic observers, simply remain invisible.

On the other hand we see that those most directly interested in getting all the work they can out of John Chinaman, i.e., his employers, actually “facilitate” the sale of this so-called deadly poison to him. When we consider that a rapid rise in the cost of the drug, up to ten and even twelve times its former price, only partly affects the consumption of the same, it is obvious that no amount of “duty” is ever likely to do so; but, at the loss of the Custom House, is sure to benefit those who are spirited enough to run the risk of “quietly evading such duty.”

As I thought it useless even to try to obtain any information respecting the death rate amongst the Chinese in Peru, I will attempt to make a rough guess at it by way of comparison, and thus I would simply record the following three facts:

1st. That the wholesale importation of Chinese Coolies from Macao, as shown by the document reproduced at foot, has entirely ceased ever since 1874.

2nd. That the “free immigration” of Chinese from San Francisco, on account of the very costliness of this route, can hardly be worth while being taken into consideration.

And 3rd. That abstraction being made of the very worst period of the war, the consumption of the drug keeps on a wonderfully regular scale, from all of which it may be fairly concluded that this “death rate” cannot possibly be anything extraordinary.

Yours faithfully, G. A. B. H. H. SULTZBERGER, Esq.


A Rational Perspective On The Opium Poppy

Readers of this blog have encountered the remarkable Sir George Birdwood before in my previous post “A Dismal End To The War On Drugs Predicted – in 1885”.

Birdwood was not only a strong voice of reason arguing for an enlightened approach to Opium regulation, but was also an informed observer of the realities of Opium in India and China, as well as a vigorous critic of the actions of the British Government acting through its commercial surrogate the British East India Company to wage war on China for the “right” to addict the Chinese people for profit.

I am writing “The Poppy Juice Papers” in order to argue, as I am doing with regard to Coca Leaf, that access to this great natural medicine should not be denied to individuals who choose to grow their own poppies. As I describe in my book “The International Cultivators Handbook: Coca, Opium & Hashish” the Opium Poppy is just about the easiest plant in the world to grow and harvest, and offers anyone with the faintest tinge of green on their thumb a slam-dunk to producing a fine personal crop of pure, natural Opium. I would not argue for unrestricted rights to grow Opium Poppies on a commercial scale in order to produce Morphine and Heroin, any more than I am arguing that Coca Leaf ought to be freely available for commercial production of Cocaine.

Cocaine is the product of the industrial manipulation of the natural medicinal Coca Leaf, just as Morphine and Heroin are industrial manipulations of the Poppy Flower, and the insidious motivations behind these industrial products – which do have some limited health benefits – do not, in my mind, justify allowing them to be exploited by criminal syndicates on either side of the law. The Cartels and the DEA’s of the world are simply two sides of organized criminal enterprise – as is all government, to a large degree. But the natural medicines that are the gift of nature, whether the Coca Leaf or the Poppy Flower, ought to be as freely available to any person who wants and needs them, and especially who wants to grow them in their own garden for personal use, as is the right to choose a God to believe in and worship, whatever others may think of one’s choice.

That said, I am certain that readers of this blog will enjoy the fine mind and acute perceptions of Sir George Birdwood in this short essay as he dissects the myths and the realities of Opium in China. You will encounter his work in other equally interesting contexts when “The Poppy Juice Papers” is finally published.

(Please note that I have not “corrected” Sir Birdwood’s spelling, which is of course impeccable by 1800’s standards but out-of-date today.)

Opium Smoking
Sir George Birdwood
January 17, 1882

Opium smoking, which is the Chinese form of using the drug, for which the Indian Government is specially held responsible, is, to say the least in its favour, an infinitely milder indulgence. I hold it to be absolutely harmless. I do not place it simply m the same category with even tobacco smoking, for tobacco smoking may, in itself, if carried into excess, be injurious, particularly to young people under 25; but I mean that opium smoking in itself is as harmless as smoking willow bark or inhaling the smoke of a peat fire or vapour of boiling water.

Opinions, of course, differ. Medhurst (“China”) is the weightiest lay authority against it, and Marsden (“Sumatra,” pp. 278-279). In its defence. Professor O’Shaughnessy (“Bengal Dispensatory,” pp. 180-181) admits that what is recorded against it applies only to the abuse of the practice. Dr. Oxley, quoted in Crawford’s “Dictionary”(p. 313), Dr. Smith (“Lancet,” Feb. 19, 1842, quoted at sufficient length by Pereira, Dr. Eatwell (“ Pharmaceutical Journal,” 1851-52, pp. 264-265), and Dr. Impey (in his Report on Malwa opium) all protest against the indiscriminate condemnation directed by prejudiced or malicious writers against it.

I have not seen Surgeon-General Moore’s recent paper on opium in the “Indian Medical Gazette,” but I gather from a notice of it quoted from the “Calcutta Englishman” in the “Homeward Mail “ of the 14th of November last, that it supplies a most exhaustive and able vindication of the perfect morality of the revenue derived by the Indian Government from the manufacture and sale of opium to the Chinese.

He quotes from Dr. Ayres, “No China resident believes in the terrible frequency of the dull, sodden-witted, debilitated opium smoker met with in print.” and from Consul Lay: “In China the spendthrift, the men of lewd habits, the drunkard, and a large assortment of bad characters, slide into the opium-smoker; hence the drug seems to be chargeable with all the vices of the country.”

Mr. Gregory, Her Majesty’s Consul at Swatow, says Dr. Moore, never saw a single case of opium intoxication, though living for months and travelling for hundreds of miles among opium smokers.

Dr. Moore directly confirms my own statement of the Chinese having been great drinkers of alcohol before they took to smoking opium. I find, also, in a remarkable collection of folk-lore (“Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio,” by Herbert A. Giles), evidence in almost every chapter of the universal drinking habits of the Chinese before the introduction of opium among them, notwithstanding that the use of alcohol is opposed to the cardinal precepts of Buddhism. What Dr. Moore says of the freedom of opium-smokers from bronchial and thoracic diseases is deserving of the deepest consideration.

I find that, on the other hand, the Chinese converts to Christianity suffer greatly from consumption. The missionaries will not allow them to smoke, and, as they also forbid their marrying while young, after the wise custom, founded on an experience of thousands of years, of their country, they fall into those depraved, filthy habits of which consumption is everywhere the inexorable witness and scourge. When spitting of blood comes on the opium pipe is its sole alleviation. The opium, as retailed to the smokers, is already diminished by various admixtures in narcotic power, and is, apparently, still more so by it’s preparation in the form of pure “smokeable extract.”

Then the pill so prepared is placed in a flame, where it is instantly set ablaze. It blazes furiously, and its vapour is at the same instant inhaled into the throat and lungs in one inspiration.

But none of the active principles of opium are volatilizable! And if any one of your readers will get Indian opium, as retailed in the bazaars, and prepare pure chandoo from it, and smoke as many pills of it as he pleases, in the above manner, he will find that they will not produce the slightest effect on him, or any one else, one way or the other, beyond causing that pleasant and peaceful warmth throughout the body which comes of sitting over a peat fire on a chilly day, or inhaling the fragrant vapour from a bowl of whisky toddy as you stir the boiling water into it, or, for that, from the simple steam issuing from a jug of boiling water.

I conclude myself that nothing passes from the deflagrating chandoo pill into the lungs but the volatile resinous constituents of opium. At least, if this be the fact, it explains the antiseptic and prophylactic action of opium-smoking in the pulmonary affections of the Chinese.

I conclude (my chemistry is of 1850-54 and quite out of date) that the rarefied resinous vapour inhaled protects the surface of the bronchial passages and lungs from the outer air, and that, when consumption has once set in, this empyreumatic vapour has the effect of checking the suppuration. This might be tested at the Brompton Hospital. Only one inspiration is taken from each pill, and the residuum is then mixed up with such drugs as Indian hemp, Tobacco, and nux vomica, and resold at a greatly reduced rate to the poorer smokers. It is really this tye-chandoo, or “refuse chandoo” that has given opium smoking so bad a name among superficial and untrained observers. But even in respect of it, considering the exhaustive incineration the pill undergoes in being smoked, I doubt whether anything but harmless smoke passes into the lungs.

It is the general debauched habits of the lower outcast populations of the cities of China which are really responsible for their cachetic appearance, and not the accidental circumstance that some of them indulge in opium smoking. As to the alleged special aphrodisiac properties of opium, I discredit them altogether. At all events, it must never be forgotten, as a factor which tends to confuse even expert observation that is not severely verified, of any such alleged effect, that throughout the East the great majority of the people are always deliberately plying themselves with aphrodisiacs or reputed aphrodisiacs. The whole system of Eastern medicine seems based on the idea of the aphrodisiac or anti-aphrodisiac properties of things. European medical men are pestered all their days in the East, from Morocco to Shanghai, by simple natives persistently supplicating them for some potent aphrodisiac of which it is believed they have the golden secret. I know a medical officer who, when serving in the Indian Navy, was followed from port to port, all up and down the Persian Gulf, by a picturesque old Arab Chief in quest of aphrodisiac pills, and nothing would content him but to have them, although they consisted only of pellets of bread crumbs rolled in magnesia.

Every medical man who has practised in the East is familiar also with the phenomenon of the sudden wasting away, in body, mind, and soul, of the healthiest and most beautiful and intellectual boys on their reaching the critical period of adolescence. At the other critical period, between 45 and 50, the best and strongest of good men also suddenly turn bad, and “go to the dogs” utterly. Opium has nothing to do with these sad catastrophes of daily occurrence; while I am convinced that some form of smoking might often prevent them.

Those, indeed, who can believe that opium is injurious to the morality of the Chinese can have little idea of what morality means in Eastern Asia – much less immorality. I need add no more. I do not seek to support any particular financial or commercial policy in India. I desire simply to instruct the consciences of my countrymen.

I have been charged with having a private purpose to serve by the argument I have taken in this controversy. The views I hold on opium I first stated as a student in a discussion before the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh. In a work I published before 1868 on the “Vegetable Products of Western India,” which went through two editions, I maintained the same views, founded on facts gathered from every region of the globe. I might, therefore, be credited with now writing on the subject from strict conviction. I hold opium smoking, in short, to be a strictly harmless indulgence, like any other smoking, and the essence of its pleasure to be, not in the opium itself so much as in the smoking it.

If something else were put in the pipe instead of opium, that something else would gradually become just as popular as opium, although it might not incidentally prove so beneficial. It was in this way that the Red Indians took to smoking willow bark in place of tobacco, which was too costly for them. It is in this wav that one is often able to substitute harmless prescriptions for harmful philters among the nympholeptic sons of Ham and Turan.

In China and the Indian Archipelago, and wherever else opium is smoked, we ought to endeavour to supply it as pure and cheap as possible. It makes milder smoking than tobacco, and is evidently beneficial in many ways; and we may rest assured that mankind, where it has once taken to it, will never give up smoking either opium, tobacco, or some other such stuff, however silly it may look. It is not really sillier than eating and drinking, or any other natural action to look at, while it is undoubtedly one of the least alloyed of the pleasures of the senses, if, indeed, it may not be said to be almost a supersensuous pleasure; for it seems, in some way past searching out, to possess the true magic which spiritualises sense.