October 23, 1858

Hasheesh and its Smokers and Eaters.

The drowsy appearance and indolent character of Eastern nations is not only due to the climate of the countries, and the almost spontaneous production by the earth of everything necessary for the life of man, thus in a great measure rendering labor unnecessary, but it is aided and increased by the use of powerful narcotic drugs. The Chinese have their opium which they chew and smoke to great excess, as it produces a delicious dreamy sensation that is relished by the inhabitants of that most conservative country. We have often seen the celestial cigar-sellers in this city looking with a bewildered stare at the passing crowds, as if the noise of our bustling traffic was interfering with the sensations they sought to obtain from the opium they were smoking through bits of reed. The Ottomans, that is the nations inhabiting the north of Africa, the southwest of Asia and a portion of Europe, prefer the intoxication produced by hasheesh, which is a preparation of the Indian hemp, and which they smoke under the names of kiff, hasheesh or tekhomi.

The leaves of this plant are sometimes fried in honey and butter to extract the active resinous portion, and this they eat, as we should, gum drops. The first smokers and eaters of hasheesh were called hasheeshins, from which our word “assassin” is derived, and the custom was first practised in the days of the Crusaders by a powerful enemy of theirs, “The Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was called, and who obtained the most implicit obedience from many followers by supplying them with this drug.

The effect on the system is remarkable, and unlike that of opium, tobacco or alcohol. It immediately acts on the brain and nervous system, but does not stimulate the creative faculty, as does opium, and does not produce insensibility like alcohol, but while it allows its victim to be sensible to what is passing around, it intensifies sensations, and enlarges and expands to a most miraculous degree the objects by which the person under its influence is surrounded. Thus a few yards seems the stretch of a desert, and a tree is magnified into a forest, then come short and pleasant dreams — the world ideal mingled with the world actual. Persons who are in the habit of using this drug usually terminate their existence as lunatics, and since the French have had Algeria their insane hospitals have been filled with the victims of hasheesh.