The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow


Note A

The work referred to is a monograph upon Trance and human Hybernation, by Dr. James Braid, of Edinburgh, and published by John Church, Princes Street, Soho, London. Besides the copy now in my hands, through the kindness of my friend Dr. Rosa, of Watertown, I have never seen any other, although it probably exists in medical libraries in this country. Aware, at any rate, that the book is inaccessible, except by considerable painstaking, to general readers, I will state the authority upon which the phenomenon of the fakeer’s interment and trance is related, in order that it may rest upon a stronger basis of proof than the testimony of an exceedingly credulous and superstitious people like the natives of Lahore.

Sir Claude Wade, formerly of her majesty’s service, and, at the date of Dr. Braid’s writing, residing in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, assures the doctor by letter that he was present at Lahore during the period of the fakeer’s inhumation, and witnessed his disinterment. By this gentleman, Sir C. E. Tervelyan, and Captain Osborne, all that is stated of the fakeer by Dr. Braid is authenticated, and, indeed, through them did the doctor obtain the materials for his narrative.

By as strong a conjunction of testimony, therefore, as could be desired for the proof of the most startling assertion, is this recital put beyond the possibility of being an imposture.

Note B

Among a number of articles written at various times by this author upon the subject of the narcotic fascinations, is one, published some time ago over his own signature in the New York Tribune, relative to the employment of hasheesh in India both as a gratification and a remedy. My knowledge of his thorough acquaintance with the habits of the ultra Oriental people, among whom he so long dwelt, together with a number of astonishing cures of the opium bane which he effected when, as I have said, all hope of restoration seemed forever gone, makes me particularly desirous to give the article of which I speak in full, as supplementary, through its specific value, to that which I have written of my own experience of hasheesh. Except as an antispasmodic in a very limited number of diseases, the Cannabis is known and prized very little among our practitioners, and I am persuaded that its uses are far wider and more important than has yet been imagined.

Urged by this conviction, I have therefore transcribed the article of Dr. Palmer, and offer it here to the thoughtful attention which it deserves from all, whether professional or lay, who wish to add a most beneficial agent to their pharmacopœia. It is entitled


To the Editor of the New York Tribune:

Sir, — In your journal of Friday last appeared a timely paper on hydrophobia, from Dr. Griscom, of the New York Hospital, being a report of the interesting case of Edward Bransfield, with the inevitably fatal termination. Allow me to add to the communication of Dr. Griscom another on the same subject, which may be deemed important. It is the result of medical observation in the East on the use and effects of hasheesh (Cannabis Indica). In thus writing for the public I shall avoid technicalities.

The Radda and Coolee bazars of the Black Town of Calcutta are the Borroboola-Ghas of heathendom — the back slums of Budhism — where the most abject of helots and a very Herod among cruel heathen are presented in the same person — whither the flannel shirts and small-tooth combs of the Rev. Aminadab Sleek are sent every Friday night from Burton’s Theatre, but never reach. It is there you must go to procure your hasheesh fresh from the fields, and see your living subject try experiments on himself. If you have a lively case of Rabies in your compound, and carry a copy of Monte Christo* in your pocket, so much the better — you are posted in the phenomena. You will find dirty, dreadful-looking shops, redolent of petroleum and the hubble-bubble, and prolific in Pariah dogs, ochre-colored urchins (which, as they flounder about on their bellies, always a shade or two lighter than the rest, oddly resemble young crocodiles), and every other living thing which should make those small-tooth combs lively in the market. And, amid these essentially Oriental surroundings, you will find a fat old gentleman, with the least possible clothing, to compromise between decency and the climate, who is either galvanic like Uriah Heep, or asleep like the Fat Boy, as you happen to catch him just before or after his pipe, and who is licensed to dispense to the denizens of that quarter churrus, gunjah, and bhang, in the name of Lord Dalhousie, the most noble the Governor General in Council.

At the season of flowering, a resinous substance exudes and concretes on the slender stalks, leaves, and tops of the hemp plant in India, a sticky gum which causes the young stems to adhere together tenaciously in the bundles of gunjah. Men, now dressed all in leather, are sent into the fields to run to and fro, sweeping the plants with their garments, from which afterward they diligently gather the resin that has adhered. This is the churrus, wherein is all the narcotic virtue of the herb, all the seventh heaven of hasheesh intoxication for the Hindoo and the Arab. The most potent of it comes from Nepaul. Bhang, or subjee, is the larger leaves and capsules of the Cannabis compressed in balls and sticky layers, with here and there some flowers between. Infused with water, it forms an intoxicating brew, to which, however, the Hindoos are not commonly addicted. Gunjah, mixed with tobacco and smoked in a pipe, is the shape of the drug which they popularly affect, and it is as gunjah that it is commonly sold in the shops. This comes in bundles, twenty-four of the plants entire, stalks, leaves, capsules, and tops undisturbed, and from which their resin has not been separated, adhering tenaciously. Gunjah, indeed, is the term proper to Hindostan, hasheesh being Arabic, and used to denote the tops and tenderest parts of the plant, sun-dried and powdered.

Romantic extravagances have been written and told about the magic and the marvels of hasheesh, and Indian Coleridges and De Quinceys have been pressed into service to furnish forth characteristic stories for Oriental annuals and spectacles of the Monte Christo kind. These are for the most part fictitious, though, to be sure, your kidmudgar, if he happens to be a gunjah-wallah, is apt at times to indulge in splendid fancies, to make you a grand salaam instead of a sandwich, and offer you a houri when you merely demanded a red herring. But Dr. O’Shaugnessy, the present distinguished superintendent of the Indian telegraph, who formerly administered a model system of discipline among the native hospitals, and from his Eastern look-out has added here and there a new light to the firmament of science, who was the first to pursue this subject with well-directed researches, and procure from it definite results, describes the uniform effect of this agent on the human economy as consisting in a prompt and complete alleviation of pain; a singular power of controlling inordinate muscular spasms, especially in hydrophobia and traumatic tetanus; “as a soporific or hypnotic in conciliating sleep;” inordinate augmentation of appetite; the decided promotion of aphrodisiac desire; and sudden cerebral exaltation, with perfect mental cheerfulness, is in no case followed by the painful nervous “unstringing,” the constipation and suppression of secretions which attend the use of opium.

Having daily under his eyes, in the streets of Calcutta, examples of this marvelous power of the gunjah, Dr. O’Shaughnessy proceeded, in a succession of judicious experiments, to apply it in several diseases attended with much muscular convulsion. Its action he discovered to be primarily on the motor nerves, promptly inducing complete loss of power in almost all the muscles; hence its timeliness in the spasms of tetanus, in the cramp of Asiatic cholera, in the sharp constriction of the muscles of deglutition in hydrophobia. In tetanus especially he met with signal success, even in his earliest experiments perfectly restoring ten cases in fourteen, and since then, to my personal knowledge, a still larger proportion. In the summer of 1852 it was administered with convincing success in cases of Asiatic cholera among the Company’s troops in Burmah, even in the collapsed stage, subduing cramp and restoring warmth to the surface. Under its influence alone, that peculiar blueness and shriveling of the nails and fingers, familiarly known as “washerwoman’s hands,” has been rapidly dispersed, the flesh plumping out rosily again, like a decayed apple under an air-pump.

Every intelligent physician will perceive that there is nothing in the kind of virtue manifested in these cases which has not a direct bearing, and by the same modus operandi, on the phenomena of hydrophobia, since it has been ably contended, especially in India, that the three diseases are of a kindred type; that their phenomena are purely nervous and functional, and that no local inflammations are necessary to their definition.

In an occasional contribution to the British and Foreign Medical Review, and in some excellent monographs published in Calcutta, Dr. O’Shaughnessy has given the results of his experiments since 1850, by which it appears that in almost every case, with the Cannabis alone, he has succeeded in procuring perfect alleviation of pain, complete control of the spasm, and its attendant apprehension and infernal imagination — indeed, an utter routing of all the horrors of the disease; and claiming, with a saving clause, one or two cures, he makes it evident that in every instance a painless, tranquil, conscious termination is attainable. His patients have swallowed water with avidity, paddled in it and made merry with it, and been friendly with it to the end.

That it has thus overcome the horrors of Rabies and all the dreadfulness of such a death-bed, should procure for the Cannabis more consideration than it has met with at the hands of the profession in this country. The objection, hitherto valid, that its preparations are of unequal strength, and that the drug loses all its virtues by change of climate, is conclusively met and defeated at last by the admirable alcoholic extract of Mr. Robinson. The writer of this has seen a sepoy of the 40th Rifles, an hour before furiously hydrophobic, under the influence of the Cannabis not only drinking water freely, but pleasantly washing his face and hands.

In conclusion, I would invoke for the Cannabis Indica the interest of American writers and practitioners by research and experiment.

* * * * * * * * *

J. W. Palmer, M.D.


  • * For the benefit of those who have not read this novel of Dumas, let me say that in it quite a lively hasheesh vision is recorded.
  • Indice for water-pipe.

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