Haschish, hemp, cannabis : an eternal return

A. J. Fabre                                June 9,  2014


History of cannabis is that of an eternal return.  Over the centuries, hemp, cannabis and haschisch have been used all over the world under different names. The drug strikes out everywhere, reappearing again and again, unpredictable but ever more menacing. 

A short memorandum on Cannabis 

Cannabis is probably born in Central Asia somewhere around Lake Baikal and the Himalayan slopes of India. The plant quickly spread all over to Orient, then, eastward across India and China.

The names given around the world summarize the " long march  of cannabis":

In the Mediterranean, cannabis got a Greek name (kannabis) and from that many other  appelations : in latin, "canapa", in Spanish, "cáñamo" and in French "cannabis" [1] Among the Saxons, the name became "hemp"in English, "hanf" among the Germans and " hampa" in Scandinavia but remained " "Конопля" ("Konope") for Russians.

In Orient, "hemp" is "hashish" (حشيش), direct reference  to the " grass" [2] or, when it refers to pleasure "kaif". IN india, cannabis was called "bhang " and, in China,  " ma gu (麻姑), with the meaning of " hemp maid"

 In our times, " mariejuana"[3] the most current appelation,a spanish word coming from Mexico, possibly refering to a love affair,  most likely to some drug  dealers.

Cannabis is a very common herbaceous plant. According to the tradition, two main species exist : "fibers hemp " and " resina hemp". In fact, the phenotype is highly dependent from climatic conditions. Often quoted is the story of Mehemet Ali, Viceroy in Egypt who ordered in Europe a huge stock of cannabis seeds destined to give high quality  hemp ropes to his navy : unfortunately, under Egyptian climate, instrad of plain hemp grew huge plants loaded with " resina ". As a fact, cannabis female plants are highly loaded with "tetra-hydro-cannabinol" resina, a psycho-active substance well known for its side-effects : from relaxing euphoria to  bizarre daydreams and, unfortunately, always possible risks of cardio-respiratory and/or neurological complications.

Cannabis was initially harvested as weaving product but, among centuries, its singular properties brought all kinds of religious and therapeutic uses everywhere in the world. However, it is difficult to determine with precision, where hedonistic uses started first :  Orient, India or Far East countries ? 

Cannabis in Antiquity 

The well-known book of Herodotus, "Stories", provides convincing evidence of the use of cannabis in Central Asia  as early as VIIth BC, among tribes of Indo- European nomads, the Scyths.

Nobody had ever thought that Herodotus tales could have some real basis, but In I929 a Russian archaeologist, Sergei Rudenko[4], made a strange discovery in Pazyryk, Siberia : a real archaeological treasure hidden  in  in a Scythian tomb : a small leather bag containing hemp seeds near an incense burner quite similar to Herodotus descriptions.

Today, the press, television and all modern medias have spread the belief that hemp addiction was common in Antiquity, widely used in Roman orgies.

The truth is quitte  different : more than 30 mentions can be found in the  three great encyclopedists of Antiquity, Dioscorides, Galen and Pliny, but also  in diverse Treaties on weaving, agriculture or cooking[5] . However, no reference, it should be stressed,  can be found  to any hedonistic use of cannabis. Same comments can be made about mythology,  travelogues or historical chronicles in Antiquity.

The only irrefutable evidence of cannabis use amongthe Ancients comes from archeology : in 1991 was found near Jerusalem, in a 4th century  grave, the remains of a very young woman buried near her a baby, a clear evidence of some old obstetrical tragedy, but, in the tomb, was found a cup holding traces of a blackish material identified as tetrahydrocannabol . However, in this case, it will be difficult to refer to any hedonistic use...

In conclusion, everything suggests that the Ancients were well informed on all properties of cannabis  but rejected its hedonistic uses : it seems, two thousand years later, that there was much  wisdom among them …  

The use of cannabis in Orient 

In Orient, cannabis kept for a long time the status of medicinal substance which had been given by the Ancients but all went to a change after 10th century. Following the great wave of Sufism, a mystical doctrine advocating asceticism, arrived the so-called "Dervishes", holy haschisch users.

At the " Golden Age " of Islam, cannabis was present everywhere in Orient and  many commentators have suggested  that  Koranic prohibition of alcohol and wine, dated at the end of 10th century, just stirred up cannabis consumption in Islam.

Haschisch became present everywhere in Orient : all reports  from travelers or chroniclers bring ample confirmatiion on that point. Even in traditional tales haschisch was always there :  thus in the story of the " Old Man of the Mountain, dated 11th century. The  Sheikh Hassan ibn al- Sabbah is said to have  provided hashish to his young warriors in order  to stir up their fighting capacities. For many years, it was believed in Occident that the name of "Haschishins" was linked with cannabis use, but this interpretation is highly controversed by modern  Islam specialists..

At the end of 19th century, situation became so dreadful in Orient that a report from Egypt mentions existence of 12 millions  consumers, mostly miserable fellahins . This led to dramatic changes in international policies : In 1884, in a meeting of the League of nations[6] the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission issued, as a warning,  a wide report on haschisch uses among the world (seven volumes and 3,281 pages…).  

At the 1925 Second Opium Conference of the League[7], Egyptian delegation brought évidence that hemp was as dangerous as opium and should be controlled by international organisations. However, England and some other countries refused to give a ful support to the resolution.

 The use of cannabis in the Western World 

Occident, for many centuries, kept the same path as the Ancients : not a single reference to cannabism can be found in Middle Ages or Renaissance literature. A papal bull on witchcraft[8], edicted by Pope Innocent VIII, is frequently cited but, actually, holds no clear mention of any use of hemp.

Among all records of witchcraft trials, either, no traces of cannabis. However, hemp is present in  medieval Herbaria, but with same words as in  Antiquity.

The only exception can be found in Renaissance fiction literature : in his " Third Book "[9] François Rabelais mentions a "magic" herb, called  "Pantagruelion [10]" useful to open the gates of dream". Its description makes it clear that it was indeed hemp :  " The plant Pantagruelion has a small, hard, roundish root, ending in a blunt white point, with few filaments, and does not sink into the earth more than a cubit. From the root goes forth a unique stalk, round, ferulaceous, green on the outside, blanched within, concave like the stalk of smyrnium, olusatrum[11], beans, and gentian; woody, straight, friable, notched a little in the form of columns lightly striated; full of fibres, in which consist all the dignity of the herb, especially in the part called mesa, as middle, and that which is called mylasea. The height of this commonly is five or six feet. Sometimes it exceeds the height of a lance. …

A further chapter is entitled: " How to prepare and implemente the famous Pantagruelion "? Here is the recipe : "The first lesson of Pantagruel was to undress the rod from the leaves and seed, soak it in non-stagnant water by five days if the weather is dry and hot water, nine or twelve, if the weather is cloudy and cold water, then dry it in the sun : the shadow will  dissect and separate the fibers (in which, as we said, is all the price and value) of the woody part, which is unnecessary". The plant, says Rabelais, has multiple medicinal uses "Use of this plant hath been concealed by the ancient philosophers so many centuries" "useful to treat wounds and burns, against spastic pain, cramps and rheumatism"

And, at the end, comes a true hymn to the "most wonderful plant. No doubt can remain: "Pantagruelion" is  an explicit even if carefully veiled, reference to cannabis. Could it be otherly as hemp was so strictly forbidden by all authorities of that time ?

Actually,  the first clear mention of cannabism in all Western literature can be found  in a book written by a Portuguese physician living in Goa,  Garcia da Orta[12] : "Symposium of simples and drugs of India '[13]". A thorough description of all effects of hemp use is presented as a dialogue between the author and a friend, called Ruano   

Orta :"You must know that it comes to India in two forms, one  clear and clean, the other turbid and dirty. ... The merchants who find the bright  kind do not buy the other, which is consumed in medicines  and food. Some eat it like bread, when it is called Apas.

Ruano : Is the smell the same in all ?

Orta : That which comes from Guzerat is considered the best,  being brighter and the smell stronger. The smell of that  which comes from Ormuz is not so strong, but, to our noses,  both smell very bad, and the worst of all is that which is  brightest and is held to be the best. When 1 asked some  Banyans which smelt the best they replied it was the kind  that came from Guzerat, the smell of which is the worst and  strongest. This is because they have become accustomed to  it. To many persons the smell of liquid storax and of civet  is bad because it is strong, though generally it is considered  very good. For me I do not care for the smell of any of the  gums, and I like that of our myrrh somewhat better. Avicenna  divided smells into fetid and sweet smelling. People say that  leeks have a fetid smell, and such like things. We consider  after the manner of the ancients, for we do not call a thing  odoriferous because it smells sweet, but because the smell is  strong. In this way a reed is called odoriferous which, in the  opinion of many, ought to be called fetid. Myrrh also has a  bad smell, and aloes worse, and the ear of spikenard still worse.  I have purged many persons with it who did not like taking  rhubarb. 

Ruano :This does not appear to me bad, but it would be better  that Assa-fetida should be what we use, with the sweet  smelling Benjuy. You have not given me a chapter on Benjuy

Orta :If it is a simple newly found for our use, why must we give it an ancient name ?

Ruano  Because it is more reasonable to think that the root of the  Benjuy tree should be good for seasoning food, and there is no  reason to suppose that Assa-fetida would be good. It is well  known that the Banyans like it because they are accustomed  to eat vegetables and other unsavoury food as the people of  our Europe eat them. According to what Antonio Musa  says, those who navigated from these parts to seek for the  Benjuy describe the tree as being like the tree of Laserpicium.  They say further that the people of the same land, being  obliged to speak the truth, call that gum Laserpicium.  

Orta : I know not who the Spaniard was who was so shameless  as to tell Antonio Musa of Ferrara such a big lie. As I have  told you, speaking of Benjuy[14], the tree is very different from  that of the Assa-fetida as it has been described. The Benjuy  is only known in Sumatra and Siam, and in these countries it  is only called Cominham and not Laserpicium. Benjuy is not  found in Armenia, nor Syria, nor Africa, nor Cyrene, and  there is no memory of it among the dwellers in those countries.  The principal place whence the Benjuy is obtained that comes  to these parts is Arabia, and I say this without denying that  it also comes from other places, such as Dely, Mandou, and  Chitor. For the Guzeratis and Deccanis who buy it from us  sav that it also comes from those places, though not in any  great quantity. So that your Musa is wrong when he says  that it comes from Africa, Armenia, Judaea, and Syria, for in  all those parts it has yet to be sought for ; for they would  bring more profitable merchandise if they should have it. 

Ruano : I really trust that you will not be annoyed by my questions,  lluelio, a man sufficiently learned and deserving of praise, who  was the translator of Dioscorides, says, in his work on the  nature of plants, that in France a large and thick root grows  which is black outside and white within, going on to paint the  leaves and general appearance. He says that as well the root  as the seeds and the exudation have a very pleasant smell, and,  the virtue of the medicine being well established, lie gives it  very grand names, such as the imperial root, the angelic root,  the root of the Holy Spirit.  He says that it is useful in  various ways, being warm and dry in the third degree. It is  an antidote against poison, preserves from contagion of plague  and other diseases. He says that by taking one grain of it in  the mouth, in the winter with wine, and in the summer  with rose water, it is a preservative against plague on the day  that it is taken, and against other infirmities. It is there  called Laserpicium gallico 2 by the veterinary surgeons.  They say that the smell of the juice is like Benjuy, and the  learned are of opinion that it is Benjuy, and the Opus  cirinaico which grew in Judaea and was introduced into  France. Hence it is said that the word was Ben judeo  corrupted into Benjuy. 

Orta : You praise this root very highly, but the tree is very  different from the Benjuy, as you will see when we speak of  the latter, which is a great tree. The Assa-fetida is not so  large, nor is it the Lasehpicium cirinaicum, some of which is  said to be found in Judaea. I have enquired among drug  merchants from that country, and they told me that there had  never been such a plant there in the memory of man. 

Ruano : So let it be, and now let us hear what sort of thing Anil may be.

Orta : Anil is not medicinal, but commercial, and therefore we  need not occupy ourselves with it. However, I may tell you  that Anil is so called by Arabs and Turks, and in other  languages, especially Guzerati, where it was known as Galt,  but is now called Anil. It is a herb that is sown, and is like  what we call Mangiriquam. They gather it and leave it to dry  for a time, and then pound it well, and put it in the sun for  some days. When it is quite dry it has a green colour and  afterwards has a blue tinge, and finally darkens. It is best  when it is clear of earth. To prove it more surely, it is burnt  with a lamp and should give a very fine ash. Others put it in  water, and if it floats it is good. So that it must be light and  of the right sort.  As it would be a serious thing to philo-  sophize further it will be well that we should go to dinner  and leave the Anil to the contractors.

Ruano : But first tell me what fruit that is about the size of a nut that smells so sweet. 

Orta : It is not a fruit that is used in medicine, but it serves to  season food with a sharp taste, making it more appetising.  The wood has a pleasant smell, and as the wood retains the  appetising acid in itself, they call it Ambares. 2 It has a  cartilaginous bark, is yellow when ripe, and of a yellowish  colour when not ripe.  

Ruano : What is the difference between that  which they call Bangue l and Amfiam ?  It seems to me that they are one, for  when you abuse your servants you  sometimes call them Bangue[15] and some-  times Amfiam. I, therefore, wish to  know whether there is any difference  between the two words. 

Orta : The Amfiam we call opium, of which I will speak to you  when we come to it. I will now satisfy you respecting the  nature of Bangue, its tree and seed. Antonia ! give me what  I told you to bring.  

Antonia : Here is the tree of the small ones, and see here is the seed, and here is what they sell in the drug shop. For you told me to bring them altogether.

Ruano, This seed is like that of flax  except that it is smaller and not so white, and the little tree is also like flax, so we need not discuss them because we already know all about it.

Orta : It is not flax, for the seed is smaller and not white, and the Indians eat either the seeds or the pounded leaves to assist or quiet the women. They also take it for another purpose, to give an appetite ; and our writers say that the branches have much inside and little rind, which is contrary to what the flax (Alcanave) has.

Ruano : Do they make cords of this bark ?

Orta : No.

Ruano : Is there anything else from which they do make cords ?

Orta : Yes. From the fruit of the palm, which I shall touch upon further on. Also in Balaguate they make cords from the roots of a very large tree, and, to confess the truth, they also make them from the flax (Alcanave) which is plentiful there, but not in the Deccan or Bengal. I saw there our flax from which we make our shirts, and all this flax is merchandize

Ruano : Be it so ; and now tell me how this Bangue is made, and how and for what it is taken.

Orta : They make the pressed leaves, sometimes with the seeds,  into a powder. Some mix it to Akeca[16], and those who  drink it become beside themselves. For the same purpose  they mix nutmeg and mace with it, and there is a same  effect in drinking it. Others inject cloves, others camphor of  Borneo, others amber and Almisque[17], others opium. These  are the Moors, who are much addicted to it. The profit from  its use is for the man to be beside himself, and to be raised  above all cares and anxieties, and it makes some break into a  foolish laugh. I hear that many women take it when they  want to dally and flirt with men. It is also said, but it may  not be true, that the great captains, in ancient times, used to  drink it with wine or with opium, that they might rest from  their work, be without care, and be able to sleep ; for the long  vigils of such became a torment to them. The great Sultan  Bahadur  said to Martin Affbnso de Souza[18], to whom he  wished every good thing and to whom he told his secrets, that  when, at night, he wanted to go to Portugal, Brazil, Turkey,  Arabia, or Persia, he only had to take a little Bangue. This was made up into an electuary with sugar and spices, and was called Maju.

Ruano : Has it this pleasant effect on everybody ?

Orta : It may be that it has this effect when we have become  accustomed to it. I myself saw a Portuguese jester, who was  for a long time with me in Balaguate, eat a slice or two of the  electuary, and at night he was pleasantly intoxicated, his  utterance not intelligible. Then he became sad, began to  shed tears, and was plunged in grief. In his case the effect  was sadness and nausea. Those who saw or heard of it were  provoked to laughter as if it was an ordinary drinking bout.  Those of my servants who took it, unknown to me, said that  it made them so as not to feel work, to be very happy, and to  have a craving for food. I believe that it is so generally used  and by such a number of people that there is no mystery about  it. But I have not tried it, nor do I wish to do so. Many  Portuguese have told me that they have taken it, and that they experienced the same symptoms, more especially the female partakers. However, this is not one of our medicines and we had better not waste any more time over it."

Another reference to cannabis comes a little later  in  " The beauty of the exotic countries " writen by Engelbert Kaempfer [19], a German physician who visited at the end of the 16th century, India and the Far East. Thus,  in Malabar on the west coast of India, during ceremonies in honor of the god Vishnu : " In Malabar, at the time of the sacrifices in honour of Vishnu, virgins pleasant to behold and richly adorned were brought from the temple of the Brahmins. They came out in public to appease the god who rules over plenty and fine weather. To impress the spectators, these young women were previously given a preparation with a basis of hemp and datura, and when the priest saw, by certain symptoms, that the action of the drugs was about to show itself, he began his invocations. The Devadassy (servants of the gods) then danced, leapt about yelling, contorted their limbs, and, foaming at the mouth, their eyes ecstatic, committed all sorts of eccentricities. Finally the priests carried the exhausted virgins into the sanctuary, gave them a potion to destroy the effect of the previous one, and then showed them again to the people in their right mind, so that the crowd of spectators might believe that the demons had fled and the idol was appeased"."

 Cannabis arrives in France 

Cannabis arrived in the Western world when  the French soldiers of Bonaparte came back to France after their campaign in Egyt.

The French Army had been, as son as arrived, assaultes by haschisch :  Bonaparte himself as he entered  Alexandria, had been aggressed by a fanatic inebriated with  haschisch. without any waste of time, Bonaparte ordered, a ban of any use of hemp in the French army and on October 9, 1800 was issued by one of his lieutenants, general Menou[20], the very first example of legislations on drug abuse.

However, cannabis was soon to  arrive in France, the ships bringing back the French soldiers also brought cannabis all over  Europe

In Paris, a " Hashishins Club " was founded in 1844 by Jacques-Joseph Moreau[21], a well-known  psychiatrist. All the "stars" in Paris "Arts et lettres" gathered to the "cannabis parties" given at Hôtel[22] Pimodan, in "Ile Saint Louis".

Theophile Gautier has reported his own experience[23]. A young amateur and patron of the arts had sent him a letter : “My Dear Theophile, we shall take hashish at my apartment next Monday, 3rd of October, under the supervision of Moreau and d’Aubert Roche[24].  Do you wish to be present?…”. Gautier came at the "rendez-vous" and here is his report, "The other day, i discovered my friend Alphonse Karr sitting on his divan by the light of a candle although it was daytime.  He was holding a tube of cherry-wood, tipped with a kind of porcelain mushroom into which he was dropping a brownish paste not unlike sealing wax.  The paste flared and sputtered in the bowl of the mushroom as he inhaled, through a small amber mouthpiece, the smoke which gradually pervaded the room with a vague odour of Eastern perfume.  Without saying a word, I took the apparatus from my friend and put the end to my lips.  After a few puffs I experienced a not unpleasant kind of dizziness which closely resembled the sensations of the early stages of intoxication.  It was the day on which I prepare my column, so, after hanging the pipe on the wall, we went down to the garden to greet the dahlias and play with Shutz, theophile gautier a happy creature whose only function is to provide a note of black against a carpet of green turf.  I went home, dined, repaired to the theatre to endure some play or other and returned to go to bed – inevitably, and that temporary demise is a necessary apprenticeship for one’s definitive death.  The opium I had smoked, far from producing the drowsiness I had expected, gave me nervous palpitations as if it had been the blackest coffee, and I turned and twisted in bed like a grilled carp or a chicken on the spit, the bedclothes continually slipping, to the great annoyance of my cat who had rolled into a ball on the edge of my quilt.  At last the slumber I had sought so long dusted my lids with its gold, my eyes grew warm and heavy and I fell asleep.  After a couple of hours which were black and immobile, I had a dream.  And here it is: I was back with my friend Alphonse Karr as I had been in reality, that morning.  He sat on his divan of yellow drape, with his pipe and burning taper.  There was one difference: the sun had ceased to throw onto the walls the blue, green the opium pipe and red reflections of the stained glass windows like a swarm of multicoloured butterflies.  Just as I had done some hours back, I took the pipe from his hands and slowly commenced to inhale the intoxicating fumes.  A beatific languor quickly overpowered me and I experienced the identical daze I had felt when drawing on the pipe in reality.  So far, my dream had been in accordance with the exact limits of the everyday world, repeating as in a mirror all the actions of my day.  I was ensconced in a heap of cushions and lazily I leant back to gaze at the blue spirals as they floated in the air and melted into a cloud of cotton-wool.  My eyes naturally rested on the ceiling which was ebony black relieved by gold arabesques.  By dint of gazing at it with the ecstatic intensity which precedes the advent of visions, it began to appear blue, that hard blue of the skirts of night.  “You’ve had your ceiling painted blue,” I said to Karr who, impassive and silent, had started another pipe and was puffing out more smoke than a stove pipe in winter or a steamboat in any season.  “Not at theophile gautier all, dear fellow,” he replied, his nose emerging from the cloud, “but you most definitely seem to have painted your stomach red, with the aid of Bordeaux more or less Laffitte. ” “Heavens, why don’t you tell the truth – all I’ve drunk is a wretched glass of sugared water, in which a horde of ants have quenched their thirst, a swimming school for insects. ” “The ceiling probably got bored with being black and turned blue.  Apart from women, I know nothing more capricious than ceilings.  It’s just a ceiling’s caprice really, nothing out of the ordinary. ” Whereupon Karr withdrew his nose into the smoke cloud with the satisfied expression of somebody who has furnished you with a clear and satisfying explanation.  However, I was only half convinced, finding it difficult to credit ceilings with such a degree of fantasy.  I continued to gaze at the specimen above me with some anxiety.  It grew ever more blue, like the sea’s horizon and the stars began to open their eyelids with their gold lashes; these eyelashes of extreme thinness the opium pipe lengthened right into the room which they filled with sheaves of prismatic colour.  Black lines slashed the azure surface, but I soon realized they were the beams of the upper floors of the house which had become transparent.  In spite of the ease with which one accepts in dreams the most bizarre occurrences, all this did begin to reappear questionable, even suspect, and I thought that if my friend Esquiros, the Magician, had been there, he would have provided me with more satisfactory explanations than those of Alphonse Karr.  Just as if the thought had the power of evocation, Esquiros suddenly appeared before us, rather like Faust’s poodle emerging from behind the stove.  His face was animated, his expression triumphant, and, rubbing his hands, he declared: “I can see as far as the Antipodes and I have the discovered the speaking mandrake. ” The apparition astonished me and I said to my friend, “Karr, can you imagine how Esquiros, who was not with us, has contrived to enter without opening the door?” “Nothing simpler,” replied Karr, theophile gautier “it is the done thing to come in through closed doors.  You are surely aware of the insulting expression – ‘He’s the kind of man who’s always battering down open doors’. ” I couldn’t think of an objection to such a logical train of thought and was convinced that Esquiros’s presence was in fact perfectly explicable and quite proper.  However, he was looking at me with a strange expression and his eyes were growing monstrously large: they were burning bright and as round as shields heated in a furnace, while his body kept dissolving into the shadows till I could see no more of him than his two flaming and luminous eyeballs.  Veils of fire and torrents of magnetic effluvia quivered and whirled about me, intertwining inextricably and growing ever closer until sparkling wires penetrated my every pore, growing into my skin like the hair roots in my scalp.  I was in a complete state of somnambulism.  And then I beheld little white flakes sailing through the blue emptiness of the ceiling like tufts of wool carried away by the wind, or like the neck feathers of a dove falling one by one by one through the air.  the opium pipe I was trying hard to guess what they were when a deep peremptory voice murmured in my ear in a strange accent, “they are spirits!!!” The scales fell from my eyes; the white mists took on more defined forms and I distinctly perceived a long line of veiled figures ascending the curves of a spiral from right to left; they soared as if an imperious breath had raised them into the air and given them wings.  In the corner of the room, seated on the moulding of the ceiling, was the form of a girl clothed in loose muslin drapery.  She had crossed her naked feet which she dangled carelessly; they were indeed charming, small and transparent, recalling to my mind those lovely feet of jasper which peep white and pure from beneath the black marble skirt of the Isis in the Museum.  The other phantoms touched her on the shoulder as they passed, saying: “We’re ascending to the stars – come with us. ” The wraith with the alabaster feet replied, “No! I don’t want the stars, I would wish to live six months longer. ” theophile gautier 10 The procession passed and the wraith was left alone, swinging her pretty little feet and striking the wall with her heel, rose-coloured, pale and tender like the heart of a wild convolvulus; although her face was veiled, I sensed that she was young, adorable, delightful and my soul soared towards her, arms outstretched, wings beating.  The wraith felt my turmoil by means of intuition or sympathy and said in a voice as quiet and crystal clear as the musical glasses, “If you dare go and kiss the mouth of the girl I was, her whose body is lying in the black city, I shall live six months more and my second life will be yours. ” I got up, asking myself a pertinent question: was I perhaps the toy of some illusion and all that had passed but a dream? It was the last flicker of the lamp of reason as it was extinguished by sleep.  I asked my two friends what they thought of it all.  Karr, imperturbable as ever, maintained that the adventure was a common one, that he had had several of the same kind and that I was very naive to be surprised by such a trifle.  the opium pipe.Esquiros explained it all by reason of magnetism.  “Very well then, I’ll go; but I’m still wearing my slippers. ” “That doesn’t matter,” said Esquiros, “I have the presentiment of a cab at the door. ” I left the house to see, in very truth, a two-horse cabriolet apparently waiting for me.  I got in.  There was no coachman.  The horses went their own way: they were jet black and galloped so furiously that their cruppers rose and fell like waves, and showers of sparks glittered in their train.  They took the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne first, then the Rue Dellefonds and the Rue Lafayette and after that, roads I did not know.  As the carriage proceeded, the objects about me assumed strange shapes: the houses had a crossgrained look as they huddled by the roadside like old women bent over their spinning wheels; I saw wooden fences and streetlamps for all the world like gibbets: soon the houses disappeared entirely and the carriage sped through the open country.  We were crossing a comfortless, sombre plain, under a low leaden sky and an interminable procession of slender little trees came hurrying towards theophile gautier 12 us on both sides of the road – it was like an army of broomsticks in retreat.  Nothing could have been more sinister than that livid immensity, slashed with black stripes by the thin silhouettes of the trees; there was not a star to be seen, not a thread of light relieved the wan depths of the penumbra.  At length we came to a town unfamiliar to me, with houses in a peculiar style which, as I glimpsed them through the shadows, seemed incredibly small to be inhabited: the carriage though far broader than the roads it was traversing was not held up as the houses withdrew right and left, like scared pedestrians, and made way for it.  After the carriage had changed direction several times, I felt it melt beneath me, the horses vanished into smoke and I had arrived.  A reddish light filtered past a bronze door which was ajar.  I pushed it open and found myself under the stone vaulting of a low room paved in black and white marble; an antique lamp set on a pedestal of violet breccia illuminated with its livid light a recumbent figure which I took at first for a statue, the opium pipe 13 like those that sleep with clasped hands, a greyhound at their feet, in Gothic cathedrals: but I soon realized it was a real woman.  Her face was of a bloodless pallor that can be best compared to the tint of yellowing beeswax, her matt hands, white as the consecrated wafers, were crossed on her breast; her eyes were shut and the lashes reached the middle of her cheeks: all was dead in her but for the mouth, fresh like a flowering pomegranate, sparkling with an opulent purple life and half-smiling as in a happy dream.  I bent over her, I pressed my mouth on hers and gave her the kiss which was to bring her back to life.  Her lips, moist and warm as if the breath had just left them, palpitated under mine and returned my kiss with incredible spirit and fervour.  Here there is a gap in my dreams and I do not know how I returned from the black city, but it was probably mounted on a cloud or a gigantic bat.  But I do remember finding myself with Karr in a house belonging neither to us nor any of our acquaintances."

Charles Baudelaire was also guest to  the "haschish parties"of Hotel Pimodan but came back highly disappointed from that experience. He left this comment in his  book "Artificial Paradises"[25] : "It is certainly superfluous… to insist upon the moral character of hashish. Let me compare it to suicide, to slow suicide, to a weapon always bleeding, always sharp, and no reasonable person will find anything to object to. Let me compare it to sorcery or to magic, which wishes in working upon matter by means of arcana (of which nothing proves the falsity more than the efficacy) to conquer a dominion forbidden to man or permitted only to him who is deemed worthy of it, and no philosophical mind will blame this comparison. If the Church condemns magic and sorcery it is that they militate against the intentions of God; that they save time and render morality superfluous, and that she - the Church - only considers as legitimate and true the treasures gained by assiduous goodwill. The gambler who has found the means to win with certainty we all cheat; how shall we describe the man who tries to buy with a little small change happiness and genius? It is the infallibility itself of the means which constitutes its immorality; as the supposed infallibility of magic brands it with Satanic stigma. Shall I add that hashish, like all solitary pleasures, renders the individual useless to his fellow creatures and society superfluous to the individual, driving him to ceaseless admiration of himself and dragging him day by day towards the luminous abyss in which he admires his Narcissus face? But even if at the price of his dignity, his honesty, and his free will man were able to draw from hashish great spiritual benefits; to make a kind of thinking machine, a fertile instrument? That is a question which I have often heard asked, and I reply to it: In the first place, as I have explained at length, hashish reveals to the individual nothing but himself. It is true that this individual is, so to say, cubed, and pushed to his limit, and as it is equally certain that the memory of impressions survives the orgy, the hope of these utilitarians appears at the first glance not altogether unreasonable. But I will beg them to observe that the thoughts from which they expect to draw so great an advantage are not in reality as beautiful as they appear under their momentary transfiguration, clothed in magic tinsel."

Gerard de Nerval, well known drugs user, wrote in his "Travel in Orient "[26], two novels in "glory" to  drugs : " The Shepherd " and "History of the Caliph Hakam "

Alexandre Dumas, who had been, as many others, visitor to Hôtel Pimodan, shows the legendary Count  of Monte Cristo welcoming his visitors with a dinner topped by a mysterious dessert  offered in a gilt cup "the keys of all dreams"… hashish jam

In 1829, was started a short medical career for the cannabis : a pharmacist, Edmond de Courtive stirred up the "Tout paris" with a thesis held at the "Faculte de Pharmacie", glorifying hemp pharmacology.[27]. A little later, in 1877, Charles Richet, future Nobel Prize,  reported in a book called " Intellectual poisons"[28] a self- experiment trial of cannabis : he came out fully convinced that this for true, a dangerous drug !

In fact, in mid-nineteenth century  appeared a new range of analgesics, sedatives and hypnotics : this ended for a while all experiments on the so-called  "medical cannabis".

However, in the late 19th century, cannabis came back … in literature : Alfred Jarry, in " Days and Nights"[29] staged a bizarre  "soldier deserter" lost  in hashish smokes. At the same time, Henri de Monfreid published in 1933 "The haschisch cruise "[30] and Andre Breton " Communicating pots "[31] presenting   haschisch as  motor for the " surrealistic dreams "

Ernst Junger, the great  German writer topped the subject : all his life, he used all sorts of drugs from  ether to cocaine and hashish, recording his experiments in a  review intitled"Psychonautics" [32] 

Cannabism in England 

The true pioneer of  cannabism was an Englishman, Rev. Robert Burton (1577-1640), author of a study called "Anatomy of Melancholy "[33] : in there, he suggests to use hemp as treatment for female frigidity ....

SamuelTaylor Coleridge (1772-1834) obtained a large success with books written, as he claimed,  "in a cloud of hemp" : " Kubla Khan " and " Rimes of the Ancient Mariner "[34]. Heavy drug user, Coleridge had devised his own mail system to get directly from India, large supplies of "bang".

Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), well-known british author of " Confessions of an opium eater"[35] had the sad privilege to be the first to give a "literary aura" to drug addiction.

In cannabis History stands among all others, a too often forgotten figure,  William Brooke O'Shaughnessy (1808-1889). Sent to India, he could achieve there a full study  of Indian traditional pharmacopoeia [36] and in 1838, presented it to the Great Britain Academy of Sciences[37]

More recently, Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), in a book called " Doors of Perception "[38], developped many esthaetic views on psychedelic substances, including hemp.

 History of cannabism in United States 

In the  United States, cannabism arrives at the end of WW1, with the Caribbean workers of  New Orleans Harbour. A booster came with jazz players, open "marijuana addicts"[39]" who spread the epidemics from Louisiana to Mississippi and after, to Middle West and Neww York.

At that time, everywhere in the US, surged "cannabis speakeasies" where consumers could easily find their supplies of "marijuana ".   The situation got to the point that, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to strengten the protective system against drugs with the federal "Marihuana Tax Act."

In the 1960s, a new surge of cannabism came with the Viet Nam war where young Americans were initiated  to "pot" (the new name for hashish) and, back home, spread hemp everywhere over the country  ..

Now arrives 1968 and the "counterculture" movement where the  so-called " hippies" claimed their hate of the "consumer society" of their parents,: hallucinogenic drugs became the new fashion, with a slogan : "ban on drugs = shrinking of mental borders".  

The student protest movement arrived shortly after to  California where blossomed the " flower generation", " but the flowers soonly faded and were  replaced by " grass ", in the old oriental meaning of "hemp"…

In November 2010, Californians were asked to vote on a bill proposing to legalize cannabis. The law was rejected with 53.9 % all votes. In 2013 a Colorado representative proposed to the Congress a bill that would decriminalize marijuana on a federal level but the project fell short of approval. On August 28, 2013, the government announced that there would no longer be any pursue against marijuana offenses in the states where  small consumption and possession of marijuana is already legal.

In complement of the long and complicated story of cannabism in North-America, some names should be recalled :

Fitz Hugh Ludlow (1836-1870) : his book " The Hashish Eater "[40] published in 1857 gave in  great  details the description of the  "trip" of a drug addict . His own story was, in fact, a short travel : he died in Switzerland only  34 years old. According to his last wishes, written  on his coffin, were only three words " Free at last "…

Miton Mesirow ( Mezz Mezzrow (1899-1972) was a musician claiming to be a "white Negro". He moved to New York from Chicago in 1929 and began selling marihuana in Harlem. "Overnight I was the most popular man in Harlem," he writes in his autobiography[41], the "White Mayor of Harlem", a "link between the races". From his name, a new word was coined : a "mezz", sort of marijuana cigar…

Harry Jacob Anslinger (1892-1975) during the Great Depression of the Thirties, used mass media as a platform for his  fight against hemp. In a 1923 isue of the "San Francisco Examiner" he claims this still-valid assertion " By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him"

Tod Hiro Mikuriya (1933-2007), a psychiatrist, loudly advocated, in the other field, for legalization of cannabis.[42]

Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was a psychologist fanatic of all psychedelic substances, also expert in provocations[43],  he got fame with a slogan "Turn on, tune in, drop out " that could be translated as " take drugs, you will be plugged in and kicked out of the system "…

William Steward Burroughs (1914-1997), another tough activist, came from high society, he was son of the discoverer of calculating machines ancestors of computers. His most famous book, " Naked Lunch "[44] reports  the story of  a nightmarish descent into the hell of heroin, cocaine and hashish 

Cannabism in  modern world

Cannabis consumption has doubled in the past decade, with serious health and social consequences.

In France, the Ministry of Interior,on October 1, 2009, reported a figure of 3.9 million cannabis users, and among them grossly one-third of " regular users " and ten percent of " addicts " . Most are young users : 38% among 15-16 yrs, have used cannabis at least once in their life and 22% consumed cannabis the preceding month. The number of legal actions concerning cannabis has increased fivefold in France since the early 1990s. More over, an artisanal production of cannabis is growing fast: grossly 32 tons are thus harvested each year, more than 10% of total consumption in France. Grossly speaking, a "joint" on nine comes from an artisanal production. The " France profonde " is slowly entering the Maroccan situation : hemp is everywhere cultivated "in all illegality" in warehouses, country sheds or even underground shelters, under neon light .

In the whole world, statistics[45]  show that cannabis stands now in high place among all illicit drugs : the number of consumers has been recently estimated at about 150 million, this means about   2.5 % of the world population

In developed countries : North America, Western Europe and Australia, consumption of cannabis among young people has been highly spreading in the past decade, with  a marked lowering of the age of  first contact with the drug 

Cannabis Legislation

During all 20th century, a massive number of  legislative texts against drugs has been enacted with an effect which may seem, at best, rather …problematic : " textual obsession " is not always  synonym of efficiency…

In 1961 a Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed by all member of the the WHO and cannabis is now outlawed in most countries :

In France, the Code of Public Health has given a legal definition for "personal use" of cannabis and, since the 1970s, more than  500 legal texts have been issued thus showing  the difficulties to give in that field a proper définition for  "law inforcements"… 

Prevention against cannabism

During the last half-century the most serious warnings have been expressed to recall that cannabis is highly dangerous….

All specialists, family counselors, teachers, sociologists, psychologists and physicians, only agree on one  point : prevention has to take place as early as possible at home and at school. School is indeed the best place to provide to children and teen agers not only informations but also tools to escape to the trap of drugs.

Hence the importance to initiate in all schooms, at very early stages, a comprehensive program on cannabism prevention.

Cannabis, " Trips " and "Aartificial paradises ""

A "trip", for most of the people, is linked to holidays or business. In our time, the word got another meaning : a flight to  " "artificial paradises", a "sad trip", indeed, which could in many cases rather be  called  " Journey to the End"

Along centuries, the use of hallucinating drugs was primarily seen as a search  for exoticism and, for the Ancients, a référence to Orient and its fascinating charms : " the  grass  is always greener on the other side of the fence"...

In our times, it seems more and more evident  that "green agers" see in cannabis a possibility to get rid from reality : for an adolescent, nothing within reach can ever bring satisfaction…

Indeed, euphoria drawn from cannabis fully justifies the name which is often given to drugs : "artificial paradise ": it is " Paradise", since it gives shelter against all miseries of the human condition, but also "Artificial " since cannabis can  only provide lures : '' a dream within a dream " as said by Edgar Allan Poe

 Adolescence : age of all dangers 

Left alone to himself, a teenager, when overwhelmed by the realities of life has only one reflex : encapsulate oneself to escape  from a world where failure is a shame. Adolescence is seen as a  transition from childhood without fears for a risky " flight out of the nest " : often time, indeed,  for "crisis"  and we all know that this  word "crisis" has a  double meaning : "change" and "upheaval". Too often,  the teenager will take refuge in social isolation, locking  himself in his room, cutting off any  ties with the school system.

The parents are there  as an  irreplaceable aid : when a teenager has fallen into the trap of drugs, family is  a main element for prognosis : the worst for a "problem" adolescent would be to only get indifference or even worse, a poorly defined permissiveness .

Too often, a situation of school failure brings the teen-ager, not to seek refuge among his parents but to lock himself into rebellion and provocation : this is often triggering the first contact with drugs.

Torn by conflicting impulses, the teenager will find in drugs the easiest and also fastest way to escape to reality. As pointed out by psychiatrists, his "ego"  dissolves in a " disinhibition game", giving at last, only false peace…

Cannabis use has often been given by teen-agers the name of "joint smoking " and this, of course, truly "joints" the individual to a group. But the teen ager will have to accept the rules of his new companions and it will be heavy toll to pay... As pointed out by the French writer Paul Morand : "Il old times, religion was opium for the crowd, today the opium is for the crowd a religion "

Scientific research has deciphered the complex mechanisms linking brain centers for pleasure perception during use od addictive drugs : acting as "pharmacological lures", drugs bypass natural neurotransmitters in attempt to obtain a fictive  "reward "


 Many comments could be made on "hedonistic drugs", the "pleasure substances " of our times, cannabis as well as  wine, opium, cocaine and tobacco.

This paper intended to show, from the lessons of History, that cannabis  is an ever present danger since the dawn of times, endlessly arising in all parts  of the world, under different names  and different modalities of use.

Among the lessons learned from the long history of cannabis is evidence that users have, at all times, underestimated the risks of drug addictions. It is now imperative for all health professionals, but also for teachers and every family to help all teenagers ready to" burn " their lives to get out from the trap…


 Cannabis has a long story, the story of an endless return through ages and countries, all over the world.

 There is no mention any “hedonistic” use of cannabis in Greek or Roman Antiquity but cannabism is widely attested in Orient as early as in the Middle Ages, even if many tales about Hashishins and Crusaders remain highly controversial.

 The arrival of cannabism can be traced back in Europe at the end of 18th century after the Egypt campaign of Bonaparte.

 Thus was launched an increasing vogue of orientalism, soonly after followed by o spread  of cannabism in Paris or London and, half a century later, the United States.

 After a brief armistice, cannabis pops up again with force at the end of XXth century, all over the Western world.

 In our times cannabis remains in the centre of all discussions about hallucinogen substances but many ethical, moral or medical questions are still unanswered.

 Our final comments will go to the everlasting “come back” of cannabism,  a real danger for our modern societies, whatever can be the causes : search of exotism, attempt to escape from reality or, as suggested by recent physiological studies, close inter-relations between sensorial paths and the upper  brainstem centers.



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[1] The French name is  "chanvre" and, from that name, come "chennevis" or "canapé"…and also,… "Cannebières" the place in Marseille where ropes were woven

[2] In fact, "Grass" has become idiomatic all over the world for haschisch…

[3]  "Marijuana" is a Mexican word, sometimes spelled " mariguana" or marihuana

[4]Sergei Rudenko (1885-1969) anthropologist and archaeologist follower of Paul Broca's "French School" of anthropology

[5] Apicius "De Re Coquinaria" (Trad. J. André)(Ed. Klincksieck, Paris, 1965

[6] 1884 "Report on hemp and drugs "(League of Nations, "A century of international drug control"(UNODC, United nations Office on Drugs and Cerimes, Bulletin of Narcotics, vol. LIX,  1-2, 2007, Vienna International Centre)

[7] Id.

[8] Papal bull " Summis desiderantes affectibus" edicted on décember 5, 1484"

[9] François Rabelais, "Tiers Livre", chapter 51

[10] Internet édition (Ed. James L. Swanson) http://www.pantagruelion.com/chapters/

[11] Smyrnium olustarum ("Alexanders") has been first described by Theophrastus (9.1) and Pliny the Elder (N.H. 19.48).

[12]Da Orta Garcia (1501-1568) physician and naturalist pioneer of tropical medicine

[13] "Colloques on simples and drugs of India " : text published on Internet at : http://archive.org/stream/colloquiesonsimp00orta/colloquiesonsimp00orta_djvu.txt

[14] "Benjuy" , "Gum Benjamin", " luban-Javi" ''Olibanum of Java," all are names for "Benzoin"

[15]  "Bang" is in India the name given to the hemp

[16] "Akeca" , undestand  "Caju"

[17]  "Almisque ", understand "musc"

[18] Martin Affbnso de Souza (1500-1571), was a Portuguese explorer and colonial administrator.

[19] Kaempfer, Engelbert. (1690-92) : The History of Japan: Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam (Ed. J. MacLehose and sons, London, 1906)

[20] Jacques-François de Menou, baron de Boussay, called Abdallah Menou, was général in Egypt Army. He suceeded to Klmeber after his assassination.

[21] Jacques Moreau, also said "Moreau de  Tours"(1804–1884), was the first physician to work on the effects of drugs on the central nervous system.

[22] "Hôtel " does not refer here to some lodging accomodation but to a private mansion

[23] "Le Club des Hachichins", published in February 1846 Revue des Deux Mondes

[24] D’Aubert Roche , was author of a treatise on Typhus in Orient which  had brought  Moreau to work on hashish

[25] Baudelaire Ch.,"Du vin  du haschish" in "Paradis artificiels" (1851)

[26] Nerval G. de, "Voyage en Orient" (1851) "

[27] De Courtive E. "Haschish. Etude historique, chimique et physiologique. Thèse présentée à l'Ecole de Pharmacie de Paris le 11 avril 1848 "

[28] Richet Ch.," Les poisons Intellectuels" (  Paris, 1877

[29] Alfred Jarry "Les jours et les nuits, Roman d'un deserteur" (1897)

[30] De Monfreid "Croisiere du Haschish" (1933à

[31] Breton André "l"vases communiqaunt " Les vases commucants" (1932)

[32] Ernst Junger : " Annäherungen" (1970).

[33] Robert Burton " The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. (1621). "

[34] Coleridge S.T. "Rimes of the Ancient mariner" (1798)

[35] Quincey de, "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater"(Londion Magazine,  1821

[36] O'Shaughnessy, W.B., Memoranda on Indian Materia Medica (presented to the Royal Societyon  October 6, 1838).

[37] O'Shaughnessy, W.B. "Case of Tetanus, Cured by a Preparation of Hemp (the Cannabis indica.)" (Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bengal 8, 1838-40, 462-469)

[38] Aldous Huxley "The Doors of Perception (1954

[39] From that time, cannabis and hemp are mosytly known as  "marijuana"

[40] Ludlow Fitz Hugh,  "The haschisch eater" (1857)

[41] Milton Mess Mezzrow  ""Really the Blues" (1946)

[42] Mikuriya  T.H.,in  "Marijuana: Medical Papers, 1839-1972" (Medi-Comp Press, 1973 )

[43] Leary Th., " The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead" (1964)

[44] Burroughs W.S. "The naked lunch" (1959)

[45]According to  the latest WHO statistics (December 2010)

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