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The Emperor Wears No Clothes
by Jack Herer
Cannabis Drug Use in 19th Century America
Although by 1839, cannabis hemp products for fiber, paper, nautical use, lamp oil, food, etc., were possibly the largest agricultural and industrial businesses in America and, of course, throughout the world, the hundreds of medical uses of cannabis (known for thousands of years in the Orient and Middle East) were still almost entirely unknown in much of Western Europe and America because of the earlier Medieval Catholic Church’s suppression.
However, the 19th century saw a dramatic re-discovery of the benefits of cannabis drugs, which were the number-one medicine in America prior to 1863. It was replaced by morphine when the new injectable needle became the rage, but not before cannabis brought with it healthful elixirs and patent medicines, luxuriant Turkish Smoking Parlors and with them a fountain of literary creativity. Cannabis remained the number-two medicine until 1901 when it was replaced by aspirin.
Marijuana Medicine in 19th Century America
From 1850 to 1937, cannabis was used as the prime medicine for more than 100 separate illnesses or diseases in U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
During all this time (until the 1940s), science, doctors, and drug manufacturers (Lilly, Parke-Davis, Squibb, etc.) had no idea of its active ingredients.
Yet from 1842 until the 1890s, marijuana, generally called Cannabis Indica or Indian Hemp extractums, was one of the three items (after alcohol and opium) most used in patent and prescription drugs (in massive doses*, usually by oral ingestion).
*Doses given during the 19th century to American infants, children, youth, adults, women in childbirth, and senior citizens, in one day, were, in many cases, equal to what a current moderate-to-heavy American marijuana user probably consumes in a month or two, using U.S. government’s 1983 guidelines for comparison.
Violence was equated with alcohol use; addiction to morphine was known as the “soldiers’ illness.”
And so, during that era, cannabis gained favor and was even recommended as a way of helping alcoholics and addicts recover.
However, cannabis medicines had been largely lost to the West since the days of the Inquisition. (See Chapter 10, “A Look at the Sociology”)
Until, that is, W. B. O’Shaughnessy, a 30-year-old British physician serving in India’s Bengal* province, watched Indian doctors use different hemp extracts successfully to treat all types of illness and disease then untreatable in the West, including tetanus.
*”Bengal” means “Bhang Land,” literally Cannabis Land.
O’Shaughnessy then did an enormous (and the first known Western) study,* in 1839, and published a 40-page paper on the uses of cannabis medicines. At the same time, a French doctor named Roche was making the same rediscovery of hemp in Middle Eastern medicines.
*O’Shaughnessy used patients, animals, and himself for his research and experiments. Incidentally, O’Shaughnessy went on to become a millionaire and was knighted by Queen Victoria for building India’s first telegraph system in the 1850s.
O’Shaughnessy’s medical paper and findings on hemp extracts stunned and swept through the Western medical world. In just three years, cannabis was to become an American and European “superstar.”
Papers written by first-time American users (novices) and doctors using, treating, or experimenting with cannabis, told straight forward accounts of its usually euphoric, and sometimes disphoric, mind and time-expanding properties for both child and adult, as well as hilarity and increased appetites, especially the first few times they tried it.
Interestingly, during this whole period of time (1840s to 1930s) Eli Lilly, Squibb, Parke-Davis, Smith Brothers, Tildens, etc., had no effective way to prolong its very short shelf life and had great difficulty standardizing dosages.
As noted before, marijuana medicine was so highly regarded by Americans (including some Protestant theologians) during the 19th century, that in 1860, for example, the Committee on Cannabis Indica for the Ohio State Medical Society reported and concluded that, “High Biblical commentators [scholars]” believe “that the gall and vinegar, or myrrhed wine, offered to our Saviour, immediately before his crucifixion, was in all probability, a preparation of Indian hemp [marijuana], and even speak of its earlier use in obstetrics.”*
*Reprinted from the transcripts of the 15th annual meeting of the Ohio State Medical Society, at White Sulphur Springs, Ohio, June 12-14, 1860, pg. 75-100.
The main reasons that cannabis medicines fell into disuse in America was the difficulty of identifying and standardizing dosage, e.g., in 1964, 27 years after America outlawed cannabis in 1937, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of Tel Aviv University first discovered the THC delta molecules as the active ingredients in cannabis. Also, doctors in the late l9th century could not find a way to inject it into humans with their brand new hypodermic needles…and still haven’t.
By the 1890s, some of the most popular American marriage guides recommend cannabis as an aphrodisiac of extraordinary powers – no one ever suggested a prohibition law against cannabis. And while there was talk of an alcohol prohibition law, a number of women’s temperance organizations even suggested “hasheesh” as a substitute for “demon” alcohol, which they said led to wife beating.
A Popular Inspiration of the 19th Century Literary Greats
From the early 1800s on, some of the world’s foremost romantic and revolutionary writers on individual freedom and human dignity extolled cannabis use. We study their works in schools today as “classics”:
The science of psycho-pharmacology started in France circa 1845 with Doctor J. J. Moreau DeTours, and cannabis became one of the first drugs used to treat the insane and depressed.
Moreau was best friends with Dumas, Hugo, and Gautier, and in 1845 co-founded with them in Paris the first cannabis club in the Western World: Le Club Des Haschischins.
Maple Sugar Hashish Candy
Starting in the 1860s, the Gunjah Wallah Company made maple sugar hashish candy, which soon became one of the most popular treats in America.
For 40 years, it was sold over the counter and advertised in newspapers, as well as being listed in the catalogs of Sears-Roebuck, as a totally harmless, delicious and fun candy.
Turkish Smoking Parlors
World Fairs and International Expositions, from the 1860s through the early 1900s, often featured a popular Turkish Hashish Smoking exposition and concession. Hashish smoking was entirely new for Americans; its effects came on much faster. However, smoking hashish was only about one-third as strong or long lasting as orally ingesting the cannabis extract medicines that even American children were regularly prescribed.
At America’s giant 100-year 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, fair-goers took their friends and family to partake (smoke) at the extremely popular Turkish Hashish Exposition, so as to “enhance” their fair experience.
By 1883, similar hashish smoking parlors were legally open in every major American city, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, and so on.
The Police Gazette estimated there were over 500 hashish smoking parlors in New York City in the 1880s and it was estimated by the NYPD that there were still 500 or more hashish parlors in NYC in the 1920s•more of these parlors than there were “speakeasies” during the same 1920s alcohol prohibition period.
As American as Apple Pie
By the start of the 20th century almost four generations of Americans had been using cannabis. Virtually everyone in this country was familiar from childhood on with the “highs” of cannabis extract – yet doctors did not consider it habit forming, anti-social or violent at all, after 60 years of use.
This leads us to an important question: if it was not fear of health or social consequences that led to the eventual ban of cannabis use in America (and later forced on the rest of the world), what did?
The Smear Campaign
What socio-political force would be strong enough to turn Americans against something as innocent as a plant – let alone one which so many people had an interest in using to improve their own lives?
Earlier, you read how the first federal anti-marijuana laws (1937) came about because of William Randolph Hearst’s lies, yellow journalism and racist newspaper articles and ravings, which from then on were cited in Congressional testimony by Harry Anslinger as facts.
But what started Hearst on the marijuana and racist scare stories? What intelligence or ignorance, for which we still punish fellow Americans to the tune of 16 million years in jails and prisons in just the last 70 years, (786,545 arrested in 2005 alone for marijuana, more than twice as many as 1990) – brought this all about?
The first step was to introduce the element of fear of the unknown by using a word that no one had ever heard of before: “marijuana.”
The next step was to keep the maneuverings hidden from the doctors, scientists and hemp industries who would have defended hemp. This was done by holding most of the hearings on prohibition in secret.
And, finally, prohibitionists set out to stir up primal emotions and tap right into an existing pool of hatred that was already poisoning society: racism.