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C H A P T E R  II  -   W H A T  I S  H A S H I S H ?

T H E  stories of Marco Polo, which have been so unjustly laughed at, as in the case of some other old travellers, have been verified by men of science, and deserve our belief. I shall not repeat his story of how, after having intoxicated them with hashish (whence the word "Assassin") the old Man of the Mountains shut up in a garden filled with delights those of his youngest disciples to whom he wished to give an idea of Paradise as an earnest of the reward, so to speak, of a passive and unreflecting obedience. The reader may consult, concerning the secret Society of Hashishins, the work of Von Hammer-Purgstall, and the note of M. Sylvestre de Sacy contained in vol. 16 of "Memories de l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres"; and, with regard to the etymology of the word "assassin," his letter to the editor of the "Moniteur" in No. 359 of the year 1809. Herodotus tells us that the Syrians used to gather grains of hemp and throw red-hot stones upon them; so that it was like a vapour-bath, more perfumed than that of any Grecian stove; and the pleasure of it was so acute that it drew cries of joy from them.

H A S H I S H,   in effect, comes to us from the East. The exciting properties of hemp were well known in ancient Egypt, and the use of it is very widely spread under different names in India, Algeria, and Arabia Felix; but we have around us, under our eyes, curious examples of the intoxication caused by vegetable emanations. Without speaking of the children who, having played and rolled themselves in heaps of cut lucern, often experience singular attacks of vertigo, it is well known that during the hemp harvest both male and female workers undergo similar effects. One would say that from the harvest rises a miasma which trouble their brains despitefully. The head of the reaper is full of whirlwinds, sometimes laden with reveries; at certain moments the limbs grow weak and refuse their office. We have heard tell of crises of somnambulism as being frequent among the Russian peasants, whose cause, they say, must be attributed to the use of hemp-seed oil in the preparation of food. Who does not know the extravagant behaviour of hens which have eaten grains of hemp-seed, and the wild enthusiasm of the horses which the peasants, at weddings and on the feasts of their patron saints, prepare for a steeplechase by a ration of hemp-seed, sometimes sprinkled with wine? Nevertheless, French hemp is unsuitable for preparing hashish, or at least, as repeated experiments have shown, unfitted to give a drug which is equal in power to hashish. Hashish, or Indian hemp ("Cannabis indica"), is a plant of the family of "Urticacea," resembling in every respect the hemp of our latitudes, except that it does not attain the same height. It possesses very extraordinary intoxicating properties, which for some years past have attracted in France the attention of men of science and of the world. It is more or less highly esteemed according to its different sources: that of Bengal is the most prized by Europeans; that, however, of Egypt, of Constantinople, of Persia, and of Algeria enjoys the same properties, but in an inferior degree.

H A S H I S H  (or grass; that is to say, the grass par excellence, as if the Arabs had wished to define in a single word the grass source of all material pleasures) has different names, according to its composition and the method of preparation which it has undergone in the country where it has been gathered: In India, "bhang;" in Africa, teriaki; in Algeria and in Arabia Felix, madjound, &c. It makes considerable difference at what season of the year it is gathered. It possesses its greatest energy when it is in flower. The flowering tops are in consequence the only parts employed in the different preparations of which we are about to speak. The extrait gras of hashish, as the Arabs prepare it, is obtained by boiling the tops of the fresh plant in butter, with a little water. It is strained, after complete evaporation of all humidity, and one thus obtains a preparation which has the appearance of a pomade, in colour greenish yellow, and which possesses a disagreeable odour of hashish and of rancid butter. Under this form it is employed in small pills of two to four grammes in weight, but on account of its objectionable smell, which increases with age, the Arabs conceal the extrait gras in sweetmeats.

T H E  most commonly employed of these sweetmeats, dawamesk, is a mixture of extrait gras, sugar, and various other aromatic substances, such as vanilla, cinnamon, pistachio, almond, musk. Sometimes one even adds a little cantharides, with an object which has nothing in common with the ordinary results of hashish. Under this new form hashish has no disagreeable qualities, and one can take it in a dose of fifteen, twenty, and thirty grammes, either enveloped in a leaf of pain a chanter or in a cup of coffee.

T H E  experiments made by Messrs. Smith, Gastinel, and Decourtive were directed towards the discovery of the active principles of hashish. Despite their efforts, its chemical combination is still little known, but one usually attributes its properties to a resinous matter which is found there in the proportion of about 10 per cent. To obtain this resin the dried plant is reduced to a coarse powder, which is then washed several times with alcohol; this is afterwards partially distilled and evaporated until it reaches the consistency of an extract; this extract is treated with water, which dissolves the gummy foreign matter, and the resin then remains in a pure condition.

T H I S  product is soft, of a dark green colour, and possesses to a high degree the characteristic smell of hashish. Five, ten, fifteen centigrammes are sufficient to produce surprising results. But the haschischine, which may be administered under the form of chocolate pastilles or small pills mixed with ginger, has, like the dawamesk and the extrait gras, effects more or less vigorous, and of an extremely varied nature, according to the individual temperament and nervous susceptibility of the hashish-eater; and, more than that, the result varies in the same individual. Sometimes he will experience an immoderate and irresistible gaiety, sometimes a sense of well-being and of abundance of life, sometimes a slumber doubtful and thronged with dreams. There are, however, some phenomena which occur regularly enough; above all, in the case of persons of a regular temperament and education; there is a kind of unity in its variety which will allow me to edit, without too much trouble, this monograph on hashish-drunkenness of which I spoke before.

A T   Constantinople, in Algeria, and even in France, some people smoke hashish mixed with tobacco, but then the phenomena in question only occur under a form much moderated, and, so to say, lazy. I have heard it said that recently, by means of distillation, an essential oil has been drawn from hashish which appears to possess a power much more active than all the preparations hitherto known, but it has not been sufficiently studied for me to speak with certainty of its results. Is it not superfluous to add that tea, coffee, and alcoholic drinks are powerful adjuvants which accelerate more or less the outbreak of this mysterious intoxication?

- Charles Baudelaire

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