At the close of the 19th century, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission surprised the Western world with its conclusion that “the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all” and that alcohol was “far worse in its effects on man.” Before long, “hasheesh [became] the latest fad of the fashionable beauties of London” as an “innocuous” alternative to the opiates, alcohol, tobacco and smelling salts many were using to deal with the “strain of fashionable life.”
In an account published across the United States in the summer of 1900, society columnist Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen (writing under her pseudonym, the “Marquise de Fontenoy”) reported that London’s upscale Mayfair district had “at least half a dozen very expensive and exclusive clubs restricted entirely to the fair sex, which are nothing more nor less than hasheesh temples.”
Latest Fad of the Fashionable Beauties of London
Chicago Daily Tribune, June 10, 1900
By the Marquise de Fontenoy
Hasheesh is the latest fad of the fashionable beauties of London, and within the precincts of Mayfair there are at least half a dozen very expensive and exclusive clubs restricted entirely to the fair sex, which are nothing more nor less than hasheesh temples. They are thoroughly respectable in the sense that none but women of acknowledged position in society, matrons as well as unmarried girls with several seasons to their records, are admitted to the clubs in question, and while a part of the house is run as a ladies’ club in the ordinary way, the greater portion of the establishment is devoted to the absorption of the drug so famous throughout the Orient, and which it is insisted is entirely innocuous. They are exquisitely furnished, especially the orientally fashioned apartments, where the effects of the hasheesh are obtained, and where not a single sound from the outside disturbs the dreams of the votaries of this, so far as England is concerned, entirely new fad, and they are waited upon by maid servants in Oriental garb, the surroundings conveying the impression of some Eastern harem.
English women have been brought to this by overwork and overexcitement. The strain of fashionable life, especially during the season, is too severe, and the common round and the daily tasks of a society woman’s life allow no rest. Excitement, late hours, and the fact of never being alone for a single hour in the day, tend to physical collapse. To restore vitality, some women resort to alcohol, others think nothing of imbibing teaspoonfuls of eau de cologne, or sal volatile; others again smoke, and in the case of the majority of the cigarettes manufactured for feminine consumption in London, the tobacco is not merely perfumed, but otherwise dashed with opium in order to furnish a more soothing ingredient.Hasheesh is far less harmful than any of these artifices to quiet the nerves, and to give that repose for which one looks in vain in a sleep that will no longer be wooed. It has for hundreds, possibly for thousands, of years, been used throughout the Orient. From the Atlantic shores of Morocco to the furthest confines of Bokhara and of Mohammedan Asia, hasheesh in some form or another is at once the favorite stimulant and the favorite solace of all classes of Moslems. Some take it in the form of a liquid, that is to say, an infusion; others again use it in the form of a fine powder, which they mix with tobacco, and smoke either in cigarettes or in a narghile. The smoke, which is white and opaque, is drawn into the lungs so as to bring the fumes of the drug in direct contact with the blood. In Persia butter and sugar are added to the leaf, and it is kneaded into small balls about the size of a hazelnut, and there are people who will take as many as four of these “dawamesk” or “boluses” a day.
I myself, on the occasion that I experimented with this drug, namely, in Egypt, took it in the form of a sweetmeat known as “majoon.” After having eaten the candy, which was flavored with some spices or other, I was called upon to drink a cup of coffee, prepared Turkish fashion and possessed of a strong aroma. Before long the hasheesh began to show its effects. Every vestige of fatigue, moral as well as physical, disappeared, and there ensured an elevation of spirits and a tendency to see everything in colours of the most roseate hue. The mind seemed to develop undreamt-of-activity, and powers as well as talents of one kind and another to appear that had until then been latent. Yet it could not be called intoxication, for I knew thoroughly what I was doing and saying, and was able to remember everything afterward.
Among the accomplishments which it seemed to me that had been called into existence by the hasheesh which I had taken was the gift of tongues, and it seemed to me that I was able all of a sudden to talk definitely Arabic, with which at the time I possessed a somewhat elementary acquaintance. I also experienced an inordinate desire to fly in the air, and felt that but little effort would be required to float around far above the ground. Then I began to see everything in gigantic size. After a time landscapes and scenery of extraordinary beautify unfolded themselves before my eyes, palaces of a gem-like character and glittering with every imaginable brilliancy of colors passed before my gaze, and finally my body seemed to rise from the divan and to float away into space, and I dropped into a dreamless sleep from which I awoke thoroughly refreshed and none the worse for the experiment.
The drug, which is made of the resinous and narcotic leaves of the hemp plant, is said to be comparatively innocuous when compared with opium, alcohol, or even excessive tobacco smoking.
I was informed that it affected some novices by bringing on a slight nausea or headache, both of which, however, can be quickly removed by a little lemon juice. The drug, which is made of the resinous and narcotic leaves of the hemp plant, is said to be comparatively innocuous when compared with opium, alcohol, or even excessive tobacco smoking. The only disadvantage is that it really takes you entirely away from your surroundings, and in its latter stages deprives you, not so much of your will power as of your self-control.
Of course, there is the danger, and it is a serious one, that with the lack of moderation which is one of the principal characteristics of the fair sex, they should be so carried away by the fascinations of the drug as to become slaves thereto, and to permit its use to develop into an abuse, as in the Orient. During my stay in Egypt our Moslem servants were usually totally unfitted for working during three or four days of each month, owing to their absorption of too much hasheesh. They became dreamy, totally impracticable, and wound up by an unconquerable desire to sleep. There was no means of doing anything with them, excepting to allow them to sleep the hasheesh off.