The following is an excerpt from Frederick Peterson, M.D.’s 1893 book In Egypt. Accounts like the one below, linking hasheesh use with insanity, spurred the British government to create the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission the same year Peterson’s book was published. The commission concluded that cannabis is relatively harmless and should not be prohibited.
“There is much that is interesting in the forms of insanity met with. One form that I had never seen in my experience in American asylums is that resulting from the use of cannabis indica. Of the two hundred and forty-eight patients sixty men and four or five women were insane from the excessive use of hasheesh. Acute cases which recover and are discharged are almost sure to return.
The drug is almost always inhaled by smoking. Hasheesh has been in use in Egypt for over six hundred and fifty years, and although the Government has made strenuous efforts to suppress its importation, it still continues to be smuggled in. There exist in Cairo, unknown to the police, several hasheesh joints. I visited one of these one evening and had no difficulty in purchasing samples of hasheesh for inspection. There were two or three rooms full of men enjoying their pipes and chibouques. The drug is sold in square and diamond-shaped lozenges of a black extract, varying from two cents to ten cents a piece according to quality.
The symptoms produced are disorder of the alimentary canal (indigestion and diarrhoea), increased appetite, dilatation of the pupils, drooping eyelids, anaemia, general debility, and delirium. The earliest mental symptom is a marked and increasing timidity, sometimes amounting to a folie du doute, or an agoraphobia. Very many cases result in chronic insanity, dementia, or death.“