Hash and opium were becoming increasingly popular in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, especially in France. After Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt at the end of the 1790s, many of the troops brought hash back with them, boosting its popularity. The French conquest of Algeria only increased its popularity.
French is my second language and I’ve also traveled there so I have a soft spot for French authors like Charles Baudelaire and Honoré de Balzac, who were members of the Club des Hashischins, aka The Hash Club. The club also attracted the likes of Victor Hugo (author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) and Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo). After receiving mysterious and cryptic invitations, members of Paris’ intellectual and literary elite would typically arrive at Hôtel de Lauzun on Île Saint-Louis in the Seine river. This location was chosen for its privacy — because although hash could be purchased at local pharmacies and apothecaries, drug use in general was still controversial.
Club members would don Arabic clothing to heighten the experience before consuming Dawamesc, an Arab hash edible. The thick green paste was typically made of cannabis resin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachios, sugar, orange juice, butter, honey, fat and cantharides (an odorless and colorless fatty substance that comes from blister beetles, and is used in the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly). After eating the Dawamesc, they would typically drink coffee and enjoy intellectual conversation and debate of the highest quality.
The club eventually stopped holding sessions around 1849 but not before hash had left its mark on French literary work, including Jacques-Joseph Moreau’s 439-page Hashish and Mental Illness — the first book written by a doctor about a drug and its effects on the central nervous system.
Many of the group felt that hash affected their ability to write. “After a dozen experiments,” Théophile Gautier wrote, “we gave up forever this intoxicating drug, not that it hurt us physically, but the true writer needs only his natural dreams, and he does not like his thought to be influenced by any agent.”
So, why would the modern marijuana connoisseur even care?
My dear readers, one would have to be an ignoramus not to notice one very unpleasant fact... Most people see those who partake in cannabis as dumb, lazy and worse... They view all cannabis consumers as “stoners.” This stereotype perpetuates the idea that people who consume cannabis are stupid, lazy and a whole lot of other bad things, while alcohol has been put on pedestal and perceived as less destructive to individuals and society than it is.
Alcohol, since it has been legal for hundreds of years (excluding Prohibition), has carved a lofty place for itself in modern American culture. One only has to read Charles Bukowski or Ernest Hemingway to realize that alcohol is often seen in a positive light.
Although we can’t fix how cannabis has been demonized across prior generations, we can change it for our time. One only needs to read about The Hash Club to realize that pot has an important role in helping us to be more creative and artistic humans. I write this asking anyone who enjoys cannabis and is artistic in any way (or any reader who wants to change the CULTURAL perception of cannabis): When you are taking your dab or munching on an edible, let this amazing and wonderful drug help you create something great!
It is time, my friends, for Cannabis to receive a long-overdue cultural makeover.