Most readers of The Hasheesh Eater today, unlike most readers of the book when it was first published in 1857, have had at least a taste of cannabis intoxication. One reviewer of The Hasheesh Eater said in 1858 that "so little is known of hasheesh in this country that the name even is scarce familiar to the general reader..." This is hardly the case today. But even those readers who, with the benefit of the modern underground marijuana industry, have had extensive experience smoking marijuana or eating hash brownies are likely to react with incredulity (if amused incredulity) to the tales of fantastic hallucinations contained therein.
Ludlow describes surreal and richly detailed visions, as well as symptoms of his intoxication ("my ability at times to feel sights, see sounds, &c.") that sound much more psychedelic than merely "stoned." Modern readers are likely to be skeptical of what Terence McKenna calls Ludlow's "wonderful distillation of all that was zany in the Yankee transcendentalist approach," but cannot help but be amazed at how closely his descriptions of cannabine visions resemble the descriptions of the psychedelic universe that came a century later.
Oriana Josseau Kalant, in an article for The International Journal of the Addictions presents one solution to this dilemma by analyzing the "Tilden's extract" that was Ludlow's source of the drug:
Ludlow consistently talked of "hasheesh" but in fact he took the solid extract of Cannabis Indica which was roughly twice as potent as the crude resin and ten times as potent as marijuana. A rough calculation shows that his intake was equivalent to about 6 or 7 marijuana cigarettes per dose, i.e. at the hallucinatory rather than at the euphoriant level prevalent in contemporary North American use.Ludlow was taking as much as a drachm of the stuff in his largest doses - if Kalant's figures are correct, this is equivalent to a quarter-ounce of hashish or well over an ounce of marijuana! A more recent account, less touched by "all that was zany" in Ludlow's literary background, of the ingestion of large amounts of hashish (in this case true hashish - about six grams worth, administered in "a deliberate overdose") is given by Dr. Andrew Weil in The Natural Mind:
The effects of the drug were felt within forty minutes and were pleasant but strong for about a half-hour. Thereafter, things became quite confusing. I could not understand what was said to me, felt physically sick, and soon was unfit to do anything but lie in bed and wait for morning. Auditory hallucinations were prominent, especially threatening voices that rose in volume to a crescendo, then faded out. For about twelve hours I remained in a stage of consciousness between sleeping and waking, marked by vivid nightmares. Lucid intervals were rare; for much of the time I did not know where I was, even thinking I was six years old and sick from measles. By morning, most of the worst symptoms had disappeared, but I had a powerful hangover that left me prostrate for another twenty-four hours. I would not willingly repeat the experience.So I am inclined to give Ludlow the benefit of the doubt when he says that his "narrative is one of unexaggerated fact... without one additional stroke of the pencil of an after-fancy thrown in to heighten the tone or harmonize the effect."
It is Ludlow's remarkable talent to be able to put words to experiences which are subjectively quite beyond the grasp of the linguistic realm. If he has resorted to allegory or hyperbole to extend his verbal reach, we should not be surprised. As he said once, "the entire truth of Nature cannot be copied" so "the artist must select between the major and minor facts of the outer world; that, before he executes, he must pronounce whether he will embody the essential effect, that which steals on the soul and possesses it without painful analysis, or the separate details which belong to the geometrician and destroy the effect." But many of his passages, which may have seemed like fantastic mythmaking to his contemporaries, ring very true today with our slightly more advanced knowledge of the psychedelic state:
"And now, with time, space expanded also... The whole atmosphere seemed ductile, and spun endlessly out into great spaces surrounding me on every side." How strange the plasticity of time and space must have seemed to Ludlow's sober 19th Century contemporaries - today any teenager with a guitar, a blunt and a smattering of Albert Einstein or Timothy Leary can confidently wax poetic about morphing dimensions.
It is precisely because Ludlow could not count on his readers having any experience with such profoundly altered states of consciousness that he goes to such incredible lengths to describe them. And it is in turn because of this lucky fact that his work is so important today. In his quest to convey the vast scope of his experiences to others, using only the fragile medium of language, he takes nothing for granted and leaves no turn unstoned.
In contrast, much of today's writing on the psychedelic experience (when it can be found - the psychedelic experience itself, as opposed to miscellaneous other issues surrounding psychedelics, is strangely infrequently discussed) is either simplified, non-threatening anti-prohibition propaganda intended for the general public, or is esoteric and jargon-filled for the hard-core dope fiend already well-versed in the psychedelic literature of the last few decades. The context of Ludlow's discovery of hashish makes all the difference.
Not that the use of inebriating substances was totally unknown in mid-nineteenth century America. When Ludlow started his interest in intoxicating drugs, the recreational and medicinal use of such drugs as ether, laudanum (opium), and nitrous oxide was already a social phenomenon in Europe and America, and alcohol, of course, had long been part of the culture. Events at which participants were asked to inhale one inebriating gas or another were considered interesting curiosities, akin to circus side-shows, and people amused themselves watching audience members climb on stage to get high.
Even hashish was known of, in a vague sense, through works like The Tale of 1001 Nights, which contained such sketches as "The Tale of Two Hashish-Eaters." Ludlow had read at least a bowdlerized version of these stories: "The singular energy and scope of imagination which characterize all Oriental tales, and especially that great typical representative of the species, the Arabian Nights, were my ceaseless marvel from earliest childhood," he wrote in the introduction to The Hasheesh Eater.
Other references to hashish that Ludlow may have drawn upon to pique his curiosity were an account in The Count of Monte Cristo (where hashish was described as an aphrodisiac, providing "a dream of passion like that promised by the prophet to the Elect. Lips of stone turned to flame, breasts of ice became like heated lava... love was as a sorrow and voluptuousness a torture, as burning mouths were pressed to his thirsty lips, and he was held in cool serpentlike embraces") and John Greenleaf Whittier's 1854 abolitionist poem The Haschish which used the legendary drug as a symbolic device, determining that for making "fools or knaves of all who eat it... The hempen Haschish of the East / Is powerless to our Western Cotton!" (Théodore Gautier's "Club des Hachichins" in Paris, which would turn on the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Alexander Dumas, though coincident to Ludlow's experiments with hashish, was not well-known across the Atlantic until after Ludlow's hashish tales became public.)
Certainly inspiring to Ludlow was the hashish-vision described by Bayard Taylor which occurred when Taylor was in Damascus and which was published in Putnam's magazine and later in Taylor's book The Lands of the Saracen. Taylor had tried a weak cannabis preparation in Egypt and had enjoyed the "exquisite lightness and airiness... [and] a wonderfully keen perception of the ludicrous" provided by the drug. When, out of curiosity, he downed a teaspoonful of a stronger preparation (and then another half-spoonful an hour later when nothing appeared to be happening), he got more than he bargained for, describing visions and experiences much like those Ludlow would later recount.
My curiosity was now in a way of being satisfied; the Spirit (demon, shall I not rather say?) of Hasheesh had entire possession of me. I was cast upon the flood of his illusions, and drifted helplessly whithersoever they might choose to bear me. The thrills which ran through my nervous system became more rapid and fierce, accompanied with sensations that steeped my whole being in unutterable rapture. I was encompassed by a sea of light, through which played the pure, harmonious colors that are born of light. While endeavoring, in broken expressions, to describe my feelings to my friends, who sat looking upon me incredulously - not yet having been affected by the drug - I suddenly found myself at the foot of the great Pyramid of Cheops. The tapering courses of yellow limestone gleamed like gold in the sun, and the pile rose so high that it seemed to lean for support upon the blue arch of the sky. I wished to ascend it, and the wish alone placed me immediately upon its apex, lifted thousands of feet above the wheat-fields and palm-groves of Egypt. I cast my eyes downward, and, to my astonishment, saw that it was built, not of limestone, but of huge square plugs of Cavendish tobacco! Words cannot paint the overwhelming sense of the ludicrous which I then experienced. I writhed on my chair in an agony of laughter, which was only relieved by the vision melting away like a dissolving view; till, out of my confusion of indistinct images and fragments of images, another and more wonderful vision arose.Ludlow himself began his teenaged drug pursuits not in the lands of the Saracen, nor at a back-alley opium den, but at the local pharmacy - "with a disregard to my own safety" making
upon myself the trial of the effects of every strange drug and chemical which the laboratory could produce. Now with the chloroform bottle beneath my nose have I set myself careering upon the wings of a thrilling and accelerating life, until I had just enough power remaining to restore the liquid to its place upon the shelf, and sink back into the enjoyment of the delicious apathy which lasted through the few succeeding moments. Now ether was substituted for chloroform, and the difference of their phenomena noted, and now some other exhilarant, in the form of an opiate or stimulant, was the instrument of my experiments, until I had run through the whole gamut of queer agents within my reach.Then a new drug, a cannabine lockjaw remedy called Tilden's Extract came through the door. The medicinal use of cannabis had been known in the English-speaking world since the 1840s, when the results of English physician and chemist Dr. W. B. O'Shaughnessy's studies with the drug in Calcutta were published in London, and when the founder of the American Journal of Insanity reviewed in that journal the use of cannabis to treat mental illness at Bicêtre in France as reported by Dr. Jacques Moreau de Tours (who would introduce the drug to the "Club des Hachichins" literary set) the year before in Paris. In the United States, the medicinal use of cannabis was just beginning when Ludlow came across it.
Tilden's extract was advertised as a "[p]hrenic, anæsthetic, anti-spasmodic and hypnotic. Unlike opium, it does not constipate the bowels, lessen the appetite, create nausea, produce dryness of the tongue, check pulmonary secretions or produce headache. Used with success in hysteria, chorea, gout, neuralgia, acute and sub-acute rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia and the like." The dosage was given as one to two grains.
Ludlow consulted such standard pharmacological texts as Dr. Pereira's Elements of Materia Medica and Robley Dunglison's New Remedies: Pharmaceutically and Therapeuticallly Considered to determine the action of the new drug and what a safe dosage would be. The Dispensatory of the United States of America ("wherein all the specifics of the materia medica had been brought together for a scientific conversazione") recommended doses as high as twenty grains for tetanus, and noted that "it alleviates pain, exhilarates the spirits, increases the appetite, acts decidedly as an aphrodisiac, produces sleep, and in large doses, occasions intoxication, a peculiar kind of delirium, and catalepsy."
But, "[t]he sum of my discoveries," Ludlow wrote, "may be found, with much additional information, in that invaluable popular work, Johnston's Chemistry of Common Life." And if readers of The Hasheesh Eater did as Ludlow recommended, and consulted chapter eighteen of that book, "The Narcotics We Indulge In: Indian Hemp," they would have discovered that
The wide use of the plant implies that the effects of hemp upon the system are generally very agreeable. In India it is spoken of as the increaser of pleasure, the exciter of desire, the cementer of friendship, the laughter-mover, and the causer of the reeling gait, - all epithets indicative of its peculiar effects...The experiences of Dr. Moreau (who "appears indeed to have fallen into the habit of using [hashish] even after his return to France") were summarized,
When taken in small doses, its effect, he says is simply to produce a moderate exhilaration of spirits, or at most a tendency to unseasonable laughter. Taken in doses sufficient to induce the fantasia... this is followed by an intense feeling of happiness, which attends all the operations of the mind. The sun shines upon every thought that passes through the brain, and every movement of the body is a source of enjoyment.And Moreau was quoted on the subject as saying
It is really happiness which is produced by the haschisch; and by this I mean an enjoyment entirely moral, and by no means sensual, as might be supposed. This is a very curious circumstance, and some remarkable inferences might be drawn from it.... For the haschisch-eater is happy, not like the gourmand, or the famishing man when satisfying his appetite, or the voluptuary in the gratification of his amative desires - but like him who hears tidings which fill him with joy, or like the miser counting his treasures, the gambler who is successful at play, or the ambitious man who is intoxicated with success.
It is no wonder, with the combination of such high praise for hashish as this, combined with the popularity of Ludlow's book, that the drug would enjoy a spell of popularity. Not long after The Hasheesh Eater hit the shelves, the Gunjah Wallah Co. in New York began advertising "Hasheesh Candy" (possibly similar to the "dawamesk" used by the Club des Hachichins) which was advertised as
The Arabian "Gunjh" of Enchantment confectionized. - A most pleasurable and harmless stimulant. - Cures Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, &c. Inspires all classes with new life and energy. A complete mental and physical invigorator.
John Hay, who would become President Lincoln's Secretary of State, remembered Brown University as the place "where I used to eat Hasheesh and dream dreams." And a classmate recalls that after reading Ludlow's book, Hay "must needs experiment with hasheesh a little, and see if it was such a marvelous stimulant to the imagination as Fitzhugh Ludlow affirmed. 'The night when Johnny Hay took hasheesh' marked an epoch for the dwellers in Hope College."
Within twenty-five years of the publication of The Hasheesh Eater, most major cities in the United States had private hashish parlors. And there was already controversy about the legality and morality of hashish intoxication. In 1876, when tourists could in Pennsylvania stroll over to the Turkish exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and smoke hash pipes in a comfortable lounge, the Illustrated Police News would write about "The Secret Dissipation of New York Belles... a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue."
The Hasheesh Eater went through four editions in the late 1850s and early 1860s, each put out by Harper & Brothers. In 1903, another publishing house put a reprint of the original edition - and the last complete edition until 1970.
Ludlow's writings crop up in a couple of places in pre-marijuana-prohibition 20th century America. The occultist Aleister Crowley found The Hasheesh Eater to be "tainted by admiration of de Quincey and the sentimentalists" but admired Ludlow's "wonderful introspection" and printed significant excerpts from the book in his journal The Equinox. Using the pseudonym Oliver Haddo, Crowley also wrote at length about his own cannabis experiences, comparing and contrasting them to those of Ludlow. He "was struck by the circumstance that [Ludlow], obviously ignorant of Vedantist and Yogic doctrines, yet approximately expressed them, though in a degraded and distorted form."
And in 1925, Dr. Louis Bragman, in the Medical Journal and Record, discussed Ludlow's writings on the opium habit from the perspective of a medical community that had studied the problem of opiate addiction a great deal since the time of those writings. "Buried though they are in the dust and files of nearly seventy years," Bragman wrote, "these words carry today a portentous meaning. 'What Shall They Do To Be Saved?' is withal a living, a truthful, and a highly authentic document."
After the prohibition of marijuana, the writings of Ludlow were interpreted by two camps. On the one hand, there were the prohibitionists, who pointed out Ludlow's addiction to "hasheesh" and his horrifying hallucinations; on the other, those who believed that cannabis deserved a second chance and saw Ludlow as a literate chronicler of the mystical heights which could be reached using the drug.
In 1938, shortly after the federal government cracked down on marijuana, the prohibitionist warning was carried in the book Marihuana: America's New Drug Problem. The book included several pages of excerpts from The Hasheesh Eater and noted that
It was Ludlow... who contributed the most remarkable description of the hashish effects. He not only described the acute hashish episode with great intensity and fidelity but recorded the development of an addiction and the subsequent struggle which resulted in his breaking the habit. As an autobiography of a drug addict it is, in several respects, superior to De Quincey's "Confessions"
In 1953, Union College selected the alumnus Fitz Hugh Ludlow as a "Union Worthy" and invited three academics to compose speeches for the occasion. Morris Bishop (who would later include his impressions in his book Eccentrics), criticized Ludlow's "abuse of a ready-made poetic vocabulary, as self-consciously picturesque as Bierstadt's paintings," and wrote that while his short stories "are today stale and meaningless... echoes of all the other magazine stories of his time, originating in literature, not in life, and conducted with no regard for truth and with little for verisimilitude" in The Hasheesh Eater:
is a sincerity, a reality, which he could not recapture when he tried to construct stories solely from his imagination... He finds lyric phrasing to convey the unearthly beauty of his visions, and the unearthly horror of the evil fantasia which succeeded his bliss. He is a drugged Dante in reverse, descending from the Paradiso to the Inferno. His descriptions, drawing from his subconscious a strange mingling of the sublime and the grotesque, often suggest the work of Dali and other surrealists. The writer's passion gives his work an intensity which the reader recognizes and sympathetically feels. This is a very considerable literary achievement.
Robert DeRopp, in the 1957 book Drugs and the Mind, was perhaps the first to express skepticism at Ludlow's "addiction" story, noting that "[n]o one seriously interested in the effects of drugs on the mind should fail to read Ludlow's book," but accusing Ludlow of a "hypertrophy of the imagination and an excessive dependence on the works of De Quincey" (although he also found The Hasheesh Eater to be "more lively and more colorful reading than... the grossly overrated confessions of that 'English opium-eater.'") and suspecting that "in many places scientific impartiality has been sacrificed in the interests of literary effect."
At this point we are at the dawn of the resurgence of marijuana in the United States and the emergence of psychedelics in the English-speaking world. Researchers, like pioneering mescaline researcher Heinrich Klüver, looked towards Ludlow's seminal writings on the psychedelic experience for insight on the new drugs that were being discovered and synthesized.
In 1960, The Hasty Papers: A One-Shot Review, a beat literature journal, devoted most of its pages to reprinting the first edition of The Hasheesh Eater in its entirety, and David Ebin's The Drug Experience included three chapters from The Hasheesh Eater. In 1966, excerpts were published in The Marijuana Papers edited by David Solomon. In 1970, a reprint of the 1857 edition was put out by Gregg Press, and the Berkeley Barb reprinted several chapters.
By this time Ludlow had been rediscovered, both by mainstream researchers into drugs and addiction, and by the growing drug-oriented counterculture. Oriana J. Kalant, in 1971 in The International Journal of the Addictions found The Hasheesh Eater to be a remarkable description of the effects of cannabis:
...it is evident that Ludlow recognized, with remarkable insight, most of the characteristic subjective effects of cannabis. He also noted, and interpreted essentially correctly, such pharmacological points as the relation of dose to effect, inter- and intra-individual variations in response, and the influence of set and setting. Most importantly, perhaps, he recorded the development of his dependence on cannabis more comprehensively and astutely than anyone to date. The initial motives - including features of his own personality and temperament - the constant rationalization, compulsive use despite obvious untoward effects, the progression to a state of almost continuous intoxication, the inability to reduce his dose gradually, and the intense craving and depression after abrupt withdrawal, all are clearly described. Ludlow recognized also the lack of physical symptoms during withdrawal, and the difference from opium withdrawal in this respect.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can also identify in Ludlow's account a number of other features consistent with present knowledge, but which even scientists of his day could not possibly have known. For example, the initial change in tolerance, the continuum between euphoria and hallucinations, the differentiation between the hallucinatory process and the affective reactions to it, the relation between spontaneous and drug-induced perceptual changes, the similarity between the effects of cannabis and those of other hallucinogens, the attempts at drug substitution therapy (opium, tobacco), and the role of psychotherapy and abreactive writing, are all in keeping with contemporary thought. These points permit the modern reader to feel even greater confidence in the extraordinary accuracy and perceptiveness of Ludlow's record.
Prominent prohibition critic Dr. Lester Grinspoon discussed the works of Ludlow at length in his 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered but was very critical of Ludlow's writing. "There are a number of indications that Ludlow may have exaggerated, plagiarized, and invented many of his alleged 'hashish experiences,'" he wrote.
His criticism centers around three articles which appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine in the mid-1850s. The first, appearing in April of 1854 and entitled "The Vision of Hasheesh," is Bayard Taylor's story (although more than one source has wrongly attributed it to Ludlow) which would be incorporated into Taylor's 1855 book The Land of the Saracens.
The second article, "The Hasheesh Eater," appears in the September 1856 issue and starts: "It was at Damascus that I took my first dose of hasheesh, and laid the foundations of that habit which, through the earlier years of my manhood, imprisoned me like an enchanted palace." The story becomes a "Reefer Madness" scenario, in which the anonymous author is compelled by his hallucinations to commit murder as a necessary sacrifice to attain godhood: "I bent over her and placed the knife to her throat without the least pity or hesitation, so completely had all love, all nobleness, all humanity, been extinguished in me by the abominable demon of hasheesh." But this murder, and the nightmare visions which follow, are thankfully as hallucinatory as the menacing voice that called him to the sacrifice.
The third article was published three months later and is entitled "The Apocalypse of Hasheesh." Also published anonymously, it is clearly Ludlow's work, containing his hallmark speculations on hashish use by Pythagoras, for instance. It contains no mention of travel in the Near East, nor any references to the events in the September article except to say that the author had read the article and found it to be very similar to his own experiences ("The recital given there seemed written out of my own soul.").
It is revealing as an aside that the magazine would publish three separate accounts of hashish intoxication in as many years, but the confusion centers on whether Taylor or Ludlow (or perhaps someone else) wrote the second article (sources have attributed the article to each). When Harper's New Monthly Magazine published Ludlow's obituary in December of 1870, for instance, it ignored "The Apocalypse of Hasheesh" and instead attributed "The Hasheesh Eater" to Ludlow as his first published article.
Ludlow himself tells the story this way in the pages of The Hasheesh Eater:
One morning, having taken my ordinary dose without yet feeling its effect, I strolled into a bookseller's to get the latest number of Putnam's. Turning over its leaves as it lay upon the counter, the first article which detained my eyes was headed "The Hasheesh Eater..."
I had supposed myself the only hasheesh-eater upon this side of the ocean; this idea of utter isolation had been one element in many of my horrors. That some one among my acquaintance had been detailing a fragment of my own experience, as viewed by him from without, was my first hypothesis. Although, in itself considered, there was nothing very improbable in the acquirement of the habit by another person, the coincidence of my having fallen upon this article, with the hasheesh force still latent within me, seemed so remarkable that I could not believe it...
It was only a moment before I found that I was not this hasheesh-eater. Yet as, with the devouring gaze of a miser, I read, dwelt upon, and re-read every line, I found such startling analogies to my own past experience that cold drops started upon my forehead, and I exclaimed, "This man has been in my own soul..."
The author of that article I did not know. Of his name I had not even the faintest suspicion...
[M]y next step was to discover the author of the article in Putnam's... This, through the kind courtesy of some of its presiding minds, I was in a few days enabled to do. To the author I then wrote, trusting to no other introduction than that of our common ground and the sympathies of human nature. I asked counsel upon the best means of softening the pathway of my escape, for I had seen enough in my former effort to assure me that it would be a very hard one. Moreover, the simple possession of a letter from one who had been so instrumental in originally effecting my release would be a powerful aid toward rendering it permanent.
A very short time elapsed before I received an answer to my inquiries. My anxiety could not have made it more full than it was of information and assistance; my gratitude could not have exaggerated the value of its sympathy and encouragement. But for the sacredness which to a mind of any refinement invests a correspondence of such nature, I could not refrain from here giving it publicity. It strengthened my resolution, it opened for me a cheering sky of hope, it pointed me to expedients for insuring success, it mitigated the sufferings of the present. It is, and ever will be, treasured among the most precious archives of my life.
Lester Grinspoon, in Marihuana Reconsidered, is skeptical of Ludlow's story. He writes that "the supposedly 'anonymous' article reads so much like Ludlow's own account (his book has the same title), and contains so many curious, coincidental resemblances to Ludlow's experience and reading, that it is at least possible that Ludlow himself wrote the article (his book was also published anonymously). Perhaps he did so to give credence to his own exaggerated report and to bolster sales of his soon-to-be-published work, or perhaps as a first experiment and attempt at expiation (the book certainly seems to serve, among other functions, that of the confessional type of self-therapy)."
I disagree with Dr. Grinspoon. I don't believe the evidence he gives is very strong. It remains possible that Ludlow, emerging from his hashish use, wrote a fictionalization based on his own experiences and on the experiences of Taylor that he read about in Putnam's or in The Lands of the Saracen. Then he would write yet another essay, which contradicts the first and asserts himself to be a different author, and still manage to pass this off on the Putnam's editors. An elaborate hoax to pull, with very little advantage likely to come from doing so - and of course the possibility that the editors of Putnam's would expose the lie and thereby cast public doubt on the rest of his story.
The mid 1970s saw two new editions of The Hasheesh Eater in print, one by City Lights Books, and a well-annotated and illustrated version edited by Michael Horowitz and released by Level Press. By the late 1970s, you could even find the face of Fitz Hugh Ludlow on a T-shirt, thanks to Union College, which had thrown a "Fitzhugh Ludlow Day" celebration in 1979.
More recently, Ludlow has been introduced to a new generation of psychedelics users through Terence McKenna, who read chapters from The Hasheesh Eater for a set of tapes ("Victorian Tales of Cannabis") put out by Sound Photosynthesis, and who regularly praises Ludlow in his books, saying that Ludlow "began a tradition of pharmo-picaresque literature that would find later practitioners in William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson.... Part genius, part madman, Ludlow lies halfway between Captain Ahab and P.T. Barnum, a kind of Mark Twain on hashish. There is a wonderful charm to his free-spirited, pseudoscientific openness as he makes his way into the shifting dunescapes of the world of hashish."
The Hasheesh Eater has been out of print for about twenty years. Occasionally a periodical or compilation will publish excerpts or even complete chapters from the book. Ludlow's many other writings, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of an occasional poem included in a collection, did not survive the 19th Century. Many of his poems were never published, and the bulk of his work has been out of print for over a century.
Ultimately, complete volume of Fitz Hugh Ludlow's works should be compiled. His poetry, short stories, criticism, evocative travel sketches, social commentary and other works demand a modern audience. In this hypertext collection, however, such an ambitious task has not been attempted. Instead, some of Ludlow's other writing on intoxicating drugs and on drug addiction has been gathered and presented here.
Ludlow's last years were spent among opiate addicts, trying to find a cure or at least lessen the suffering of withdrawal. Among the treatments Ludlow used in particularly bad cases were substitution of other intoxicants, including chloroform, ether and nitrous oxide. His results were poor (he says at one point that chloroform and ether are a therapy that is fatal nine times out of ten). When the short story "John Heathburn's Title" was published in 1864, Ludlow had already begun to try hashish, this time not as an adventure in intoxication, but as a substitution therapy for treating opium addiction. Chapter three of the story, the chapter which deals with opium (and alcohol) addiction and the cannabis treatment, is included here.
In August of 1867, Harper's New Monthly Magazine published Ludlow's essay "What Shall They Do To Be Saved?" This essay contained a summary of medical and chemical knowledge of opium addiction, vivid descriptions of the terrors of withdrawal, and a discussion of Ludlow's own approaches to treating addiction. It was included in Horace Day's pioneering 1868 book The Opium Habit, along with another essay, "Outlines of the Opium Cure," which was Ludlow's attempt to design with words the ideal clinic for treating addicts in withdrawal, correcting insufficiencies in treatment methods Ludlow had encountered in his own attempts to quit using opiates.
Whatever the critical reception of Ludlow's works eventually becomes, its popular one may be quite different. The Hasheesh Eater is an uncomfortable book for many readers. People who have a knee-jerk reaction toward marijuana and are comfortable stereotyping its users as burnt-out hedonists will not enjoy Ludlow's description of the marijuana user as one who is reaching for "the soul's capacity for a broader being, deeper insight, grander views of Beauty, Truth and Good than she now gains through the chinks of her cell." Similarly, today's unashamed drug enthusiasts will be put off by Ludlow's final warning: "Ho there! pass by; I have tried this way; it leads at last into poisonous wildernesses."
But this is the best test of a work which is meant to be challenging and not merely to reinforce prejudices. The person who reads this book hoping for more evidence that marijuana leads to madness and depravity cannot help but come face to face with Ludlow's crystal clear perceptions of reality and the urgency with which he conveys the motivation for seeking out Truth in visions. The reader who wants to find evidence of cannabine "amotivational syndrome" in Ludlow's life will be surprised to find a man who tried on the roles of doctor, lawyer, teacher, editor, and author and traveled across the continent all before his thirtieth birthday, and who graduated from college as one of it's honored alumni having taken huge quantities of hashish on a daily basis at some points of his college life, and having at no point while at college been wholly sober.
But, on the other hand, if you come to these pages believing that marijuana is harmless and unaddictive, you may not put down this book with the same impression. The reader who only wants to read trippy stories of drug-induced fancy will come away from these pages never to utter the words "it's only marijuana" again.
I am sure that whoever you are, and whatever you bring with you when reading these works, you will carry away much more and feel yourself much richer for the experience.
- Dave Gross
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