Disclaimer: In the following post we will look back at the history of Cannabis and the reported health benefits. This post will entail an exploration of the historical claims presented by various authors, but mainly from the incredible work of O’Shaughnessy. Everything discussed below should be thought of as very tentative suggestions, not health claims. I am looking at what was said, not suggesting that any of it is necessarily true.
A Brief History of Reported Cannabis Effects
In the words of the legendary physician, Bên Câo Jīng Shénnóng, in an ancient text on the effects of Herbs, taking much Cannabis may make one see ghosts and frenetically run around, prolonged consumption may enable one to communicate with the spirit and make the body feel light. The French physician, Aubert-Roche, reported that Cannabis alleviated fever, agitation, pain, bronchitis, and insomnia during the outbreak of plague in Alexandria around 1830. Practitioners of Ayurvedic Medicine, India’s traditional system, recommend the herb to counter pain, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
We know much how the history of Gunjah in India (or Indian Hemp as it was called) due to the work of O’Shaughnessey. It was his efforts that produced the findings that will fill the rest of this post.
Finding Gunjah in India
O’Shaughnessy was a representative of the British East India Company sent to Calcutta in the 1830s. He brought back Cannabis Indica seeds (narrow-leaf drug type) not hemp type that was grown in Britain for Fiber. He published findings and recipes, allowing western medicine to employ Cannabis. The use of Cannabis spread throughout Western Medicine after O’Shaugenessy’s research.
O’Shaughnessy completed experiments on patients with a preparation of Gunjah for the following conditions:
Insights into Tolerance
O’Shaughnessy was the first to document to the effects of tolerance on consumption and effects. He noted that larger amounts of Gunjah were needed for the habituated person smoker to feel intoxicated. He noted that half the quantity is enough for a beginner. In regards to smoking Gunjah from a hookah, intoxication ensues almost instantly with one draught for the unaccustomed. For those practiced in the vice, the effects would occur within half an hour after four or five tokes.
I wonder how much he learned from personal experience not mentioned in this report?
Gunjah and Amplification
Almost invariably the inebriation is of the most cheerful kind, causing the person to sing and dance, to eat food with great relish, and to see aphrodisiac enjoyments. In persons of quarrelsome disposition, an exasperation of their natural tendency occurs. He felt that the kind of mental excitement Gunjh produced depends on the temperament of the consumer. He considered it an amplification, not the production, of such properties.
Heaviness, laziness, and agreeable reveries ensue, but the person can be readily roused and can perform routine occupations. The intoxication from Gunjah lasts about three hours, when sleep the supervenes. Other effects include:
- Ecstatic happiness
- Persuasion of high rank
- Sensation of flying
- Sensation of ascending
- Voracious appetite
- An intense aphrodisiac desire
- ‘Unundu, ’ or laughter moving
- Reeling gait
- Exhilaration of the spirits
- Gives Colour to the complexion
- Excites the Imagination (Wild Imagination)
- Mental exaltation (that the beholders attribute to supernatural inspiration)
Afterward, the sedative effects begin to take over, and the spirits sink. It was said that the vision darkens and weakens, while madness, melancholy fearfulness, and such like distempers begin to occur.
No nausea or sickness of the stomach was noted. O’Shaughnessy noted that the bowels were not at all affected. While slight giddiness and vascularity of the eyes were noted, but no other symptom worth recording.
Affecting the Effects
The effects of Gunjah were said to be increased by sweets, and combatted by acids. Emetics (products that cause us to vomit), cold baths, and sleep were suggested as ways of calming the effects of Gunjah. Cow’s milk, hot water, and sorrel wine were suggested as antidotes as well.
A Drug for all
O’Shaughnessy learned that all classes of persons, including the lower Portuguese and their females, consume the drug. This was not a drug for just the wealthy or a group of assassins, but a drug taken by all kinds of people. Beyond humans, O’Shaughnessy claimed that most carnivorous animals eat it greedily, and very soon experience its narcotic effects, becoming ludicrously drunk, but seldom suffering any worse consequences. He specifically mentioned the types of animals that were effected and those that were not. I have no idea where he got these details from.
Here were some other claims regarding the benefits of Gunjah:
- Destroys phlegm
- Expels flatulence
- Induces costiveness
- Sharpens the memory
- Increases eloquence
- Acts as a general tonic
Quotes from the Mukzun-ul-Udwieh
The author of the Mukzun-ul-Udwieh, further informs us:
‘The leaves make a good snuff for deterging the brain; the juice of the leaves applied to the head as a wash, removes dandrin and vermin; drops of the juice thrown into the ear allay pain, and destroy worms or insects. It checks diarrhoea; is useful in gonorrhoea; restrains seminal secretions, and is diuretic. The bark has a similar effect.’ [sic]
‘The powder is recommended as an external application to fresh wounds and sores, and for causing granulations; a poultice of the boiled root and leaves for discussing inflammations, and cure of erysipelas, and for allaying neuralgic pains. The dried leaves bruised and spread on a castor oil leaf cure hydrocele and swelled testes.’ [sic]
Evil and Deplorable Consequences
O’Shaughnessy did not only rave about the potential benefits of Cannabis, but he also noted shared the proposed negative effects. He doubted the alleged aphrodisiac powers along with many of the other suggested deplorable results. The eventual evil consequences of indulgence included:
- weakness of the digestive organs
- flatulency and indigestion
- swelling of the limbs and face
- change of complexion
- diminution of sexual vigour
- loss of teeth
- depraved and wicked ideas
- skepticism in religious tenet
- licentiousness and ungodliness
- diseases of the lungs
- and other deplorable results
There are some wonderful insights that we can learn from historical claims like the ones above. Both the helpful and harmful proposed effects have been beneficial in guiding scientific inquiry into Cannabis. In the future, I will discuss what scientific research has found regarding the effects of Cannabis. We will find out where these historical figures were on to something, or way off base. Thanks for reading!