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A British Study of Cannabis (Circa 1910 AD)

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Excerpts from the article "The Pharmacy of Hashish" by E. Whineray, M..P.S.
Including Excerpts from "Charas of Indian Hemp" by David Hooper, F.C.S, F.L.S. (Circa 1908).


Cannabis Indica was introduced into England by O'Shaughnessy, and the first extract was made by the late Mr Peter Squire, the well-known pharmacist of Oxford Street. According to the "British Pharmacopoeia" the official variety may consist of the flowering or fruiting tops; and is frequently of inferior quality, seeing that the fruiting tops yield less resin. According to the "Journal" of the Chemical Society's Transactions. the important constituent is a resin. The active principle is stated to be a red oil, Cannabinol, which is liable to become oxidised and inert. Its medicinal properties are sedative, anodyne. hypnotic and antispasmodic. It has been used with success in migraine and delirium, neuralgia. pain of the last stages of phthisis and in acute mania: also in menorrhagia and dystmenorrhoea. ("Squire's Companion." Page 167, 1904 edition.) It does not produce constipation or loss of appetite: on the contrary it restores the appetite which had been lost by chronic opium or chloral drinking. (1889, "Lancet," vol. I. page 65.)


Dr. Martindale remarks that recently the Cannabis imported had more toxic effects than formerly (this in spite of the fact that a high export duty has been placed upon the drug): it has indeed been stated that toxic symptoms have been produced by doses of the extract within the official limits. According to the "British Pharmacopoeia" the dose is l/4 to 1 grain. The "Lancet" vol. i. page 1042 (1908), records two interesting cases of toxic symptoms caused by taking overdoses of the tincture.

Antidotes for Cannabis poisoning are the stomach-pump or emetics followed by stimulating draughts of brandy and water or strong coffee, vegetable acids, such as lemon juice or vinegar.

Dr. Robert Hooper in his "Lexicon Medicum" (page 315). published in l848, says: "Cannabis Indica is a variety of hemp much used in the East as an excitant. The Hindoos call it "Bangue," the Arabs "Hasheesh," the Turks "Malach," "The leaves are chewed or smoked like those of tobacco and an intoxicating liquor is prepared from them. This plant is also used by the Hottentots who call it "Dacha."


Although "charas" has been properly described as "a foul and crude drug, the use of which is properly excluded from civilised medicine," it is imported into British India to the value of 120.000 rupees per annum, a total exceeding the combined value of all the other medicinal imports, so that it is an article which deserves more than passing notice. Indian hemp (Cannabis Sativa), when grown in the East, secretes an intoxicating resinous matter on the upper leaves and flowering spikes, the exudation being marked in plants growing throughout the Western Himalayas and Turkestan, where charas is prepared as a commercial article, Formerly it was cultivated in fields in Turkestan. but now it is grown as a border around other crops (such as maize), the seeds of both being sown at the same time. A sticky exudation (white when damp and greyish when dry) is found on the upper parts of the plant before the flowers show, and in April and May, when the plants attain a height of 4 or 5 ft. and the seeds ripen, the Cannabis is gathered, after reaping the crops. and stored in a cool, dry place. When dry the powdery resinous substance can be detached by even slight shaking, the dust being collected on a cloth.

In some districts the plants are cut close to the roots, suspended head downwards. and the dust or "gard" shaken from them and collected on sheets placed on the floor. The leaves, seeds. etc., are picked out, and sand. etc., separated by passing through a fine sieve, the powder being collected and stored in cloth or skin bags, when it is ready for export. In some villages the charas or extract is made up into small balls, which are collected by the middleman.


On reaching British territory all charas is weighed before the nearest magistrate, by whom it is sealed, a certificate of weight signed by the Deputy Commissioner being given to the owner. The trader, before leaving the district, obtains a permit allowing him to take the drug to a special market. The zamindars of Chinese Turkestan are the vendors of the drug, the importers being Yarkhandis or Ladakhis, who dispose of it at Hoshiapur and Amritsar principally, returning with piece-goods. or Amritsar merchants who trade with Ladakh. The drug in this way reaches the chief cities of Punjab during September and October. Thence it is distributed over the Central and United Provinces as far as Bombay and Calcutta, and is used everywhere for smoking. Charas, though a drug, plays the part of money to a great extent in the trade that is carried on at Ladakh, the price of the drug depending on the state of the market, and any fluctuations causing a corresponding increase or decrease in the value of the goods for which it is bartered. The exchange price of charas thus gives rise to much gambling. A pony-load (two pais or three maunds) sells for Rs. (Rupees) 40 or Rs. 50, the cost of transport to Hoshiapur (the chief Punjab depot) is Rs. 100, and there it fetches from Rs. 30 to Rs. 100 per maund. Retail dealers sell small quantities at a price that works out at Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 per maund.

Five years ago the Kashgar growers, encouraged by the high prices, sowed a large crop and reaped a bumper harvest, only to find the market already overstocked and prices on the Leh Exchange fallen from Rs. 60 to Rs. 30 per maund. The following are the imports of charas from Ladakh and Kashmir between 1904 and 1907:
1904-5 1905-6 1906-7
Cwt.* 2818 2446 2883
Value Rs 12,13,860 18,39,960 22,90,560

Cwt = Hundredweight: 1 cwt = 112 lbs, approx = 50 kgs]

Small quantities of charas are made, chiefly for local consumption, in the Himalayan districts of Nepal, Kumaon, and Garhwal, and in Baluchistan. Samples of Baluchistan charas made in the Sarawan division of the Kalat State have been sent to the Indian Museum by Mr. Hughes-Buller.

The following is the mode of preparation. -
"The female 'bhang' plants are reaped when they are waist high and charged with seed. The leaves and seeds are separated and half dried. They are then spread on a carpet made of goat's hair, another carpet is spread over them and slightly rubbed. The dust containing the narcotic principle falls off, and the leaves, etc., are removed to another carpet and again rubbed. The first dust is the best quality, and is known as "nup;" the dust from the second shaking is called "tahgalim," and is of inferior quality. A third shaking gives "gania," of still lower quality. Each kind of dust is made into small balls called "gabza," and kept in cloth bags. The first quality is recognised by the ease with which it melts."

The local rates per tola are: for first quality 2a.5p., (Shillings & Pence), second quality 1a.7p., and third quality 11p. Small quantities of charas find their way from Thibet into British and Native Garhwal, and a little is prepared in Simla and Kashmir; while other sources are Nepal and the hill districts of Almora and Garhwal. In preparing Nepal charas, the ganja-plant is squeezed between the palms of the hands, and the sticky resinous substance scraped off, "Momea," black wax-like cakes, valued at Rs. 10 per seer, and "Shahjehani," sticks containing portions of leaf, valued at Rs. 3 per seer, are the two kinds of Nepal charas, a few maunds being exported annually to Lucknow and Cawnpore. No charas is made in the plains of India, except a small quantity in Gwalior, the Bengal ganja yielding no charas in all the handling it undergoes in the process of preparation --- thus emphasising the fact that the intoxicating secretion is developed in plants growing where the altitude and climate are suitable, as in the Himalayas and Turkestan.


"Adulterations." --- Aitchison in 1874 stated that no charas of really good quality ever came to Leh, the best charas in the original balls being sent to Bokhara and Kokan. He said the chief adulterant is the mealy covering of the fruits of the wild and cultivated Trebizond date ("Eloeagnus" "hortensis"). The impression in the United Provinces and the Punjab is that the Yarkhand drug is sophisticated. and a preference is given in some quarters to the Nepal and other Himalayan forms, which command a higher price. The Special Assistant in Kashgar declares there is "No advantage in increasing the weight", as when dealers in India buy the drug they test it, otherwise they would pay a heavy duty on the "adulterant" as well as on the charas itself; so no exporter at present would spoil his charas by adding extraneous substances.

Mr. Hooper added descriptions of samples, namely: Kashgar charas, Yarkhand charas, Baluchistan charas, Gwalior charas, Kumaon charas, Garhwal charas, Nepal charas and Momea charas, from Simla.

The cultivation of hemp for its seed and fibre dates from very remote periods. It was used as an intoxicant by the Persians and Arabians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and probably much earlier, but was not introduced into European medicine until the year 1838. Very good qualities of the drug are purchased in Madras, but the European market is chiefly supplied with inferior grades from Chalapur.

The larger leaves are collected separately; when dried they are known as "bhang." During the manipulations to which the plant is subjected in preparing the drug, a certain quantity of the resin is separated; it is collected and forms the drug known as "charas" (Churrus). Charas is also prepared by rubbing ganjah between the hands or by men in leather garments brushing against the growing plants, in any case separating part of the active adhesive resin; hence the official description limits the drug to that from which the resin has not been removed.

All these forms of the drug are largely used in India for producing an agreeable form of intoxication; ganjah and charas are smoked, while bhang is used to prepare a drink or sweetmeat.

The drug bas a powerful odour, but is almost devoid of taste. Numerous attempts have been made to isolate the active constituent of Indian hemp; it is not possible here to do more than allude to the chief late ones.


In 1881 Siebold and Bradbury isolated a thick yellowish oily liquid which they termed "Cannabinine" and their results were confirmed in 1884 by Warden and Waddell. In 1894 Robert separated a dark red syrupy mass possessing intoxicating properties and in 1896 Wood, Spivey, and Easterfield obtained from charas under reduced pressure certain inactive terpenes and a viscous resin "Cannabinol" which when warmed melts to an oily liquid. Cannabinol when taken internally induces delirium and sleep, and, as far as at present known, is the intoxicating constituent of Indian hemp.


Through the courtesy of Messrs. Parke. Davis and Co., manufacturing chemists of London and Detroit. Michigan, U.S.A., we are enabled to reproduce a clear pharmacological study of the drug by E. M. Houghton, Ph.C., M.D.; and H. C. Hamilton. M.S (Excerpt from an article in the "American Journal of Pharmacy" for January 1908.) From several samples of Cannabis Americana fluid, extracts and solid extracts were prepared according to the U.S.P., and were tested upon animals for physiological activity.

The method of assay, which has previously been called to the attention of this Society, is that which one of us (Houghton) devised and has employed for the past twelve years. This method consists essentially in the careful observation of the physiological effects produced upon dogs from the internal administration of the preparation of the drug under test.

In applying the test, the standard dose (0.01 gram per kilo weight) (in form of solid extract for convenience) is administered internally in a small capsule. The dog's tongue is drawn forward between the teeth with the left hand and the capsule placed on the back part of the tongue with the right hand. The tongue is then quickly released and the capsule is swallowed with ease. In order that the drug may be rapidly absorbed, food should be withheld for twenty-four hours before the test and an efficient cathartic given if needed.

Within a comparatively short time the dog begins to show the characteristic action of the drug. There are three typical effects to be noticed from active extracts on susceptible animals: first a stage excitability, then a stage of inco-ordination, followed by a period of drowsiness.. The first of these is so dependent on the characteristics of the dog used that it's of little value for judging the activity of the drug, while with only a few exceptions the second, or the stage of inco-ordination, invariably follows in one or two hours; the dog loses control of its legs and of the muscles supporting its head, so that when nothing occurs to attract its attention its head will droop, its body sway, and, when severely affected, the animal will stagger and fall, the intoxication being peculiarly suggestive and striking.

When an active extract is given to a susceptible animal, in the smallest dose that will produce any perceptible effect, one must watch closely for the slightest trace of incoordination, lack of attention. or drowsiness. It is particularly necessary for the animals to be confined in a room there nothing will excite them, since when their attention is drawn to anything of interest the typical effect of the drug may disappear.

Previous to the adoption of the physiological test over twelve years ago, we were often annoyed by complaints of physicians that certain lots of drugs were inert; in fact some hospitals, before accepting their supplies of hemp preparations, asked for samples in order to make rough tests upon their patients before ordering. Since the adoption of the test we have not had a well-authenticated report of inactivity, although many tons of the various preparations of Cannabis Indica have been tested and supplied for medicinal purposes.

At the beginning of our observations careful search of the literature on the subject was made to determine the toxicity of the hemp. Not a single case of fatal poisoning have we been able to find reported, although often alarming symptoms may occur.

A dog weighting 25 pounds received an injection of two ounces of an active U.S.P. fluid extract in the jugular vein with the expectation that it would certainly be sufficient to produce death. To our surprise the animal, after being unconscious for about a day and a half, recovered completely. This dog received. not alone the active constituents of the drug, but also the amount of alcohol contained in the fluid extract. Another dog received about 7 grams of Solid Extract Cannabis with the same result. We have never been able to give an animal a sufficient quantity of a U.S.P. or other preparation of the Cannabis (Indica Arnericana) to produce death.


The effects of this drug are said to be due chiefly to its action upon the central nervous system. It first produces a state of excitement similar to that of the initial stage of acute alcoholism. This excitement of the motor areas and other lower centres in the brain, according to W. E. Dixon, of the University of Cambridge, "is not the result of direct stimulation of these, but is due to depression of the highest and controlling centres. At all events there is a depression of the highest centres, and this is shown by diminished efficiency in the performance of mental work, by inability to concentrate attention, and by feeble judgment."

In lower animals the effects of Cannabis Indica resemble those in man, and present the same variations. A stage of exaltation with increased movements is sometimes present, and is followed by depression. lassitude and sleep. Reflex excitability is first increased and then diminished. Cannabis Indica differs from opium in producing no disturbance of digestion and no constipation. The heart is generally accelerated in man when the drug is smoked. Its intravenous injection into animals slows the pulse, partly through inhibitory stimulation and partly through direct action upon the heart muscle. The pupil is generally somewhat dilated. Death from acute poisoning is extremely rare, and recovery has occurred after enormous doses. The continued abuse of hashish by natives of the East sometimes leads to mania and dementia, but does not cause the same disturbance of nutrition that opium does; and the habitual use of small quantities, which is almost universal in some Eastern countries, does not appear to be detrimental to health. Cannabis Americana is employed for the same medicinal purposes as Cannabis Indica, which is frequently used as a hypnotic in cases of sleeplessness, in nervous exhaustion, and as a sedative in patients suffering from pain. Its greatest use has perhaps been in the treatment of various nervous and mental diseases, although it is found as an ingredient in many cough mixtures. In general, Cannabis Arnericana can be used when a mild hypnotic dr sedative is indicated, as it is said not to disturb digestion. and it produces no subsequent nausea and depression. It is of use in cases of migraine, particularly when opium in contra-indicated. It is recommended in paralysis agitans to quiet the tremors, in spasm of the bladder, and in sexual impotence not the result of organic disease, especially in combination with nux vomica and ergot. The imported drug varies extremely in activity and much of it is practically inert or flagrantly adulterated.

The writer desires to acknowledge the able assistance given him in preparing the above notes by Mr. E.M. Holmes, F.L.S., and Mr. S. Jamieson, M.P.S. (Messrs. Parke. Davis and Co.). Readers requiring further information on the subject are referred to the British Pharmaceutical Codex (1907) and Squire's "Companion to the British Pharmacopoeia," recently published.


Marshall, London "Lancet." 1897. i. p. 235.
Dixon. "British Medical Journal," 1899, ii p.136.
Fraenkel, "Arch f. exp. Path. u. Pharm." xlix, p.266.
Cushny, "Textbook of Pharmacology." 1906. p 232
Houghton and Hamilton. "Am. Jour, Pharm.," January 1908.
"Transactions Chem. Society," 1896, "69", 539.
"Proceedings Chem. Soc." 1898, "14", 44. Feb.17: "Ibid." 1898. p.184.
Squires. "Companion to British Pharmacopoeia." 1908.
Martindale's "Extra Pharmacopoeia." 1908.
Hooper's "Medical Dictionary," & "Chemist and Druggist."

Source: A British Study of Cannabis (Circa 1910 AD)
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