Hashish is the Arabic word for a particular form of Cannabis sativa; it came into English at the end of the sixteenth century. Hashish is the resin derived principally from the flowers, bracts, and young leaves of the female hemp plant. The resin contains cannabinoids—the one of major interest being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The THC content will vary depending upon the composition of the hashish, but often it is about 4 percent or more. Usually the resinous portion is sticky enough to allow the material to be compressed into a wafer or brick. Some preparations contain only the resin and are known as hashish oil. Similar preparations of the resinous material and flowering tops of the plant have been given a variety of names in different regions—charas in India, esvar in Turkey, anascha in areas of the former USSR, kif in Morocco and parts of the Middle East.
One of the ways in which hashish is prepared is to boil Cannabis leaves in water to which butter has been added. THC, being extremely fat-soluble, binds with the butter, which can then be used for making various confections, cookies, and sweets; these are eaten to obtain the effects of the drug. Although hashish is often taken by mouth, it can also be smoked, just as marijuana is.
Hashish was introduced to the West in the middle of the nineteenth century by a French psychiatrist, Moreau de Tours, who experimented with the drug as a means of understanding the phenomenon of mental illnesses. He not only experimented on himself but on a coterie of friends of considerable literary talent. These included Théophile Gautier, Alexander Dumas, and Charles Baudelaire. This group named themselves “Le Club des Haschischins” or “The Club of Hashish-Eaters.” The lurid descriptions of the drug effects by these talented writers no doubt helped popularize the drug. Most of their accounts dwelt on beautiful hallucinations and a sense of omnipotence. Doses must have been large, since the effects described are more characteristic of hallucinogenic drugs than effects experienced by present-day users (smokers) of marijuana.
Hashish was introduced into England at about the same time, by an Irish physician, William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, who had spent some time in India, where he had become familiar with it. The material was soon hailed as a wonder drug, being used for all sorts of complaints: pain, muscle spasms, convulsions, migraine headaches, and inflamed tonsils. As most of the preparations were weak and the doses used were small, any beneficial effects might be attributable to a placebo effect.
A preparation, Tilden's Extract of Cannabis Indica, became a popular remedy in the United States in the 1850s. An amateur pharmacologist, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, used this preparation for self-experiments in which he was able to explore its hallucinogenic properties. He may have become somewhat dependent on hashish but finally gave it up. His descriptions of the effects of the drug were similar to what had previously been experienced by Asian users: euphoria and uncontrollable laughter; altered perceptions of space, time, vision, and hearing; synesthesias and depersonalization.
Hashish is currently the most potent of all Cannabis preparations: A lot of drug effect is packed into a small parcel. Regulation of the dose is difficult because of its variable potency, and labels for street drugs are notoriously unreliable, however. What may be sold as hashish may often be closer to ordinary marijuana in potency.
See also Amotivational Syndrome; Creativity and Drugs; Epidemics of Drug Abuse in the United States; Plants, Drugs From.
Booth, M. (2005). Cannabis: A history. New York: Macmillan.
ElSohly, M. A., Ed. (2006). Marijuana and the cannabinoids. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.
Moreau, J. J. (1973). Hashish. In H. Peters & G. G. Nahas (Eds.). Hashish and mental illness. New York: Raven Press.
Nahas, G. G. (1973). Marihuana—deceptive weed. New York: Raven Press.
LEO E. HOLLISTER