History of a plant: the arrival of cannabis in France.


Every week, Mike tells you a historical fact about cannabis. For this edition, we tell you about the arrival of the green plant in France.

Until 1800, hemp was only used by the military in France, to make tope and sails thanks to its fibre. The first mention of haschisch (cannabis resin) in French history, and of its psychotropic effects, comes from Napoleon. Following an assassination attempt by an Egyptian that was under the influence of cannabis, he decried : ‘the usage of hard liquor by some Muslims with a certain herb called haschisch as well as that of smoking the grain of hemp is prohibited in all of Egypt’.
A ban that only apply to Egyptian territories, spiked the interest of an alienist (name given to psychiatrics before the birth of modern pyscho-analysis) who was travelling through Egypt: Joseph Moreau de Tours.


Joseph Moreau de Tours.

He therefore experimented with the product, and discovered its psychotropic effects. Joseph talks in his notes about a product capable of putting people in good health and in states that make you dreamy or even crazy.

His idea was simple: since a sane person becomes slightly ‘crazy’ when they smoke, would it not be possible to heal ‘unhealthy’ people (people with mental illnesses) thanks to the product? Basically to fight fire with fire.


A not so absurd thought, since one of the research projects that is the most renowned today in 2019, in the fight against depression is based on micro dosing of LSD (with the strong support of Steve Jobs who defended the product). The difference, of course, is that now patients are volunteering. Scientists at the time, did their tests without permission and with large quantities on poor unfortunates who had been internalised into psychiatric hospitals.


Théophile Gauthier (a well known French author of  La morte amoureuse) discovered cannabis alongside Joseph. Something that seduced him enormously, and pushed him to create a clandestine group: the club of haschischans. The first rule of the of the club was to not talk about it.  Among the members were: Balzac, Nerval, Flaubert, Dumas but also Delacroix, Daumier and Baudelaire.
Anyways, enough big names to keep all the French teachers quite who have told you off for coming into class with red eyes. The joyous members would meet in an apartment on the Ile St Louis in Paris, to smoke, but also to eat cannabis jam: dawamesc (obtained when you mix the plant with seasonings). A masterpiece, very high in THC, the recipe comes from Algeria, and that we wish to make very soon. The author of this article has decided to try his own version, which he will gladly share with you in due course.

The band would then separate, after Gauthier had a bad trip. The author had decided the product was dangerous. If the club only existed 5 years (1844 to 1849), it’s impact on French culture is undeniable. It inspired poems by Nerval, a fantastic novel by Gauthier and numerous paintings by Delacroix. Of course, we must not forget Baudelaire’s masterpiece ‘Paradis artificiels’ which is still relevant to this day.

Mike Teeve

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