Cannabis chronicles: France in 19th century

Dr Jacques Moreau
Dr Jacques Moreau

In 1840s Dr Jacques Moreau used cannabis to treat mental illness. The sources suggested that he probably used cannabis himself during his travelling in the Arab countries in his youth. And Dr Moreau was not the only one familiar with cannabis because it was brought to France by Napoleon’s solders after returning from the east. French physicians were given soldiers cannabis as pain relief. He obtained cannabis from imports but also grew it himself. His most famous publication was Du Hachisch et de l’Alienation Mentale; Etudes Psychologiques (Hashish and Mental Illness; Psychological Studies) was published in 1845. [1]

In 1846 Dr Moreau and the writer Théophile Gautier, established Le Club des Haschischins in Paris. Gautier was impressed by Moreau’s theories, especially perhaps his description of cannabis as “an intellectual intoxication”, preferable to the “ignoble heavy drunkenness” of alcohol. [2]

Some of the famous members of the club were Gérard de Nerval, Honoré de Balzac, Hector Horeau, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert and Alexandre Dumas, as well as Boissard de Boisdenier the painter and Charles Baudelaire the poet.

Dr Moreau’s student and pharmacist, Edmond DeCourtive, began to experiment with hashish in 1847 and managed to produce highly concentrated pills, which he supplied to Dr Moreau and his colleagues.

Dumas evokes beautifully the spirit and atmosphere of Le Club des Haschischins in his classic novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”, published in 1844-1845.

Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire

In 1858 Baudelaire published ‘The Poem of Hashish’. In it he briefly describes the history of cannabis use, the effects of the drug upon himself and his friends, and discusses the moral, psychological and philosophical impact of cannabis use.

The taking of cannabis seems to have been uncommon in France outside the circles of the Parisian artistic elite. [1]

France continued its 50-year tradition and honoured medical doctors and pharmacists with doctoral degrees based upon works on hashish. In 1891 Georges Meurisse (born 1864) published his work Le Haschich, and five years later Le chanvre indien by Hastings Burroughs (born 1853) appeared. The latter is strongly based on Villard’s work, but also upon his own therapeutic experiments. He summarises: ‘In therapeutic doses, the Indian hemp is safe and would deserve to be more frequently used’ (Burroughs, 1896). [3]


1. CANNABIS The Genus Cannabis

2. Spoonfuls of paradise

3. A cannabis reader: global issues and local experiences 

Read more at Cannabis Chronicles


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