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Le Club des Hashischins: How Hash & Hallucination Dazzled Western Culture

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Le Club des Hashischins
PHOTO | Le Club des Hachichins

When Napoleon Bonaparte’s army arrived at the great pyramids in Egypt, they were met by a fleet of 10,000 soldiers on horseback. Sometimes described as a mad man, Bonaparte is famous for his exhaustive crusades into foreign lands with superior militaries and home advantage. In the mid-1790s, Bonaparte had already defeated Austrian armies against the odds on behalf of his country. After claiming new territory for the French government, Bonaparte set his sights on Egypt.

The goal of the French invasion in Egypt was to disrupt the trade routes of a dreaded rival, the British. While the French achieved a degree of success in their Egyptian military endeavors, the nation’s expansion into the East sparked a new, oft undiscussed cultural shift back home — Napoleon’s crusade introduced 19th-century France to psychedelic drugs.

A Forbidden Herb at Le Club des Hachichins

According to Robert Clarke and Mark Merlin, authors of Cannabis Evolution and Ethnobotany, archeological researchers estimate that the use of hashish in Egypt dates back to the 12 century C.E. In its early days, archeologists suggest that hashish was most often eaten, with its active chemicals absorbed underneath the tongue and digested when swallowed. If historical records prove accurate, the cannabis paste was cheaper than other substances and was unrestricted by Islamic religious authorities at the time.

As such, hashish consumption rose in popularity until the 20th century, inspiring feelings of euphoria, provoking a meditative state of mind, and promoting sociality. The herb was particularly popular among the lower classes, who arguably consumed it as a more economical alternative to alcohol or opium. When French soldiers arrived on the scene, they were quick to introduce themselves to such a pleasant and unique social custom, much to the dismay of Bonaparte. For the first time in the modern history of France, cannabis was banned.

In October of 1800, Bonaparte issued a decree to his troops:

“It is forbidden in all of Egypt to use certain Moslem beverages made with hashish or likewise to inhale the smoke from seeds of hashish. Habitual drinkers and smokers of this plant lose their reason and are victims of violent delirium which is the lot of those who give themselves full to excesses of all sorts.”

Unfortunately for the General, however, the ban was a lost cause. The march into Egypt opened the first doors to the cannabis drug trade in France, and it was the educated elite that warmly welcomed the intoxicating herb into their social and intellectual lives. The primary attraction? Hallucinations.

Hash Eating Hallucinations

Without television or the radio, Victorian-era elites resorted to more unusual forms of entertainment. For prominent French writers, artists, and scientists of the time, that entertainment came in the form of a hash-eating club. Attended by famous names like Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Charles Baudelaire, Le Club des Hachichins was formed in 1844. Writers and artists attended out of creative curiosity, while at least one doctor attended to study mental illness and drug-induced mental alterations.

Inspired by new imports from Egypt, the group famously mixed hashish into coffee, along with pistachio, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sugar, and other flavorful spices. The end result was, apparently, downright hallucinogenic. After consuming a lump of hashish rumored to be the size of an adult thumb, writer, journalist, and philosopher Théophile Gautier reports spiraling into a world filled with visionary creatures, ones which had only previously come to life in the visual arts.

“An enigmatic personage suddenly appeared before me,” writes Gautier in Le Club des Hachichins. “His nose was bent like the beak of a bird, his green eyes, which he wiped frequently with a large handkerchief, were encircled with three brown rings, and caught in the knot of a high white starched collar was a visiting card which read: Daucus-Carota, du Pot d’or….. (a reference to the fairytale writing of E.T.A. Hoffmann).”

“Little by little,” he continues, “the salon was filled with extraordinary figures, such as are found only in the etchings of Callot or the aquatints of Goya; a pêle-mêle of rags and tatters, bestial and human shapes.”

These visions, it seems, continued into Gautier’s dreams. According to a 1974 paper by Harry Cockerham, during the hash eater’s dreams, senses seem to blur into one another — a synesthesia that confuses taste, color, scent, and sound. Gautier writes in a local newspaper: “I had the most bizarre dreams: I heard flowers singing, I saw blue, green, and red musical phrases which smelled of vanilla.”

And yet, not all effects of hashish were frightening. In fact, Gautier articulated that the herbal concoction was far superior to alcohol. “I could no longer feel my body,” he writes in Le Club des Haschichins, “the bonds of mater and spirit were loosened […] I imagine this is how souls must be in the world of essences […] I understood, then, the pleasure felt by spirits and angels moving in the ethereal regions.”

Exploration Persists

After observing Le Club des Hachichins for several years, Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau, an influential figure in modern psychology, reported in his several-hundred-page investigation Hashish and Mental Illness, “I saw in [cannabis] a mean of effectively combatting the fixed ideas of depressives, disrupting the chain of their ideas, of unfocusing their attention on such and such a subject.”

They say history repeats itself. With cannabis, this common aphorism is proven true again and again. In 1800, cannabis products were banned by Bonaparte. Yet, the desire to explore the mind and test the boundaries of consciousness was too appealing for soldiers and civilians alike.

This same desire to explore persists today, despite decades of tension between policymakers hoping to control, and spirited wanders breaking laws to find freedom of mind.

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Culture

The Times They Are a Changing… But Not for the Cannabis Lifers

As the wave of legalization continues to sweep the nation, many cannabis lifers are still rotting behind bars for non-violent offenses.

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Cannabis Lifers
PHOTO | Adobe Stock

Antonio Bascaro, 84, holds the dubious honor of being the world’s longest-serving cannabis prisoner. After spending 39 years behind bars, Bascaro recently received the news he will be released from federal prison on May 1 of this year.

When I posted news of Bascaro’s upcoming freedom on social media, one commentator joyfully quoted Bob Dylan, Oh the times they are a changing!”

Except they’re not.

Not for people like Bascaro and others like him who are serving life and de-facto life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis conspiracies.

Antonio Bascaro

Naturally, Bascaro, his family, and his supporters are thrilled at the news. After nearly four decades of incarceration, he will finally be allowed to go home. But the changing times and loosening cannabis laws had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Bascaro received no special treatment, despite the fact that he is a first time offender. Barack Obama’s clemency push, which did indeed free many prisoners, passed him by. Despite his advanced age and failing health, compassionate release was also denied.

Antonio Bascaro was simply fortunate enough to live long enough to see his de-facto life sentence come to an end. At 84 years old, he now gets to build a life all over again, in a world that looks very different from the one he left behind. Fortunately, Bascaro has a loving family waiting to help him make the transition.

Times may be changing, but the days in federal prison remain the same.

Crystal Munoz

Crystal Munoz, a young mother of two serving 19 years for drawing a map that circumvented a drug checkpoint says, “I deal with the same emotions each passing day, feeling helpless due to not being able to take care of my responsibilities, like my children. I find strength by seeing the things I have to be thankful for. But the time cannot be replaced. The moments that are missed, the milestones that can never be re-experienced.”

First-time offender Craig Cesal — serving a life sentence for cannabis — concurs. “In prison, all days are virtually the same. We awake at the same time, dress the same way, eat at the same time, and go to bed the same way.”

Craig Cesal

Like the Dylan quoting social media commentator, it would be logical for people to assume that with the dominoes of prohibition falling, prisoners incarcerated for cannabis would be released. And in fact, this is happening at the state level in some areas of the country. But the federal justice system, where cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, is an entirely different animal.

Short of Presidential clemency, these prisoners have little hope of ever having a second chance at life. But a little hope can go a long way in federal prison.

When I first began working with cannabis lifers about eight years ago, they too were certain the changing times would at long last provide their ticket to freedom. They were always excited to see photos from rallies where I was speaking or booths we had at Cannabis Cups and other events to bring awareness to their cause.

Back then every news story of cannabis about going mainstream, or every new state that legalized medical or recreational cannabis, was another reason to believe that surely, help would soon be on the way for those serving LIFE for cannabis.

Over the years, however, I have watched a lot of that enthusiastic hope slowly fade.

From federal prison rec rooms across the country, the lifers have continued to watch cannabis stories dominate the news. But it is never their stories.

They hear how celebrities, and even former politicians whose policies helped incarcerate them, are now cashing in on the weed game and making big profits. Yet they remain locked away.

They also hear how cannabis is helping people with health problems, including doing miraculous things for children.

John Knock

John Knock, a first-time offender sentenced to not one but two life sentences for a nonviolent cannabis conspiracy case, recently wrote to me from his prison in New Jersey about a news story he saw about seniors in Orange County, California being bussed to a local medical marijuana dispensary.

For Knock, who has been incarcerated since 1996, the story illustrated just how much the world, in relation to cannabis, has indeed moved on. He could understand how much it is now embracing cannabis and it made him happy to see that seniors now have access to this important medicine. But it also made him realize just how much that same world seems to have completely forgotten about the people like him, who remain rotting in prison for the same substance.

Despite the tireless work of a handful of activists, for the most part, cannabis lifers remain what they always have been, the dirty little secret of the American justice system.

Tell the average citizen that people are serving life sentences for cannabis in the United States and they will either be dumbfounded or not believe you at all.

Even prison staff find it hard to believe these guys are in for life for cannabis, as the lifers are regularly questioned about the absurdity of their sentences.

For federal cannabis prisoners serving endless sentences, hope may wax and hope may wane, depending on the political climate of the world outside. Yet hope always remains a most valuable commodity.

Edwin Rubis

Edwin Rubis, in the midst of serving a forty-year sentence for cannabis, says, “The only way that my prison experience has been somewhat sane is by remaining hopeful that one day I will be released and live a normal life. Without that hope, I do not know where I would be. Probably dead. Because these past 21 years that I have served in prison have been like a hellish nightmare day in day and day out. I try not to think about the next 19 years that I have left to serve.”

Parker Coleman, 33, will be in his 80s by the time his sentence is completed, much like Antonio Bascaro is now. Despite staring a living death sentence in the face every day, Coleman’s strength and optimism remain strong.

Parker Coleman

“I don’t have hope,” he says, “I BELIEVE, and I know the end result. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I WILL be resurrected from this death one day.”

Coleman even made a personal and heartfelt appeal to the one person who can actually grant him a second chance, President Donald Trump. “There is power in thoughts and words. A system of actions, backed up by belief, always produces results,” he says.

In the meantime, Coleman and rest of the cannabis lifers hopefully await the next action from the White House and the office of the pardon attorney.

About the Author

Cheri Sicard is the author of Mary Jane: The Complete Cannabis Handbook for Women, The Easy Cannabis Cookbook, and more. Her “hobby” is helping prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses. Find her website at CannabisCheri.com and Cannademy.com.

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Culture

10 Essential 420 Products You Should Try for an Elevated Experience

There are a few essential 420 products that will make your day better; some are fresh to the market, and others you’ll wish you had discovered sooner.

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Essential 420 Products
Graphic: Jesse Barney

As cannabis legalization continues to sweep the nation, and continuous releases of new and innovative cannabis products, you can celebrate 420 in the most unique of ways. Whether you’re looking for a different kind of buzz on this special day, no buzz at all, you can tailor your experience for exactly what you like with these essential 420 products.

Sträva CBD-Infused Coffee

There are no written rules for 420, but starting the day with a wake and bake should be one of them. For some, waking and baking with THC can either make or break their day, which makes hemp-derived CBD a safer alternative. “Peace & Wellness” by Sträva Craft Coffee is small batch roasted in Denver, Colorado, will help you start your day alert, focused, calm and jitter-free. Infused with full-spectrum organic hemp oil, it’s the perfect way to enjoy a little extra CBD in your routine.

Manitoba Harvest: Organic Hemp Hearts

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not give your body an additional boost? Manitoba’s Hemp Hearts are a great way to give your body a burst of nutrients and you can sprinkle them on your cereal, or yogurt, or blend them into smoothies.

Felix & Ambrosia: Sunny Daze Sun Cream

April isn’t exactly sunny and 75, but protecting your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays is a must year-round. If you’re spending 420 having fun in the sun, then shield your body’s largest and most precious organ during those outdoor smoke sessions and get your daily dose of CBD with Felix & Ambrosia’s Sunny Daze Sun Cream. Not only does it provide 25 mg of CBD, but also 30 SPF and a dash of sparkle and shine with its biodegradable glitter. It’s also fragrance-free, so it won’t interfere with your favorite cologne or body mist.

Herb Saver: Dual Arc Lighter

Tired of your lighter going missing? The plasma beam torch lighter from Herb Saver solves this issue completely by designing this unique lighter made from free form plasma energy. Plus, it’s butane free, making it a healthier option for those that don’t use hemp wicks.

Smoking Shades

Provided that the skies are clear this 420, of rainy weather and actual clouds that is, you’re going to need some shades. Why not kill two birds with one stone and sport a pair that will keep the sun out of your eyes and get you lifted when you feel like it? That would be Smoking Shades, the world’s first smokable sunglasses. Available in your choice of matte and brushed black frames, along with grey, green, and blue polarized lenses plus blue mirror polarized lenses, these sneaky shades feature a hidden bowl in one arm with a mouthpiece on the tip and a storage spot in the opposite.

Candy Relics Ceramic Can

Smoking weed from an aluminum pipe was almost a rite of passage for cannabis consumers of yore. These days, however, things are a little more classy. Cue the Can Pipe available from Ladies of Paradise. Cast from an actual aluminum can, this a porcelain version is not just a fun conversation piece, it’s also fully functional.

Concentrates: The Hanu Stone

Developed by cannabis entrepreneur and former stuntman Seibo Shen and the team at Vapexhale, the Hanu Stone portable vaporizer was inspired by a rock found on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. The Hanu Stone uses a ceramic wick in lieu of heavy metals, making it a safer and healthier alternative for concentrate fans.

Flower: The Mendo Pipe

Made by hand from solid brass and brass components in California, the Mendo Pipe is aesthetically pleasing, while its five-bowl equivalent extra herb storage compartment makes it extremely practical. Created by the designer of the famous Proto Pipe, the Mendo Pipe a true piece of handcrafted art.

MIA Water Pipe Snoop POUNDS G2

First came Snoop Dogg’s POUNDS line, consisting of the Rocketship, the Muthaship, and a few other fine bongs and bubblers. Now, the line is getting an upgrade with the Snoop POUNDS G2 collection, featuring MIA, a water pipe and dab rig all in one. The MIA comes with an herb bowl and dab kit, including a carb cap, banger, and nail, giving you the best of both worlds. The only thing you need to bring to the station is a lighter or torch, and of course, the sticky-icky.

Big Mike’s Blend

For the past 20 years, Big Mike set the standard with cannabis nutrition with Advanced Nutrients. He also set the standard with knowing how to have a good time. Now, you can harness his larger-than-life energy with his Hells Bells pre-roll. Blended with cannabinoid and terpene profiles to deliver specific cannabis experiences, Hells Bells will help you turn up any 420 parties.

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Carly Barton: Pushing Boundaries as the UK’s First Medical Cannabis Patient

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Carly Barton
Photo | Carly Barton

Carly Barton was 23 years old when she suffered a stroke. Anatomically, a stroke is caused by a temporary loss of blood flow to the brain. A simple explanation for an event that can alter the course of thinking, sensation, and perception for the duration of a patient’s life. For some, the aftermath of a stroke can lead to visual hallucinations, the loss of speech, or paralysis. Barton’s stroke, however, left its mark in the form of near continuous pain.

Several years later, it was this pain that landed Barton in a peculiar predicament — what does it take to get the National Health Service (NHS) to cover medical cannabis? Medical cannabis was legalized in the United Kingdom in November of 2018. Although a bit behind the times by North American standards, Home Secretary Sajid Javid called for “swift action” after hearing testimonies from patients and caregivers of those with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.

True to his word, senior doctor’s were able to write prescriptions for cannabis as of November 01, 2018. And yet, only a few dozen patients have received official prescriptions for the herb. One of these patients is Barton, who has been forking over nearly 400 quid ($527 USD) per month. While politicians were moved to action by stories of epileptic children, it was Barton who received the first medical cannabis prescription in the UK.

And getting one was no easy task.

Gone to the Weeds

Pain is not uncommon after a stroke. While the body itself may not have experienced substantial harm, the brain can continue to send pain messages over and over again, like a noxious memory of an assault that cannot be erased. In Barton’s case, nerve damage garnered her the diagnoses of fibromyalgia and post-stroke neuropathy, which are most commonly treated with opiate pain killers.

“I was prescribed opiates in increasing doses for many years,” Barton explains, “and that leads to quite high doses of fentanyl and morphine.” A doped-induced delirium that lasted for six long years — housebound, imprisoned by one loud and omnipresent sensation, pain.

“Despite the fact that I was on opiates I was still experiencing a huge amount of pain, to the point where I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” says Barton. “I was in my twenties and I needed help to dress and to cut my dinner up and just do really basic life stuff, and that was pretty horrible.”

Before her stroke, Barton was happily entangled in the spring of her life. A twenty-something art lecturer, she spent most of her time buzzing from welding projects to social affairs, a regular “pocket rocket” by her own terms. Still, even given the longstanding stereotypes about artists and cannabis, Barton was far from a stoner-girl hoping that the plant would unlock some hidden creative talent. “I didn’t think it was really me,” she says.

After the stroke, however, life came to a stand-still. In the years after the incident, Barton found herself stuck in a loop. “I was willing to literally try anything to get out of the cycle of just drinking excessive amounts of oral morphine and being on fentanyl all the time,” she says. It was at this point that a friend suggested that Barton try cannabis, a little homegrown which is illegal to cultivate in the UK.

“I had a lot of ideas, those notions, those preconceived notions about cannabis,” Barton explains. For one, she was worried about how the plant might affect her mental health, given that the herb has a reputation for worsening psychiatric ailments like depression and psychosis. And yet, after trying cannabis, Barton found her world turned right-side round within the span of 10 minutes.

Barton took a few puffs. “I went upstairs and my partner said to me, ‘are you alright?’ and I was saying, ‘something’s missing, something’s odd, something’s off.’ I couldn’t put any words to it,” she says. “And then I realized that the feeling that I had was just no pain.”

“It was so alien to me, not being able to feel any pain in my body, that I was confused as to what was happening. As soon as I realized that I couldn’t feel any pain head-to-toe, that was just like the moment when everything changed.”

“I haven’t touched a drop of morphine since that day.”

Becoming the First Medical Cannabis Patient in the UK

For six years, Barton had been stuck in a haze. Unable to perform simple everyday tasks, she spent most of her time lying in bed or lounging about the house. Cannabis, however, gave Barton her life back. It was time to spread the word. Impassioned by the extent of her recovery, Barton teamed up with other patients involved with United Patient’s Alliance, an advocacy group that services around 50,000 patients that currently rely on the black market to supply their medicine.

Founded in 2014, United Patient’s Alliance acts as a microphone for those who lack access to potentially life-saving cannabis medicines. The group lobbies government officials, provides a platform for patients to share their stories and organizes protests and other events across the United Kingdom. In the years leading up to medical cannabis legalization, advocates at the UPA worked tirelessly to connect patients with the policymakers that make decisions regarding their health.

In October of 2018, United Patient’s Alliance got its first major break — the Home Secretary committed to legalization. Barton, who had been consuming cannabis illegally to self-treat her pain condition, jumped at the opportunity to get a legitimate, legal prescription.

There was one major problem, however. Her doctors aligned with the National Health Service wouldn’t break out their prescription pads. Barton was the first medical cannabis patient in the UK to receive a prescription for the natural medicine. And yet, Barton had to fork over some serious cash for a private doctor in order to access medical cannabis. Even with the money, it certainly wasn’t easy.

“I spent months doing a kind of one-woman clinical trial and marking strains out of ten of the different symptoms and keeping a really thorough pain diary and really almost doing an observational trial on myself to determine what works and what didn’t,” she says. She turned these diligent records over to a private doctor, and it was only then that she received her prescription.

And yet, not all medical cannabis patients have the time, money, and where-with-all to keep such diligent records. “For a lot of patients in the UK who have been to doctors, we’ve had massive issues,” says Barton. “Since legalization, there are posts going up in pain clinics across the UK saying ‘don’t even ask about medical cannabis, we won’t be it to you’.”

UK Medical Cannabis Patients Pay an Arm and a Leg

The state of California first legalized medical cannabis in 1996 with Proposition 215. It took another two decades before cannabis reforms were introduced in the United Kingdom. In what some may see as a cruel bit of irony, the United Kingdom is currently the largest producer of medical cannabis in the entire world. In fact, a report from the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board declares that in 2016, over 95 tonnes of medical grade cannabis was produced in the UK, over 44 percent of the market share.

Unfortunately, none of this cannabis is going toward medical patients throughout the country. Instead, this high-quality medicine is used for research and scientific purposes by pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, patients like Barton are required to pay out-of-pocket for newly legalized cannabis medicines imported from Bedrocan, a medical cannabis company based in the Netherlands. Between import fees, the cost of the medicine, and the work with the private doctor, Barton raked up a £2,500 (3300 USD) fee in a three-month time period.

“The cost of it is ridiculous,” says Barton. “The cost of my prescription, just for the cannabis bit, was 400 quid for a month. But, once you’ve added on the import company’s cash that they want to import it here from Holland, that’s an extra £1,000. So, it works out at around £700 an ounce.”

Many patients with serious illnesses already face limited incomes and other medical fees, so the cost for private prescriptions creates a huge barrier for patients all over Brittin. For other medical treatments, the British government absorbs most of the cost via the National Health Service. Unfortunately, however, the NHS is not covering newly legalized cannabis medicines. This is something Barton and United Patients Alliance hope to change.

The biggest hurdle? Financial trusts.

“In the UK, each area has an individual trust and they deal with the funding that happens within that geographical area,” Barton explains. “They put limits on what drugs are going to be allowed to be prescribed within that geographical area.”

The goal of these trusts is to manage costs for government-funded health clinics. The money in these trusts comes from taxation, and each trust faces policy restrictions on the amount of money that can be spent on specific types of medicines and treatments.

“The trusts at the moment are refusing to allow doctors under their area to write medical cannabis prescriptions,” says Barton. “They’re literally terrified of opening the floodgates and there being massive ques and not being able to fund them all.”

Should the NHS begin to cover medical cannabis, patients would be able to access their medicine through government-funded sources. For the time being, however, patients are stuck between sticking with the black market or coughing up thousands for regular access to medical-quality products.

For the time being, the black market still seems like the better option.

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