‘The Physical effects of Certain Drugs’ from ‘The Occult Digest’ (1925)

CANNABIS CULTURE – Lately, I have been researching all sorts of 19th and early 20th century occult material on the use of cannabis by a variety of occultists, for my forthcoming book ‘Liber 420: Cannabis Arcanum’ . I thought this little gem from a 1925 Occult periodical, was worth sharing in its completed form.

The Physical effects of Certain Drugs, by Leynard R. Gray – The Occult Digest, Vol 1, number 3, April 1925

Weird experiences . . . thrilling tales… fantastic visions . . . of ancient and modern scientific explorers . . . who have dared . . . explore the mysteries . . . of the Unknown . . . under the influence of mystical drugs . . . that have played their part . . . in changing the history . . . of mankind . . . Are these explorers creators of an Artificial Paradise and a Living Hell. .. or are they intruders into an Astral World of living reality that exists after death?

There appeared in The New York Times of March 18, 1922, a most interesting account o f a young chemist, a graduate of Zurich University, and a war •aviator who believed that he could drug himself into a comatose condition in which he could experience psychic sensations and record them as he returned to normal consciousness. It seems that he had spent much time and thought devising experiments whereby he might penetrate the veil. He finally made ready for a tremendous venture. He took the ether. He had often taken ether to propel himself into the field of his explorations. But this time he took too much. They found him two days afterwards—dead—an empty ether can on the floor and a pad and pencil on the table. The pad was blank. Few experimenters have sacrificed their lives in such an unusual manner. No doubt he discovered much. The use of various herbs and drugs to bring about certain desired mental and physical conditions may be traced as far back as we. have record of intelligent men.

The potent extract of the poppy, the flower of Morpheus, was known to the Chinese several thousand years ago. The narcotic hemp or hasheesh, is and was used extensively in all oriental countries for centuries. Voodoo sorcery included the use of strange and little known drugs as an important part of the ceremonial. Homer and Hippocrates wrote of the use of the poppy extract, which shows that it was not entirely unknown to the Greeks, while Pliny, the Roman naturalist, makes mention of its remarkable properties. Those who are familiar with the classical oracle of Delphi will remember that a certain shepherd tending his flocks on Mount Parnassus observed that the steam issuing from a hole in the rocks seemed to inspire his goats and caused them to frisk about. He then peeped into the hole. The fumes arising filled him with such ecstasy and frenzy that he gave vent to wild expressions which were regarded as prophetical. Later when this became generally known, -a. temple was erected there to Apollo, and a priestess appointed. Under its inspiration, with many convulsions and loud cries, she delivered the oracles of the deity which were carefully recorded by an attendant.

The Bacchantes ate the sacred ivy and their wild orgies were to a certain extent influenced by it. Mediaeval alchemy and magic employed strange and sinister preparations. The American Indians had their sacred plants, some of which are still in use, and have a great influence upon the lives of the simple-minded aborigines. One of the most curious and little known from the standpoint of its physiological effects is a small inconspicuous cactus plant, Anhalonium Lewinii, commonly called mescal button, or peyote. It has a most prominent place in the legends and traditions of .the various
tribes around the southern border of the United States. The writer attempted to make a number of personal experiments with a few specimens, but due to various conditions, was only partially successful. Havelock Ellis, one of the first to have officially reported its vision-producing properties, was greatly impressed by the beauty, color and originality of his experience with it. In his “Mescal; A New Artificial Paradise,“ in the Smithsonian Report for 1897, he enthusiastically says, “It may be claimed that for a healthy person to be once or twice admitted to the rites of mescal is not only an unforgettable delight, but an educational influence of no mean value.“ In describing some of his experiences he says, “The appearance of visions was gradual. At first there was a vague play of light and shade. Then more definite, but too confused and crowded to be described. In the course of the experiment they became distinct, but indescribable. Mostly a vast field of golden jewels, studded with red and green stones, ever changing. The air seemed flushed with a vague perfume, producing with the visions a delicious effect. There were gorgeous structures of jewels and brilliant and sparkling gems, which would turn into magnificent butterflies with glistening, iridescent, fibrous wings. Every color and tone conceivable to me appeared at some time or another. They were usually associated with form and there was always a certain harmony and aesthetic value in the colors presented.” Unlike hasheesh or opium, it prevents sleep, and has a very peculiar effect upon the vision, making the eye very sensitive to all light and color for some time. The fascination of drugs having narcotic properties depends upon their ability to create mystical states.

Baudelaire, Gautier, John Addington Symonds and Bayard Taylor have all lauded hasheesh. Coleridge and DeQuincey were admittedly habitual -users of opium in various forms. There are strains of its influence in the works of Poe and ‘Wordsworth and there is evidence that many other poets, writers and artists were not wholly ignorant of its effects. One of the finest examples of unearthy beauty and imagination in verse is Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” : “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran, Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.” There is no doubt but that he must have derived a greater portion of his inspiration from such unearthly sources. In’ an account of its composition, Coleridge wrote: “The author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm house, a favorite retreat. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in a chair while he was reading an account of the great Khan’s palace. The author continued to sleep for about three hours, during which time he had the most vivid confidence that he could have composed not less than from two to three hundred lines from the images which rose up before him as things without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have had a distinct recollection of the whole, and rapidly wrote down the words as they appear. Before it was finished, he was called out on business and on his return found to his no small grief and mortification that the vision was scattered.”

DeQuincey, in his “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” says: “The sense of space, and in the end, the sense of time, were both powerfully affected. Buildings, landscapes, etc., were exhibited in proportions so vast that the bodily eye was not fitted to receive them. Space swelled, and was amplified to an extent of utter infinity. This, however, did not disturb me so much as the vast expansion of time. I sometimes seemed to have lived for seventy or one hundred years in one night; nay, sometimes had the feelings representative of a millennium passed in that time, or, however, of a duration far beyond the limits of any human experience.” As our sense of time depends almost entirely upon the rapidity of our reception of impressions, it would not be difficult to see the possibility of the existence of such conditions as would alter our time sense so greatly that the length of several hours would be recorded as only a few moments, or a few moments would pass as a century. This change of time sense is a characteristic effect of all anesthetics and narcotic drugs. The opium or hasheesh time scale, metaphysically speaking, may be much truer than our usual conception. Many have realized the existence of a radically different time scale in dreams. Events which would normally occupy several hours or days, take place in a few seconds or at any rate at an incredible rate of speed.

There is a tale by Lord Dunsany which, while making no pretense of being of a psychological interest, nevertheless so admirably illustrates the importance of the imagination and its control in hasheesh states, that one could almost accuse him of knowing more about it than he wishes to tell. The following lines are taken from “The Hasheesh Man”: “It takes one literally out of one’s self. It is like wings. You swoop over distant countries and into other worlds. Once I found out the secret of the universe. But I have forgotten what it was………………” And further on: “I have seen incredible things in fearful worlds. As it is only your imagination that takes you there, so it is only by your imagination that you can get back.” Hasheesh, at best, is very unreliable, not acting the same upon any two people, its effects depending upon the sex, age, health and general make-up of the individual. The mental condition, the intellectual traits and habits have the greatest influence upon one’s visions. If one is of an imaginative type and prone to introspection, his visions will be enhanced a thousand-fold. DeQuincey has indeed truthfully said that “He whose talk is of oxen will probably dream of oxen.”

The following account of an experiment made by the writer is given in the belief that it will interest the reader on account of its unusual nature. It is a very superficial record of one of a number of experiments of this nature. This one was simply an aesthetic venture. “At five P. M. I filled a graduate with————–centimeters of the fluid extract of cannibus indica (the pharmacopoeial name of hasheesh) and proceeded to take it without ado. Having made all preparations beforehand, I took up a book with which to occupy myself until its effects were observed. After two hours had elapsed, I became impatient and measured out —— —— centimeters more, making a total of————– — a rather excessive dose, although not dangerous. No sooner had I picked up the book again than I suddenly became aware of its on-coming effects, which once experienced, are never quite forgotten. The subconscious condition overshadows the conscious, and it is only by a great effort of concentration that clear thinking is possible. Hasheesh has the power of reviving memories. It is most startling to review half-forgotten childhood memories in this manner. So intense were the dreams that while dreaming, I did not in the least doubt their objective reality, but in the periodical relapses back to normal consciousness, I logically reasoned that they were caused by an excited imagination. So intense were the dreams that even now I look back upon them as in some way having a greater reality than the events of yesterday. My imagination led me to oriental river cities where I wandered through narrow lanes and by the waterways crowded with junks and rafts of all descriptions. So clear and so fantastic have the visions remained that had I been an artist I could have easily painted them from memory. I fought terrible battles with winged monsters, always being victorious. I endured frightful tempests, where hell itself was let loose in all its fury. So thoroughly aroused was I by these experiences that I felt a sudden sense of impending death, and let my mind wander into all kinds of morbid melancholy scenes. Here a piece of music which had always impressed me was being played. With the startling sense of an electric shock, I was transported into the interior of an immense Gothic cathedral. No words could convey the size of it, with all of the stately impressiveness of the mediaeval times. An organ of huge dimensions was playing Chopin’s Funeral March. The air vibrated and quivered. Never again do I hope to hear such music— it grew to be an absolute torture. I could stand it no longer— then, an abrupt return to normal consciousness. I longed for air, and with much difficulty I prepared for a short walk. By this time I had begun to realize that I could for the most part control my wanderings. The way was a path of dreams. At every step there was a new delight; a new discovery. I had on the Seven League Boots. I strode blocks at a time. Not content with that, I began to walk over buildings as though they were nothing more than stones in the street. While I was exultantly engaged in striding about in this lofty manner, I suddenly realized my unusual position then, presto!— I was back on the sidewalk and during the time I had covered less than a quarter of a block. Buildings appeared monstrously high. I shuddered to think of their having been built higher. They will surely fall — they will surely fall— and forgetting to rein my imagination, the buildings fell on every side. Thought of course I was directly in the path of the crash, strangely enough I was undisturbed. I began to be fearful, for if this continued I would bring on the millennium, and the four heralding angels, which indeed
would be uncomfortable. Color and sounds were greatly magnified. The squeaking of brakes on a car gave me a sense of absolute torture. Later on someone struck a lamp post with a piece of metal and immediately I heard the crash of a thousand harps. The many fantastic incidents which occupied my homeward journey would fill a volume, my return had taken centuries. On arriving, I bent over and looked intently at a bowl of flowers which stood on a table nearby. I inhaled the perfume, directed my imagination experimentally — I dropped, dropped, dropped through huge masses of heavily scented clouds in which I nearly smothered. Then a flash of light and color, and I was transported as if by magic to the very centre of the flower. I was a faerie, creature. All was color, an ever-changing misty color, a lightness and a sound of rushing, splashing water and innumerable bells. The air vibrated as if endowed with life. This was indeed happiness. A thousand tortures for such a moment of ecstasy. But a sound— a slam of doors below in the hallway brought me as swift as lightning back to a dazed condition. Then becoming drowsy, I lay down, thinking as I did so of poppies, my favorite flower, and then really fell asleep. I dreamt that under a dripping yellow moon, I was wading waist high in acres of blood-red poppies, which exhaled a suffocating odor. Wraith-like forms swirled by on all sides, and there were strangely familiar faces. The next thing I knew it was morning, past ten o’clock. A century of experiences had been crowded into the few hours of the night.”

Regardless of what has been said pro and con, such an experience is one that is not likely to be soon forgotten. Its aesthetic and psychological value cannot be too highly estimated. It demands an explanation of a nature which no physiologist or psychologist is, at the present, able to give. Many people no doubt wonder why they have not had some strange experience while under the effects of anaesthetics or narcotic drugs. Such a possible query would perhaps best be answered by stating that it is the intermediate states of consciousness in which these experiences occur. In that respect
it differs little from dreams. Such states are accidental, a failure on the part of the anesthetist. It persists nevertheless in an unexplainable way. P. D. Ouspensky says, “Narcotics cannot give anything which man does not possess, and can only in certain cases unfold that which is already in his soul.”

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.