The Incredible, Delectable, Miracle of 19th Century Medicine: Hasheesh Candy!

I have been researching the historical role of cannabis for more than 20 years. I am also a collector and seller of cannabis artifacts – predominately through the world marketplace created by internet sites like ebay and bookfinder – and currently I purchase for the

This has given me the opportunity to hold in my hands dozens of pre-prohibition cannabis medical bottles, medieval era hashish pipes, and rare 19th century first-editions about this fascinating plant, and I am delighted to share with you one of the more interesting bits of ephemera in this regard that I recently acquired.

Most activists and cannabis aficionados by now have likely heard the famous quotes from 19th century US presidents Washington and Adams, as well as Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, concerning hemp.

“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”
– Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

“We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption.”
– John Adams, U.S. President

“Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.”
– George Washington, U.S. President

Washington also remarked that “The artificial preparation of hemp, from Silesia, is really a curiosity,” which conceivably, as Radical Russ Belville has noted, “could be about hashish from an area now in Poland.”  Honest George also wrote that he “…began to separate the male from the female [hemp]plants,” which it’s been suggested could have been to cultivate females for smoking purposes. But this is speculation and there has been no thoroughly convincing evidence in that regard. Adding to the confusion are a number of false and too often repeated quotes floating around in the interweb ethers about Jefferson smoking cannabis on his veranda and Abe Lincoln partaking of a pipe of ‘sweet hemp’ before jamming on his harmonica.

A recent article of 19th century ephemera I acquired adds to this lore. This item identifies some well-known American figures from the Civil War era, one of whom went on to become president, and who apparently were quite familiar with hashish and its medicinal properties, as they are listed on a full-page Hasheesh Candy advertisement. I already had a similar ad, but it was nothing like this. I have seen a number of such advertisements from the Civil War era newspapers over the years, although I have yet to find that elusive 19th century Hasheesh Candy box – a grail of sorts for the collectors of cannabis memorabilia and artifacts.

This popular candy, made from a mix of hash and maple sugar, even appeared in the famous Sears & Roebuck Catalogs of the day and the Chicago Daily Tribune, and was sold in stores like Comstock Brothers Druggists in Albion, Michigan, who took out their own advertisements for the products after establishing themselves as agents for the company:

HASHEESH CANDY, ‘The Great Oriental Nervoine Compound. A most EXHILERANT CONFECTIONIZED, and has been the theme of song and story among the Persians, Arabians and Assyrians.

TRUE SECRET OF YOUTH AND BEAUTY. It is a remedy that ought to be in every house on account of its harmlessness and potency. And above all, because of its exceeding cheapness. It is the cheapest remedy in the world. Colds readily yield to it.

The writer, the speaker, the student, and the businessman, under its influence seem to gather a new inspiration and new energy a readiness of perception unknown before. No Clergyman, Actor, Singer, Lawyer or in fact anyone should be without it.

Major General Mitchell, the celebrated astronomer, says that the Hasheesh Candy helped him when all other remedies failed to relieve him and that it is an excellent compound.

The celebrated Dr. Mott of New York, says the true medicinal virtures of the Hasheesh Candy are very great. Much greater than appears. I could wish that a remedy so potent for good, as it is, were more generally in use.

Sure cure for General Debility and wasting away. Sure cure for all Nervous and Billios Afflictions. Sure cure for Torpidity of the Liver. Sure cure for Quinsey, Croup, and Hives. Sure cure for colds, coughs and asthma. Sure cure for incipient consumption.

Sold by druggists everywhere. Price 50 cents and $1 per box. Postage on $1 box 15 cents. Imported only by the Gunjah Wallah Company, office 36 Beekman St. New York. Comstock & Bro., sole agent for Albion.

Similar ads occurred in a variety of publications.

What made this latest find of a Hasheesh Candy advertisement so particularly interesting was that it was a detailed full page, with a variety of contemporary celebrity endorsements!

This extraordinary advertisement comes from the pages of an 1860s or 1870s issue of Good Samaritan and Domestic Physician, published in Albany, NY. Unfortunately, the precise date is not on the cover, but research reveals it was a later issue, #20 of a journal that was published in the 1860s and 1870s.

On the right side of the advertisement we find a number of celebrity endorsements. The famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee is quoted:

“I wish it was in my power to place a Dollar Box of the HASHEESH CANDY into the pocket of every Confederate Soldier, because I am convinced that it speedily relieves Debility, Fatigue and Suffering.”

The advertisement claims endorsements from other famous Civil War Generals, such as Ulysses S. Grant who went on to become President of the United States:

Ulysses S. Grant

GEN GRANT SAYS IT IS OF GREAT VALUE for the Wounded and Feeble, and that it is Harmless. 

MAJ. GENERAL MITCHELL, THE CELEBRATED Astronomer, says the Hasheesh Candy Helped him when all other remedies failed to relieve him, and that it is an Elegant Compound. […]

GEN. McCLELLAN SENDS HIS THANKS FOR Two Boxes which were presented to him, and writes thus: “Dear Sir: I and my wife have used Two Boxes of the HASHEESH CANDY, and have been benefited by its use.”

The advertisement includes endorsements from medical doctors as well, claiming:

Robert E. Lee

IT IS A REMEDY THAT OUGHT TO BE IN Every House, on account of its Harmlessness and Potency, and, above all, BECAUSE OF ITS EXCEEDING CHEAPNESS. […] 

DR. JOHN MURRAY OF PORTLAND, MAINE, writes thus: “I prescribe it every day for all sorts of Diseases, and with good results. It is a SURE CURE for all Weakly Women and Feeble Children, and especially for all patients who suffer from Debility of any sort, no matter from what cause arising.”

THE CELEBRATED DR. MOTT, OF NEW YORK, says the True Medicinal Virtues of the Hasheesh Candy is very great. Much greater than yet appears. No doubt but the writings of Mahomet, and the Arabian Night entertainments were produced by the writers while under its influence. I could wish that a Remedy so Potent for good as it is, were more generally in use.

The advertisements claims of curing scores of ailments, along with other benefits, may have grouped it with the ‘snake oils’ of the period in some minds, and no doubt inspired the ire of skeptics. One of those skeptics was the well-known figure Phineas Taylor Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame and the father of the Freak Show. Barnum wrote in his still-in-print tome, The humbugs of the world: An account of humbugs, delusions, impositions, quackeries, deceits and deceivers generally, in all ages:

P.T. Barnum

A quack in an inland city, who calls himself E. Andrews, M. D., prints a “semi-occasional” document in the form of a periodical, of which a copy is lying before me. It is an awful hodgepodge of perfect nonsense and vulgar rascality. He calls it “The Good Samaritan and Domestic Physician,” and this number is called “volume twenty.” Only think what a great man we have among us — unless the Doctor himself is mistaken. He says: “I will here state that I have been favored by nature and Providence in gaming access to stores of information that has fell to the lot of but very few persons heretofore, during the past history of mankind.” Evidently these “stores” were so vast that the great doctor’s brain was stuffed too full to have room left for English Grammar. Shortly, the Doctor thus bursts forth again with some views having their own merits, but not such as concern the healing art very directly: “The automaton powers of machinery”—there’s a new style of machinery, you observe—” must be made to WORK FOR, instead of as now, against mankind; the Land of all nations must be made FREE to Actual Settlers in LIMITED quantities. No one must be born without his birthrightbeing born with him.” The italics, etc., are the Doctor’s. What an awful thought is this of being born without any birthright, or, as the Doctor leaves us to suppose possible, having one’s birthright born first, and dodging about the world like a stray canary bird, while the unhappy and belated owner tries in vain to put salt on its tail and catch it! 

Well, this wiseacre, after his portentous introduction, fills the rest of his sixteen loosely printed double columned octavo pages with a farrago of the most indescribable character, made up of brags, lies, promises, forged recommendations and letters, boasts of systematic charity, funny scraps of stuff in the form of little disquisitions, advertisements of remedies, hair-oils, cosmetics, liquors, groceries, thistle-killers, anti-bug mixtures, recipes for soap, ink, honey, and the Old Harry only knows what. The fellow gives a list of seventy one specific diseases for which his Hasheesh Candy is a sure cure, and he adds that it is also a sure cure for all diseases of the liver, brain, throat, stomach, ear, and other internal disorders; also for “all long standing diseases ” — whatever that means ! — and for insanity ! In this monstrous list are jumbled together the most incongruous troubles. “Bleeding at the nose, and abortions ;” “worms, fits, poisons and cramps.” And the impudent liar quotes General Grant, General Mitchell, the Rebel General Lee, General McClellan, and Doctor Mott of this city, all shouting in chorus the praises of the Hasheesh Candy! Next comes the ” Secret of Beauty,” a “preparation of Turkish Roses;” then a lot of forged references, and an assertion that the Doctor gives to the poor five thousand pounds of bread every winter; then some fearful denunciations of the regular doctors.

But — as the auctioneers say—”I can’t dwell.” I will only add that the real villainy of this fellow only appears here and there, where he advertises the means of ruining innocence, or of indulging with impunity in the foulest vices. He will sell for $3.30, the “Mystic Weird Ring.” In a chapter of infamous blatherumskite about this ring he says: “The wearer can drive from, or draw to him, any one, and for any purpose whatever.” I need not explain what this scoundrel means. He also will sell the professed means of robbery and swindling; saying that he is prepared to show how to remove papers, wills, titles, notes, etc., from one place to another “by invisible means.” It is a wonder that the Bank of Commerce can keep any securities in its vaults — of course!

Now, in light of this blathering condemnation, it is important to remember the famous quote “a sucker is born every minute” is attributed, rightly or wrongly, to P.T. Barnum for good reason. Barnum himself was a known scam artist, who sold an alleged skin bleach that claimed to make black people white! He sold sideshow tickets with claims of having a ‘real mermaid’ and other impossibilities. Barnum began his careers as a showman with the purchase and exhibition of a blind and almost completely paralyzed slave woman, Joice Heth, who Barnum advertised as George Washington’s 160-year old nurse. He was also charged and imprisoned for libel. Internet research unearthed no other criticisms of Dr. Andrews, so it is possible in this situation with Barnum, we may have a case of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’. But in fairness, it would be nice to find further evidence of the quotes attributed to the Civil War figures in question, and they may be out there waiting for some intrepid researcher to find, as so much cannabis lore still is.

As a snake oil, cannabis’ popularity may have been due, at least part, to its actual medical effectiveness. This is a subject that has been tackled by the cannabis historian Andrew Garret on his excellent site that contains images and details on all sorts of pre-prohibition cannabis preparations. Of the Hasheesh Candy he writes:


To our knowledge, the very first time [1866] that any reputable group accused a Cannabis medicine of quackery. According to an Editorial that ran in the “Medical and Surgical Reporter” of Mar. 12, 1866 pp256, entitled, “Advertising Quack Medicines.” The newspaper the Ledger, of Philadelphia, while being touted as an ethical newspaper that did not advertised Quack Medicines, was in fact doing just that. And that among the “Quack” medicines being advertised was one for a hasheesh medical candy which was making the following medical claims:

Hasheesh Candy, strengthens the Lungs, and guards against all disease.

While the museum has not been able to obtain, a copy of that ad, we have been able to locate the following ad for the product:

Vanity Fair (magazine) Aug 16, 1862 pp74

A most wonderful Medicinal Agent for the cure of Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, confusion of thoughts, etc. A pleasurable and harmless stimulant. Under its influence all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy. Price, 25c. and 8. per box, Beware of imitations. Imported only by the Gunjah-Wallah Company 476 Broadway. On sale by druggists generally.

Remembering that terms “cure” and “treatment” were used interchangeable at the time. Let us look (logically, not emotionally) at the claims being made:

“That this was a medial [sic]agent and not a simple candy” — True

“A medical agent for Nervousness” — True, Medical Marihuana long ago has been shown to be an effective anti-spasmodic agent, as well as a Sedative.

“A medical agent for Melancholy, confusion of thoughts, etc.” — True, Medical Marihuana has long been used by patients in insane asylums (probably because of its sedative effect.)

“Is a pleasurable and harmless stimulant” —- Harmless, YES, not one human has ever been know to have died as a result of its use. BUT Pleasurable! Oral Medical Marihuana tastes terrible, but because it is in Candy form, one must also say true.

“Under its influence all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy.” — Although objectionable, no one questions the right of any mfg. to state that their product is inspirational etc.

Now lets go back to the statement found in the “Medical and Surgical Reporter” which stated the following claims made by the company:

Hasheesh Candy, strengthens the Lungs, and guards against all disease

“Strengthens the lungs” — True, Medical Marihuana can be used to treat Asthma.

“Guards against all disease” — Here, the author at least, has a problem with the wording. However, given the truthfulness of the other statements, and not being a student of the lexicon of the English language, I would just have to let it go.

In other words, NO false statements can be found, no attempt to harm or deceive the public is made. Thus, despite the legitimacy of the criticizing source, the product must be declared as being NON-QUACK.

Indeed, it is hard not to see the modern medical marijuana phenomena on par with many of these claims, with current research in cannabis indicating an effectiveness in the treatment of all sorts of cancers benefits for brain ailments such as Alzheimer’s along with its effectiveness in treating a host of other diseases such as HIV, AIDS, cancer, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, nausea from chemotherapy, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, loss of appetite, epilepsy, insomnia, migraines and more.

When considering cannabis as a health tonic to prevent disease, it is interesting to note that many diseases may be the result of an endocannabinoid deficiency and the best treatment for this deficiency is the introduction of cannabinoids from cannabis, a little vitamin THC! As a brain tonic, it is interesting to note that cannabis increases brain cell growth, rather than the reefer madness claim that it kills brain cells. Despite stalling the cannabis research of others at every opportunity, even the US government is aware of the powers of this incredible cure-all, holding this patent for a variety of ailments, and killing the capitalist drive of pharmaceutical companies to explore them further, as they only deal in patentable medicines:

US Patent 6630507 – Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants

Abstract – Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting of H, CH3, and COCH3. ##STR1##

Indeed the wonders of this HASHEESH CANDY … er, I mean “medical marijuana”, go on and on, and the fervor and enthusiasm of some activists and patients for things like Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil, along with the claims made of miraculous healing, find their undeniable similarity in the claims made by producers of Hasheesh Candy. Indeed, even I at times can sound like one of those inspired Hasheesh Candy ads: “Gather ’round friends and neighbors, and hear about this most incredible compound, and its healing qualities! Why one woman in India used this ancient herb and cure all and lived to be 126!’”

That enthusiasm is contagious for good reason.

Chris Bennett is a long-time contributor to Cannabis Culture, the former manager of Pot TV, and the author of three books about the history of cannabis and religion Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic & Religion, Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible, and Cannabis and the Soma Solution.