Dawamesk, the medical hashish that doctors in France used during the first half of the 19th century and which has now been relegated to oblivion
France ignores the investigation of medical marijuana and seems to have forgotten that in the 19th century Paris was the international epicenter of medical cannabis thanks to Dawamesk, the medical hashish that so many doctors used at that time and that makes us think that this country is a victim of a historical amnesia that does not allow it to remember that Paris led the international movement in favor of medical cannabis.
It is hard to believe that France was at the beginning of the 19th century a world power of medical cannabis research and has now been relegated to one of the last positions in Europe, both in terms of medical cannabis and in relation to the freedom of use and cultivation of Marijuana for personal use. What happened to the “liberté, fraternité, égalité”? It is hard to believe that the country that was the world leader in the rights and freedoms of citizens has one of the most repressive policies on the issue of cannabis.
Last summer, the French Food and Drug Office and the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament (National Agency for Drug Safety) allowed clinical trials with people on the properties of medical cannabis in France, something that has been illegal since 1953.
Many French people have received the news with great enthusiasm and think it is an important first step towards the regulation of medical cannabis in the Gallic country. The Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament also applauded these clinical trials for their potential to obtain the first French data on the efficiency and safety of medical cannabis.
Although this is very positive, these trials are not the first efforts of France to obtain rigorous scientific data that support the medicinal potential of cannabis since in the mid-nineteenth century, Paris was the capital of an international trend to convince that hashish was a medicine.
At that time, doctors were aware of the therapeutic properties of cannabis thanks to Dawamesk, the medical hashish. Many pharmacists and doctors from France and other countries working in France thought that hashish was a product with psychoactive properties that could be used by science to fight some of the deadliest and most common diseases of the mid-19th century.
In the late 1830s, they prepared and sold edibles with infusion of hashish, pills and tinctures, which were alcohol with infusion of hashish, and what was known as “medicinal cigarettes” that asthma sufferers could buy at pharmacies in all of France.
From 1840 until the end of the 1850s hundreds of French pharmacists were fully convinced of the medicinal properties of hashish. Dozens of studies and articles on its medicinal properties were published. Louis-Rémy Aubert-Roche, a prestigious French epidemiologist published a treaty in 1840 in which he claimed that hashish, administered in an edible format called “dawamesk” and mixed with coffee, cured the plague of seven of the 11 patients who He treated in the hospitals of Alexandria and Cairo during the epidemic of 1834-35.
Aubert-Roche was a doctor educated at the time of the theory prior to the knowledge of germs and believed that the plague was a noncommunicable disease of the central nervous system that spread to humans through the bad air of unhygienic and bad areas ventilated
Aubert-Roche confused the relief of symptoms with the cure of the disease. This doctor believed that the psychoactive effects of hashish excited the central nervous system and counteracted the effects of the plague. Very wrongly, he said that the plague was a disease of the nerves and that hashish, acting on the nervous system, gave good results. But the most important thing is that Aubert-Roche claimed in the nineteenth century that it was necessary to study medical marijuana. The doctor was wrong but at least he was aware of the therapeutic potential of cannabis. Today France seems to have forgotten the world leadership that one day had in relation to medical cannabis.
The doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours said in the 1840s that “dawamesk” was a very effective homeopathic substance to treat mental illnesses, which were caused by brain injuries. Moreau thought that hashish counteracted the effects of mental illness. According to Moreau in his work published in 1845, “Du Hachisch et l’aliénation mentale”, between 1840 and 1843 he cured with hashish seven mental patients at the Bicêtre Hospital in Paris. The point is that Moreau was not completely wrong because doctors now prescribe cannabis-based medications to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorders.
Doctors from US, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy published favorable reviews about Moreau’s study with hashish in the late 1840s and during the 1850s. A well-known doctor said that hashish was a discovery of great importance to the civilized world And yet, today France is a country that is not precisely at the forefront of cannabis research as a medicine. Although doctors in France and abroad promoted dawamesk as a very valuable medicine, they also lamented the inability to standardize doses as a result of the difference in potency of different cannabis plants.
They also wrote about the challenges posed by the adulteration of unscrupulous doctors from dawamesk, which was exported from North Africa and often mixed with other psychoactive plant extracts.
Although doctors in France and abroad promoted dawamesk as a very valuable medicine, they also lamented the inability to standardize doses as a result of the difference in potency of different cannabis plants. They also wrote about the challenges posed by the adulteration of unscrupulous doctors of dawamesk, which was exported from North Africa and often mixed with other psychoactive plant extracts.
In the early 1830s, some doctors and pharmacists in the British Empire tried to solve this problem by dissolving hashish in alcohol to produce a tincture. In the middle of the decade, French doctors did the same and created and sold their own hash tinctures for the sick French. Edmond de Courtive, a pharmacist from Paris, called his tincture “Hachischine”, as a reference to the famous Muslim murderers who, according to legend, committed their crimes under the influence of hashish.
The point is that the tincture became very popular in France at the end of the 1840s, reaching its peak in 1848. As usually happens when there is money involved, the pharmacist Joseph-Bernard Gastinel and the aforementioned De Courtive began a legal battle by the dye patent manufactured through a particular distillation method.
In later decades, hashish tincture lost prestige as the medical theories of anti-contagion that underpinned the use of the drug against plague and cholera gave way to the theory of germs and, therefore, to a new understanding of epidemic diseases and their treatment.
At the same time that the hashish tincture lost prestige, doctors in Algeria began a campaign against the use of hashish as a cause of madness and criminality among indigenous Muslims. What was considered a prodigious medicine decades before, at the end of the 19th century became a lethal poison for medical opinion.
But if France got involved in its colonial past, revised its prohibitionist policies and continued to open the legal space for medical cannabis trials, perhaps it could once again become a world leader in this new movement of medical marijuana.