The Origin of the Hashish Eaters

By David Jenison

The Origin of the Hashish Eaters

While traveling the Middle East in the 1830s, famed French psychiatrist Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau was surprised by the dominance of hash over alcohol in Egypt. After experimenting with it, Moreau considered hash a valuable tool to experience madness (or revelation) without becoming irrational.

“There are two modes of existence… given to man,” he said. “The first one results from our communication with the external world, with the universe. The second one is but the reflection of the self and is fed from its own distinct internal sources. The dream is an in-between land where the external life ends and the internal life begins."

Moreau believed cannabis could help people enter this in-between land, and he proceeded to study cannabis and hash as potential treatments for mental health. His hash-related studies led him to conclude that a change in neurobiology, not brain damage, motivated insanity, an important conclusion at odds with the general medical consensus of the day. Back in Paris in the early 1840s, Moreau sought to enlist volunteers to consume hashish and observe their responses. Circa 1844, he partnered with author and poet Théophile Gautier to form the Hashish Eaters Club to do just that. 

The name of the club was likely inspired by Thomas De Quincey’s 1821 book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and it met once at month at the Hôtel Pimodan (now called the Hôtel de Lauzun) on Île Saint-Louis in Paris.

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