Cannabis Time Capsule, 1896: Mescaline Similar to Marijuana, But Not Really

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

This January 15, 1896 story, "Joy for the Topers" (old-timer slang for drunks), mentions cannabis in passing, but the majority of the piece is on the wonders and joys of eating peyote and mescaline -- notable, mostly, because it was written some seventy years before Hunter S. Thompson and his peyote-clutching fist iconography nearly took over in the area.

So here is the one-sided, slightly racist account of mescaline in America, according to the Aspen Daily Times.

See also: "Colorado's Cannabis Credit Union Moving Forward"

"A NEW nerve stimulant has been discovered, which makes brilliant and gorgeous colorings the most notable factor of a dream-haunted plumber."

Discovered, obviously, means some white man finally figured out what some of the Native Americans had been doing for thousands of years -- which, surprisingly, the article does acknowledge, giving credit to the Kiowa. For being so wide-eyed and white, the story is pretty respectful of the whole event.

Apparently the Kiowa would get together on some Saturday nights and spice things up around the campfire with a few buttons of peyote and an intense, spiritual drum circle. Those tripping hard enough (as we would say today) would occasionally talk about their visions, which would be interpreted by the "medicine men" of the tribe. "The Indians leave the tent at noon on the following day, and feel no depression or unpleasant after effect."

And the same thing happened when white folks tried it. The piece talks about six "experiments" whereby people ate between three or seven buttons (the "Indians" eat a dozen, which the reporter says in passing is evidence of their drug habit). But, according to the headlines, this new drug "which makes a person see all sorts of beautiful things" wasn't considered "dangerous like alcohol." Hmm.

The first white guy to eat it in an experiment, according to this story, was a chemist who apparently loved it. (Credit goes to German Arthur Heffter, but really: who can say for sure?) BTW, the play he talks about, Kiralfy's "America," was a heavily one-sided Anglo account of the "discovery" of America by Columbus. Basically, the Native Americans are portrayed as grateful servants -= see the poster for a version of the play from 1893 below. In other words: He ate a traditionally Native American hallucinogenic drug and had visions of conquering said Native Americans while on the drug. But back to tripping balls.

Another white test subject saw dozens of little tubes of shining light that acted as railways for green and red balls the size of peas that constantly rolled around in his vision. In between the tubes of green were fields of green. "The colorings were wonderful. No words can give an idea of their intensity or of their ceaseless motion."

The unnamed white "discoverer" goes on to say that the visions are the best part of the plant. It's like pot, he says, but only in that pot gives you the giggles. But pot puts you to sleep. Mescaline shoots you into outer space!

Interestingly, peyote and mescaline weren't made federally illegal until 1970 -- whereas pot was in the federal crosshairs much, much earlier. Today, religious use of peyote and mescaline is still allowed in some states under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some groups and cannabis churches claim also allows them to legally use cannabis. Have a tip? E-mail marijuana@westword.com.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.