Cannabis Time Capsule, 1901: German tourist encounters Egyptian "hasheesh" den

Here's a great example of people trying to making cannabis sound foreign and scary through news reports, when the reality of the situation is much more benign -- just a few people getting stoned and enjoying a laugh.

This 1901 story, published in the Glenwood (Springs) Post, talks about a German doctor's trip to Cairo, where he was shown a hash den by his guide: a porter boy who could speak a spot of German.

From the way it's described, the hash den sounds more like a hangout or a club, although it was likely on the seedier end of the spectrum. The boy led the doctor down a "dark and dirty" alley towards the light pouring out of a distant, smoky doorway. Once there, the boy and the tourist shuffled past a bunch of dudes playing dominoes in a front room into a hazy back room.

The room was filled with more dudes sitting around a corner stove smoking bubblers and looking at Arabic inscriptions and posters of "European beauties" on the walls.

"Here we were welcomed like old acquaintances," zee German wrote. "The aromatic odor and the smokers were in a very happy mood."

Sounds about right.

Before the German knew it, he was part of the communal process of smoking a bowl of hash -- which was quite the group effort. One guy handed him a clay pipe, another gave him a pinch of tobacco, while a third dude "bit off little pieces of brown hasheesh [sp] and laid them down on the tobacco."

After the German was set up, a fourth guy grabbed the bowl and put it in what sounds like a small hookah (called a narghile), setting a few coals from the fire on top of the packed bowl of hash to get things started.

"The pipe passed from mouth to mouth, each man taking a few whiffs and expelling the smoke from nose to mouth," he wrote. "All of the smokers talked and laughed incessantly. Most of them were young or middle-aged men."

But when it came his turn, our dour German friend passed on the puff-puff. Instead he ordered coffee -- the more socially acceptable buzz between the two substances even then -- and watched his newfound friends get ripped. Especially an old man the German hadn't noticed before:

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The passage reads: "Suddenly an elderly man rose to his feet and stood staring at the floor, with a vacuous smile. He was a hasheesh wreck, an imbecile. 'He is a philosopher' said one of the others, and a general laugh followed."

An imbecile or a philosopher: You be the judge.

More from our Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule archive: "Cannabis Time Capsule, 1876: Marijuana as a medicine for a 'remarkable invalid.'"

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