Cannabis Time Capsule, 1910: "Hash" the origin of the word "assassin"?

This week's Cannabis Time Capsule, which stems from Ouray and goes all the way back to 1910, shows what might be the modern origins of stoner lore that the word "assassin" stems from hashish.

According to legend, hash-stoned mercenaries carried out murders for their blood-thirsty ruler in exchange for more ganja.

So is it true? Partly -- but it's not what you'd describe as "accurate."

Here's the vintage clip:

The real tale centers around al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah, leader of a Persian sect of Ismailians called the Nizaris. There are tales of him giving a hash drink to drug young soldiers he would then drag into his palace. When the soldiers awoke in splendor, Hassan would tell them that if they wanted to stay in paradise, they would have to kill for Hassan. This account has subsequently passed through several xenophobic filters of history, leading up to what we "know" today.

The problem with this Western version of the story is that the primary source comes from a biased Marco Polo, who visited the area nearly 150 years after al-Hassan's reign. Caucasian historians were the ones who wrote the history the Western word has been taught and they haven't always been the kindest to other groups. As we understand it now, Hassan was a fundamentalist, and in addition to alcohol, he prohibited hash use among his Muslim followers. If the tale of the young soldiers being drugged is true, it was most likely with something much stronger than hash.

But based on the tale, the Arabic term "hashishiyya" (one who uses hash) became used for the Nizari. And around that, the legend grew until it became the false-history of today.

As Farhad Daftary notes in his 1994 book The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma'ilis:

"...Within the crusading-culture of a pre- and early-modern Europe, the Syrian and Persian Nizaris took shape as Muslim mercenaries-cum-fanatics who murdered their victims while high on opium or hashish. If this propagandist concoction of a 'stoned' assassin fails to fit the complex reality of the discipline and training required for committing what was always an explicitly political act, the popular notion of Nizaris as a community of killers also denies their rich, multivalent culture."

More from our Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule archive: "Cannabis Time Capsule, 1884: Woman describes terrifying first experience."

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