The Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament, the French food and drug office, greenlighted restricted medical cannabis tests in France this previous summer, something that has been illegal since 1953.
Many have applauded the move toward reasonable, government health-oriented regulation of cannabis in France as a significant first step. Similarly, the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament commended the trial for its ground-breaking attempts to create cannabis for medical therapies “the first French information on efficacy and safety.”
That’s all nice and good. However, strange historical amnesia appears to be gripping French medicine when it comes to cannabis. These studies are not the first attempts by the nation to generate scientific data on cannabis medicinal products. Far beyond that.
During my studies into the history of intoxicants in modern France, I discovered that Paris was the epicenter of a global movement to medicalize hashish, an intoxicant produced from the pressed resin of cannabis crops in the middle of the 19th century.
They prepared and sold hashish-infused edibles, lozenges and later tinctures – hashish-infused alcohol – and even “medicinal cigarettes” for asthma in pharmacies throughout the country, beginning in the late 1830s.
Douzens of French pharmacists staked their careers on hashish throughout the 1840s and 1850s, publishing dissertations, monographs, and peer review articles on its medicinal and scientific advantages.
During the 1840s, physicist Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours, organizer of the notorious Club des Hachichins in Paris, also heralded dawamesk as homeopathic medicine for mental illness treatment. Moreau thought that insanity was caused by brain lesions. And also believed that hashish counteracted the effects.
Although doctors in France and abroad claimed that dawamesk was a miracle cure, they also complained about the inability to standardize doses due to the difference in the potency of various cannabis plants. They also wrote about the difficulties presented by the prevalent dawamesk adulteration that was imported from North Africa and often laced with other extracts of psychoactive plants.