“The Adventurous Tasters,” a Story for Fat Tuesday

Editor’s Note: Today’s timely Mardi Gras-themed post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

The place: Paris. The year: 1850. “It was mardi-gras, and copious libations of flaming punch had prepared the natives for anything or everything.” So began a tale reprinted widely by newspaper editors across the globe. 

(Here in the United States, Mardi Gras 2021 surely will be the soberest on record, New Orleans itself having condemned “superspreader” crowds, called off parades, shuttered bars, and banned most alcohol sales.)

An illustration of Fat Tuesday revelers from the 1859 book Les Rues de Paris [Streets of Paris].

In 1850, though, the local Parisians were the type to spend a lot of time hanging out at a café. So that’s where they were on Mardi Gras, drinking punch (likely made of rum) at a café just up the block from an apartment where a physician lived with his family. 

This physician had received an excellent imported shipment of cannabis extract, and he was keen to share it for recreational use on this most celebratory and hedonistic day. The drunken revelers were willing participants—”adventurous tasters”—living in the same city at the same time as that famous literary circle, the Club des Hashischins. The doctor showed up with 15 grains, or about 1 gram, to distribute at the café. “Not more than a single grain was given to each,” read the article. Some swallowed it like a pill, while others smoked it or smeared it on a cigarette paper to smoke with tobacco. One grain was dissolved in a glass of Curaçao for the “master of the house; [but] his two young and handsome daughters were forbidden to taste of the drug.” 

Of course one of the daughters found a way to sample the cannabis; it would hardly have been a story otherwise. After about 45 minutes, the girl shrieked and “was suddenly struck with delirium and hysterical movements of a very alarming appearance,” according to the article, which went on to describe her ordeal:

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A “Gentler Drug War”

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest contributor Michael Brownrigg, a history Ph.D. student at Northwestern University focusing on American foreign relations. He is particularly interested in drug policy and the influence of US political culture on the nation’s efforts to regulate the global drug trade. Michael received a BA from the University of Iowa and an MA from Villanova University. Enjoy!

The DEA Museum
The DEA Museum

While on a recent trip to Washington D.C. to do research for my dissertation on the emotional aesthetics of drug addiction in the early twentieth century, I decided to take a quick detour in an effort to escape the archives for a while. My desire for a little diversion took me to, of all places, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s museum. Given my methodological focus on broken American individuals and families who had experienced the trauma of addiction and publicly disclosed their stories of suffering in various cultural forums, I was immediately struck by an emotional appeal to everyday citizens from the head of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, that opened the exhibit. “I need your help,” he pleaded when explaining the immense scope of the drug problem in America, “We have an epidemic in this country and you can help ensure that your family and friends make their own good decisions.” Although Rosenberg assures visitors that the agency is marshaling all possible resources to stem the rising tide of addiction, he admits that “we cannot do this alone. We need you to be a leader in your schools and in your community. Get the word out . . . Help us reduce the desire that fuels these criminal gangs.”

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