Wednesday, May 18, 2016

100 A.D.: Pipes made inhaling herbal remedies easy

Figure 4 --Ad for Schiffmann's Asthma Cure (1899) (3)
Again, it's impossible to know who carved out, let alone smoked, the first pipes.  It's also impossible to know for whom the first pipe was carved for, nor what herbs were stuffed inside them.

It's possible the idea of using a sharp tool to hollow out a piece of wood for smoking herbs may have occurred to various inventors in various societies at different times.  The component smoked depended on what herbs were available.

For example, in India the incentive to carve out pipes was to smoke strammonium, belladonna, or Indian hemp for it's hallucinogenic effect. The fact the herb had other medicinal properties may have been learned later, or earlier.  Who knows?

Either way, inhaling smoke directly from a pipe would have allowed direct inhalation of the smoke, resulting in a greater effect. It would also have improved convenience, meaning that herbs could be smoked anywhere and anytime.

What we know for sure is the first medicinal use of pipes to smoke a medicine for asthma-like symptoms was recorded in ancient India around 100 A.D.  There were many herbs the Indians had access to, and one such was datura strammonium. (1)

The herb produces an unpleasant smell and grows to be about five feet tall with a pale green stem with spreading branches and puplish leaves coarsely sedated along the edges.  Its flowers are white or purple.  (1)

By empirical means its entertaining effect was learned, as well as its poisonous qualities when too much was inhaled or ingested, which mainly included hallucinogenic effects.  At times it must have been observed the medicine made you mad, which may explain the name.

Datura comes from the ancient Hindu word for plant, dhatura.  Stramonium is a New Latin word meaning thornapple.  Strammonium originally came from the Greek word strychnos which means nighshade and mankos meaning "mad."  (2)

Other than thornapple, common names I've found during my research that refer to strammonium are jimsonweed, Jamestown weed, drowny thornapple, Devil's trumpet, angel's trumpet, mad apple, stink weed and tolguacha.  It was obvious by these names the side effects of inhaling too much was well known

Like belladonna, the leaves, stems and roots were dried and crushed into a fine powder the Indians stuffed into their pipes and smoked it.  The benefits obtained must have been of higher quality than simply inhaling fumes from igniting the herbs on bricks.  Although either technique may have been used, depending on what the patient had access to.

Obviously the herb may have been used for entertainment, although medicine men and physicians ultimately learned of the medicinal benefits.  By 100 A.D. Indian physicians recommended smoking  strammonium for diseases of the lungs and throat, or simply for its hallucinogenic effect.  Again, the hallucinogenic effect may be desired when no other remedy was applicable

The famous Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about stramonium and belladonna, so we know Greek physicians had access to such wisdom.  With the fall of Cordova Greek medicine made its way to Rome, so we know the Romans had access to it too.   With the fall of Rome all such knowledge was lost for over a thousand years in Europe. 

Although, shortly thereafter, all medical wisdom made its way to the Arabia, where medicine, including including the inhalation of herbs, was saved for mankind. 

  1. "Plants poisonous to livestock," Cornell University's Department of Animal Science,
  2. "Plants poisonous to livestock," ibid
  3. Picture used with permission from Inhalatorium.comJackson, Mark, "'Divine Stramonium': The Rise and Fall of Smoking for Asthma,"  Med Hist., 2010 April; 54(2): 171–194.
  4. Jackson, Mark, "'Divine Stramonium': The Rise and Fall of Smoking for Asthma," Med Hist., 2010 April; 54(2): 171–194.
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1 comment:

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