Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

The Experiment


In A Time to Keep, Dr Sutherland wrote about an experiment with cannabis indica.

After dinner the four of us went off in my dingy upstream as far as Battlebridge. There, in a modest tearoom which catered for cyclists, we had tea. After tea we discovered that each had come without cigarettes. There were none to be bought, but I produced a small package which had arrived by post that morning. It was a sample of asthma cigarettes, containing lobelia and a little Indian hemp or hashish. There were five cigarettes. Each of my friends smoked one, and I smoked two. The conversation turned on hashish.

“A curious drug,” said the skipper. “It gave a man I know the illusion of being able to see over the top of high walls.”

“If you smoke or eat hashish,” remarked the artist, “you get voluptuous dreams about houris and dancing-girls.”

“Have you ever tried it?” I asked.

“No, but that’s what the books say.”

“In the East it may be so, but that was not my experience,” and I told them of my first and last experiment with the drug.

At Edinburgh, when studying materia medica, a friend, Basil Watt, and I decided to test the effect of hashish on ourselves. In the Pharmacopœia the drug is known as cannabis indica, and is dispensed as a pill. One evening we entered a chemist’s shop and asked for two pills of cannabis indica, each to contain two grains, the maximum dose. The chemist did his best to dissuade us. As the drug is not a scheduled poison, he could not refuse to dispense the pills. We returned to our homes, each having agreed to swallow his pill at 10 p.m.

My room at home was a large attic, where I slept and did my reading. That night I was reading anatomy, and at 10 p.m. swallowed the pill and continued my studies. Nothing happened until 11 p.m., when a diagram in Cunningham’s text-book of anatomy began to move like a cinema film. I watched the diagram moving, until I noticed my body gave a start and everything in the room was once more normal. The drug was working. I closed the book and began to undress, but during the process looked at the picture of the Charge at Balaclava, and the picture became alive. Then another start and full consciousness returned. I turned off the light, got into bed, and felt our Scotch terrier, whose name was Wasp, jump up to sleep in his usual place at my feet.

A moment later on looking downwards I saw the inside of my body with heart and lungs at work. After the next start I felt afraid, called the dog to the top of the bed, and put my arm around him. In a moment the dog became the size of a tiger, and grinned. The next horror was purely mental. The dog and I were the only living creatures in the room, and all around was inanimate matter seeking to destroy consciousness and make us one with things which neither feel nor move. In the next lucid interval I determined to end the experiment by walking to the washstand, where I could drink enough water to act as an emetic.

The washstand was not more than seven paces from the bed, but it was a slow journey. No more dreams came, but between each step was an interval of unconsciousness from which I woke to find myself standing on the floor, and about to take another step. The intervals of consciousness were becoming shorter, but during the intervals the mind was clear.

In one interval I realised that my condition was a series of rapid intermittent attacks resembling petit mal complicated by hallucinations. In another, that it would be unwise to waken my uncle and aunt, who were sleeping downstairs, lest they think I had attempted suicide. On reaching the washstand I realised it was useless to drink a lot of water because most of the drug was already in my system. I returned to bed by even slower stages, and once there lost all consciousness. On waking in the morning I had a splitting headache, and anyone could have struck a match on the back of my throat. It had been a most disagreeable experience, and not one dancing-girl had entered my room that night.

At the University Union I met Basil Watt. He had taken his pill and gone to bed. So far as he knew there had been no dreams, but he woke with a severe headache and a parched throat. That showed the varying effect of the drug, because in temperament Basil Watt was artistic and sensitive. In the Great War he was killed at Passchendaele.

Photo credit: Manuel Joseph

One comment on “The Experiment

  1. Pingback: Happy Christmas! | Dr. Halliday Sutherland

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This entry was posted on 1 May 2017 by in A Time to Keep, Cannabis Indica.

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