Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/783

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THE REMEDIES OF NATURE.

mented mare's-milk, the Ashantees with sorgho-beer, the Mexicans with pulque (aloe-sap), the Chinese and Persians with opium and hasheesh (Cannabis Indica), the Peruvians with the acrid leaves of the coca-tree. Even mineral poisons have their votaries. There arc thousands of arsenic-eaters in the southern Alps. Arsenious acid, antimony, cinnabar, and acetate of copper, are mistaken for digestive tonics by Spanish and South American miners. By the process of fermentation, rice, sago, honey, sugar, durrha (Sorghum vulgaris), dates, plums, currants, and innumerable other berries and fruits, have been converted into stimulants. The pastor of a Swiss colony on the Llanos Ventosos in the Mexican State of Oaxaca told me that the Indians of that neighborhood stupefy themselves with macerated cicuta, a kind of water-hemlock, and remarked that the delirium and the subsequent reaction of a cicuta-debauch correspond exactly to the successive phases of a whisky-spree, the only difference being in the price of the tipple. If intoxication were a physiological necessity, it would, indeed, be folly to buy the stimulant at the dram-shops, since cheaper poisons would serve the same purpose. A dime's worth of arsenic would protract the stimulant-fever for a week, with all the alternate excitements and dejections of an alcohol-revel. A man might get used to phosphorus and inflame his liver with the same lucifer-matches he uses to light his lamp; we might gather jimsonweed or aconite, or fuddle with mushrooms, like the natives of Kamchatka, who prepare a highly-intoxicating liquor from a decoction of the common fly-toadstool (Agaricus maculatus).

These facts teach us two other valuable lessons, viz., that every poison can become a stimulant, and that the alcohol-habit is characterized by all the symptoms which distinguish the poison-hunger from a natural appetite. One radical fallacy identifies the stimulant-habit in all its disguises: its victims mistake a process of irritation for a process of invigoration. The self-deception of the dyspeptic philosopher, who hopes to exorcise his blue-devils with the fumes of the weed that has caused his sick-headaches is absolutely analogous to that of the pot-house sot who tries to drown his care in the source of all his sorrows; and there is no reason to doubt that it is precisely the same fallacy which formerly ascribed remedial virtues to the vilest stimulants of the drug-store, and that, with few exceptions, the poisons administered for "medicinal" purposes have considerably increased, instead of decreasing, the sum of human misery.

The milder stimulants (light beer, cider, and narcotic infusions) would be comparatively harmless, if their votaries could confine themselves to a moderate dosis. For sooner or later the tonic is sure to pall, while the morbid craving remains, and forces its victim either to increase the quantity of the wonted stimulant, or else resort to a stronger poison. A boy begins with ginger-beer and ends with gingerrum; the medical "tonic" delusion progresses from malt-extract to