Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/629

This page has been validated.


THE indulgence in narcotics—something to dull, stupefy, and soothe the nervous system—is a predominant human weakness. Nature has been ransacked for narcotics. Tobacco, opium, betel-nut, Indian hemp, even some kinds of fungi, are employed for the desired object. When tobacco was first introduced into Europe, its use was nearly everywhere looked upon with dislike by the authorities. The efforts that were made to suppress it amounted to nothing less than persecution, and their want of success furnishes a curious illustration of the uselessness of legislative interference with the individual's legitimate freedom of action. It serves also to illustrate in some measure the strong hold which the taste for narcotics obtains over the mind, especially as tobacco is one of the mildest narcotics in use. Among our-selves, not to mention King James's well-known "Counterblast," many petty restrictions were laid on the sale of tobacco during that monarch's reign, and the import duty was raised from twopence to six shillings and tenpence a pound. In England and elsewhere, remonstrance and penalties were equally unavailing. Tobacco made its way steadily into favor, and is believed to be now in use among not less than 800,000,000 of the human race.

Measures of a severe nature have been tried in China to check the use of opium, and have been quite as unsuccessful. However apathetic the Chinese may be in respect to most things, they will not submit to the withdrawal of their favorite narcotic. But in case of so dangerous a poison, some restrictions are as much needed as they are on the sale of spirituous liquors among ourselves; for the effects of habitual excess are not less deplorable than those of habitual drunkenness. Of forty prisoners confined in the House of Correction at Singapore, thirty-five were found to use opium; and of these, seventeen, who had been in receipt of eighteen shillings a month as wages, spent twenty-four shillings for opium, the difference being obtained by theft. From a sanitary point of view, the results are equally sad. The confirmed opium-eater in the East seldom lives beyond the age of forty, and may be recognized at a glance by his trembling steps and curved spine, his sunken, glassy eyes and sallow, withered features. The muscles, too, of his neck and fingers often become contracted. Yet incurring even this penalty will enable him to indulge his vice only for a certain length of time. Unlike the healthy enjoyment which we derive from our appetite of hunger, and which Nature herself renews periodically, the enjoyment of the opium-eater gradually diminishes as his system becomes habituated to the drug. From time to time he must increase the quantity which he takes, but at length no increase will produce any effect. Under these circumstances he has