On Southern Italian Cannabis and its preparations in place of Cannabis indica

Indian hemp, Cannabis Indica, has always been present in the oldest herbariums as a remedy for various disorders. And the Cannabis Sativa?

The Chinese referred to it as a medicine for all ailments already 4000 years before Christ, the Indians, in addition to the therapeutic virtues for the body, exalted the healing ones for the soul and, among the Sumerians, on clay tablets found in the library of Nineveh, was widely cited for its analgesic properties:  they prescribed Indian hemp against bronchitis, rheumatism and insomnia. The Sumerian name of Cannabis Indica, filtered through the Greek and Arabic languages, is what we use today. Over the centuries, learned doctors, who possessed special herbal knowledge, routinely prescribed it to their patients along with belladonna (deadly nightshade) and other hallucinogens, so much so that they earned the reputation of sorcerers, shamans or semi-gods, precisely because they were able to recognize and correctly use the “plants of power”, thus managing to maintain contact between the divine (nature) and the human being. The state of illness was in fact commonly associated with sin, and therefore with something that distanced itself from man’s way of life, and healing was its redemption. This fusion between science and religion continued, in various forms, in the western world, until the end of the 18th century: with the advent of the Age of Enlightenment the spell began to break and the union was definitively broken after the Second World War, due the growth of the petrol-chemical industry and the consequent spread of allopathic medicine. In the mid-1800’s, the first pharmaceutical companies were born, they were still deeply linked to the use of herbs as they were and their possible chemical manipulation took place in a natural way.
In those same years, when Freud had not yet polluted the medicine with his bizarre theories,  lived a famous hygienist doctor, Professor Raffaele Valieri, who worked in Naples at the Hospital “Incurabili” meaning the incurable ones. They were called “incurables” not because they were terminally ill or die-hard addicts but only poor people with diseases resulting from their misery.

His health care was remarkable for the city: on the 7th of September  1860, with the entry of Garibaldi in Naples, the fate of the Bourbon monarchy was marked and the Neapolitan ills were presented to the forming kingdom of Italy and to the public opinion with lucidity and insistence , in the hope that the new regime would take care of the situation. Already in the eighteenth century, some intellectuals were aware of the Neapolitan situation, so the question arose and was debated with particular relevance, since the poverty, the urbanistic and building degradation constituted, within all of Europe, one of the extreme points of discomfort. Professor Raffaele Valieri was elected president of the newly formed Hygienic Commission of the “Pendino” Section, one of the oldest, most degraded and populated neighborhoods.

“Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind resides in a healthy body) can be considered the motto of the hygienists, who represented the psychiatrists of the past, so to speak … good body hygiene, in the broadest sense of the term, which also includes a healthy and balanced diet associated with to a correct lifestyle, inevitably leads to mental health; a concept that is so simple and so forgotten over time. Among the tasks of the professor there was that of bringing a situation of order to the neighborhood assigned to him that in normal conditions was in very bad sanitary conditions, which often resulted in cholera epidemics (1866). The philanthropic activity of Valieri and his staff, who donated free medicines  on the spot, facilitated the eradication of the disease in a short time. The emeritus professor, describing the neighborhood, calls it a real hellish pit: “Alleys, lanes and slums have non-existent ventilation and perennial humidity, these hells host an incredible number of human beings, crowded one on top of the other and living in very difficult conditions, an inextricable tangle of humanity condemned to physical and mental degradation. Just a few steps away from a coast as beautiful as it is degraded and desolate … Here, diseases such as rickets, scrofula (tubercular adenitis), phthisis, chlorosis (anemic form), typhus and cholera are easy to find and spread, just to name a few of the most serious “. There were many proposals for structural, educational and training works in essential hygiene for the rehabilitation of the neighborhood that the hygienist tirelessly drafted and presented to the competent authorities; his propensity for continuous progress and updating on all the studies produced by his European colleagues, made him one of the best hygienists of the time.

Fundamental was the in-depth study he did on the Italian Cannabis Indica and Sativa which he used extensively to alleviate the ailments of his patients, with the approval of the General Superintendent of the Hospital, Count Francesco Spinelli. In his short treatise, published in 1887, “On Local Hemp  and its preparations” he highlighted its therapeutic properties in place of its sister Cannabis Indica. Valieri explains that there is no botanical diversity between the two varieties of Hemp and that the only difference lies only in the quantity of the active ingredients contained in them, certainly due to the different environments of growth and provenance. At that time, Italy boasted extensive fields of hemp everywhere and the distinguished professor tried to use native hemp (Sativa L.) to replace the very expensive Indian hemp and its extracts, not only to reduce its high costs of importation but also to be able to personally verify the quality and purity, to ensure that a better final product could be obtained. He went in person to Casoria, and to its surroundings which formed one of the most industrial and productive centers in the cultivation of hemp, where he took advantage of the hospitality of the priest D.G.P., a rich landowner and local councilor of the place. He was his guide by day and by night (Valieri wanted to sleep in the middle of the fields to experience the so much praised effects by the settlers:  a sweet  sleep made of pleasant dreams) for the collection of the most chosen flowering tops.

From his prelate friend he procured several bags of fresh and crisp tops which he immediately transported to the hospital pharmacy, where they were divided into two portions, one for drying and the other fresh to obtain the following preparations: distilled water, essential oil or cannabene, the tincture, the pharmaceutical extract, the oleolites, the ointment, the syrup, the oilsucrose, the tablets and, preferably, resin or cannabene. The dry portion was intended to make decoctions, teas,  infusions, tinctures and syrups and, when fresh grass was missing, to make it chew and smoke in common pipes or cigarettes, replacing the Indica Cannabis.

He turned to the industrial companies of that time (the new-born pharmaceutical companies) to package hemp pearls and to encourage them to directly produce and market cannabis cigarettes. In his inhalation room, in the women’s section, he personally tested the beneficial effects of Cannabis cigarettes, which he quickly packaged himself with his colleague, Doctor De Luca, and two other attendants. Well, despite the initial negative comments of the nuns at the sight of women who smoked almost as it was a vice, the experiment was a success and the nuns too, soon had to change their minds. The improvements were evident especially in the cases of hysteria in which the patients smoked at least four cigarettes a day and in this way they had no crisis, the only thing they asked was to be able to smoke. At the beginning of patient therapy, the doctor began by administering only distilled water mixed with essential oil, then added a little cannabine at a time (the resin), and then the cigarettes at the end. He also gave Cannabis to children to treat asthma and respiratory or cognitive problems in general and to women suffering from other neuralgic problems, in the form of syrup or oilsucrose (fresh herb mixed with sugar to avoid fermentation), at a dose of a few tablespoons a day. For each preparation he indicated the perfect dosage of the active ingredients that should be contained, an example: “If you were to make cannabine or hashish beads, they should contain 5cg (centigrams) of cannabine  and take it 3 to 6 times day“.

Various disorders were treated in the Inhalation Cabinet, specially set up for experiments on the quantities of Cannabis Sativa to be used. In that small room, fumigations were done using a handful  of grass
(about 15 – 20g) which was placed at a time over a brazier. The patients stayed in the room for a quarter of an hour or half an hour and the maximum effects were obtained in those affected by asthma, or those suffering from emphysema or from chronic catarrhs. Pipes and cigarettes were equally effective for these treatments and the dosage was three to four cigarettes a day.


Cannabis Sativa compared to cannabis Indica.

He first experimented on himself the two varieties of Hemp, in the form of an infusion, reaching the conclusion that their action is identical; the doses, in the case of C. Sativa, must however be doubled. Professor Valieri specififies that…  “However, a true comparison cannot be made because the therapeutic knowledge on the doses of C. Indica has remained incomplete since it has been looked at from the standpoint of the Kif or fantasy that triggered it and that every writer, novelist or pathologist have much praised. It is up to the modern therapist , the most solemn word to give it the right place in therapy. He should not look at the abuse of the substance, but should consider that, once the defect is known and the extent of the drug is known, it can be administered in moderate and graduated doses, so it is advantageous in many nervous diseases as it happens for the most powerful poisons: they turn out to be the most powerful remedies if they are given in divided and considered doses, then instead of an exciting drug, you will get a beneficial drug“.

For C. Indica and its preparations, Fronmueller believed it to be a substitute for opium as a hypnotic, when opium  was contraindicated. It was used in psychopathies and was very effective in melancholies and excitatory depressions (bipolar disorder). In hysteria with mental disorders, with lockjaw and frenzy, the hashish is useful  was also used  for Delirium Tremens, in tetanus, in hydrophobia, in hydropsia, in chorea and in many eclomysical and epileptoid convulsions, in convulsive cough, in rheumatism.  Professor Valieri experimented with other hyperesthesia, hyperkinesia and peripheral nerve disorders. Always in doubled doses, he used the local hemp to treat exophthalmic goiter, pulmonary emphysema and migraine.

He found it marvelous in weighted doses in cerebral anemias, in psychic exhaustions (amnesia, uncertainties and incipient idiocy), in trophic weakening and in the convolutions that preside over the manifestations of animal life. Effective and tonic in the exhausted brain and in heart diseases caused by weakness, trophic weakening and functional disorders. He has seen memory coming back clearer and clearer in certain amnesias, in the inconsistencies and incoordinations these are ordered and adequately formulated with the word and the word itself easier and more resolute. In the beginning of dementia, together with his colleagues, he obtained remembrances and judgments that would have been impossible to obtain with other hygienic-therapeutic methods.

According to the professor, it is not necessary to start the therapy with strong initial doses because the patient must not fall back into the Kieff, in the journey that leads to the loosening of reality with consequent reactive exhaustion (body feeling like a stone). It is therefore necessary to give a few centigrams of cannabine at a time, from 5 to 10 centigrams, repeated in five papers every half an hour, combined with tea or chamomile or 10-20 centigrams of cannabine for every 100g of water and a spoonful should be taken every half and hour on an empty stomach. The therapist can progressively increase the doses in the following prescriptions that must be suspended once the benefit is obtained, in this way the cloud that kept the moral faculties wrapped and darkened vanishes without jerks, placidly and serenely, thus avoiding dangerous reactions.

Like caffeine, digitalin, which are administered only when you want to comfort your heart to strengthen systolic movements and immediately stop when that purpose has been reached, so you must act with cannabine. In the event that excitatory phenomena remain or if the patient falls into excessive reactive prostration, the professor advises colleagues to offer calming and sedative drinks, exhilarating showers,  or to resort to electrization in the most extreme cases. Already in the late nineteenth century a great deal was known about the therapeutic effects of Cannabis, even, Valieri was able to describe the areas of the brain that were “irritated” by cannabine (the resin).

It should also be remembered that the Italian Cannabis Sativa that Valieri used was destined for industrial use but it was not a genetically modified plant that produces about 0% of THC like the only ones that are legally on the market today. The type of native Italian hemp, according to the description of the emeritus professor, contained about 10% THC, just under half, compared to the Indian hemp from the East.
Below an excerpt from the letter written by Professor Valieri to Count Francesco Spinelli of Scalea showing his gratitude for the help the Count gave to the professor in his research on Hemp.

To his most illustrious lordship, Count Francesco Spinelli of Scalea, Superintendent of the Hospital of the Incurables

“… As a debt of personal gratitude I extend my most heartfelt thanks to you for your kind welcome and for the swift implementation that you have always given to my proposals and for the experiments on our Native Hemp that are delivered in this case study and for the installation of the Cabinet of Inhalation, the first that arose in the Hospitals of Naples, for which the diaries of the time made it a deserved commendation to you. The ancients offered to the Benefactors of the Fatherland and of Humanity a branch of olive, oak or laurel, I present myself to you with a modest twig of our Native Hemp  which for me means an expression of eternal gratitude, and for you it will stand as a reminder of a good action!

Raffaele Valieri,

Director of the 3rd Ward – Women