The hashish cure
In one of his lectures at The College de France on the 30th of January of 1974 Michel Foucault made a reference to the work of a middle XIX century French psychiatrist named Moureau de Tours and his book Du haschisch et de l’alienation mentale. The main relevance of the book was that the author in its pages described the benefits of hashish to treat mental illness after he, himself, had taken a considerable amount of it in jam. Thanks to his experiment, the author could establish a new way of understanding madness by assimilating his own experience with the symptoms of the illness. His main argument was that his medical training and knowledge entitled him to perceive madness from the inside and that his experience opened a dialogue between the mentally isolated patient and himself, because he had mastered and understood the reasons of the delirium.
In reality what he did was to describe the effects of the drug in eight phases in order to explain the construction of madness. First he mentioned the feeling of well being to later continue enunciating the “excitement, disassociation of ideas”, “errors of time and space”, “ development of sensibility and exaggeration of sensations”, “fixed ideas, delirious convictions”, “exaggerations of fears, excitability and amorous passions”, “irresistible passions” and finally “illusions and hallucinations”. Hashish, he concluded, provided an artificial way to induce madness in order to understand the natural symptoms of their sufferers, by this, he meant that the medical and artificial recreation of madness lead psychiatrists to objectivise the patient’s mind, exactly in the same way as other doctors objectivised the physical body. To put it in other words Moureau’s success was to find a gate to enter madness, to communicate directly with the patient using something else than the external observation of visible symptoms.
And that something special was Moureau’s own experience with the drug. Before this experiment took place, psychiatrists perceived madness as a form of exclusion from the normality that they exercised with their practice. The mentally ill were sick just because they did not comply with the laws of reason sanctioned by their limited knowledge. Moureau, however, was able to break that barrier by using his own experience to navigate through the different phases of madness offering a clear and positive analysis based on his inside knowledge of the reconstruction of the delirium. The study of madness, therefore, adopted a new dimension passing from a stage where it could not be normally understood to one where it could be rationally reconstructed. Hashish, therefore, did not only help to find the core reason of madness but it transformed the psychiatrist’s subjectivity into a powerful tool to treat it.
Such core reason, common to the mad person and the intoxicated psychiatrist is actually the dream. Dreams according to Moureau were the reflection of the personal relations with the external world while sleeping was the barrier between that world and the personal existence. Madness, he added, like hashish intoxication was that particular state of the nervous system in which the barriers between sleep and wakefulness collapse creating uncertainty and the dislocation of reality. The main difference between the mad individual and the hashish user doctor was that in the case of the former, madness would came naturally, as a form of endogenous mechanism while in the later the disruption of the sleeping/wakening frontier would be induced in order to administrate regulatory and facultative power. This new approach toward madness made the dream the object of study, a new form of law common to normal life. Thanks to the study of dreams psychiatrists were able to gain power by firstly understanding their own and later judging the insane.