Fitz Hugh Ludlow was born on September 11, 1836 in New York City. His father, the Reverend Henry G. Ludlow, was a Yale educated abolitionist and activist involved in the ‘Underground Railroad’; a 19th century secret network of secret routes and safe-houses created for African-American slaves attempting to escape to freedom.
After commencing his studies at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) Ludlow eventually completed his education at Union College. During this period, Ludlow spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the influence of anaesthetics upon the psyche. This overarching interest in medicine and mortality may have been sparked through the premature death of his mother, Abigail Woolsey Wells, when he was 12 years old.
During his time at Princeton, Ludlow’s curiosity drew him to “his friend Anderson the apothecary.” Upon such visits Ludlow “made upon myself the trial of the effects of every strange drug and chemical which the laboratory could produce.” Hence, amongst other substances, Fitz Hugh Ludlow became a ‘hasheesh eater’ claiming them to be a boost creativity.
In his attempts to validate his use of drugs, Ludlow stated: “My pen glanced presently like lightning in an effort to keep neck and neck with my idea” […]. That said, Ludlow also notes the negative effects of intoxicants whereby “thought ran with such terrific speed that I could no longer write at all.”
Fitz Hugh’s first literary publication was the poem ‘Truth on His Travels’ which perceived ‘truth’ as wandering earth, searching for respect amongst his peers. However, Ludlow’s best known literary work was his autobiographical book ‘The Hasheesh Eater’ published in 1857.
Ludlow also wrote about his travels across America on the overland stage to San Francisco, Yosemite and the forests of California and Oregon in his second book, The Heart of the Continent. An appendix to it provides his impressions of the recently founded Mormon settlement in Utah.
After conceding his addiction to drugs, Ludlow concluded:
“The motives for hasheesh indulgence were of the most exalted, ideal nature, for this nature are all its ecstasies and revelations – yes and a thousand more terrible, for this very reason, its unutterable pangs.”
Eventually, Ludlow perceived cannabis as:
“the very witch-plant of hell, the weed of madness.”
In his latter years Ludlow attempted to improve the treatment of opiate addicts, becoming a pioneer in both progressive approaches dealing with addiction and the public portrayal of its sufferers. Though of modest means, he was imprudently generous in aiding those unable to cope with drug-induced life struggles. Ludlow’s final thoughts upon cannabis use concluded:
“Hasheesh is indeed an accursed drug, and the soul at last pays a most bitter price for all its ecstasies; moreover, the use of it is not the proper means of gaining any insight, yet who shall say that at that season of exaltation I did not know things as they are more truly than ever in the ordinary state?…. In the jubilance of hashish, we have only arrived by an improper pathway at the secret of that infinity of beauty which shall be beheld in heaven and earth when the veil of the corporeal drops off, and we know as we are known."
Ludlow died prematurely at the age of 34 on September 12, 1870 from the accumulated affect of his lifelong addictions, the ravages of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and overwork.