Even today, writing a play that largely revolves around the use of hashish would be pretty bold, which is what makes Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 play “Perilous Play” such an audacious decision. Published just a few years after the Civil War, the play deals with a group of friends who take hashish bonbons together and have a vivid experience. It has both dark moments of terror and near assault, and ends with one of the main characters saying, “Heaven bless hashish.” Not exactly your typical 19th-century love story.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the author of the play, Louisa May Alcott, was known to use hashish in her personal life. Alcott was a nursing veteran of the Civil War, and afterward began medicinally using hashish. Additionally, “Perilous Play” wasn’t the only story she wrote that referenced cannabis. Another one from 1877, “A Modern Mephistopheles,” also sees the main characters eating edibles infused with hashish, and she even references her own personal use through her writing in the story. Alcott was more of a hash smoker than being into edibles, it seems like, and she also drank beer and used opium.
At the time, all of her drug use was completely legal, and her use of substances was far from unique among those who had experienced the Civil War. Besides the above plays, Alcott is most widely celebrated for her 1868 book “Little Women,” and its 1870 sequel “Little Men,” but cannabis doesn’t feature in either of them.