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November 9: Louis Lewin and Peyote

Lawrence Bush
November 9, 2016
Louis Lewin, the first pharmacologist to analyze peyote chemically (in 1886), was born in West Prussia on this date in 1850. Lewin also created a classification system for psychoactive drugs that included these categories: inebriantia (inebriants including alcohol and ether); exitantia (stimulants including amphetamines); euphorica (narcotics such as heroin and morphone); hypnotica (tranquilizers of various kinds); and phantastica (hallucinogens, including peyote and ayahuasca). A physician, a University of Heidelberg instructor who was finally appointed professor at the age of 46, and also an active rabbi and an historian of Jewish life, Lewin, according to the Psychedelic Press UK, was known for “his extraordinary style of lecturing, which held ‘audiences spellbound,’” and his “wide-ranging knowledge of history, geography and anthropology. . .” He was able to “quote flawlessly in foreign languages without any hesitation,” and published 248 articles in his lifetime as “a leading academic of his time.” “If human consciousness is the most wonderful thing on earth, the attempt to fathom the depths of the psychophysiological action of narcotic and stimulating drugs makes this wonder seem greater still, for with their help man is enabled to transfer emotions of everyday life, as well as his will and intellect, to unknown regions; he is enabled to attain degrees of emotional intensity and duration which are otherwise unknown to the brain.” --Louis Lewin

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.