Indian Opium Commission

Minutes of Evidence, Page 66



Surgeon-Captain W. H. Neilson, M.B., called in and examined.

21,433. (Sir W. Roberts.) I believe you are in medical charge of the Erinpura irregular force ? — Yes.

21,434. And you have been in the service for 11 years, of which 10 have been in Rajputana? — Yes.

21.435. You have also had medical practice in the force and amongst the inhabitants of the surrounding district ? — Yes.

21.436. To a certain degree you have been in civil practice ? —There is no other medical officer within many miles, so that I get practice in the district. I get both surgical and medical cases.

21.437. Have you dispensaries under your charge ? — There are no dispensaries there.

21.438. Will you tell us what your experience has been ? — Opium is not grown in the district, but imported ; amal and amal-pani are consumed ; chandu and madak are not used; the price is from Re. 1 for five to Re. 1 for seven or eight tolas according to the quality.

21.439. What are the men composing the force you are in charge of ? — In the cavalry, Sikhs and Mahomedans. In the infantry, Rajputs, Minas, Bhils, Mbairs, Surgaras, Gujars, other Hindus, Mahomedans. With the exception of the Mahomedans, all are occasional eaters ; 5 per cent of Sikhs habitual eaters; women and children of Sikhs occasional eaters. Opium is given to women and children of others as medicine only.

21,440-1. What have you to say in regard to the bazaars in the town ? — Mahajans, Brahmins, Rajputs, Mahomedans, Minas, Bhils, Kumbars, Ganchis, Gousis, Chamars are, with the exception of Gousis, either occasional or habitual eaters, and amongst them some consumers of enormous amounts.

21.442. What about the country districts? — Rajputs, Minas, Bhils, Rabaris, all occasional, and many large, eaters.

21.443. Have you found the taking of opium very common ? — The taking of opium, either occasionally or habitually, is thus almost universal. By occasional eaters it is taken with the object of increasing physical energy and powers of endurance. To guard against results likely to ensue from exposure, e.g., colds, fever : dose usually about one grain. By habitual eaters it is taken with different objects. The habit is acquired at different ages, and the dose varies with the object from one grain two or three times a day to 60 grains, and probably more. By some it is taken as a brain stimulant between the ages of 35 and 40, e.g., by Mahajans; by others it is taken to earlier as an exhilarant, and in these cases the dose is apt eventually to become enormous ; by others the habit has been gradually acquired, the drug having, in the first instance, been taken as a medicine for the relief of pain, &c., &c.. However acquired the habit is persisted in. As medicine, it is taken by all for coughs, colds, diarrhea, rheumatism ; by the habitual eater as a preventive and curer of fever; as assisting powers of digestion. It is used as an aphrodisiac. It is used for purposes of conviviality at certain festivals, such as the Holi and Dewali. I have been brought into contact with occasional and habitual eaters. My attention was first drawn to the subject 10 years ago on a stone case, where the patient was in the habit of consuming some 30 grains a day.

21.441. What conclusion have you come to with regard to opinm-eating ?— I have come to the following conclusions : That in occasional eaters physical energy and powers of endurance are increased for the time being; that taken with this objecl, it is of the greatest use ; that there are no after ill-effects, such as depres- sion, derangement of appetite, &o., &c. ; that no craving for a repetition of the dose is experienced ; that in habitual eaters the moderate consumption of the drug is a distinct aid to the brain, stimulating its powers, e.g., the case of the Mahajans ; that even in cases where the drug is taken in what might be considered excessive doses — up to even 60 grains — so long as the drug is indulged in there appears to be no deterioration of the mental powers — the physical energies, the working powers, if anything, are increased ; the digestive functions are not disturbed, the appetite remains fairly good ; disease is not more frequent, fevers distinctly less frequent and severe ; that the habit does not in any way interfere with medical or surgical treatment; leads to no disreputable habits, laziness, dirt, or crime ; that life does not appear to be shortened. It is an extremely difficult matter to pick out the habital consumer from his fellows — non-consumers— and I have never come across a man debauched by opium as pictured in medical books. I have never seen any harm, and I have seen good resulting from the habitual use of opium, and am prepared with examples. The results arising from the withdrawal of the drug are too well known to be entered into here. Any attempt to stop the importation of the drug would give rise to general discontent, and would be met by smuggling.

21.445. With regard to habitual eaters, you say that it is taken with different objects ; by some it is taken as a brain stimulant between the ages of 36 and 40, and by others it is taken to earlier as an exhilarant. Do you mean for its restorative effect, or as an aphrodisiac ? — I do not mean that it is taken for either. I mean that it is taken in the same way as wine is taken and as smoking is taken to in youth by young men who take to it as an experience and so fall into the habit.

21.446. I presume you have been a good deal in touch with opium-eaters ? — Yes ; I have had a tremendous number of Sikhs and Rajputs in the regiment. My attention was more particularly directed to it when men came in from the outside districts for operations. I found to my astonishment that they took a good deal of opium. I imagined that it would do them harm ; and therefore I paid rather more than ordinary attention to these men. I remember the case of one man who took 30 grains a day. I operated upon him for stone, and there were no ill results of any sort whatever. His recovery was as quick as in any ordinary case.

21.447. Is it your experience, broadly, that in cases of operation the fact that a patient is an opium-eater has no influence upon the course of his recovery ? — No influence whatever. The opium-eater is in as favourable a condition for operation as the ordinary man.

21.448. Of course you recognise, as a surgeon, that there is an immense difference in individual tolerance ? —Yes, presumably; as there is for any other thing - tobacco or alcohol.

21,419. You also recognise, I suppose, that sometimes an opium-eater will exceed his tolerance, and become an opium sot ?— I have never come across those cases. I do not know where to draw the line of excess.

21,450. Supposing an opium-eater shows signs of distinct somnolence, that would be a sign that he did exceed his tolerance ?— Yes ; but I have never seen a man in that condition.

21.451. Have you seeu much of the use of the drug in infants ? — No. Infants, as a rule, do not come under my notice.

21.452. (Mr. Wilson.) What is ahout the strength of the Erinpura irregular force ? — About 180 cavalry, and 600 infantry.

21.453. Which of the various races that you have mentioned take the most opium ? — I should say Rajputs and Bhils ; I refer to the infantry portion. Amongst the cavalry the Mahomedans are supposed not to touch it, but the Sikhs all take it occasionally.

21.454. Have you any idea whether the Mahomedans have any religious objection to it ? — It is laid down in the " Koran " that they are not to touch anything in the shape of opium, or tobacco, or alcohol. Anything in the shape of a narcotic is forbidden.

21.455. There has been a great deal of discussion about that. Tour experience amongst these men is that they regard it as forbidden ? — Yes. But on the other hand nearly all the Mahomedans in the bazaar take opium. They are the lower caste — if you can talk of a lower caste of Musalman.

21.456. We have had a good deal of discussion about the use of opium as a preventive of malarial fever ; has that come under your notice in any way ? — I have never given it with that object, but I have noticed that those men who take opium habitually are not so liable to fever, and they have come under my observation for that complaint far more rarely than those who are non- opium-eaters.

21.457. You think habitual consumers are less liable to fever ? — Yes, they are distinctly less liable to fever.

21.458. Can you in any way account for the fact that the habit has not spread. You say that only 5 per cent, of the Sikhs are habitual opium-eaters ? — Occasional opium-eaters take a little with the object of warning off fever; they also take opium on cold morning, and when they are subjected to wet and exposure. You will find the occasional opium-eater under those circumstances will take his little dose of opium, perhaps it will be once a month. There is no tendency for a habit to be formed when thus taken and for these objects.

21.459. You know that this is a habit amongst them, but you have not yourself prescribed it for that purpose ? — No.

21.460. You prescribe other things? — I proscribe other things to ward off fever. As a matter of fact men never come to me with that object; they come after they are ill. Occasionally when there is an epidemic about medicine is given as a preventive. As a rule the men come to me after they are seedy.

21.461. (Mr. Fanshawe.) From what part of the country are your Mahomedans in the cavalry recruited ? — Some are Punjabis. The majority of the men in the cavalry are Sikhs. The Mahomedans in the cavalry are few compared with the Sikhs.

21.462. Where did you learn that the Mahomedans are prohibited from taking opium ? — I learnt it from my hospital assistant. He simply stated as a fact that the Mahomedans in the cavalry denied that they touch opium, and gave the injunctions laid down in the Koran as the reason . I know as a fact that nearly all the Mahomedans in the bazaar are opium eaters.

The witness withdrew.


Surgeon- Captain W.H. Neilson, M.B.
2 Feb. 1894.