As I have already mentioned, the Nizari Isma’ilis (mentioned in ‘The Travels’ of Ibn Battutah) acquired a fearsome reputation. They were known as Fidawis or (to the Europeans) Hashshashins. ‘The Travels’ do not mention these men carrying out their missions under the influence of drugs or intoxicants. But the word Hashshashin (used in a pejorative sense for the Nizaris) refers to the use of an extract of the cannabis plant by the sect’s warriors. Here is the etymology of the word as given in the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1530s (in Anglo-Latin from mid-13c.), via French and Italian, from Arabic hashishiyyin “hashish-users,” plural of hashishiyy, from the source of hashish (q.v.). A fanatical Ismaili Muslim sect of the time of the Crusades, under leadership of the “Old Man of the Mountains” (translates Arabic shaik-al-jibal, name applied to Hasan ibu-al-Sabbah), with a reputation for murdering opposing leaders after intoxicating themselves by eating hashish. The plural suffix -in was mistaken in Europe for part of the word.
So the word literally means ‘eaters of hashish’. It is a substance prepared from the resinous extract of the cannabis plant’s fine, hair-like outgrowths (trichomes). Smoked or ingested, it has been a recreational drug in the belt stretching from North Africa to South Asia. Charas, bhang and ganja are the names used for cannabis extracts in India. Though the idea of fanatical warriors consuming a mind-altering drug to carry out assassinations ordered by their spiritual leader sounds spectacular, it is thin on evidence. That did not stop the likes of Marco Polo (1254-1324) and Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) from circulating it as fact.
People in South Asia have been using charas, bhang and ganja for millennia but only for medicinal and recreational purposes. I am yet to find a tract describing the consumption of these substances for the business of killing. Maybe, a more careful study is required.
Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and taken from the ‘Book of Wonders and other tales of travel and texts on the Orient’ ( Livre des merveilles et autres récits de voyages et de textes sur l’Orient), including among others, the travels of Marco Polo. The manuscript was prepared in France in 1410-1412, and its illustrations preserved by Gallica Digital Library.