Gabriel G. Nahas papers

Gabriel Georges Nahas, 1920-2012
Date [inclusive]
1947-2002 (bulk 1962-2002)
English, French, Arabic
Physical Description
22 cubic feet (62 boxes + 16 volumes)

Apart from Series V, the papers are stored off-site. Researchers will need to request this material from Archives & Special Collections at least two business days in advance to use the collection in our reading room. Generally, Archives & Special Collections will not recall more than 12 boxes at a time.

Because the papers include Confidential Health Information (CHI) as defined by Columbia University policies governing data security and privacy, access is allowed only under the terms of Archives and Special Collections’ Access Policy to Records Containing Confidential Health Information.


Correspondence, publications, conference and event materials, photographs, and newspaper clippings documenting the career of Gabriel G. Nahas, including his extensive research, numerous publications and other activities related to educating  the public about the dangers of using marijuana and cocaine.

Cite as
Gabriel G. Nahas Papers, Archives & Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.
Historical/Biographical Note

Gabriel Georges Nahas, son of Bishara and Gabrielle Wolff Nahas, was born on March 4, 1920 in Alexandria, Egypt.  He attended the University of Toulouse, France, where he earned a BA in 1937 and an MD in 1944. From 1941-1944 Nahas was a special agent in the French Underground, and helped 200 Allied soldiers, airmen and secret agents escape the Nazis. During this time Nahas was arrested, thrown into prison and tortured on three separate occasions. He also served as a batallion doctor for the Free French Army from 1944-45.

After the war, Nahas returned to Toulouse for a years’ residency, then moved on to research fellowships at the University of Rochester (New York) (1947-48), where he earned an a M.S. in Physiology in 1949;  the Mayo Clinic (1949-1950); and the University of Minnesota (1950-1953), where he was awarded a PhD in Physiology 1953.

Following a brief stint as a physician in the University of Minnesota Student Health Service, Nahas served as the Chief of the Laboratory of Experimental Surgery at the Hôpital Marie Lannelongue, Paris from 1953-1955; as the Chief of the Respiratory Section, Department of Cardiovascular Disease, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, DC., from 1957-1959; and as a lecturer at George Washington University Medical School, 1957-1959.

Nahas became an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Columbia in 1959, and a full Professor in 1962. He remained at Columbia until 1992, when he moved to New York University School of Medicine (NYU). Nahas retired from NYU in 2002.

While at Columbia, Nahas was Fulbright scholar in 1966; an adjunct professor of anesthesiology (research) at the University of Paris from 1968-1971; a scientific advisor to Jacques Cousteau and his diving team; and a consultant for the Institut Oceanographique in Monaco and the United Nations Commission on Narcotics.

In the early years of his career Nahas had multiple research interests, including developing plasma substitutes, studying issues of breathing and blood gases as part of his partnership with Jacques Cousteau, and  the uses of tromathamine (THAM) a medicine used to counteract metabolic acidosis (electrolyte imbalance) after heart bypass surgery or cardiac arrest. But after 1969 Nahas’ professional life was exclusively devoted to researching the negative impact of marijuana and cocaine on the human body, and using the fruits of that research to support a vigorous campaign against the legalization of drugs and the medicalization of marijuana.

The main thrust of Nahas’ research was attempting to prove that marijuana contributed to cancers of the head and neck, leukemia, infertility, brain damage and a weakening of the immune system. He also asserted that cocaine use led to brain damage. Nahas was the author of several hundred academic articles as well as ten books, most notably Marihuana: Deceptive Weed (1972), Keep off the Grass (1976), and, with his twin sister Hélène Peters, Cocaine: The Great White Plague (1989). He also testified at drug legalization hearings on both the state and federal level; was an expert witness in cases where the legality of drug laws was at issue; made multiple radio and television appearances to debate issues related to legalization and medicalization of marijuana; spoke at numerous professional meetings; and organized events including an International Conference on Marijuana and Medicine in 1999 and an International Symposium on THC and Apoptosis in 2001, both held at New York University.

As a result of his activism, Nahas became a lightning rod for discussion on both sides of the narcotics debate. Robert L. DuPont, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) from 1973 to 1978 and White House Drug Czar from 1973 to 1977 described Nahas as the “Paul Revere of drug abuse” and noted that “He alone lit the beacon warning of the threat of the modern drug abuse epidemic”; meanwhile, the New England Journal of Medicine described Nahas’ work as “psychopharmacological McCarthyism” and Playboy put him on their “Enemies List.”

In addition to his academic achievements, Nahas was extensively decorated for his war service. He received the Croix de Guerre with three palms (1944-45), the Legion of Honor (1945, 1968), the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Gold Palm (1945), Order of Orange Nassau (1947), Cross of the Resistance; Order of the British Empire (1948), and the Silver Medal of the City of Paris (1972). He was also an active participant in French Resistance and other World War II-related societies and an ardent defender of the reputation of the Resistance.

Nahas died on July 7, 2012, in Manhattan. He was survived by his twin sister, Hélène Peters, as well as his wife and family.


The papers have been organized in five series: I. Correspondence; II. Grants, patents, research and publications; III. Meetings and speaking engagements; IV. Events; V. Bound reprints

Scope and Content

Correspondence, publications, conference and event materials, photographs, and newspaper clippings documenting the career of Gabriel G. Nahas, including his extensive research, numerous publications and other activities related to educating  the public about the dangers of using marijuana and cocaine.

Series I. Correspondence.

Boxes 1-31

Professional and some personal correspondence; some files contain newspaper and magazine clippings, reprints of scholarly articles, and other materials more commonly found in subject files.

Subseries are as follows:

Sub-series 1.1: By type of recipient, 1959-1996 (4.5 boxes, 1.66 cu. feet)

Correspondence, clippings and other materials documenting interactions with scholars and medical professionals in the United States and abroad, as well as writers and editors at the New York Times, New York Magazine, TIME, and other publications. Arranged by Nahas by type of recipient, as follows: Individuals; Foreign - By country; Foreign - Individual; Medical; Press-General; Press-United States; and then alphabetically.

Sub-series 1.2: General correspondence and marijuana mail, 1947-1997 (2.5 boxes, .66 cu. feet)

Mixed personal and professional correspondence, including letters received by Nahas from friends and colleagues shortly after he arrived in the US after the war, and letters from the public regarding Nahas’ research which Nahas dubbed “marijuana mail;” arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 1.3: Alphabetical, 1965-2002 (23 boxes; 7.66 cu. feet)

Professional and some personal correspondence, clippings and other materials on a broad variety of topics, including legalization of marijuana and other drugs; the drug wars; the effect of drugs on the brain; interactions with writers and editors at the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Science, Readers Digest, and other publications; Nahas’ ongoing connection to the Cousteau Society; communications with other anti-marijuana activists, such as Otto Moulton from the Committee of Correspondence and various individuals at the National Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE); and communications with surviving members of the French Resistance and American veterans of WWII; arranged alphabetically.

Series II. Grants, Patents,  research and Publications.

Boxes 31-43

This series contains the following subseries:

Sub-series 2.1: Grants, 1974-1992 (4 boxes, 1.33 cu. feet)

Correspondence and applications for grant funding. Includes both private and government organizations, with a significant volume of material related to research projects in a variety of areas, including how marijuana’s use can negatively affect human DNA, and cardiac toxicity of cocaine and marijuana, funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); arranged alphabetically, and then chronologically.

Sub-series 2.2: Patents, 1969-2002 (.5 box, .17 cu. feet)

Correspondence and applications for patents for a blood plasma substitute that used Knox gelatin and a lipotest procedure; arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 2.3: Tromathamine (THAM), 1962-2001 (4 boxes, 1.33 cu. feet)

Correspondence, reprints, reports, and other research material on the subject of tromathamine (THAM), a medicine used to treat metabolic acidosis (electrolyte imbalance) that commonly occurs after heart bypass surgery or cardiac arrest; arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 2.4: Morocco, 1962-1980 (.5 box, .17 cu. feet)

Correspondence, photos, reports and research materials related to a trip to Morocco to explore the possibility of a study of chronic marihuana (kif) intoxication in the central Rif; arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 2.5: Unpublished Psychiatric Institute Study, 1973-1984 (1 box, . 33 cu. feet)

Correspondence, forms, data and follow-up materials from an unpublished study conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the long-term impact of smoking marijuana; arranged chronologically. Access to this series is governed by HIPAA guidelines.

Sub-series 2.6: Bound volumes, 1949-1974 (1 box, .33 cu feet)

Bound copies of Nahas’ masters and PhD theses and selected instances of testimony before Congress on drug-related topics, loose in box.

Sub-series 2.7: Patents (Oversize), 1989-1991 (1 box, .17 cu. feet)

Correspondence and applications for patents for processes for treatment of acetylcholine-related toxicity using combinations of calcium modulators and atropine-like substances, and treatment of cardiovascular and cerebral toxicity using calcium modulators; arranged chronologically.

Series III: Meetings and Speaking Engagements

Boxes 44-53

Sub-series 3.1: Legislative and legal, 1967-1981 (2 boxes, .66 cu. feet)

Correspondence and legal documents related to Nahas’ testimony at state legalization/decriminalization hearings and service as an expert witness in drug trials where the  legality of drugs was at issue or a factor in the crime.

Sub-series 3.2: United States Information Agency, 1983-1990 (.5 box, .17  cu. feet)

Correspondence and briefing materials from Nahas’ trips to Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East for the United States Information Agency (USIA); arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 3.3: Professional meetings and seminars, 1947-2000 (6.5 boxes, 2.17 cu. feet)

Correspondence, brochures and other related materials for professional meetings, seminars, speeches, and similar activities; arranged chronologically.

Series IV: Events

Boxes 53-62

Sub-series 4.1: Second Annual Conference on Marijuana: Biomedical Effects and Social Implications, 1979 [1978-1980] (3 folders)

Summary of activities, correspondence and attendee acceptances for a scientific marijuana meeting at New York University, 1979

Sub-series 4.2: International Conference on Marijuana and Medicine, 1999 [1997-2001] (7.5 boxes, 2.66 cu. feet)

Correspondence with presenters, copies of individual chapters from the published proceedings, and participant reviews and comments. Organized as follows: general correspondence, arranged alphabetically; participant correspondence, arranged alphabetically; and proceedings, arranged in chapter order.

Sub-series 4.3: International Symposium on THC and Apoptosis, 2001 [2001-2002] (2 boxes, .66 cu. feet)

General correspondence and two sets of proceedings: one incomplete, and one that appear to have been intended to be published in France. Correspondence organized alphabetically; proceedings arranged in chapter order.

Series V: Bound reprints, 1950-1988 (16 v.)

Arranged chronologically; shelved separately.


Gift of Gabriel Nahas, 2001-2003. (Acc. #2001.02.23, 2003.06.19, and 2003.11.11)

Processing Notes

Processed by Jennifer McGillan, July-December 2012; duplicates were removed and some documents were photocopied for the purpose of preservation. Materials were kept in original order where possible, but some materials, specifically the alphabetical correspondence, was found in such disarray that artificial order had to be created.