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Richet, Charles Robert - Popular Science Monthly Volume 12 March 1878 - Opium



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A description of the experience

Popular Science Monthly Volume 12 March 1878  (1878)  - Opium and its Antidote -  Charles Robert Richet

It is clear here that Richet is talking from experience, this is written in the manner of one who is talking from experience

When, in "Le Malade imaginaire," honest Argan is asked why opium causes sleep, his artless reply is, "Quia habet proprietatem dormitivam." Nowadays we are not content with this kind of explanation, and some authors have sought for the "dormitive property" of opium in the state of the cerebral circulation; and, though the true cause has not yet been certainly established, still it is something that research has been made…… indeed, we know little more than did Argan, namely, that it sets one asleep. This sleep, however, is in some respects different from ordinary sleep.

From thirty to sixty minutes after taking opium one feels a slight excitation; there is a general feeling of buoyancy and contentment, soon followed by drowsiness and a state of reverie rather than of dreaming.

There is a pleasurable feeling of abandon, and an agreeable sense of torpor creeps over the whole frame; the thoughts are like the ever-shifting scenes of a phantasmagoria, on which we passively gaze, without will or effort to alter the series.

Still, so long as the intoxication is not deep, such effort is possible.

One feels that he is falling asleep, and that if he would but bestir himself he might overcome his drowsiness. But little by little the legs grow heavy, the arms fall to the sides almost powerless, and the weighted eyelids refuse to remain open.

A dreamy, rambling sort of thinking still goes on, and there is as yet no sleep; we are still conscious of the world around. We indistinctly hear the tic-tac of the clock and the rumble of passing vehicles, but it is as though, so to speak, another person were listening and not we. The active, conscious Me exists no more, and another personality seems to have taken its place. Gradually everything becomes more and more indistinct, our thoughts are enveloped in a haze, we feel ourselves detached from matter, detached from our bodies, and transformed into thought, which flits about, so to speak, becoming more and more brilliant, but at the same time more and more confused.

Then the outer world disappears, and there remains only an inner world, sometimes full of tumult and delirium, and producing feverish excitement, or, as is more frequently the case, calm and quiet, and full of delightful repose.

This intoxication is purely psychical, and far superior to the intoxication produced by alcohol or hasheesh, for, though hasheesh gives one a few hours of insanity, opium gives sleep, and with this boon there is nothing that can compare. One must have suffered from insomnia in order to appreciate the value of opium. It brings sleep, and it banishes pain.

It is one of the most powerful agents we possess for modifying the sensibility, but whether it does this by acting upon the sensor nerves or on the brain we know not with certainty. Even where it does not procure sleep, it has the singular power of calming the excitability of the nerves, and of subduing that morbid state of the sensibility called by physicians hyperæsthesia.

It has been observed that when it reduces hyperæsthesia it does not cause sleep, all its force seemingly being spent in combating pain. In cases of stubborn neuralgia opium appeases suffering, and a larger dose is required to produce sleep. But is it not enough that it allays the irritability of a diseased nerve?

Some persons cannot live without opium, and they swallow enormous quantities of it without perceptible effect.

Herein opium differs widely from alcohol.

Alcohol is cumulative in its effects, and the more one is addicted to its use, the more easily is he intoxicated by it. One does not become habituated to alcohol intoxication, but with opium the case is different; one may become so accustomed to it as to be able to drink daily a litre [sic] of laudanum, twenty drops of which would be a strong enough medicinal dose for a non-habituated person.

The source of the experience

Richet, Charles Robert

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