Suppression

Laudanum

Category: Medicines - non plant based

Type

Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

Laudanum or laudunum is yet another alcoholic tincture of opium,  also known as tincture of opium, opium tincture, or tinctura opii.

Other tinctures exist besides laudanum.  Each variety of opium tincture, including laudanum, contains a different amount of opium, alcohol to dissolve the alkaloids and ‘inactive’ ingredients [many are not inactive at all, but that is another thing].

Laudunum is available today on prescription,  but it is a completely different substance from that used in the 1800s.  Today the drug is processed to remove all or most of the noscapine; the resulting solution is called Denarcotized Tincture of Opium or Deodorized Tincture of Opium (DTO).  There may well be other forms of ‘deodorising’ done to produce the present day version – in effect it is is not tincture of opium it is tincture of morphine with a bit added.

So what is in the ‘whole opium’ Laudunum?  The answer is that it depends on the era.  The recipe changed over the years, much as it changed with the other tinctures.  

The name comes from Paracelsus.  In the 16th century, he experimented with the medical value of opium and decided that it was so useful he would call it Laudanum, from the Latin laudare, to praise. His recipe is impractical - containing as it does musk and amber, so we will have a look at more recent recipes.

By the 19th century, laudanum was used in many patent medicines to "relieve pain... to produce sleep... to allay irritation... to check excessive secretions... to support the system... [and] as a soporific”.  

Again, the recipes were not standardised but we do see the appearance of hashish and alcohol of some sort -  whiskey, wine or brandy.  In general, the opium content also started to become standardised so that in the end the name Laudunum signified  an alcoholic herbal preparation containing about 10% powdered opium by weight.  The use of powdered opium has its reasons.  If you put the crystalised opium into alcohol, or any other spirits alone, “much of the opium does not dissolve."  You can use whole opium and pour boiling water on it and pulverise it if you don’t have powder or these days put it in a grinder [although this could be wasteful].    Some of the ingredients of the final preparation included 

  • Rhubarb extract – this would help to counteract the constipation though it would make it rather bitter and give it an odd red brown colour
  • Saffron
  • Sugar, honey or sugar syrup
  • Spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon
  • Herbs such as basil or bay leaf

The warnings on a bottle of tincture of opium.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it, ('which certainly was not here before,' said Alice,) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed on it in large letters.
It was all very well to say 'Drink me,' but the wise little Alice was not going to do THAT in a hurry. 'No, I'll look first,' she said, 'and see whether it's marked "poison" or not'; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they WOULD not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger VERY deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
However, this bottle was NOT marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.
'What a curious feeling!' said Alice; 'I must be shutting up like a telescope.'
And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size for going through the little door into that lovely garden. First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any further: she felt a little nervous about this; 'for it might end, you know,' said Alice to herself, 'in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?' And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.
After a while, finding that nothing more happened, she decided on going into the garden at once; but, alas for poor Alice! when she got to the door, she found she had forgotten the little golden key, and when she went back to the table for it, she found she could not possibly reach it: she could see it quite plainly through the glass, and she tried her best to climb up one of the legs of the table, but it was too slippery; and when she had tired herself out with trying, the poor little thing sat down and cried. 

Background

Wikipedia
By the 18th century, the medicinal properties of opium and laudanum were well-known. Several physicians, including John Jones, John Brown, and George Young, the latter of whom published a comprehensive medical text entitled Treatise on Opium extolled the virtues of laudanum and recommended the drug for practically every ailment. Opium, and after 1820, morphine, was mixed with everything imaginable: mercury, hashish, cayenne pepper, ether, chloroform, belladonna, whiskey, wine and brandy.
As one researcher has noted: "To understand the popularity of a medicine that eased--even if only temporarily--coughing, diarrhoea and pain, one only has to consider the living conditions at the time." In the 1850s, "cholera and dysentery regularly ripped through communities, its victims often dying from debilitating diarrhoea," and dropsy, consumption, ague and rheumatism were all too common.
By the 19th century, laudanum was used in many patent medicines to "relieve pain... to produce sleep... to allay irritation... to check excessive secretions... to support the system... [and] as a soporific” The limited pharmacopoeia of the day meant that opium derivatives were among the most efficacious of available treatments, so laudanum was widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children. Laudanum was used during the yellow fever epidemic. Innumerable Victorian women were prescribed the drug for relief of menstrual cramps and vague aches. Nurses also spoon-fed laudanum to infants. The Romantic and Victorian eras were marked by the widespread use of laudanum in Europe and the United States. …. Initially a working class drug, laudanum was cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine, because it was treated as a medication for legal purposes and not taxed as an alcoholic beverage.
Laudanum was used in home remedies and prescriptions, as well as a single medication. For example, a 1901 medical book published for home health use gave the following two "Simple Remedy Formulas" for

DYSENTERRY [sic]: Thin boiled starch, 2 ounces; Laudanum, 20 drops; "Use as an injection every six to twelve hours"; Tincture rhubarb, 1 ounce; Laudanum 4 drachms; "Dose: One teaspoonful every three hours."

In a section entitled "Professional Prescriptions" is a formula for

DIARRHOEA (ACUTE): Tincture opium, deodorized, 15 drops; Subnitrate of bismuth, 2 drachms; Simple syrup, 1/2 ounce; Chalk mixture, 1-1/2 ounces, "A teaspoonful every two or three hours to a child one year old."

 DIARRHOEA (CHRONIC): Aqueous extract of ergot, 20 grains; Extract of nux vomica, 5 grains; Extract of Opium, 10 grains, "Make 20 pills. Take one pill every three or four hours."

The early 20th century brought increased regulation of all manner of narcotics, including laudanum, as the addictive properties of opium became more widely understood, and "patent medicines came under fire largely because of their mysterious compositions."
In the United States, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required that certain specified drugs, including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, morphine, and cannabis, be accurately labeled with contents and dosage. Previously many drugs had been sold as patent medicines with secret ingredients or misleading labels.
Cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and other such drugs continued to be legally available without prescription as long as they were labeled. It is estimated that sale of patent medicines containing opiates decreased by 33% after labeling was mandated. In 1906 in Britain and in 1908 in Canada "laws requiring disclosure of ingredients and limitation of narcotic content were instituted

   

Method

I am not advocating the use of laudanum in this present day and age, but it works via suppression, and in the past was unbelievablty effective at both providing people with spiritual experiences and destroying them through addiction.  Thus you can look at the observations as an interesting record of what medicines have done in the past.

 

How it works

It depends of course on the recipe, but as it is made from opium it will work like opium .

Observations

Not surprisingly given that most of the population of the UK and Europe alone appears to have been prescribed or used laudanum we tap a rich seam of observations by including it.

I could have included thousands of examples of use here. Lord Byron, Kate Chopin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, , Percy Bysshe Shelley [who originally used laudanum to dull the pain of chronic nephritis from which he suffered], John Keats, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Charles Baudelaire,  Sir Walter Scott, and the Brontes were all laudunum users. Henri Bergson also took small amounts to ease pain

What marks out laudanum users is that they can be divided into two, those that never became addicted and those that did. 

Those that didn’t are few and far between. Henri Bergson did not become an addict.  Queen Victoria, who took laudanum and marijuana to alleviate menstrual cramps, was not an addict, at least not until Albert died….

Those that did sometimes went onto headier brews – opium in much stronger doses and even other drugs.  Some died from having done so.  The addicted also lived in torment, much as a heroin user does, because by overdosing they had killed off their receptors and left themselves open to pits of unimaginable despair and horror.

The highs of course  - for a while- were very high, but the lows were beyond our imagining [at least beyond mine because I have never taken any drugs].

It is no accident that Mary Shelley [Percy Bysshe Shelley’s wife] was able to write the Frankenstein books, that is where laudanum took her. Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Shelleys would all be classified today as addicts.   In 1816, the Shelleys famously spent a summer with Lord Byron and  John William Polidori [Byron’s ‘physician’ – his personal drug supplier] , and this is when Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein.

Laudanum acts as both a pain reliever and a relaxant, which can be quite helpful if you are an intellectual powerhouse incapable of slowing down [see Elizabeth Barrett Browning] .  But at overdose levels it becomes a poison and endorphin receptors can be killed in their billions.  I repeat, in their billions.

Pain then becomes excruciating, depression can be abyssal, there may be hallucinations, paranoia, rage, fury, anger, every negative emotion you can imagine simply because the endorphins in your body can no longer get through and help you.

Lord Byron, for example, “was given to extreme mood swings and violent bursts of temper.  On at least one trip his travelling companions were so puzzled by his mood swings they thought he was mentally ill“.

Pablo Picasso used either laudanum  or opium to induce hypnagogic states of creativity.  He did not appear to be addicted, on the other hand the results are traumatic, these are not the paintings of a happy man or a serene man.  I have included a number of observations so that you are able to compare.  Even if he wasn’t addicted, opium [or perhaps withdrawal from it or the lack of it] took him to some very very dark places.  He did not appear to go ‘up’ he seems to have been dragged a long way ‘down’.

If  the pain that the laudanum was prescribed for is there all the time there is every likelihood that you will become an addict.   Then as now doctors treated the symptoms of illness and not the cause and the consequences were often devastating.  Death by doctor.

The problem is that opium in all its forms is also a great reliever of emotional pain.  If you are unhappy, if you have been abused or are lonely, if you are suffering from unrequited love or grief, if you have been shocked or traumatised, [and who hasn’t at one time or another] then laudanum and opium too will send you into a sort of relaxed never never land, because it promotes relaxation. 

If you are hyper intelligent and emotionally stable, opium and laudanum may actually be something of a boon as it was with Henri Bergson. But if you even a little bit vulnerable, laudanum is a killer.

The Pre-Raphaelite Elizabeth Siddal
died of a laudunum overdose.

She painted too and her paintings are not good, not worth considering on this site – see right.

 

   

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was misprescribed laudanum for sleep problems, which caused anxiety and hallucinations. Upon increase of these hallucinations, more laudanum and chloral hydrate was administered, which increased the problem and led to her eventual commitment to an asylum.

Other known opium users who are believed to have started on laudanum include George Sand, Margaret Fuller,  Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Bernhardt and Jane Addams.

An exhausted Sarah Bernhardt used to take opium and coca wine to soothe her often prodigiously long performances: “I arrived on the stage in a semi-conscious state, yet delighted with the applause I received . . .” (Palmer & Horowitz 1982:82).  The observation I have found might be an eye opener for those who think she knew what she was doing.

Maria White Lowell, wife of James Russell Lowell, wrote opium-inspired secret poetry that, when published after her death, inspired her descendant Amy Lowell to remark that “it is better than anything her husband ever wrote!” Of course every drug user leaps on this and says ‘there you are, this is what drugs can do’, but Maria White Lowell was plagued with ill health, she died at the age of 32.

How many of us are genuinely stable and happy enough to say we can take something like this and not become an addict?  Many fool themselves into thinking they are fine and capable of controlling it, but they never are.  And life has a habit of presenting even the most stable  occasionally with grief and unhappiness and if the little bottle is sitting there………..  

Not only writers and poets are included in this group

Gladstone’s condemnation of the opium trade derived from personal acquaintance with the dangers of the drug. His 24-year-old sister Helen had been prescribed laudanum during a painful illness and became addicted. Her use of opium was well known and created a scandal in Victorian England.

Robert Clive, the 18th century conqueror of India, used laudanum to alleviate gallstone pain and depression.

 “On 22 November 1774 Clive committed suicide, aged forty-nine, at his Berkeley Square home in London. There was no inquest on his death and it was variously alleged he had stabbed himself or cut his throat with a penknife or taken an overdose of opium, while a few newspapers reported his death as due to an apoplectic fit or stroke. ... Though Clive's suicide has been linked to his history of depression and to opium addiction, the likely immediate impetus was excruciating pain resulting from illness (he was known to suffer from gallstones) which he had been attempting to abate with opium”

In his later years, Benjamin Franklin became addicted to laudanum to alleviate the pain of either kidney stones or gout or both.

Franklin struggled with obesity throughout his middle-aged and later years which resulted in the development of multiple health problems, particulary that of gout, for which he took laudunum, which worsened as he aged. In poor health during the signing of the US Constitution in 1787, he was rarely seen in public from then until his death”.

The drug community are apt to quote these famous people as drug users, in their quest to get drugs legalised.  What they never quote is that these people tended to use the drugs slightly before they died and their fame and ability has nothing to do with drugs of any sort. 

The Duke of Wellington claimed that King George IV treated his alcoholic hangovers with laudanum.

His last years were marked by increasing physical and mental decay and withdrawal from public affairs. Privately a senior aide to the king confided to his diary: "A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist....There have been good and wise kings but not many of them...and this I believe to be one of the worst."   On George's death The Times captured elite opinion succinctly: "There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow? ... If he ever had a friend – a devoted friend in any rank of life – we protest that the name of him or her never reached us."

Edgar Allen Poe later took opium after having used laudanum for pain – emotional pain.  Francis Thompson initially took laudanum to ease pain.   Thomas de Quincey started off on laudanum and then moved on to other preparations of opium, some quotes are provided from his book  Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

Thomas de Quincey suffered horribly as a consequence of his addiction.  He had intestinal problems and problems with his vision and also suffered neuralgic facial pain, "trigeminal neuralgia" — "attacks of piercing pain in the face, of such severity that they sometimes drive the victim to suicide."  He did not take the laudanum for these pains, this is what he suffered afterwards.  He had killed off so many pain relief receptors that he suffered appalling pain from even minor afflictions.

There appears to be a point with all addicts where it produces a time of often dark creativity, but this soon goes and before they know it, they have sunk into the depths and what they produce is generally frankly awful.  Unfortunately their brains are so addled by then they convince themselves it is good.  Reason has been destroyed. A terrible, truly terrible, price to pay for a brief time of inspiration.

Related observations