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The 18th and 19th Century Wonder Drug

While the qualities of opium have been known for centuries, and the name "laudanum" was used in the 1500s, it was English physician Thomas Sydenham who formulated the opium tincture that became a sensation under the name laudanum in the 1660s. As time passed, any combination of alcohol and opium was called laudanum, and it was used alone or as an ingredient in other medicines. As you can imagine, laudanum became a popular remedy for anything that ails ya, because it relieved pain and made one care less about other symptoms. It didn't cure anything, but honestly, neither did other medications of the time.   

One reason that laudanum was popular was that it was cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine because it was not taxed like alcohol. Besides being cheap and readily available, people touted its abilities to relieve pain and there were also claims that it improved the body’s systems. It was thus widely prescribed for all sorts of ailments from colds to yellow fever and from menstrual cramps to cardiac diseases and because of all its supposed benefits it was also found frequently in patent medicines.

Those who took laudanum quickly discovered that it had addictive qualities. Still it seemed as if every Victorian doctor was prescribing it to every patient. In fact, prescriptions were commonly written for teenagers, children, and infants.

While laudanum relieved pain, it also caused addiction, overdose, and was sometimes used in murder. Read about the rise and fall of laudanum, including the experiences of famous people who took it, at Geri Walton's blog. -via Strange Company

(Image credit: Wellcome Images)


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