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Laudanum is an opium tincture, sometimes sweetened with sugar and also called wine of opium.



In the 16th century, Paracelsus experimented with the medical value of opium. He decided that its medical (analgesic) value was of such magnitude that he called it Laudanum, from the Latin laudare, to praise, or from labdanum, the term for a plant extract. He did not know of its addictive properties.

In 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 sudorific". The limited pharmacopoeia of the day meant that opium derivatives were among the most efficacious of available treatments, and so laudanum was widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children.

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. Notable addicted literary figures include: Edgar Allan Poe; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was addicted for much of his adult life; Thomas de Quincey, who turned his addiction into literary success with the publication of Confessions of an English Opium Eater; Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley, who suffered raging laudanum-induced hallucinations; John Keats; Iolo Morgannwg, the Welsh antiquarian; Charles Dickens; Antonin Artaud; and Charles Baudelaire[citation needed]. There were also political figures, such as William Wilberforce and Meriwether Lewis, who used the drug.

Innumerable Victorian women were prescribed the drug for relief of menstrual cramps and vague aches and used it to achieve the pallid complexion associated with tuberculosis (frailty and paleness were particularly prized in females at the time). Nurses also spoon-fed laudanum to infants.

Featurings in fiction

In Literature

  • In the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels, the ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin, both uses the drug professionally and battles his own addiction to it.
  • In Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Allan Quatermain, opium-addicted, uses his bottle of laudanum to paralyze Edward Hyde.
  • In Joanne Harris's 1993 novel Sleep Pale Sister, Effie was fed laudanum to keep her out of "hysterics" and also so that she could sleep.
  • The character of Oscar Hopkins in Peter Carey's novel Oscar and Lucinda (1988) uses laudanum, initially under duress, to dull his hydrophobia during his expedition from Sydney.
  • Mary Shelley's character Victor Frankenstein uses laudanum to help him sleep after the death of his friend, Henry Clerval.
  • In Jack Finney's Time and Again, the main character, Si Morley, wonders if a live baby in a 1882 display case has been "doped up with one of the laudanum preparations I'd seen advertised in Harpers."
  • Laudanum is also used as a means to circumvent Speck magic in the Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb.
  • Laudanum is mentioned frequently in William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, and The Soft Machine Trilogy.
  • In the tenth chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, Haines is depicted drinking laudanum from a phial [1].
  • In Octavia Butler's "Kindred" Rufus' Mother uses laudanum as a medicine to relieve her pain and sorrow
  • Laudanum is also mentioned in the song "A Legionnaire's lament" by the Decemberists.
  • In Wilkie Collins' "The Moonstone" [1868], a valuable diamond, the Moonstone, is stolen by a character in a laudanum induced stupor.

In Film

  • In the 2001 movie From Hell laudanum plays an important role: Jack the Ripper is shown using it to numb his victims while Inspector Frederick Abberline (played by Johnny Depp) is addicted to a laudanum and absinthe mixture.
  • In the movie Tombstone, Wyatt Earp's wife is addicted to laudanum.
  • In Interview with the Vampire (book and film) Claudia gives a laudanum and absinthe mixture to a small boy, on whom Lestat then feeds and becomes quite weak.
  • In John Wayne's final movie The Shootist, his character J.B. Books is suffering from terminal cancer, and his doctor E.W. Hostetler (played by James Stewart) prescribes Laudanum to relieve the pain.
  • In the upcoming movie "Amazing Grace, The William Wilberforce Story" there are numerous scenes of Wilberforce being given Laudanum to relieve symptoms of Colitis.

In Television

  • Alma Garrett (played by Molly Parker) was addicted to laudanum in Deadwood.

Today's status

Laudanum is still available by prescription in the United States. It is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Its most common formulation is known as "deodorized tincture of opium," (or DTO), and is manufactured in the United States by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals. Deodorized or "denarcotized" opium means that narcotine, one of the most prevalent alkaloids in opium, has been removed, usually by a petroleum distillate. Narcotine has no analgesic properties, and frequently causes nausea and stomach upset; hence the preference for denarcotized opium.

The only medically-approved uses for laudanum in the United States are for treating diarrhea and pain. Laudanum, as deodorized opium tincture, contains the equivalent of 10 milligrams of morphine per milliliter. By contrast, laudanum's weaker cousin, paregoric, also known as camphorated tincture of opium, is 1/25th the strength of laudanum, containing only 0.4 milligrams of morphine per milliliter. Caution should be employed so as not to confuse opium tincture (laudanum) and camphorated opium tincture (paregoric), since overdose may occur if the former is used when the latter has been indicated. The United States Pharmacopia recommends that the abbreviation "DTO" never be used in place of "deodorized tincture of opium," since DTO is sometimes employed to abbreviate "diluted tincture of opium," which is a 1:25 dilution of opium tincture and water commonly employed to treat withdrawal symptoms in neonates. Further, paregoric's synonym "camphorated tincture of opium" should not be used, since it could easily be confused with "tincture of opium" or "deodorized tincture of opium."

The usual adult dosage of laudanum for the treatment of diarrhea is 0.6 mL (equivalent to 6 mg of morphine) four times a day. There is no maximum dose; refractory cases (e.g., diarrhea associated with AIDS) may require doses as high as 4 mL (equivalent to 40 mg of morphine) every three hours.

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Drugs & Medication, made by MultiMedia | Free content and software

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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